Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A General Thanksgiving Declaration

In mid-winter 1620 the English ship Mayflower landed on the North American coast (at Plymouth Rock) delivering 102 Puritan exiles. The original Native people ("Indians") of this stretch of shoreline had already been killed off in great numbers.

In 1614 a British expedition had landed there. When they left they took 24 Indians as slaves and left smallpox, syphilis and gonorrhea behind. That plague swept the so called "tribes of New England", destroyed some villages totally.

The Puritans landed and built their colony called "the Plymouth Plantation" near the desired ruins of the Indian village of Pawtuxet. They ate from abandoned cornfields grown wild.

Historical accounts tell us that only one Pawtuxet named Squanto had survived. He had spent the last years as a slaveto the English and Spanish in Europe. The Pilgrim crop failed miserably, but the agricultural expertise of Squanto produced 20 acres of corn, without which the Pilgrims would have surely perished. Squanto spoke the colonists' language and taught them how to plant corn and how to catch fish. Squanto also helped the colonists negotiate a peace treaty with the nearby Wampanoagtribe, led by the chief Massasoit.

These were very lucky breaks for the colonists. Thanks to the good will of the Wampanoag, the Puritans not only survived their first year but had an alliance with the Wampanoags that would give them almost two decades of peace.

In celebration of their good fortune, the colony's governor, William Bradford, declared a three-day feast afterthe first harvest of 1621. It later became known as "Thanksgiving", but the Pilgrims never called it that. The "Indians" who attended were not even invited. The pilgrims only invited Chief Massasoit and it was Massasoit who then invited ninety or more of his "Indian" brothers and sisters to the affair to the chagrin of the indignant Europeans.

No turkey, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie was served, no prayers were offered and the "Indians" were not invited back for any other such meals.The peace that produced the Thanksgiving Feast of 1621 meant that the Puritans would have fifteen years to established a firm foothold on the coast. Until 1629 there were no more than 300 Puritans in New England, scattered in small and isolated settlements. But their survival inspired awave of Puritan invasion that soon established growing Massachusetts towns north of Plymouth; Boston and Salem.

For ten years, boat loads of new settlers came. As the Europeans' numbers increased, they proved not nearly as generous as the Wampanoags. On arrival, the Puritans discussed "whole gally owns all this land? "Massachusetts Governor Wintrop declared the "Indians" had not "subdued" the land, and therefore all uncultivated lands should, according to English Common Law, be considered "public domain."

This meant they belonged to the king.

In short, colonists decided they did notneed to consult the "Indians". When they seized the new lands, they only had to consult the representative of the crown (meaning the local governor). The Puritans embraced a line from Psalms 2:8, "Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heather for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of he earth for thy possession."

Contrary to popular mythology, the Pilgrims were no friends to the local Indigenous People ("Indians"). In about 1636, a force of colonists trapped some seven hundred Pequot Indians near the mouth of the Mystic River.

English Captain John Mason attacked the Indian camp with "fire, sword, blunderbuss, and tomahawk." Only a handful escaped and few prisoners were taken. "To see them frying in thefire, and the streams of their blood quenching the same, and the stench was horrible, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice to the great delight of the Pilgrims, and they gave praise thereof to God.

"The Puritan fathers believed they were the Chosen People of an Infinite God and that this justified anything they did. They were Calvinists who believed that the vast majority of humanity was predestined to damnation. During this period a day of thanksgiving was also proclaimed in the churches of Manhattan.

The European colonists declared thanksgiving days to celebrate mass murder more often than they did for reverence, harvest or friendship.

In 1641 the Dutch governor Kieft of Manhattan offered the first "scalp bounty". His government paid money for the scalp of each "Indian" brought to him. A couple of years later, Kieft ordered the massacre of the Wappingers, a "friendly tribe". Eighty were killed and their heads severed. In their victory, the settlers launched an all out genocide plot against the remaining Native people.

The Massachusetts government, following what appeared to be the order of the day, offered twenty shillings bounty for every "Indian" scalp, and forty shillings for every prisoner who could be sold into slavery. Soldiers were allowed to enslave and rape any "Indian" woman or enslave any "Indian" child under 14 they could kidnap.

The "Praying Indians" who had converted to Christianity and fought on the side of the European troops were accused of shooting into the treetops during battles with "hostiles." They were enslaved or killed. Other "peaceful Indians" of Dartmouth and Dover were invited to negotiate or seek refuge at trading posts and were sold onto slave ships.

Colonial law further gave permission to "kill savages ("Indians") on sight at will."Any goodwill that may have existed was certainly now gone and by 1675 Massachusetts and the surrounding colonies were in a full scale war with thegreat chief of the Wampanoags, Metacomet. Renamed "King Phillip" by the Europeans,

Metacomet watched the steady erosion of the lifestyles and culture of his people as European laws and values engulfed them. The syphilis, gonorrhea, smallpox and all types of "foreign" diseases took their toll.

Forced ultimately into humiliating submission by the power of a distant king, Metacomet struck out with raids on several isolated frontier towns. The expedient use of the so-called "Praying Indians" (natives converted to their version of Christianity), ultimately defeated the great "Indian" nation, just half a century after the arrival of the European.

When Captain Benjamin Church tracked down and assassinated Metacomet, his body was quartered and parts were "left for the wolves." The great "Indian"chief's hands were cut off and sent to Boston and his head went to Plymouthwhere it was set upon a poke on Thanksgiving Day, 1767.

Metacomet's nine-year-old son was destined for execution, the Puritan reasoning being that the offspring of the "Devil" must pay for the sins of their father. He was instead shipped to the Caribbean to serve his life in slavery.

In the midst of the Holocaust/Genocide of the Native Americans, Governor Dudley declared in 1704 a "General Thanksgiving" not to celebrate the brotherhood of man, but for:[God's] infinite Goodness to extend His Favors... In defeating and disappointing.... the expeditions of the Enemy [Indians] against us, And the good Success given us against them, by delivering so many of them into our hands...

What do Americans see when you say Thanksgiving?

1 comment:

Silent Brave said...

I think most Americans do not realize they were giving thanks for killings of enemies to their colonization efforts. They bought the standard line Thanksgiving was for the thanks of the indigenous assistance in their survival once these "Boat People" had landed, invaded, and took over the land and then finding they needed help to survive. The First Nation people were never actually thanked but were repaid with cruel extreminative efforts rather than attempting to understand the Native ways. I extend an apology on behalf of these thoughtless, short-sighted Boat People who had such a narrow of Christendom to the exclusion of other's spirituality - please forgive us all, my fellow Native peoples.