Was the first Thanksgiving truly a pow-wow worthy feast?
Most of us associate the holiday with happy pilgrims and Indians sitting down to a big feast. It did happen once. It would be good to say this friendship lasted a long time but this was not the case.
Racial stereotypes and historical inaccuracies have been as traditional a Thanksgiving fixture as melt in your mouth. candied yams and marshmallow, though nowadays not quite as easy to swallow.
American mythology about that first Thanksgiving would have us believe that once that last slice of pumpkin pie was devoured, a peace pipe was smoked and the happy Pilgrims and contented Indians lived happily ever after.
There is a lot more to the story of Indian- Puritan relations in New England than in the Thanksgiving stories we heard as kids.
Although the Wampanoag Indians and Pilgrims joined for a meal of thanksgiving in 1621 the Indians didn’t fare so well at other Thanksgiving observances.
The second generation of Pilgrims got greedy for land and Indians had to fight for survival.
Within 50 years the Wampanoag would no longer be a tribe. Indians living near settlers would be killed or die of disease.
Time Travel For Thanksgiving
Along with our school books, mid-century advertising served up a heap big helping of offensive stereotypes.
In this post-war ad for Statler Hotels we are introduced to Pilgrim Pete and his tomahawk wielding pal.
The politically incorrect Puritan travels into the future of 1947 where he checks into the hotel with his best bud affectionately called Redman. The Indian who is never identified by name has obviously wandered off the reservation landing into a swanky room at the Statler.
The copy does imply that things were not all quiet after the first thanksgiving. Apparently, poor Pete has been dodging the savage who has been on the warpath since 1624.
But they call a truce every year to celebrate Thanksgiving.
In the years that followed that first Thanksgiving in 1621, more English settlers came to Plymouth and they were not in need of help from the Indians as were the original Pilgrims.
Mistrust started to grow and the friendship weakened.
The relationship deteriorated and within a few years, the children of the people who ate together at the first Thanksgiving were killing one another in what came to be called the King Phillips war.
At the end of this genocidal conflict, most of the New England Indians were either exterminated, living as refugees among the French in Canada or sold into slavery in the Carolinas by the Puritans.
A pious Pilgrim, Pete the Puritan says grace before the festive meal, with blessings all around.
Of course, the real pilgrims showed little grace when it came to tolerating other religions, telling Indians that their religion and customs were wrong.
In 1641 a raid against the members of the Pequot tribe in Connecticut was successful and churches declared a day of “thanksgiving” to celebrate.
During this feast the decapitated heads of Natives were kicked through the streets of Manhattan. Many towns in New England held Thanksgiving days to celebrate victories over the natives.
Statler Hotels prided itself on ensuring their guests had all the comforts of home, so naturally our Indian pal is pictured sleeping with a teepee.
Historical inadequacies in Thanksgiving stories and images reflect a lack of knowledge about the native people. The Wampanoag people who lived near Plymouth at the time of the colony’s founding did not use teepees and did not wear elaborate feathered headdresses yet these features often show up on the sets of Thanksgiving plays and children’s art projects.
Statler Hotels, the first great chain of hotel-keeping offered affordable rooms for business class for not a lot of wampum.
E.M. Statler considered the Henry Ford of hotels, opened his first hotel in Buffalo NY in 1908 introducing many innovations in services and conveniences for a large and growing business travelers, bridging the gap between luxury and second-rate hotels. His innovations included a bath with every room, closets instead of hooks or standing wardrobes and electric lights in that closet.
Racist? And How!
Something to be thankful for we don’t have to view these offensive ads anymore….there has been some Pilgrims progress.
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