The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story
Turner said what most people do not know about the first Thanksgiving is that the Wampanoag and Pilgrims did not sit down for a big turkey dinner and it was not an event that the Wampanoag knew about or were invited to in advance. In September/October 1621, the Pilgrims had just harvested their first crops, and they had a good yield. They “sent four men on fowling,” which comes from the one paragraph account by Pilgrim Edward Winslow, one of only two historical sources of this famous harvest feast. Winslow also stated, “we exercised our arms.” “Most historians believe what happened was Massasoit got word that there was a tremendous amount of gun fire coming from the Pilgrim village,” Turner said. “So he thought they were being attacked and he was going to bear aid.”
When the Wampanoag showed up, they were invited to join the Pilgrims in their feast, but there was not enough food to feed the chief and his 90 warriors. “He [Massasoit] sends his men out, and they bring back five deer, which they present to the chief of the English town [William Bradford]. So, there is this whole ceremonial gift-giving, as well. When you give it as a gift, it is more than just food,” said Kathleen Wall, a Colonial Foodways Culinarian at Plimoth Plantation.
While today Thanksgiving is one of our nation’s favorite holidays, it has a far different meaning for many Wampanoag, who now number between 4,000 and 5,000. Turner said, “For the most part, Thanksgiving itself is a day of mourning for Native people, not just Wampanoag people.”
2014 National Day of Mourning
Some Wampanoag Tribe Members Leery of Plymouth 400 Commemoration
For the Wampanoag who have called coastal Massachusetts their home for more than 10,000 years, the founding of Plymouth in 1620, doesn’t feel that far removed, nor does its 400th anniversary bring reason to rejoice.