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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Original Source #1 for "Thanksgiving"

Letters from colonists were sent on a ship named The Fortune which arrived at Plymoth just after the "Thanksgiving event" in question. The ship sailed for England 10 days later. This quote came from letters, which were read and then published by Edward Winslow.

Many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at the time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Edward Winslow, Mourt’s Relation: D.B. Heath, ed. Applewood Books. Cambridge, 1986. p. 82

They “coming amongst us” probably describes an ARRIVAL not an INVITATION, which is commonly what is said in story books with words like, “The Pilgrims invited the Indians”. In fact, earlier in the year, Massasoit had made a deal to help the Pilgrims and he may have appeared at the Plantation on business, a “fact finding” mission. His own people were preparing for the winter, so he was checking up on the Pilgrims to see how they were doing. That’s why it was 90 MEN, and not women and children (which also represents inaccurate portrayal in Children’s book, when Indian women and children are in the illustrations). Also, it indicated that the Native people did not fully trust the English, they wouldn't/didn’t’ bring their women and children. Even if Massasoit WAS invited, He may have been invited without his men, which wouldn’t make sense for a “King and his entourage”

In England it was common custom to feed a “King and his entourage” when they appeared in your kingdom. So the big feast was probably similar to what would happen these days if the Queen and her entourage of 600 people showed up. (However, I question this analysis, since the quote does not say the Pilgrims went out and got more fowl for the guests. It only says that Massasoit’s men went out for more food.)

"among the rest" could mean that the Pilgrims recognized Massasoit, and of course their own people, but there were others they did not know, meaning the 90 men were probably not all with Massasoit. Perhaps, there may be been more sachems with their own men, making up the total of 90 men. It was probably a fact-finding delegation.

“King Massasoit” is an incorrect title. “Massasoit” means “Great Leader”, that was his title. He was a sachem and much admired. Many Native People allied with him, but not all agreed with his friendly interaction and support of the Pilgrims. He was not a king.

“and they went out and killed five deer” is probably a result of the Wampanoags wanting to eat. They saw there was not enough food (only fowl that had been shot that morning), so they went out and killed the 5 deer to bring to the feast. And, as you know, a Native feast can last for 3 days, which it did. Also, the Giveaway custom was the “mind frame” of Massasoit. Meaning, that if he had bounty in his village then he would be able to share, so that’s why the men went out for the deer.

“which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and up on the Captain, and others.” Again, this refers to the possibility of “others” being there that the Pilgrims did not recognize, like “other” sachems and their men.

“And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at the time with us”. This was the first harvest for the Pilgrims in 1621. The peas and barley (English crops) had not done well, but the Indian corn had grown. They had hardly any provision to last them though that first winter.

Summarized by Jim Wallace:
The first Thanksgiving was started by Abe Lincoln during the "dark days" of the Civil War in order to try to build support for an increasingly unpopular war. (This was before the Emancipation Proclamation.) That means it was NOT celebrated for about 240 years (between Pilgrims in 1620 & Abe in 1860.) And of course many join in supporting various native groups in protesting Thanksgiving because it represents a "white washing" of the genocide against Native peoples. But one reason this (the genocide) was so extensive was because many slaves escaped and lived with Native tribes, and the existence of such groupings undermined the slavocracy. This was especially with the Creek and Seminoles in the deep South. (The above are oversimplifications by a non-history teacher. Maybe others can add more clarification.)

Additions by Marge Bruchac (Sent: Sunday, November 23, 2003 4:23 PM):
It was not an Algonkian thanksgiving, because it was not held at the full moon (although it was sort of near to the time that the Wampanoag celebrated their harvest feast... but it did not include the whole tribe, so it was not that harvest festival as the Wampanoag knew it). It was not the Pilgrim form of thanks-giving, because it was not declared as a day of prayer.