First Thanksgiving: Based on a Foundation of Peace
SAN JOSE, November 22, 2016 – Within the heart of the month of November, which has been designated as National American Indian Heritage Month since 1990, is the holiday of Thanksgiving; a celebration which was really a simple harvest festival providing common ground for two cultures to bond in friendship. The truly American holiday still holds great meaning for families and friends, and friendship on a broader level. Yet, many Americans do not realize that the harvest festival came upon the foundation of a peace treaty between the leader of the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrim leadership.
Often in recounting the Thanksgiving story, the celebration is viewed from the perspective of the Pilgrims since their record is the only known written documentation of the festivities. Yet, if one views this festival from a perspective of the American Indians, minus the Progressive-revisionist vitriol, it is truly possible to widen the scope of meaning of the event. If it were not for assistance provided by the American Indians, the Pilgrims would not have invited the natives to a meal of gratitude. Without the foundation of friendly relations that transcended the fundamental differences between the two distinct races of human beings, the feasting during the First Thanksgiving would likely not have occurred, and it may have never existed.
In reality, this harvest celebration lasting three days, represents the sealing of a friendship that originated in a peace treaty that had originally been established between the great sachem, Massasoit, and John Carver, the first governor of the Plymouth Colony on March 22, 1621. Unfortunately, Carver died about one month after the signing of the treaty, and William Bradford was elected the Governor of the struggling colony. Yet, that peace prevailed until Massasoit died in 1661 – a period of at least 40 years. And sadly, when this period of English colonial history is studied, it is not the peace that was established between these two races that is studied; it is usually the breakdown of that peace, or King Phillip’s War that is scrutinized.
Most students of United States history have this period of English colonial history included as part of the traditional narrative, but many lose track of the fact that the United States would not come into existence until 1783. King Philip’s War was an Indian uprising (also known as Metacomet’s rebellion) that lasted for fourteen months over 1675 to 1676, which is 100 years before the Declaration of Independence, which led to the rebellion of the colonists against people with some of the same arrogant, domineering British disposition toward tyranny that the Indians had trouble with.
Progressive-revisionist historians prefer to ignore or diminish the value of the establishment of peace between the two peoples, and prefer to focus on the battles, raids, and murders that were committed during that time. Yet, this period needs to be understood from a much wider perspective, and it may be wise to compare the period of relative calm experienced in this northeast portion of North America in the early 1600s to the history of the major conflicts in Europe spanning hundreds of years, or perhaps compare the period of tension existing in Europe after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that established the peace after the Great War. That peace only lasted a few years, until Mussolini and Hitler started attacking their neighbors.
To ignore over forty years of peace between the Indians and the Pilgrims limits the possibilities of maintaining some perspective of comparison in understanding the value of this period of peace. Those who pursue peace may wonder why it is so essential to focus on the factors that emphasize the destructiveness of human beings and ignore the promotion of peace. Yet, many Progressive historians seem to be enamored with fanning the flames of divisiveness and fomenting disunity even when writing history. Unfortunately, over the centuries, numerous distortions have developed regarding this festival that became known as the “First Thanksgiving,” and one tragic casualty seems to have been the loss of the peace treaty.
While it may be true that the absence of war does not equal peace, the absence of calm does not equal outright war. The relative peace may have been interrupted by the rebellious, or the lawless, or the criminal elements within any society, but a relative peace was maintained while the great chief, Massasoit, was alive. All-out war only erupted after he died, and much of that had to do with Massasoit’s angry second son and the Puritan’s treatment of the Wampanoag people and less to do with the Pilgrims or Separatists. One contemporary distortion that is common lumps the Separatists (the true designation of the Pilgrims) into the same category as the Puritans. They were not the same group of people.
Historically, the Separatists were possibly a faction of the Puritans, but Separatists did not generally maintain the same attitude toward the Church of England, which essentially was a state controlled church. While the Puritans believed they could “purify” the Anglican Church, the Separatists wanted nothing to do with it, and made two significant moves to get as far away from the Anglicans as possible. Additionally, while the Pilgrims looked the Wampanoag Indians with respect and real appreciation, the Puritans viewed the Indians with contempt as savages. It is doubtful that the Puritans would have accepted the help of the Indians even if they had been as stricken by illness as the Pilgrims.
The Pilgrims and the Puritans, were both extremely religious, and held similar religious views; yet, it is not completely understood by secular historians what the serious differences were between the two groups of people. It may have more to do with what they practiced rather than what they preached. Nevertheless, both groups were quite rigid in their beliefs, and would have viewed a day of thanksgiving as a day to be dedicated to gratitude to God for some major, incredibly significant event like surviving a plague or the end of a drought or a war. Especially, the Puritans, who were perhaps more rigid in their beliefs than the Separatists, would have held the belief that “thanksgiving” days were serious occasions fulfilled through offering of solemn prayers, pious humiliation, and praise of God’s efforts in their lives.
By contrast, the Wampanoag Indians, one of the many Algonquian speaking tribes of the Northeast Woodland nations, often celebrated harvest festivals, and would also offer thanks to the Creator at the beginning of a new year in Springtime and at the beginning of planting season, at various points during the Summer growing season (i.e. early harvest, etc.), in the Autumn at the end of the harvest season, and even in the midst of the Winter. Their very survival depended upon their reliance on the successful harvesting of crops as well as good fishing and hunting. And it is more likely that the event known as the First Thanksgiving was more of a harvest festival than a formal thanksgiving ceremony.
This harvest celebration would have been a most extraordinary affair as it would have marked the first time that the Indians would have celebrated a harvest with the unusual humans from across the ocean. The Wampanoag probably understood very little of the Pilgrim’s Christian religion and solemn manners of worship. However, their sachem, Massasoit, had been willing to help the English through the efforts of Tisquantum (Squanto), and had accepted an invitation from the new governor, William Bradford, to come to a meal to offer the Pilgrim’s gratitude for their assistance and friendship. In reality, the event kept building and unfolding, and the people kept eating. Eventually, it lasted for three full days.
What shows up on the surface of history is that two culturally diverse, racially different peoples gathered together in a lengthy celebration because they shared a common experience of the need to survive in the midst of harsh environmental conditions. Historical records only show a period of more than 40 years of peace between the Europeans and the Wampanoag Indians before their original friendship eroded. However, that this original friendship ended in tragedy should not really be the primary takeaway.
This harvest festival in 1621 did serve as an opportunity for these people to offer gratitude or thankfulness to their respective Creator or God. For the devout Pilgrims, who triggered the event, it represented an opportunity to say thank you to the natives who had provided much needed and substantial assistance. For the natives who initiated the peace, it represented hope for the future of living in harmony with the whites. The three days of feasting would not have happened without the foundation of peace at the beginning of the year, and the friendly relationships that happened to transcend the fundamental differences between the two distinct races of people. It certainly reflected the hope for a successful foundation of respect and trust. It should be a genuine sign of hope for peace in the turbulent America of today.
Hopes for an enlightened and peaceful Thanksgiving to All!