America's Thanksgiving:
Rejoicing in Genocide and White Supremacy -- Part I

Glen Ford / The Black Agenda Report
December 16, 2006

"Thanksgiving as presently celebrated is an affront to civilization.

No room at the table. Did the Pilgrims actually invite the Wapanoags to dine in 1621? Credit: "The First Thanksgiving." by Jennie Brownscombe (Pilgrim Hall).
Nobody but Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. It is the supremely white American holiday -- the most ghoulish event on the national calendar. No Halloween of the imagination can rival the reality that was the genesis, and remains the legacy, of the American Thanksgiving. It is the most loathsome, humanity-insulting day of the year -- a pure glorification of racist barbarity.

We should all be thankful that the time grows nearer when the almost four centuries-old abomination will be deprived of its reason for being: white supremacy. Then we may all eat and drink in peace and gratitude for the blessings of humanitys deliverance from the rule of evil men.

Thanksgiving is not just a twisted fable. The real-life events -- subsequently revised -- were perfectly understood at the time as the first, definitive triumphs of the genocidal European project in New England. The near-erasure of Native Americans in Massachusetts -- and, soon thereafter, from most of the remainder of the northern English colonial seaboard -- was the true mission of the Pilgrim enterprise. It was Act One of the American Dream. African Slavery commenced contemporaneously -- an overlapping and ultimately inseparable Act Two.

The last Act in the American drama must be the root and branch eradication of all vestiges of Act One and Two. Thanksgiving as presently celebrated -- that is, as a national political event -- is an affront to civilization.

Celebrating the Unspeakable
White America embraced Thanksgiving because a majority of that population glories in the fruits -- if not the unpleasant details -- of genocide and slavery. They feel, on the whole, good about their heritage: a cornucopia of privilege and national power. Children are taught to identify with the good fortune of the Pilgrims.

It does not much matter that the Native American and African holocausts that flowed from the feast at Plymouth are hidden from the childrens version of the story - kids learn soon enough that Indians were made scarce and Africans became enslaved. But they will also never forget the core message of the holiday: that the Pilgrims were good people who could not have purposely set such evil in motion.

Just as the first Thanksgivings marked the consolidation of the English toehold in what became the United States, the core ideological content of the holiday serves to validate all that has since occurred on these shores - a national consecration of the unspeakable, a balm and benediction for the victors, a blessing of the fruits of murder and kidnapping, and an implicit obligation to continue the seamless historical project in the present day.

The Thanksgiving story is an absolution of the Pilgrims, whose brutal quest for absolute power in the New World is made to seem both religiously motivated and eminently human. Most importantly, the Pilgrims are depicted as victims of both harsh weather and their own naïve-yet-wholesome visions of a new beginning.

In light of this carefully nurtured fable, whatever happened to the Indians -- from Plymouth to California and beyond -- must be considered: a mistake; the result of misunderstandings; at worst, a series of lamentable tragedies.

Rejoicing in a Cemetery
The English settlers (their ostensibly religious venture backed by a trading company) were actually glad to discover that they had landed in a "virtual cemetery" in 1620. Corn still sprouted in the abandoned fields of the Wampanoags, but only a remnant of the local population remained around the fabled Plymouth Rock.

In a letter to England, Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop wrote, "But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by smallpox which still continues among them. So, as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in these parts, being in all not 50, have put themselves under our protection."

Ever diligent to claim their own advantages as Gods will, the Pilgrims thanked their deity for having pursued the Indians to mass death. However, it was not divine intervention that wiped out the natives around the village of Patuxet but, most likely, smallpox-embedded blankets planted during an English visit or slave raid.

In 1614, the Plymouth Company of England, a joint stock company, hired the famous seaman and mercenary soldier Captain John Smith to explore land in its behalf. Six years before the Pilgrim landing, Smith (leader of the first successful English colony in the New World, at Jamestown, Virginia), sailed into the harbor at the Wampanoag town of Patuxet. (He renamed the town Plymouth in honor of his employers.)

By the following year, it was common practice for explorers and English slave traders to capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell them into slavery for 220 shillings apiece. A number of Wampanoags were sold into slavery.

Another common practice among European explorers was to give "smallpox blankets" to the Indians. Since Native Americans did not have any natural immunity to the disease, smallpox would effectively wipe out entire villages.

William Fenton describes how Europeans decimated Native American villages in his 1957 work "American Indian And White Relations to 1830." From 1615 to 1619, smallpox ran rampant among the Wampanoags. The Wampanoag lost 70 percent of their population to the epidemic, and the Massachusetts tribe lost 90 percent. Most of the Wampanoag had died from the smallpox epidemic by the time the Pilgrims arrived to find well-cleared fields which they claimed for their own.

A Puritan colonist, quoted by Harvard University's Perry Miller, praised the plague that had wiped out the Indians, for it was "the wonderful preparation of the Lord Jesus Christ, by his providence for his people's abode in the Western world." Historians have since speculated about why the woods in the region resembled "a park" to the disembarking Pilgrims in 1620. The reason should have been obvious: hundreds, if not thousands, of people had lived there just five years before.

In less than three generations, the settlers would turn all of New England into a charnel house for Native Americans -- and fire the economic engines of slavery throughout English-speaking America. Plymouth Rock is the place where the nightmare truly began.

Were the 'Indians' Even 'Invited' to that First Feast?
It is not at all clear what happened at the first -- and only -- integrated Thanksgiving feast. Only two written accounts of the three-day event exist, and one of them, by Governor William Bradford, was written 20 years after the fact.

