While many paintings of “the First Thanksgiving” show a single long table with several Pilgrims and a few Native people, there were actually twice as many Wampanoag people as colonists. It is unlikely that everyone could have been accommodated at one table. Rather, Wampanoag leaders like Massasoit and his advisors were most likely entertained in the home of Plymouth Colony’s governor, William Bradford.

The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story

Michelle Tirado
11/22/11
Thanksgiving History Brownscombe

Too often the story of the 1621 Thanksgiving is told from the Pilgrims’ point of view, and when the Wampanoag, who partook in this feast too, are included, it is usually in a brief or distorted way. In search of the Native American perspective, we looked to Plymouth, where the official first Thanksgiving took place and where today the Wampanoag side of the story can be found.

Plimoth Plantation is one of Plymouth’s top attractions and probably the place to go for the first Thanksgiving story. It is a living museum, with its replica 17th century Wampanoag Homesite, a representation of the homesite used by Hobbamock, who served as emissary between the Wampanoag and Pilgrims, and staffed by 23 Native Americans, mostly Wampanoag; 17th century English Village; and the Mayflower II, a replica of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth.

According to a Plimoth Plantation timeline, the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Harbor on December 16, 1620. The Pilgrims settled in an area that was once Patuxet, a Wampanoag village abandoned four years prior after a deadly outbreak of a plague, brought by European traders who first appeared in the area in 1616. The museum’s literature tells that before 1616, the Wampanoag numbered 50,000 to 100,000, occupying 69 villages scattered throughout southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island. The plague, however, killed thousands, up to two-thirds, of them. Many also had been captured and sold as slaves.

And yet, when the Wampanoag watched the Mayflower’s passengers come ashore at Patuxet, they did not see them as a threat. “The Wampanoag had seen many ships before,” explained Tim Turner, Cherokee, manager of Plimoth Plantation’s Wampanoag Homesite and co-owner of Native Plymouth Tours. “They had seen traders and fishermen, but they had not seen women and children before. In the Wampanoag ways, they never would have brought their women and children into harm. So, they saw them as a peaceful people for that reason.”

Thanksgiving History Massasoit Statue Native Plymouth Tours

But they did not greet them right away either. The English, in fact, did not see the Wampanoag that first winter at all, according to Turner. “They saw shadows,” he said. Samoset, a Monhegan from Maine, came to the village on March 16, 1621. The next day, he returned with Tisquantum (Squanto), a Wampanoag who befriended and helped the English that spring, showing them how to plant corn, fish and gather berries and nuts. That March, the Pilgrims entered into a treaty of mutual protection with Ousamequin (Massasoit), the Pokanoket Wampanoag leader.

Turner said what most people do not know about the first Thanksgiving is that the Wampanoag and Pilgrims did not sit down for a big turkey dinner and it was not an event that the Wampanoag knew about or were invited to in advance. In September/October 1621, the Pilgrims had just harvested their first crops, and they had a good yield. They “sent four men on fowling,” which comes from the one paragraph account by Pilgrim Edward Winslow, one of only two historical sources of this famous harvest feast. Winslow also stated, “we exercised our arms.” “Most historians believe what happened was Massasoit got word that there was a tremendous amount of gun fire coming from the Pilgrim village,” Turner said. “So he thought they were being attacked and he was going to bear aid.”

When the Wampanoag showed up, they were invited to join the Pilgrims in their feast, but there was not enough food to feed the chief and his 90 warriors. “He [Massasoit] sends his men out, and they bring back five deer, which they present to the chief of the English town [William Bradford]. So, there is this whole ceremonial gift-giving, as well. When you give it as a gift, it is more than just food,” said Kathleen Wall, a Colonial Foodways Culinarian at Plimoth Plantation.

The harvest feast lasted for three days. What did they eat? Venison, of course, and Wall said, “Not just a lovely roasted joint of venison, but all the parts of the deer were on the table in who knows how many sorts of ways.” Was there turkey? “Fowl” is mentioned in Winslow’s account, which puts turkey on Wall’s list of possibilities. She also said there probably would have been a variety of seafood and water fowl along with maize bread, pumpkin and other squashes. “It was nothing at all like a modern Thanksgiving,” she said.

While today Thanksgiving is one of our nation’s favorite holidays, it has a far different meaning for many Wampanoag, who now number between 4,000 and 5,000. Turner said, “For the most part, Thanksgiving itself is a day of mourning for Native people, not just Wampanoag people.”

