The True Origin of Thanksgiving


Mackenzie Brummett, Cultural Editor

Thanksgiving in America is known for giving and bringing people together. Children are taught that the holiday started in Plymouth when the friendly Native Americans helped the Pilgrims learn how to live in what they called the “New World”. The story goes that American Indians and Pilgrims all had a nice big celebratory feast together and lived on in harmony; however,  this is not really true. The story of what happened in Plymouth is much more complex. First let’s lay some foundation: The Wampanoag Indians were the ones that had been at Plymouth and it was not their first rodeo dealing with Europeans. They had a century worth of contact with the Europeans. Unfortunately, it was primarily murderous and the Europeans were raiding for slave trade. When the Pilgrims or Puritans arrived, the Wampanoags already had a few people that could speak English, had been to Europe and knew of the Puritans. The chief, at the time, Massasoit, also known as Ousamequin, decided to have a treaty with the Pilgrims in 1620. The main points include: Don’t hurt us and we won’t hurt you, and we can trade but leave weapons at home. Thanksgiving was a feast for around 100 people, celebrating a treaty that lets be honest, was built out of fear. Ousamequin brought this idea to the Puritans as a way to keep the  Wampanoags safe. For around 10 years Ousamequin kept the peace between the Pilgrims and his tribe. Then he passed away and his son (Wamsutta) became in charge and tensions rose.

 More and more colonists were arriving taking away large parts of land, and while this was happening large epidemics were killing many Native Americans. Wamsutta ended up dying strangely enough when he visited the Puritans to discuss these issues. What really sank the ship was when the treaty was violated. This lead to over 600 Natives being murdered and the peace between the Pilgrims and Native Americans was very much over. This devastation continued with King Philip’s war…Villages were destroyed and many Native Americans were killed. 

Thanksgiving was coined over 100 years later when a group of Puritans thought New England was losing prominence so, in order to gain it again they used tourism. To make more people visit they spread this idea that Pilgrims were the fathers of America. A publication at the time ran with the idea and considered the treaty to be the first big celebration, feast/dinner of New England and called it Thanksgiving. The name stuck and the story was very much misrepresented. Eventually, Abraham Lincoln turned it into a National Holiday and that leads us to where we are today. 

Many Native Americans consider Thanksgiving to be quite a somber day and a beginning to an end. There are many Native Americans that use this day to mourn. All of this is to say that before having that nice big meal and saying all the things you’re thankful for, think of the true origin of this holiday.