Was Wampanoag Chief Massasoit invited to bring 90 Indians with him to dine with 52 colonists, most of them women and children? This seems unlikely. A good harvest had provided the settlers with plenty of food, according to their accounts, so the whites didnt really need the Wampanoags offering of five deer.

John Two-Hawks, who runs the Native Circle Web site, gives this sketch of the facts: In October of 1621, when the pilgrim survivors of their first winter in Turtle Island sat down to share the first unofficial 'Thanksgiving' meal, the Indians who were there were not even invited! There was no turkey, squash, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie. A few days before this alleged feast took place, a company of 'pilgrims' led by Miles Standish, actively sought the head of a local Indian chief, and an 11-foot-high wall was erected around the entire Plymouth settlement for the very purpose of keeping Indians out!

It is much more likely that Chief Massasoit either crashed the party, or brought enough men to ensure that he was not kidnapped or harmed by the Pilgrims. Dr. Tingba Apidta, in his Black Folks Guide To Understanding Thanksgiving, surmises that the settlers got drunk soon thereafter. He notes that each Pilgrim drank at least a half gallon of beer a day," which led Governor Bradford to comment on his people's "drunkenness and uncleanliness" and rampant "sodomy.

Soon after the feast, the brutish Miles Standish got his bloody prize, Dr. Apidta writes: He went to the Indians, pretended to be a trader, then beheaded an Indian man named Wituwamat. He brought the head to Plymouth, where it was displayed on a wooden spike for many years. From that time on, the whites were known to the Indians of Massachusetts by the name Wotowquenange, which in their tongue meant 'cutthroats and stabbers.'

What is certain is that the first feast was not called a 'Thanksgiving' at the time; no further integrated dining occasions were scheduled; and the first, official all-Pilgrim 'Thanksgiving' had to wait until 1637, when the whites of New England celebrated the massacre of the Wampanoags southern neighbors, the Pequots."

The Real Thanksgiving Day Massacre
In 1637, just 16 years after the problematical Plymouth feast, the English tried mightily to erase the Pequots from the face of the Earth. Having subdued, intimidated, or made mercenaries of most of the tribes of Massachusetts, the English turned southward, toward the rich Connecticut valley, which was the Pequots sphere of influence.

At the point where the Mystic River meets the sea, the combined force of English and allied Indians bypassed the Pequot fort to attack, and set ablaze, a town full of women, children and old people.

Former Plymouth Governor William Bradford, who was on hand for the Great Massacre of 1637 reported: "Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time.

"It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire ... horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to enclose their enemies in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy."

The rest of the white folks thought so, too. This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots," read Governor John Winthrops proclamation. Thus was the authentic Thanksgiving Day born.

Most historians believe about 700 Pequots were slaughtered at Mystic. Many prisoners were executed. Surviving women and children were sold into slavery in the West Indies. Pequot prisoners who escaped execution were parceled out to Indian tribes allied with the English. According to IndyMedia, The Pequot tribe numbered 8,000 when the Pilgrims arrived, but disease had brought their numbers down to 1,500 by 1637. The Pequot War killed all but a handful of remaining members of the tribe.

But there were still too many Indians around to suit the whites of New England, who bided their time while their own numbers increased to critical, murderous mass.

A Guest's Head on a Pole
By the 1670s, the colonists had 8,000 men under arms and felt strong enough to demand that the Pilgrims former dinner guests, the Wampanoags, disarm themselves and submit to the authority of the Bristish Crown.

After a series of settler provocations in 1675, the Wampanoag struck back, under the leadership of Chief Metacomet, son of Massasoit, who was called King Philip by the English. Metacomet (whose wife and son were captured and sold into West Indian slavery) wiped out 13 settlements and killed 600 adult white men before the tide of battle turned.

A 1996 issue of the Revolutionary Worker provides an excellent narrative account: In their victory, the settlers launched an all-out genocide against the remaining Native people. The Massachusetts government offered 20 shillings bounty for every Indian scalp and 40 shillings for every prisoner who could be sold into slavery. Soldiers were allowed to enslave any Indian woman or child under 14 they could capture. The "Praying Indians" (those who had converted to Christianity and fought on the side of the European troops) were accused of shooting into the treetops during battles with "hostiles." They, too, were enslaved or killed.

Other "peaceful" Indians of Dartmouth and Dover were invited to negotiate or seek refuge at trading posts - and then were sold onto slave ships. It is not known how many Indians were sold into slavery.

Of the 12,000 Indians in the surrounding tribes, probably about half died from battle, massacre and starvation. After King Philip's War, there were almost no Indians left free in the northern British colonies. A colonist wrote from Manhattan's New York colony: "There is now but few Indians upon the island and those few no ways hurtful. It is to be admired how strangely they have decreased by the hand of God, since the English first settled in these parts."

In Massachusetts, the colonists declared a "day of public thanksgiving" in 1676, saying, "there now scarce remains a name or family of them [the Indians] but are either slain, captivated or fled."

Fifty-five years after the original Thanksgiving Day, the Puritans had destroyed the generous Wampanoag and all other neighboring tribes. The Wampanoag chief Metacomet was beheaded. His head was stuck on a pole in Plymouth, where the skull still hung on display 24 years later.

This is not thought to be a fit Thanksgiving tale for the children of today. However, it was well-known to the settler children of New England -- the white kids who saw the Wampanoag head on the pole year after year, and knew for certain that God loved them best of all, and that every atrocity they might ever commit against a heathen, non-white was blessed.

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