The other Thanksgiving
I remember the morning of Thanksgiving 2003 watching President Bush on television. He was somewhere in Iraq wearing an Army jacket and standing in front of a plate of turkey. He was living the illusion of “mission accomplished” and the turkey was wearing the illusion of being a real turkey. The golden brown turkey with a bunch of grapes and all of the trimmings were actually plastic. If we are constantly getting bombarded with the plastic version of today’s reality via television, it makes me stop and wonder just how much of American history is true.
There are several people to whom a version of the quote “history is written by the victors” is attributed. No matter who said it, for the most part this remains true. I am a researcher and one of my favorite muses are those Facebook posts one receives that ask you, if you agree with this, forward this on to friends. I take great joy in dissecting these posts to reveal their origin. Most of them contain a pinch of truth and a pound of poison in the form of half-truths and outright lies. I thought I would put Thanksgiving to the test to see if the “feast of inter-racial harmony” had any historical basis in fact.
With no intent of ruining a perfectly great Thanksgiving dinner, here are some historical facts I came up with and some opinions that may not be so factual.
One Pilgrim’s writing of that day give an account of the feast that was later called Thanksgiving. It took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621. What is known is that the Pilgrims had a severe crop failure that year and were on the verge of starvation. The Indians who showed up at the feast were not even invited. Only Chief Massasoit was asked to come, but in the Indian tradition of equal sharing, he invited 90 from his tribe. They brought with them five deer and provided most of the food for the feast. They also had a bountiful crop from 20 acres of corn that fall that most likely saved the Pilgrims from starvation the ensuing winter.
Unfortunately, the 50 ungrateful Pilgrims became aggravated when 90 Indians crashed their party. Maybe they considered the 50/90 ratio in favor of the Indians as not exactly equal sharing. It’s doubtful that this was the cause of the resentment because everyone knew who had brought most of the food and all of the venison. Piecing together written accounts of that day and the time frame surrounding it, this is a version of events that I see that could have happened.
Massachusetts Governor William Bradford had recently commented on his people’s “notorious sin ... of drunkenness and uncleanliness.”
The Pilgrims never had a warm relationship with the local natives to begin with. They basically regarded them as less than human and useful only for the food they would often provide to the Pilgrims. By the time the extensive meal was consumed, the Pilgrims had caught a pretty good buzz from the home-brewed beer they supplied. A side note: This part of the story is often replayed in a modern version when the “black sheep of the family” gets too buzzed up, becomes argumentative and starts the fight that causes everyone indigestion. Sometimes this version is even worse like the time a neighbor’s Grandma (only forty years old at the time) crawled up on the dining room table and stripped to nothing. This is a true story that belongs in a book, but let’s return to the Pilgrims.
Armed with powerful weaponry in the form of guns, muskets and swords, the inebriated Pilgrims began to intimidate the Indians even though it was they who had provided most of the feast. Fortunately the day did not end in disaster, but neither was it the picnic of interracial harmony that was painted for our history books.
Our modern day version is quite improved. When my family sits down at a traditional holiday feast, we resemble a mini-version of a United Nations gathering. Those present at one time or another include the following: an immigrant from South Sudan who fled her country, a Korean, an African- American Jew, a Chinese immigrant who fled Mao Tse Tung, a Japanese-German, several Hispanics, an English-Irish, a northern Minnesota Norwegian, a couple of South Dakotans, my three well-blended Minnesota-born sons, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.