Thanksgiving History Plymouth Rock

At noon on every Thanksgiving Day, hundreds of Native people from around the country gather at Cole's Hill, which overlooks Plymouth Rock, for the National Day of Mourning. It is an annual tradition started in 1970, when Wampanoag Wamsutta (Frank) James was invited by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to give a speech at an event celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival and then disinvited after the event organizers discovered his speech was one of outrage over the “atrocities” and “broken promises” his people endured.

On the Wampanoag welcoming and having friendly relations with the Pilgrims, James wrote in his undelivered speech: “This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end.”

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sonkwaban's picture
sonkwaban
Submitted by sonkwaban on
I love Tim Turner, great guy but are you telling me you go to tell this story from a "Wampanoag" perspective and you couldn't talk to even one Wampanoag? You have to be kidding right?

ciebird's picture
ciebird
Submitted by ciebird on
I have to object to the use of the term "The First Thanksgiving" as applied to Plymouth and Plimoth Plantation. Plymouth was closer to the fifth thanksgiving celebrated by Europeans. Jamestown was earlier, as were other settlements in what is now Virginia, Maine and Florida. The very first European thanksgiving is believed to have been Spanish explorers seeking gold: Coronado led 1,500 men in thanksgiving near modern day Amarillo, Texas, in May of 1541. That celebration lasted two weeks and was probably a lot more like our modern day feasts than the Separatist prayer rituals the Pilgrims of Plimoth held back in England. I understand the point of your article, and completely sympathize, but I also see no mention of wopila, and, as mentioned in previous comments, you interviewed no Wampanoag. The thanksgiving between the Wampanoag and Pilgrims bears little resemblance to modern day Thanksgivings, and was actually held in October. I believe you could have found a better way to get your very valid point across.

Anoymous's picture
Anoymous
Submitted by Anoymous on
I agree with SONKWABAN, it's pretty messed up. But seeing as this is for a history grade...... Nice Job!

Anoymous's picture
Anoymous
Submitted by Anoymous on
Right, right turn off the lights We gonna lose our minds tonight What's the dealeo? I love when it's all too much 5 a.m., turn the radio up Where's the rock and roll? Party crasher, panty snatcher Call me up if you a gangster Don't be fancy, just get dancey Why so serious? So raise your glass if you are wrong In all the right ways All my underdogs, we will never, never be Anything but loud and nitty gritty, dirty little freaks Won't you come on and come o, and Raise your glass Just come on and come and Raise your glass Slam, slam, oh hot damn What part of party don't you understand? Wish you'd just freak out Can't stop coming in hot I should be locked up right on the spot It's so on right now (It's so fucking on right now) Party crasher, panty snatcher Call me up if you a gangster Don't be fancy, just get dancey Why so serious? So raise your glass if you are wrong In all the right ways All my underdogs, we will never, never be Anything but loud and nitty gritty, dirty little freaks Won't you come on and come on, and Raise your glass Just come on and come and Raise your glass Won't you come on and come on, and Raise your glass Just come on and come and Raise your glass Oh shit, my glass is empty That sucks So if you're too school for cool And you're treated like a fool You could choose to let it go We can always, we can always party on our own So raise your, so raise your glass if you are wrong In all the right ways All my underdogs, we will never, never be Anything but loud and nitty gritty, dirty little freaks So raise your glass if you are wrong In all the right ways All my underdogs, we will never, never be Anything but loud and nitty gritty, dirty little freaks Won't you come on and come on and Raise your glass Just come on and come and Raise your glass Won't you come on and come on and Raise your glass for me Just come on and come and Raise your glass for me Read more: PINK - RAISE YOUR GLASS LYRICS

