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Will the real Thanksgiving please stand up?
November 24, 2005 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Thanksgiving sucks. The English went on setting fire to wigwams of the village. They burned village after village to the ground. As one of the leading theologians of his day, Dr. Cotton Mather put it: "It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day." And Cotton Mather, clutching his bible, spurred the English to slaughter more Indians in the name of Christianity.
posted by j-urb (55 comments total)

 
Link: here.
posted by j-urb at 10:50 AM on November 24, 2005


Metafilter: a Few Feet Short of the Mountaintop!
posted by wfrgms at 10:55 AM on November 24, 2005


So basically, it's something like:

BURN BURN DEATH TO INDIANS RAR BURN DEATH

Then the Pilgrims came to America and got along with the Indians. Thanks to the Indians' help they had a bountiful harvest and had a feast to celebrate it, which the Indians were welcome to and in fact did attend.

THEN THERE WAS MORE BURNING AND DEATH AND STUFF BY PEOPLE THAT CAME AFTER

Yep, damn those Pilgrims and their terrible ways.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 10:58 AM on November 24, 2005


Hey, come on, no sad stories while I am gorging myself on poultry and pie.
posted by wakko at 10:59 AM on November 24, 2005


Scholars estimate the North American Indian population at 15 million at the time of Columbus's arrival. In 1900, the US census found that there were 237,000 Indians in North America. This dwarves anything that Hitler ever did. What is interesting about the American architects of genocide is that they don't even feel the need to use euphemisms. They openly called for the "extermination" of the Indian, while nobody can find a single statement by Hitler that is so blunt.
posted by j-urb at 11:04 AM on November 24, 2005


The first official Thanksgiving wasn't a festive gathering of Indians and Pilgrims, but rather a celebration of the massacre of 700 Pequot men, women and children, an anthropologist says. Due to age and illness his voice cracks as he talks about the holiday, but William B. Newell, 84, talks with force as he discusses Thanksgiving. Newell, a Penobscot, has degrees from two universities, and was the former chairman of the anthropology department at the University of Connecticut.

I checked out this claim using Google and found the following History News Network article, which in turn links to a much longer article. Includes the following:

What’s not authentic is the claim that William Newell was head of the anthropology department at the University of Connecticut, whose faculty cannot recall him at all. When the department was founded in 1971, Newell was 79 years old. See the letter by department chair Jocelyn Linnekin here.

And what is completely untrue is the idea that the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony participated in the 1637 Pequot massacre. Although asked to send military assistance, the Plymouth court did not respond until two weeks after the slaughter had been carried out. See my book, Pilgrim Edward Winslow: New England’s First International Diplomat (Boston: NEHGS, 2004), pp. 164-168.

posted by russilwvong at 11:08 AM on November 24, 2005


j-urb, you really hit it on the head in your last comment, by pointing out the "bluntness" of the thing. What I mean is, even today, we bear witness to those events in uncanny fashion.

Case in point: Starved Rock, Illinois.

Chicagoans, you know what I'm talking about.
posted by phaedon at 11:11 AM on November 24, 2005


Good catch russilwvong. Revising the revisionists.
posted by stbalbach at 11:18 AM on November 24, 2005


But phaedon, the Indians at Starved Rock were attacked by other Indians. I didn't actually read any of these links but I think they're supposed to be about pilgrims killing Indians.
posted by thirteenkiller at 11:22 AM on November 24, 2005


Thanks. Not to downplay what happened to the American Indians; here's Tocqueville in 1831. It's a more complex picture than Ward Churchill's, but it's still extremely dark.
posted by russilwvong at 11:23 AM on November 24, 2005


Zinn is an interesting guy who sees the "losesrs" in our historic de velopment, not recognizing that in all evolution and group movements, and history there are always those who win and those who lose...we may not like or approve this but it is the way of What Is (history, evolutioon--life). More to the point, why bother with Columbus and his adventures in the Carribean when in fact Thanksgiving has to do with North America and the pilgrims. There is 'a confusion about puritans and the earlier pilgrims and then to compound things the evils of the white slaughters of the Indians later on. As for slavery--certainly an evil, Columbus did what was being done by any number of nations in Europe--taking and buying and selling slaves. Ps: the American indians also kept blacks as slaves.
posted by Postroad at 11:36 AM on November 24, 2005


