The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story

Taken from here

A thanks to reader  J_Agathokles  for pointing it out to me.
Here it is in its entirety By Michelle Tirado November 22, 2011. Having lived within a stone’s throw (literally) of the ‘rock’ I think it is important to know the reality of our stories and traditions.

Too often the story of the 1621 Thanksgiving is told from the Pilgrims’ point of view, and when the Wampanoag, who partook in this feast too, are included, it is usually in a brief or distorted way. In search of the Native American perspective, we looked to Plymouth, where the official first Thanksgiving took place and where today the Wampanoag side of the story can be found.

Plimoth Plantation is one of Plymouth’s top attractions and probably the place to go for the first Thanksgiving story. It is a living museum, with its replica 17th century Wampanoag Homesite, a representation of the homesite used by Hobbamock, who served as emissary between the Wampanoag and Pilgrims, and staffed by 23 Native Americans, mostly Wampanoag; 17th century English Village; and the Mayflower II, a replica of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth.

According to a Plimoth Plantation timeline, the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Harbor on December 16, 1620. The Pilgrims settled in an area that was once Patuxet, a Wampanoag village abandoned four years prior after a deadly outbreak of a plague, brought by European traders who first appeared in the area in 1616. The museum’s literature tells that before 1616, the Wampanoag numbered 50,000 to 100,000, occupying 69 villages scattered throughout southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island. The plague, however, killed thousands, up to two-thirds, of them. Many also had been captured and sold as slaves.

And yet, when the Wampanoag watched the Mayflower’s passengers come ashore at Patuxet, they did not see them as a threat. “The Wampanoag had seen many ships before,” explained Tim Turner, Cherokee, manager of Plimoth Plantation’s Wampanoag Homesite and co-owner of Native Plymouth Tours. “They had seen traders and fishermen, but they had not seen women and children before. In the Wampanoag ways, they never would have brought their women and children into harm. So, they saw them as a peaceful people for that reason.”

Thanksgiving History Massasoit Statue Native Plymouth Tours 270x405 The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story

This statue of Wampanoag leader Massasoit is in Plymouth, Massachusetts. (Courtesy Native Plymouth Tours)

But they did not greet them right away either. The English, in fact, did not see the Wampanoag that first winter at all, according to Turner. “They saw shadows,” he said. Samoset, a Monhegan from Maine, came to the village on March 16, 1621. The next day, he returned with Tisquantum (Squanto), a Wampanoag who befriended and helped the English that spring, showing them how to plant corn, fish and gather berries and nuts. That March, the Pilgrims entered into a treaty of mutual protection with Ousamequin (Massasoit), the Pokanoket Wampanoag leader.

Turner said what most people do not know about the first Thanksgiving is that the Wampanoag and Pilgrims did not sit down for a big turkey dinner and it was not an event that the Wampanoag knew about or were invited to in advance. In September/October 1621, the Pilgrims had just harvested their first crops, and they had a good yield. They “sent four men on fowling,” which comes from the one paragraph account by Pilgrim Edward Winslow, one of only two historical sources of this famous harvest feast. Winslow also stated, “we exercised our arms.” “Most historians believe what happened was Massasoit got word that there was a tremendous amount of gun fire coming from the Pilgrim village,” Turner said. “So he thought they were being attacked and he was going to bear aid.”

When the Wampanoag showed up, they were invited to join the Pilgrims in their feast, but there was not enough food to feed the chief and his 90 warriors. “He [Massasoit] sends his men out, and they bring back five deer, which they present to the chief of the English town [William Bradford]. So, there is this whole ceremonial gift-giving, as well. When you give it as a gift, it is more than just food,” said Kathleen Wall, a Colonial Foodways Culinarian at Plimoth Plantation.

The harvest feast lasted for three days. What did they eat? Venison, of course, and Wall said, “Not just a lovely roasted joint of venison, but all the parts of the deer were on the table in who knows how many sorts of ways.” Was there turkey? “Fowl” is mentioned in Winslow’s account, which puts turkey on Wall’s list of possibilities. She also said there probably would have been a variety of seafood and water fowl along with maize bread, pumpkin and other squashes. “It was nothing at all like a modern Thanksgiving,” she said.

While today Thanksgiving is one of our nation’s favorite holidays, it has a far different meaning for many Wampanoag, who now number between 4,000 and 5,000. Turner said, “For the most part, Thanksgiving itself is a day of mourning for Native people, not just Wampanoag people.”

Thanksgiving History Plymouth Rock 270x174 The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story

Plymouth Rock is believed to be where the Mayflower’s passengers disembarked in 1620. (Courtesy Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism)

At noon on every Thanksgiving Day, hundreds of Native people from around the country gather at Cole’s Hill, which overlooks Plymouth Rock, for the National Day of Mourning. It is an annual tradition started in 1970, when Wampanoag Wamsutta (Frank) James was invited by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to give a speech at an event celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival and then disinvited after the event organizers discovered his speech was one of outrage over the “atrocities” and “broken promises” his people endured.

On the Wampanoag welcoming and having friendly relations with the Pilgrims, James wrote in his undelivered speech: “This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end.”

  1. The Mayflower did not land at Plymouth Rock. That’s a myth. The rock was a contrived tourist attraction that has a story all its own. There are a number of stories involving the rock and they are not all factual. That part of it sat in the woods for about a hundred years while the other half was used for a porch on a fishing shanty seems to have been left out.

  2. There are many stories. It was of no consequence for many years, then the story of how it came to be where it is today is very colorful… only fitting for America. The actual landing of the Mayflower might have been many places but I thought “they” were fairly certain of Plymouth plantation and Kingston. While the actual watery stop for the boat is in question, where the Pilgrims set about to their business was settled .. I thought.

  3. The first pilgrims landed at Provincetown. And the first settlers were not the pilgrims. The first European settlement was Jamestown in 1607. The idea that the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock was based on a statement made in 1741 by 95-year-old Elder Thomas Faunce who had been told the story by his father as a boy. His father came to the new world 3 years after the Mayflower landed.

    From a footnote in “I Love Paul Revere Whether he Rode or Not” ~
    “. . . The effort began when town boosters moved the rock inland in the late eighteenth century, presumably the better to preserve it. But in moving it inland they split it in two, leaving half of it on the beach. The half on the beach subsequently was lost while the half moved inland became overgrown with weeds. Eventually, the beach half was found as the doorstep of an old warehouse, and the rock that was inland was given renewed care. But that left the town – to the everlasting consternation of the tourists – with two Plymouth Rocks. In 1880, to end the confusion, the rock that was inland was dragged down to the beach and attached to the other one. But for many the rock now seemed too far from shore for the Pilgrims to have landed on it. This necessitated another move, this time to a position closer to shore. In this move the rock was broken yet again. Since the 1920s it has remained embedded in the sand beneath a towering stone temple built of no fewer than sixteen columns, but the temple is built so high and the rock so small that from where visitors stand above the rock it looks strikingly silly.”

    Source: Richard Shenkman

    • I wouldn’t have thought anyone still thinks the Pilgrims were the first? Wow.

      Yes, I’ve seen it many times, the ‘rock’ as it now is gives the perception of being not only strikingly silly, but as though someone made it up. It is small, too small to be named in a historic kind of way. There are stone statues which give a better presence. “That’s it?” is generally my impression of it. I think they put only the numbers ‘1620’ on it because to have put more would have left precious little of the rock to see.

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