In 1614 a British expedition landed in the area known today as Plymouth MA. 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”, and destroyed some of the villages totally.
Mid winter of 1620 the Americas saw the landing of the Pilgrims. The new 1620 settlers were not farmers so their crops failed miserably. Were it not for the guidance of a Pawtuxet named Squanto they would have surely perished. Squanto also negotiated a peace treaty with the Wampanoag people. The next year William Bradford declared a three-day feast after the first harvest. It would later become a part of the myth known as Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims did not call it that nor were the Indians who attended the feast even invited. The invitation was only to Squanto and Chief Massasoit. They then invited over 90 brothers and sisters to the affair much to the distaste of the Europeans.
There were no prayers and the “Indians” were never invited back again. So contrary to popular myth the Puritans were not friends to the Natives. For they believed they were the chosen people of the infinite God, granting them heavenly dispensation for any actions against a people predestined for damnation. Bradford later wrote “It pleased God to visit these Indians with a great sickness though in this regard God was not perfect for 50 of every thousand Indians has survived.”
A 1641 massacre of the Pequot’s in CT was very successful so much so the churches declared a day of “thanksgiving” to celebrate victory over the now heathen first peoples. This was the first real use of the term of thanksgiving to mark a day of celebration. The celebration included the decapitation of the heads of eighty Natives, which were tossed into the streets for the New Settlers to kick about as a sign of power and defiance.
Also at this time Governor Kieft of Manhattan offered the first use of scalping as a form of bounty. He authorized a reward of 20 shillings per scalp and 40 for each prisoner suitable for sale into slavery. Permission was given to rape or enslave any Native women and enslave any child under 14. Law gave permission to “kill savages on sight at will”. Some Natives, under the leadership of an man named Metacomet, fought back with vengeance in 1675. Metacomet would, nevertheless, meet his fate at the hands of the Europeans when he was hunted down and killed. His body was dismembered, hands sent to Boston and head to Plymouth to be placed on a pole on a Thanksgiving Day in 1767.
Thanksgiving was, without the declared name, truely a tradition of the American Native Peoples. It was a time to give thanks for the bounty of the harvest and their lives. Time was taken, as the last crops were harvested, to reflect and give thanks.
One might think the Thanksgiving holiday is all a sham, but if you try, hard as it may be, you can see that , although short lived, for three days peace and fellowship was shared in New England back in 1621. A gratefulness was shown for the compassion of one peoples to another and the gifts of Grandfather and Mother Earth acknowledged and shared unconditionally.