.
posted by amberglow at 11:41 AM on November 24, 2005


European diseases killed far more Indians than European guns.
posted by Slothrup at 11:48 AM on November 24, 2005


Good links, Russilwvong. And for the love of God, let us not cite Ward Churchill. He is neither an Indian nor a historian.
posted by LarryC at 11:49 AM on November 24, 2005


You can always trust MetaFilter for the tinfoil hat/angsty liberal side of things.
posted by taursir at 11:54 AM on November 24, 2005


European diseases killed far more Indians than European guns.

Six million children die of hunger every year, I guess that lets Hitler off the hook?
posted by biffa at 11:57 AM on November 24, 2005


Bleh. Is the land we Americans live on now blood-soaked? Yes. So is the land any non-Americans are living on. England? Don't get me started. Europe? It would take volumes to list the various peoples displaced and killed. Australia? New Zealand? Japan? Africa? South America?

Perhaps there are some islands in the Pacific where the original homo sapien settlers were never displaced. I suppose we could all move there so as to no longer have to feel guilty about living on stolen land.
posted by Justinian at 11:57 AM on November 24, 2005


I don't give two shits about Plymouth Rock man, cause Plymouth Rock landed on ME... however, turkey and stuffing rocks the ha-ouse.

So sayeth I.
posted by stenseng at 11:58 AM on November 24, 2005


New NRA slogan: European guns don't kill Indians; European diseases kill Indians.
posted by leftcoastbob at 12:00 PM on November 24, 2005


Scholars estimate the North American Indian population at 15 million at the time of Columbus's arrival. In 1900, the US census found that there were 237,000 Indians in North America. This dwarves anything that Hitler ever did. - j-urb

Of course, Hitler didn't get a couple of centuries to complete his plan.
posted by raedyn at 12:03 PM on November 24, 2005


It was the Puritan elite who wanted the war, a war for land, for gold, for power.

Some things never change.
posted by gimonca at 12:04 PM on November 24, 2005


thirteenkiller: im sorry. i wasnt trying to give an example of pilgrims killing native americans (like anybody needs to hear that again). i was more or less trying to express my frustration with my experience of a place that serves a slamming dinner (i admit) on a site named for the massacre of thousands of people. i think my roommate, a j.w., has really got this one right:
1. dont celebrate something that, historically, is categorically fucked up.
2. why not celebrate life every day? why does the mainstream conscience limit itself to "im working at a soup kitchen" levels of placation?
posted by phaedon at 12:13 PM on November 24, 2005


I suppose we could all move there so as to no longer have to feel guilty about living on stolen land.

Don't think we'd all fit....

The root problem is that there is no power without guilt (Reinhold Niebuhr). To paraphrase Hans Morgenthau, to exercise power over others is to act as a god, and none of us has the knowledge, the wisdom, and the goodness which this task demands. Thus evil is inherent in the exercise of power; the most we can hope for is to choose the lesser of evils.

Unfortunately, it's not possible to renounce power--this only opens the way for someone else to seize power over you. To quote John Randolph: "You may cover whole skins of parchment with limitations, but power alone can limit power."

So power is unavoidable, and guilt is inescapable.
posted by russilwvong at 12:35 PM on November 24, 2005


Quick, let's find more reasons to quibble about, minimize, and dismiss genocide!
posted by orthogonality at 12:46 PM on November 24, 2005


You're absolutely right, orthogonality. We should be actively working to bring the perpetrators to justice.
posted by rocket88 at 12:53 PM on November 24, 2005


Everyone involved is dead and has been dead for many years. I'm no more responsible than I'm responsible for the Albigensian Crusade.

If there are any Cathars out there offended by my minimization of your oppression, I apologize.
posted by Justinian at 1:14 PM on November 24, 2005


This month's Smithonian.

The link is a PDF
posted by stirfry at 1:23 PM on November 24, 2005


Smithsonian
posted by stirfry at 1:24 PM on November 24, 2005


Funny thing about the past is that we can't do a damned thing to change it.

This many years after the fact, we cannot bring the Pequots back to life, nor can we charge Mather et al. with murder and arson.

What we can do this day is be thankful for what we have, and try each day to do The Right Thing to the best of our judgement and ability.
posted by ilsa at 1:25 PM on November 24, 2005


Scholars estimate the North American Indian population at 15 million at the time of Columbus's arrival. In 1900, the US census found that there were 237,000 Indians in North America.

Not to discount what happened before 1900, but after 1900 (and particularly after 1950 or so) something remarkable has happened to Native American culture in North America.

This article estimates that the Native American population of U.S. & Canada increased from about 400,000 in 1900 to 2.75 million in 1990.

However exactly one counts the numbers, it is clear that the recent rise in Native American population is as dramatic as was the previous decline.

It is not just an increase of population, either, but a rebirth of Native American music, political strength, culture, self-identity, and religion.

Much of this renaissance of Native American culture, particularly in th elate 20th century, has happened in tandem with the growth of a very active pow-wow circuit, which has played an essential role in providing an environment for Native American culture and community to develop.

A 1999 National Geographic article about the Indian renaissance has a good summary and some great photos.
posted by flug at 1:39 PM on November 24, 2005


Thanks for the Smithsonian article, stirfry. It's awesome.

More than likely Tisquantum [Squanto] was not the name he was given at birth. In that part of the Northeast, tisquantum referred to rage, especially the rage of manitou, the world-suffusing spiritual power at the heart of coastal Indians’ religious beliefs. When Tisquantum approached the Pilgrims and identified himself by that sobriquet, it was as if he had stuck out his hand and said, Hello, I’m the Wrath of God.
posted by russilwvong at 1:47 PM on November 24, 2005


Lord Bartelsham: You know, I often think that if people had been a little more kind to each other, we could have avoided many of the wars which have plagued society through the ages.
Lady Bartelsham: Rubbish, dear.
Lord Bartelsham: Well... maybe... but just suppose for a minute that when Wallenstein reached the gates of Magdeburg in 1631, instead of razing the city to the ground and putting its inhabitants to the sword, he'd said... "What a lovely place! How lucky you are to live here. I live in Sweden... you must come and see me some time." Just think what a difference it would have made - he'd have gone down in history as a nice chap, instead of the Butcher of Magdeburg.
Lady Bartelsham: Eat up dear, and stop talking piffle.

-Ripping Yarns.

Happy turkey day regardless, US MeFites!
posted by Zack_Replica at 1:48 PM on November 24, 2005


I'd like to know what really happened, but no one really will. Doesn't mean we should stop looking, but still.

Myself, I'm tired of being blamed for being related to people who did bad things. I never owned a slave, I never killed an indian, and I certainly never TRIED to get special priveleges like education and jobs over anyone else. There is no way I can change the past, and I don't seem to be having much effect on the present (hi Iraq) so I just try to be kind.

All I want is to eat some mashed potatoes and gravy in peace, is that so wrong?
posted by bairey at 2:09 PM on November 24, 2005


Funny thing about the past is that we can't do a damned thing to change it.

This many years after the fact, we cannot bring the Pequots back to life, nor can we charge Mather et al. with murder and arson.

What we can do this day is be thankful for what we have, and try each day to do The Right Thing to the best of our judgement and ability.


...speaking of Iraq...
posted by fairmettle at 2:09 PM on November 24, 2005


Quick, let's find more reasons to quibble about, minimize, and dismiss genocide!
posted by orthogonality at 2:46 PM CST on November 24

You're absolutely right, orthogonality. We should be actively working to bring the perpetrators to justice.
posted by rocket88 at 2:53 PM CST on November 24


Ha.
posted by justgary at 2:16 PM on November 24, 2005


I witness this deep long over due concern of the Mefi whiteman. My heart soars like... like... the great eagle. (CUE: Hawk - "SCREEEEEEEEEE") Justice at last is at hand.

I now command all you guilt-ridden white-skin foriegn devils to kill yourselves immediately.

Ah. You say waht about me? No worries. Seeing as I am 1/4 Blackfoot (and perhaps also 1/16 Shoshone if Grandpa Shannon can be believed) I can safely omitted myself. Er. Most of myself. Maybe I'll lop off a foot or something "white."

Yes. Kill yourselves now and right a great wrong.

Wha? No? Chalk up yet another in the long list of lies told to my people by the white devil.

DAMN YOU WHITE DEVILS!
posted by tkchrist at 2:21 PM on November 24, 2005


> When Tisquantum approached the Pilgrims and
> identified himself by that sobriquet, it was as if he had
> stuck out his hand and said, Hello, I’m the Wrath of God.
> posted by russilwvong at 1:47 PM PST on November 24 [!]

My, how things have changed.

I'm the wrath of God. -- Osama.
No, I'M the wrath of God -- George.
posted by hank at 2:43 PM on November 24, 2005


i'm the wrath of dog -- cujo
posted by pyramid termite at 3:03 PM on November 24, 2005


The first official Thanksgiving wasn't a festive gathering of Indians and Pilgrims, but rather a celebration of the massacre of 700 Pequot men, women and children, an anthropologist says.

Yawn.

"The first Thanksgiving celebrated in North America occurred in Newfoundland in 1578, and not south of the border in Plymouth as commonly thought." [All hail the Newfies!]

Happy Thanksgiving, American friends!
posted by Hildegarde at 3:16 PM on November 24, 2005


Ok anything related to the dominant culture sucks. Thanksgiving sucks - cancel the suck-age, everybody back to work!

The round numbers in Canada are 500,000 to 2,000,000 when Columbus showed up, 100,000 in 1900, and 1,000,000 today.

So the numbers tell an awful story but not one as severe as in America. If there were 237,000 Indians in North America in 1900, then half of them were in Canada. There are at least half as many living in Canada now as when Columbus arrived and possibly twice as many.
posted by scheptech at 4:51 PM on November 24, 2005


Whether or not there were other Thanksgivings, the traditional First Thanksgiving in the United States was at the Pilgrim colony of Plimouth in 1621. We have a personal account.

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after have a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, 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 this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Wherever the fuck Counterpunch got the idea it took place during the 1637 Pequot War, I don't know, but if they can't get the year right, I'm not sure what other facts I can trust. What else did they get wrong? Cotton Mather wasn't born until 1663, twenty-six years after the events. (Perhaps they meant his grandfather Increase, but the tense of the sentence actually suggests that Mather was writing of historical events.)

There's certainly no connection with the First or any other Thanksgiving -- the article does seem to only suggest that we should re-evaluate the Pilgrims because of this later military venture. Indeed, the article suggests that the original colonists should have been left to starve, although what that would have accomplished -- given that there would be more colonists in the future, despite the failure of many early colonies -- is left as an exercise for the reader.

Back in 2003 we had a simliar gloss put on the First Thanksgiving, with a claim of grave-robbing. Also false.

The framing of the decimation of native American populations by European disease -- well documented by early colonists up and down the seaboard, who frequently found mysteriously abandoned villages -- as deliberate genocide is similarly deplorable. By modern standards, we would take more care, but among other things we have a medical model of disease. The inadvertent slaughter of Indiians by bugs made the land seem underutilized and thus open for colonization. It's a tragedy, but it wasn't comparable to a modern industrialized genocide.

I find this approach, even when it's factually correct, frequently intellectually dishonest. The desire to puncture mythology trumps objective historicism.
posted by dhartung at 5:00 PM on November 24, 2005


...and Christmas was a pagan festival, and Mother's Day was invented by greeting card companies, and there is no easter bunny, and Halloween is a solstice celebration, and blah blah blah nobody celebrate anything because it's a big sham!
posted by StarForce5 at 5:10 PM on November 24, 2005


Yes, it's all lies, deceit, and self-delusion. All the holidays are suspect indeed.

Personally, I despise Labor day. The sheer effrontery. One lousy day off for a year of wage-slavery. They think we are children?
posted by scheptech at 5:23 PM on November 24, 2005


Nice post dhartung. Tho I agree that we shouldn't forget about the native american massacres (Andrew Jackson should rot in hell), the biggest killer was disease, and nobody then had any idea how it worked.

