America's Thanksgiving:
The Pilgrims and the Slave Trade -- Part II

Glen Ford / The Black Agenda Report
December 16, 2006

The story about grateful Indians sharing a meal with plucky Pilgrims may just have been another "story of strategic influence." Credit: "The First Thanksgiving" by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (Library of Congress).
The British North American colonists' practice of enslaving Indians for either labor or direct sale to the West Indies preceded the appearance of the first chained Africans, who arrived aboard a Dutch ship that docked in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619.

However, once the African slave trade became commercially established at Jamestown, the fates of Indians and Africans became inextricably entwined. New England led the political and commercial development of the English colonies and it also led the nascent nation's descent into a slavery-based society and economy.

Unreconstructed secessionist Lewis Dabney's 1867 book, A Defense Of Virginia, traced the slave trades origins all the way back to Plymouth Rock: The planting of the commercial States of North America began with the colony of Puritan Independents at Plymouth, in 1620, which was subsequently enlarged into the State of Massachusetts.

The first ship from America which embarked in the African slave trade was the Desire, run by Captain Pierce, of Salem, Massachusetts. The Desire sailed upon her voyage in June, 1637, the same year the pilgrims massacred the Pequots.

It may be correctly said that the commerce of New England was born of the slave trade, and that its subsequent prosperity was largely founded upon it. The Desire, proceeding to the Bahamas, with a cargo of "dry fish and strong liquors, the only commodities for those parts," obtained the negroes from two British men-of-war, which had captured them from a Spanish slaver.

Thus, the slave trade grew into grand proportions; and, for nearly two centuries, poured a flood of wealth into New England, as well as a considerable number of slaves. Meanwhile, the other maritime colonies in Rhode Island, Providence Plantations, and Connecticut, all followed the example of their elder sister. Indeed, the towns of Providence, Newport, and New Haven became famous slave trading ports. The magnificent harbor of the second, especially, was the favorite starting-place of the slave ships; and its commerce rivaled, or even exceeded, that of the present commercial metropolis, New York. All the four original States, of course, became slaveholding.

The American Revolution that exploded in 1770s New England was undertaken by men who were thoroughly imbued with the worldview of the Indian-killer and the slave-holder. How could they not be? The country they claimed as their own was fathered by genocide and mothered by slavery -- this was America's true distinction amongst the commercial nations of the world.

These men were not ashamed, but proud, with vast ambition to spread their exceptional characteristics West and South, and wherever their so-far-successful project in nation-building might take them -- and they did so by the same bloody, savage methods that had served them so well in the past.

At the moment of deepest national crisis, following the battle of Gettysburg in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln invoked the National Fable that is far more central to the white American personality than is Lincoln's battlefield Address. Lincoln seized upon the 1621 feast to proclaim the historic Thanksgiving -- bypassing the official and authentic 1637 precedent -- and assigned this dateless, murky event to the fourth Thursday in November. In short, Lincoln surveyed a broken nation, and attempted nation-rebuilding on the basis of the purest white myth.

The same year that he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln renewed the national commitment to a White Manifest Destiny that began at Plymouth Rock. Lincoln sought to rekindle a shared national mission that former Confederates, and Unionists, and white immigrants from Europe could collectively embrace. By definition, it was then, and remains now, a barbaric and racist national unifier.

"Like a Rock"
The Thanksgiving holiday fable attempts to glorify the indefensible. It enshrines an era and a mission that represent this nation's LOWEST common moral denominators.

Defenders of this holiday will claim that today's politically-corrected children's version promotes brotherhood, but that is an impossibility. Instead, it is a baldfaced excuse to prolong their worship of the colonial forefathers while they erase the crimes they committed.

Twenty-First Century humanity cannot tolerate a global superpower whose population, for the most part, still perceives the world through the eyes of those Seventeenth Century land-and-flesh bandits. Yet that is the trick that fate has played on the globe.

Make no mistake about this: the English arrived with criminal intent, and brought wives and children to form new societies predicated on successful plunder. To justify their murderous enterprise, the squatters transmogrified the Indians, who had initially cooperated with them, into savages who deserved displacement and death. Their relentlessly-refreshed LIE about Indian savagery long since became a truth in the minds of white Americans, indeed a fact to be acted upon by every succeeding generation of whites. The settlers became a singularly courageous people confronting the great frontier -- a euphemism for centuries of genocidal campaigns against a darker, savage people marked for extinction.

The necessity of genocide was the operative concept, the working assumption of the expanding American nation. The genocidal doctrine of "Manifest Destiny" was born at Plymouth Rock and Jamestown, and later would fall (to paraphrase Malcolm X) like a rock on Mexico, the Philippines, Haiti, Nicaragua, Iraq, etc. Little children were taught that the American project was inherently good -- indeed Godly -- and that those who got in the way were evil-doers, or just plain subhuman, to be gloriously eliminated.

This Pilgrim LIE is central to white American identity, and it was embraced by subsequent waves of European settlers.

Bloody Fruits of the First Feast
Credit: Maoist International Movement
Only a century ago, American soldiers caused the deaths of approximately one million Filipinos whom they had been sent to liberate from Spanish rule. These soldiers didnt even know who they were killing, so they rationalized their behavior by substituting the usual American victims.

