The true story of Thanksgiving: Not what we learned in school

American children are taught in grade school that the Pilgrims came to North America seeking religious freedom.  In actuality, they had disembarked  for America from a life in the Netherlands, where they had  religious freedom  to worship as they wished. This wasn’t enough; they wanted to establish a theocracy. Landing near Plymouth Rock in what is modern-day Massachusetts, in 1620, the illegal  immigrants were ill-prepared to start a life in the wilderness. Despite the abundance of game, fish, plants, and medicines around them, they slowly began to starve as well as die of disease brought with them. They chose for their settlement a cleared area belonging to the Wampanoag, the first people of this area, in their summer village. The Wampanoag leader Ousamequin (known as Massasoit to the Pilgrims) brokered a treaty with them, and an escaped Wampanoag slave, who was called by the English Squanto, helped teach them to plant crops suitable for the area.

The following fall, 1621, the Pilgrim settlers –not inviting their hosts the native people, as we were all taught — gathered together for a feast consisting of New World foods. Was turkey included as it is today? No one knows for sure. Most likely that first feast consisted of venison, berries, ducks, geese, perhaps corn as well and plenty of  thanks for their God and his bounty. By then, the Wampanoag and the Pequot people had begun to fall ill and die from disease brought by the Pilgrims, a fine repayment for their aid and for allowing the ungrateful Pilgrims to take over their summer village.  This is the idyllic event school children are taught about, but it was not the first official Thanksgiving.

That date belongs in the year 1637. “On that day (May 26)  the Massachusetts Colony Governor, John Winthrop, proclaimed such a “Thanksgiving” to celebrate the safe return of a band of heavily armed hunters, all colonial volunteers. They had just returned from their journey to what is now Mystic, Connecticut where they massacred 700 Pequot Indians. Seven hundred Indians — men, women and children — all murdered.” (Huffington Post).  According to another source: “In 1637 near present day  Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival which is our Thanksgiving celebration. In the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside.  Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving” because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered.” (Manataka American Indian Council).

Why were these people slaughtered? Their land was valuable and desired by the influx of Old World settlers. Although even as early as the late 1490s, native populations were being decimated by the invaders, this sad chapter marks the  beginning of the end for native people in what would later  be known as the United States of America, land of the free and the brave.

Thanksgiving as a modern holiday came into being in 1863, as a proclamation by President Lincoln. Since then its origins have been sanitized for generations of school children, finally codified in textbooks in the early 20th century. It’s said  that history  is written by the winners. If so, we “winners” have little to be thankful for or proud of.


The true story behind Thanksgiving is a bloody struggle that decimated the population and ended with a head on a stick

The True Story of Thanksgiving

The History of the First Thanksgiving

Native History: It’s Memorial Day—In 1637, the Pequot Massacre Happened