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Right, right turn off the lights We gonna lose our minds tonight What's the dealeo? I love when it's all too much 5 a.m., turn the radio up Where's the rock and roll? Party crasher, panty snatcher Call me up if you a gangster Don't be fancy, just get dancey Why so serious? So raise your glass if you are wrong In all the right ways All my underdogs, we will never, never be Anything but loud and nitty gritty, dirty little freaks Won't you come on and come o, and Raise your glass Just come on and come and Raise your glass Slam, slam, oh hot damn What part of party don't you understand? Wish you'd just freak out Can't stop coming in hot I should be locked up right on the spot It's so on right now (It's so fucking on right now) Party crasher, panty snatcher Call me up if you a gangster Don't be fancy, just get dancey Why so serious? So raise your glass if you are wrong In all the right ways All my underdogs, we will never, never be Anything but loud and nitty gritty, dirty little freaks Won't you come on and come on, and Raise your glass Just come on and come and Raise your glass Won't you come on and come on, and Raise your glass Just come on and come and Raise your glass Oh shit, my glass is empty That sucks So if you're too school for cool And you're treated like a fool You could choose to let it go We can always, we can always party on our own So raise your, so raise your glass if you are wrong In all the right ways All my underdogs, we will never, never be Anything but loud and nitty gritty, dirty little freaks So raise your glass if you are wrong In all the right ways All my underdogs, we will never, never be Anything but loud and nitty gritty, dirty little freaks Won't you come on and come on and Raise your glass Just come on and come and Raise your glass Won't you come on and come on and Raise your glass for me Just come on and come and Raise your glass for me Read more: PINK - RAISE YOUR GLASS LYRICS

MJ's picture
MJ
Submitted by MJ on
This article, like most modern accounts of the first Thanksgiving, omits far too many details to be considered accurate. The topic of the first Thanksgiving was mainly an alliance between the Wampanoag and Pilgrims against the Narragansett, which had been in the making. The article does not accurately explain *why* Massasoit wanted to establish friendly relations with the English. From his perspective, disease had so weakened his community that the balance of power was no longer in his favor. The English provided a useful ally in preventing his people from being overrun by the Narragansett. Hindsight is 20-20, but it's hard to say Massasoit was being foolish. He was an adroit political leader and wise chieftain who understood the dynamics of the region very well, and was taking a calculated risk.

qw's picture
qw
Submitted by qw on
bad

aa's picture
aa
Submitted by aa on
cool

meggan flanagan's picture
meggan flanagan
Submitted by meggan flanagan on
I want to teach my students some traditional people of the dawn morning rituals to give thanks to nature and help them connect with the universe. I have searched online and can not find any information on this area, any help is appreciated. Meggan

meggan flanagan's picture
meggan flanagan
Submitted by meggan flanagan on
I want to teach my students some traditional people of the dawn morning rituals to give thanks to nature and help them connect with the universe. I have searched online and can not find any information on this area, any help is appreciated. Meggan

tim's picture
tim
Submitted by tim on
I agree Sonkwaban they should call and talk to a Wampanoag at the tribe. The article was from two years ago too. As you know Sonkwaban when the media call PP they don't always ask to speak to a Wampanoag just someone from the Wampanoag Indigenous Program. Everything I said was true but your right it might be good to here from a Wampanaog too!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
So true.. we took their land and their language and it was the shame of ignorance.

Screaming Eagle's picture
Screaming Eagle
Submitted by Screaming Eagle on
i forgive my ancestors for there clouded judgement that day! things would have been different today if they let the pilgrims starve that first winter. keeping in Native American beliefs is to help when someones in trouble. its about survival. the past is the past we have to move on and not make the same mistakes twice.if it wasn't for the Native American we may not all be here today!GOD BLESS US!

Vera Scroggins's picture
Vera Scroggins
Submitted by Vera Scroggins on
good to read the other side and learn more about the Natives and their connection with Europeans and their helping the settlers; why would settlers travel and settle in Dec. , the middle of winter and bring their families? sounds like a bad decision.

Vera Scroggins's picture
Vera Scroggins
Submitted by Vera Scroggins on
good to read the other side and learn more about the Natives and their connection with Europeans and their helping the settlers; why would settlers travel and settle in Dec. , the middle of winter and bring their families? sounds like a bad decision.

Fran Bordeau's picture
Fran Bordeau
Submitted by Fran Bordeau on
It is truly amazing how you often hear stories but only the one sided. I grew up respecting our Indian friends as my great, great, grandmother was such. Proud to be her great, great , granddaughter.

Don Spohn's picture
Don Spohn
Submitted by Don Spohn on
Too bad we competed for the land. It was sufficient for all! And still is. Don Spohn Great Lakes Copper Research

Edward Lagace's picture
Edward Lagace
Submitted by Edward Lagace on
All history is bent to reflect good things of the invaders. There is a need within the heart of all mankind to reflect good even when that thing was bad.

joandra's picture
joandra
Submitted by joandra on
this didnt really help at all i need to know about massasaoit and his impact on the history of our country
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