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Zer Netmouse
November 10th, 2014
11:21 am


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On Thanksgiving, and the teaching thereof to kids
The other day I was explaining to Rosie that Thanksgiving, besides being a time for giving thanks for what we have and the people who support us, has a story to it that involves the settlers from a ship called the Mayflower, which came across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe, bringing people here to North America. I pointed out to her that if discussion of the Pilgrims comes up at school, she can mention that we are descended from people who came over on the Mayflower, so this is a family story for us as well as a national one.

Because of that, and because we are also of Native descent (my grandmother used to joke that she had ancestors that came over on the Mayflower, and ancestors who were there to greet them when they came, but honestly our native ancestors were probably from one of the more inland nations), it is important to me that my daughter learn an honest account of The First Thanksgiving, instead of the generic story that was invented in Abraham Lincoln's time and taught to me in school. She will learn that our ancestress, Priscilla Mullins, was from a Pilgrim family, seeking religious freedom in the new world, and also that our ancestor, John Alden, was not -- he was a carpenter hired to be a cooper on the Mayflower, who converted to Priscilla's family religion when they were wed, here in North America. (For more on them, see The Courtship of Miles Standish, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, also a relative of mine.)

So I was very interested to read Debbie Reese's recent essay, Some thoughts about Native American Month and Thanksgiving. I encourage you to go read it.

As well, I just reviewed some articles on the Wampanoag side of the First Thanksgiving story, and What really happened back in 1621, as well as what is done today by Native communities on Thanksgiving.

One thing I hope you will take out of this, in terms of telling this story to your own children, is that these weren't nameless generic Indians sitting down with the grateful Pilgrims. More than half the settlers from the Mayflower died that first winter, and more would have if they hadn't benefited from the pre-existing village in which they came to live (where everyone had died from plague brought by earlier Europeans), and in March of 1621 they signed a mutual protection treaty with Wampanoag chief Massasoit. So it was Massasoit and his men who were there at the "first Thanksgiving". Oh, and Squanto, about whom you might have been taught in school, who taught the pilgrims how to fish and plant crops here that year and was probably the reason they ultimately survived, and I am here today? His full name was Tisquantum.

"While many paintings of “the First Thanksgiving” show a single long table with several Pilgrims and a few Native people, there were actually twice as many Wampanoag people as colonists. It is unlikely that everyone could have been accommodated at one table. Rather, Wampanoag leaders like Massasoit and his advisors were most likely entertained in the home of Plymouth Colony’s governor, William Bradford."

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(8 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:November 10th, 2014 05:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you. Interesting, informative reading.
[User Picture]
Date:November 10th, 2014 10:59 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure what popular version you're contrasting with the "What Really Happened" account you linked to.

The account in 1491 supports the popular version I know, giving more details and motives. The Wapanoags did teach the English how to survive, fish as fertilizer and all. The English were grateful and did invite them to share their party. Peaceful relations had gone on before the Mayflower arrived, and in 1621 there was a treaty that made peace and alliance for at least 50 years.

It's nice to get the details of the Wampanoag motives for this befriending the English (as allies against other tribes). The invitation was impromptu, after the Indians showed up to find out about the gunfire. That just makes the basic facts of that party more believable.

Have you read the English letter that our popular version is based on? I usually post some notes about all this at my LJ around 'Thanksgiving' time, will try to get to it.
[User Picture]
Date:November 11th, 2014 09:42 am (UTC)
Hmm, 'seeking religious freedom' is a bit of a strong description for your average Puritan in the 1620s. Religious freedom for different types of Protestant, maybe; Catholics, Jews and atheists not so much...
[User Picture]
Date:November 11th, 2014 03:37 pm (UTC)
Seeking religious freedom _ for themselves _ yes. See Church of England.

That's the whole definition of Pilgrim, and why I feel it's important to point out that not everyone on the ship was one.
[User Picture]
Date:November 12th, 2014 10:32 am (UTC)
tnh is also a descendant of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. (People who grow up LDS in families that have been LDS since the time of Joseph Smith tend to have a lot of New England ancestors, and they tend to know who they were, because LDS.) I think that makes her and you eleventh cousins, or thereabouts...
[User Picture]
Date:November 13th, 2014 05:20 pm (UTC)
That is awesome! Laura Ingalls Wilder was also a distant cousin of ours, a fact I remember believing is part of the reason my family is in the LDS database.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:November 13th, 2014 10:47 am (UTC)
A joke which was new to me:
What do you call 64 white people?
A full-blooded Cherokee
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