Thursday, November 24, 2016


JFK+50:  Volume 7, No. 2139


Plymouth, Massachusetts (JFK+50) 395 years ago, according to tradition, Englishmen and Native American Indians celebrated the First Thanksgiving, an event which was proclaimed a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln* in 1863.

As we celebrate and give thanks on this Thanksgiving Day 2016, we might ask how much of the tradition is true?   According to Melissa Chan of Time, there's not "that much in common" with the "First Thanksgiving" and the "all-American holiday recognized today."

The first Thanksgiving celebrated on November 21, 1621 was attended by some 140 persons....90 Wampanoag Indians and 50 Englishmen.  The English sat at tables while the Indians sat on the ground.

The Wampanoags traveled two days to reach Plimoth Plantation and the festivities lasted three days.  The menu included deer, brought by the Indians, wild turkey, duck, goose and fish.

That's all well and good, but what about the Native-American version. Ramona Peters** discounts the background of the event saying that the Pilgrims were firing off cannon and guns in celebration so the Wampanoags came to see what that was all about and then decided to "hang out" for a while.
So the Indians were not exactly "invited" since the Englishmen would have considered them "savage" in those days.

While the English gave thanks to their God, the Wampanoag gave thanks to their "first mother," their "human mother," and to "Mother Earth."

*According to Gala Courey Toensing, Lincoln made up "the theme of Pilgrims & Indians eating happily together" as "a nice unity story" in the midst of Civil War.  So much for "Honest Abe."

**Ramona Peters is the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Historical Preservation Officer.  


"What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving:  The Wampanoag Side of the Tale," by Gala Courey Toensing, November 21, 2012, Indian Country,

"What We Really Know About the First Thanksgiving," by Melissa Chan, November 22, 2016,

The First Thanksgiving
by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899)
Library of Congress Image