Colonel Funston, of the Twentieth Kansas Volunteers, explained what got him motivated in the Philippines: Our fighting blood was up and we all wanted to kill 'niggers.' This shooting human beings is a 'hot game,' and beats rabbit hunting all to pieces. Another soldier wrote that the boys go for the enemy as if they were chasing jack-rabbits.... I, for one, hope that Uncle Sam will apply the chastening rod, good, hard, and plenty, and lay it on until they come into the reservation and promise to be good 'Injuns.'

In 2003, President George W. Bush addressed the Philippine Congress in Manila. America is proud of its part in the great story of the Filipino people, said Bush. Together our soldiers liberated the Philippines from colonial rule. Bush failed to mention what every Filipino knows: immediately upon the ouster of the Spanish, the US claimed the Philippines as its own colony, meanwhile causing the death of a million people -- Colonel Funston's niggers -- in the process.

At least two million Vietnamese and untold numbers of Cambodian gooks died as a result of US aggression during the Sixties and Seventies. When Americans noted them at all, these hellish consequences were often dismissed on the grounds that Asians don't value life the way we do. The truth, of course, is that most white Americans dont value the lives of Asian or other non-whites at all, and never have.

Today, although in excess of 600,000 Iraqis are estimated to have died since the US invasion, our national dialogue revolves solely around the almost 3,000 American dead. Colonel Joe Anderson of the 101st Airborne Division summed up the general American attitude toward Iraqis early in the occupation: They don't understand being nice. We spent so long here working with kid gloves, but the average Iraqi guy will tell you, 'The only thing people respect here is violence.... They only understand being shot at, being killed. That's the culture.'...Nice guys do finish last here.

Col. Anderson personifies the unfitness of Americans to play a major role in the world, much less rule it. We poured a lot of our heart and soul into trying to help the people, he bitched, as if Americans were God's gift to the planet. But it can be frustrating when you hear stupid people still saying, 'You're occupiers. You want our oil. You're turning our country over to Israel.' He simply cannot fathom that other people -- non-whites --aspire to run their own affairs, and will kill and die to achieve that basic right.

What does this have to do with the Mayflower? Everything. Although possibly against their wishes, the Pilgrims hosted the Wampanoag for three undoubtedly anxious days. The same men killed and enslaved Wampanoags immediately before and after the feast. They, their newly-arrived English comrades, and their children roasted hundreds of neighboring Indians alive just 16 years later. And two generations afterwards they cleared nearly the whole of New England of its indigenous savages, while they enthusiastically enriched themselves through the invention of a sophisticated transoceanic means of enslaving millions.

The Mayflower's cultural heirs are programmed to find glory in their own depravity, and savagery in their most helpless victims, who can only redeem themselves by accepting the inherent goodness of white Americans. The Thanksgiving holiday myth only encourages these cognitive cripples in their madness -- just as it is designed to do.

Today in Iraq, just as in the US-occupied Philippines, and just as in US-occupied Haiti in 1914, we hear echoes of these words of John Winthrop, founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Of course, the English had come to expropriate Native Americans' land and resources, but they somehow convinced themselves that their presence was benign. So as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in these parts ... have put themselves under our protection," said the Pilgrim-in-Chief Winthrop.

Throughout the Middle East, and in increasingly larger regions of the globe, the US invites the natives to a feast of democracy - at the point of a gun. Americans soon become frustrated with natives who are unwilling to dine on the corpses of their own national sovereignty, and threaten to punish those natives for demonstrating such unthankfulness.

In times like these, we should remember the unthankful Pequot women and children roasting in the flames of their village, and the unthankful Wampanoag man who was murdered by the Pilgrim saint Miles Standish, and whose spiked head was displayed for years in Plymouth, the founding site of the celebratory feast and the national narrative.

Things Are Looking Up
We began this essay by saying that the day grows nearer when the almost-four-centuries-old abomination [Thanksgiving] will be deprived of its reason for being -- white supremacy. We firmly believe this. The electronically-interconnected world works against the Bush men's insane drive to global hegemony, while creating the material basis for (dare we say the words) brother- and sister-hood among humankind.

It becomes ever clear that the fruits of millennia of human genius cannot, for too much longer, be captured and re-packaged for the enrichment of a few -- and certainly not by a cabal that cannot see beyond the bubble-boy mentality of its own warped history.

The dim outlines of an emerging far-more-democratic world order can be seen in the sometimes tentative, but sometimes dramatic actions of progressive movements and nations that are determined to construct a fairer and freer way to live.

As the world witnesses the brutality, stupidity and incompetence of the piratical cabal that is currently at the helm of the US, it becomes apparent how urgent it is to formulate and implement a common, alternative human project.

The end of history that the Bush men have triumphantly announced is really the end of themselves. They are like men in quicksand. Their infliction of a global scourge of militaristic white racism will sink them. Eventually it will wither to a mere prejudice rather than a world-threatening menace. And when that day comes, it will -- at long last -- be time for a global Thanksgiving.

Glen Ford is the Executive Editor of Black Agenda Report. He can be reached at

NOTE: The online version of this article has many activated links that will verify its quotations and corroborate its factual assertions:

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