The (True) Story of Thanksgiving

-Garrett Donnelly, PJC Volunteer

In 1863, President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a congenial national holiday. But the first harvest fest in 1621 would have been solely Pilgrims if not for their shooting-for-sport which spurred Osamequin, the Massasoit (monarch of the Wampanoag) to arrive with 90 or so troops on obligations to a mutual defense contract with Plymouth. Before easing into the next three days, both parties were weary of each other.

Plymouth’s expansion soon squashed hopes of diplomacy for the Wampanoag; they were compelled in the first place to it because disease had decimated their population and their Narragansett neighbors were left untouched. That first winter Wampanoags heralded those pitiable settlers not of altruism, but political strategy.

To make land and resources their private property, the Pilgrims increasingly utilized any method of coercion possible: they created debtors to incarcerate, indenture, or execute; they converted natives; assimilated natives; raided; murdered; and enslaved natives.

This complete material, civil, and cultural robbery carried out with strategy and intention amounts to the attempt at the extinction of a people. Asserting that U.S. indigenous genocide is non-systemic and coincidental is disingenuous. Its propaganda was manifest destiny and still is appropriation, the aestheticization of valued cultural symbols.

Therefore, the avenues required to pursue diplomatic and peaceful resolutions were prevented to the Wampanoag. Like all resistance groups, they were blamed for ‘instigating’ violence. But that ‘violence’ is self-defense which is the just course for liberation. It is righteous only because oppressors abstain reason and introduce violence.

So, it’s clear the intentional removal of autonomy is what forced Metacomet – Osamequin’s son and the current Massasoit, known as King Philip – to retaliate in uprisings against the settlers in King Philip’s war, 1675.

One such ‘battle’ of this war paled in comparison even the structural genocide that led Metacomet to act justly. The ‘Great Swamp Massacre’ led by Samuel Appleton in December 1675 could be called genocide proper. Appleton led 1,150 forces to a Narragansett village in Kingstown RI, amongst them my ancestor, Sampson Mason; they killed 300-1,000 Narragansett natives, most of them women, elders, and children; many by burning. Many others were executed or sold into slavery.

Metacomet was there, and was able to flee, but neither the Narragansett nor Wampanoag would fully recover from this massacre. Metacomet was killed in August 1676 and dismembered. Quarters of his body were hung in trees to rot, and his decapitated head was set on a pike at the entrance of Fort Plymouth for 20 years, where on the 1676 fall harvest festival, the special occasion was a victory over the Narraganset and Wampanoag.

I told this story because my ancestor was involved in this. It’s very easy to want to forget bad things, especially if they feel accusative. But, by leaving out the liable you leave out the accountable. The fictional mythology of supremacy lives on if you choose to take no responsibility for it. History is there for us to mold, and it gets better only so far as we take responsibility for its lessons.

For more PJC articles related to Thanksgiving check out: