To my loyal readers (both of them), I offer a sincere apology. I have neglected my duty to keep up on things--even if my posts are usually in vain:
A man said to the Universe,
"Sir, I exist!"
"However," replied the Universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."
Today is Thanksgiving, so I'll give a seasonally appropriate rant.
Ask most Americans and virtually all school children why the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving, and they will recite a historically inaccurate myth that has persevered for decades.
Let's just get a few things straight.
The Pilgrims did not nearly starve because they were inept farmers. They suffered in the earliest stages of the colony because they landed at Plymouth in December. Think about it. It doesn't matter how great of a farmer that you are, you can't grow anything in the middle of a Massachusetts winter. Half of Plymouth's original English settlers died not because of laziness or ineptitude, but because life in the seventeenth century was hard; and establishing healthy quarters, in the dead of winter, in a foreign wilderness made it even harder.
The "Thanksgiving" attributed to the Pilgrims occurred the following autumn in 1621. It was a three to four day long feast. Food consisted primarily of venison, wild birds, and probably some fish. Due to the lateness of the season, vegetables would probably have been limited to dried corn.
The Pilgrims almost certainly gave thanks during this feast, but it would not have been thanks to the Indians. The Pilgrims were extremely devout protestants who would have given thanks first--and pretty much exclusively--to God. As for thanking the Indians, you have to think in terms of the Pilgrims themselves. Sure, Samoset and Tisquantum (i.e. Squanto) were valuable friends, but Governor William Bradford referred to him as "a special instrument sent of God."
Think about it. To the Pilgrims, the Indians were uncivilized, unchristian savages. The Pilgrims were so terrified of the Indians that during that first harsh winter, they buried their dead at night so that the Indians would not know how miserably weak the Pilgrims were.
The Pilgrims were the kinds of Protestants who viewed Catholics as evil. At least Catholics believe in God and in the divinity of Jesus. The Wampanoags (the Indians whom the Pilgrims "befriended") didn't even know the scriptures, let alone believe a single word of them.
When the Pilgrims made their first settlement, they did so on the grounds of an abandoned Patuxant village. It seems that smallpox (probably contracted from roving English fishermen) wiped the entire village out. To the Pilgrims, this was God's way of establishing for them a place to build a new Jerusalem.
Don't tell me that the Pilgrims provided an elaborate feast to thank godless savages, some of whom had been completely eradicated (by God, supposedly) in order for the Pilgrims to establish a home, and who were their only to serve the Pilgrims (recall the Bradford quote).
Inviting Massasoit and his braves to this first "Thanksgiving" was merely a diplomatic move. Undoubtedly, the Pilgrims had benefited from Tisquantum and Samoset. However, they sought to maintain friendly relations with Massasoit because the Pilgrims' numbers were simply too meager to afford hostilities.
Of course the Wampanoags accepted the invitation because the same was true for them. It was simply good diplomacy. They'd dealt with the English before, and like Powhatan in Virginia, they knew that it was wiser to be on good terms than poor.
Just ask the Pequot.
So why the elaborate myth? It's simple. Most Americans feel somewhat bad about what happened to the Indians. Without a doubt, the English (and later the Americans) stole the Indians' lands. To make up for this, Americans have created a "lost cause" myth--similar to how Gone With the Wind portrays the antebellum South. Perhaps if we celebrate them enough, we can atone for the sins of our fathers.
The other reason that we celebrate Thanksgiving? The federal government made the holiday up (that's right! The Pilgrims did not have an annual feast). Why did the feds make it up? Perhaps the better question is when did the feds make it up, and the answer is during the Great Depression. Our modern Thanksgiving holiday was decreed by FDR so that we could focus on what we had instead of what we didn't have because of poor federal policy.
Oh, and there probably weren't even any turkey's served at the Pilgrims' "Thanksgiving." Turkey's are foul fowl. If you eat them, then you might as well eat garbage. Perhaps on another post I'll tell you why. For now, I'm tired. Robbie's sick and throwing up. Natalie's sick and throwing up. I'm not sick and throwing up, but my Xbox 360 is staring at me from across the room, whispering "Call of Duty 4."
Read these for more interesting notes on Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims. Seriously, these are really interesting.
From Richard J. Maybury: "The Great Thanksgiving Hoax"
From Gary Galles: "Property and the First Thanksgiving"
From Murray Rothbard: "What Really Happened at Plymouth"