And it would be nice if, on thanksgiving, we all gave a little to a native american charity of which there are several. In the spirit, not of guilt, but of the possibility of reclaiming that breif time when two cultures coexisted and benefitted from each other.
posted by lumpenprole at 5:48 PM on November 24, 2005


I'm a descendant of John and Priscilla Alden, and my family is pretty involved in Pilgrim stuff here in MA. It irks me to no end when folks start spouting off about Plimoth and can't even be bothered to figure out that the settlers there weren't Puritans of any stripe. Some of the group were Separatists and some, like the Aldens and the Mullins were considered "strangers" as they were not members of the same church and were primarily motivated by economic, not religious, considerations. John was the ship's Cooper, who decided to stay, and Priscilla's father was a shoe merchant who travelled to the new world with quite a bit of inventory.

Anyway, once I see the word Puritan, my eyes glaze over and I don't really take what the author has to say seriously.
posted by Biblio at 7:11 PM on November 24, 2005


Dhartung really popped your balloon, didn't he.
posted by vronsky at 7:48 PM on November 24, 2005


How you gonna hate on Thanksgiving? I'm trying to grub in the name of America and you go talking about dead Indians.

What you got against food? Why don't you keep all that hate to yourself?

It ain't hate-giving! It's Thanks-giving!

Before anyone tries to play the race card you should know I'm Cherokee, Creek and Apache in additon to the nooks and crannies of Europe.
posted by nyxxxx at 7:49 PM on November 24, 2005


BINGO!
posted by dsword at 7:56 PM on November 24, 2005


Anti-thankites!
posted by blue_beetle at 8:24 PM on November 24, 2005


My T-Day advice? Give a li'l sumpin back to the Pequots: Lose yourself at Foxwoods.
posted by rob511 at 9:31 PM on November 24, 2005


dhartung said:

"Whether or not there were other Thanksgivings, the traditional First Thanksgiving in the United States was at the Pilgrim colony of Plimouth in 1621."

True enough, according to several sources and I'll leave the premise of the FPP alone since it is fraught with errors and attempts to raise hackles already stiff.


"Back in 2003 we had a simliar gloss put on the First Thanksgiving, with a claim of grave-robbing. Also false."


Perhaps not. Charles Mann in the Smithsonian link I posted above says:

"How did that many even survive? In his history of Plymouth Colony, Governor William Bradford himself provides one answer: robbing Indian houses and graves. The Mayflower hove to first at cape Cod. An armed company of Pilgrims staggered out. Eventually they found a deserted Indian habitation. The newcomers-hungry, cold, sick- dug open burial sites and ransacked homes, looking for underground stashes of food."

History is seldom as simple as the good agin' the evil. Both sides have usually a more reasonable reasonsw for their actions than destroying the other. In this case, the grave robbery happened, but for self preservation and not because of a desire to demean the other.


As an aside, those Europeans ended up having to replace their theft and grave robbery.



"
posted by stirfry at 9:49 PM on November 24, 2005


It is important to remember that all of these estimates of Indian populations before 1492 are pretty much wild guesses. Smallpox and other European diseases ripped through most native groups repeatedly before any white person ever showed up to write down how many Indians there were. And archeology offers only the barest glimpses. We have no idea really how many Indians there were before contact.
posted by LarryC at 10:48 PM on November 24, 2005


I don’t think anyone is saying we shouldn’t eat stuffing in peace. Nor do I believe anyone is saying the indigenous peoples were somehow more noble because they were slaughtered (if the Aztecs had the technology they would have had millions of European heats smoking on gold altars) or that modern folks are somehow culpable.
It is however one more thing to be thankful for. Thankful that we are not committing or supporting such inhuman acts. Thankful we’re not being slaughtered. Thankful we can eat in peace. Thankful we have enough to eat.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to remember those who cannot be thankful for those things. Particularly if one is truly grateful for those blessings. It’s one day in the year we shouldn’t take those things for granted.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:29 AM on November 25, 2005


We often forget even to do that. But it's what holidays are for.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:31 AM on November 25, 2005


Jeff Rowland's celebration plans
posted by damehex at 11:37 AM on November 25, 2005


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