12 Thanksgiving ‘Facts’ That Everyone Believes… But They Shouldn’t.
While many schools have switched to revisionist history textbooks, most especially after the success of Howard Zinn's A People’s History of the United States, some generations continue to pass on the victors' myths that they have learned as children. The first Thanksgiving is just one of many stories that have been hammered and spoiled in all directions.
It is perfectly normal to be uninformed - we cannot examine every incoming source in full or completely commit ourselves as historians (a career requiring a lifetime) - but it is a great disservice to the individual and future generations to stay misinformed.
The good news is that beyond the unhelpful picture books and comfort of our memories, there is a wealth of information leading to key pieces. The bad news? Navigating through the slew of information can be tough.
Below you will find a list of some commonly accepted Thanksgiving myths, both past and present, and a very beginning dialogue on how to 'debunk' them. You will find that as you delve into history books and Internet forums that the debunking, which also includes the debunking of debunkers, is never ending.
You don't have to know all the answers, but you should be able to join in on the conversation.
#1. MYTH: Squanto was the 'friendly Indian' who randomly helped bring the settlers and the Wampanoag tribe come together.
According to Paula Peters, a scholar of Wampanoag history, Tisquantum (who we know as Squanto) was among 20 men taken from Patuxet (modern-day Plymouth) against their will in 1614. He was the only known one to return home after his near brush with slavery.
Upon his return, Tisquantum found that the home he'd left no longer existed due to a deadly plague, noted historian Charles C. Mann. He started back towards Massachusetts on foot, but was seized on account of his relations with the distrusted Europeans. Tisquantum was sent to Massasoit, the political-military leader of the Wampanoag confederation, as a captive.
Massasoit's people were also hit by the plague while the neighboring rival group, Narragansett, was left unaffected. This put them in a precarious situation. Massasoit thought he could save his group by allying with the Pilgrims, and enlisted Tisquantum, who had become fluent in English during his time in Britain, as a translator.
With goals to ultimately rebuild the old community he had lost at a locale near Plymouth and eventually make this new Patuxet the center of the Wampanoag confederation, Tisquantum intended to play the Native and English people against one another.
In short, 'Squanto' was power hungry.
#2. MYTH: The Pilgrims began the tradition of Thanksgiving in 1621 and celebrated it year after year.
Mann wrote in a 2005 Smithsonian article:
"By fall the settlers’ situation was secure enough that they held a feast of thanksgiving. Massasoit showed up with 'some ninety men,' Winslow later recalled, most of them with weapons. The Pilgrim militia responded by marching around and firing their guns in the air in a manner intended to convey menace. Gratified, both sides sat down, ate a lot of food and complained about the Narragansett. Ecce Thanksgiving."
Thanksgiving was not named a national holiday until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued two presidential Thanksgiving proclamations. Lincoln designated both August and November as times to to give thanks.
#3. MYTH: Pilgrim fashion consisted of black and white clothing and buckles galore.
Despite famous depictions of Pilgrims, buckles did not rise in popularity until later in the seventeenth century.
Though black and white were commonly worn on Sundays and formal occasions, men were often robed in other colors such as beige, earthy green, and brown. Women usually dressed in red, earth green, brown, blue, violet, and gray.
#4. MYTH: The Mayflower was well-equipped with specialists and items to help the Pilgrims start anew.
Though the Mayflower transported tailors, merchants, trumpets, and drums, among other things, they did not bring along livestock or farmers. One man on board, William Mullins, reportedly brought over 126 pairs of shoes and 13 pairs of boots. In regards to furniture, the pilgrims only brought chests and boxes.
The Wampanoag people, who have lived in that area of the U.S. for over 12,000 years, taught them how to fish, hunt, and harvest.
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