Everything You Were Taught About 'The First Thanksgiving' Is A Lie

The story we heard while making paper pilgrim hats in elementary school could not be farther from the truth. Here's what really happened.

We all know the story.

When the brave pilgrims first came to the harsh and brutal New World seeking religious freedom they were befriended by a charitable Native American named Squanto.

Squanto taught them how to survive and grow crops so to thank him and his tribe the pilgrims threw a great feast. Everyone ate, drank, and became fast friends; and so began a long and happy partnership between the white settlers and this country’s native inhabitants.

This is a wonderful story of cross-cultural cooperation and a fittingly adorable narrative for the past of what would become such a purportedly righteous nation.

Oh yeah, and it’s also a load of complete garbage.


The “First Thanksgiving” Story Was Fabricated By Honest Abe

abraham lincoln

Quick! Try to remember any historical facts contained within the first Thanksgiving story besides the specific naming of one of the Native Americans? You can’t can you.

That’s because this story is not a historically verifiable event. It was not preserved in a historical text or even passed down anecdotally from generation to the next.

The Thanksgiving story was a myth engineered out of thin air by none other than the holiday’s creator: Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to be a national holiday in 1863. This means that he made this holiday official two years into America’s bloodiest conflict, also known as The Civil War.

He was desperate to preserve the union, and he gave that proposed unity a mascot by creating a holiday that had its basis in a story of two ideologically and culturally different groups unifying as one.

The message was undoubtedly powerful. The story, however, was completely made up.


The Real Story Is Much Less Romantic

There is some debate as to which historically correct moment of pilgrim/Native American interaction Lincoln used as the foundation for his own romanticized story.

He most likely borrowed from a few different accounts of pilgrims and Native Americans dining together or working together towards a common goal.

The prevailing notion, however, is that the official precursor to the Thanksgiving story was the 1621 treaty signed between the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims of Plymouth colony.

The treaty was brokered by Native American Chief Yellow Feather Oasmeequin and Governor John Carver. It was essentially an agreement that both sides would defend the other from attack and find a way to work together towards the success of both cultures. It was, in essence, a very primitive version of NATO.

The familiarity that this treaty enabled meant that the Native Americans and the pilgrims saw a good deal of each other and shared more than one meal together as a matter of course. 

The pilgrims and Native Americans ate together in the same sense that college students eat together in their dorm’s cafeteria. Technically they’re spending a meal together but it's about the loosest affiliation possible. 


Conclusion: Focus On The Good But Remember The Bad

Most cultures throughout history have set aside some sort of harvest celebration as a time to give thanks for the plenty of another year. In this respect, the revelation that the first Thanksgiving story is false should do very little to keep you from enjoying your mashed potatoes with a grateful heart on Thursday.

Where this new information should cause you to waver is the notion that the white settlers had an idyllic relationship with the Native Americans. The bloody history of European colonization in the United States is often forgotten and white washed stories like this are borderline offensive in their representations.

When it comes to Thanksgiving as a holiday have fun and be thankful, but when it comes to the realities of Native American history in this country let’s not insult those oppressed by focusing on a fabricated fairy tale created to mend the nation that oppressed them. 

Continue Reading: Alone On Thanksgiving? How About A Meal With Strangers? 

Banner Image Credit: Library of Congress

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