In memorium. Lest we forget. The First Thanksgiving
From the Community Endeavor News, November, 1995, as reprinted in Healing Global Wounds, Fall, 1996
The first official Thanksgiving wasn’t a festive gathering of Indians and Pilgrims, but rather a celebration of the massacre of 700 Pequot men, women and children, an anthropologist says. Due to age and illness his voice cracks as he talks about the holiday, but William B. Newell, 84, talks with force as he discusses Thanksgiving. Newell, a Penobscot, has degrees from two universities, and was the former chairman of the anthropology department at the University of Connecticut.
“Thanksgiving Day was first officially proclaimed by the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637 to commemorate the massacre of 700 men, women and children who were celebrating their annual green corn dance-Thanksgiving Day to them-in their own house,” Newell said.
“Gathered in this place of meeting they were attacked by mercenaries and Dutch and English. The Indians were ordered from the building and as they came forth they were shot down. The rest were burned alive in the building,” he said.
Newell based his research on studies of Holland Documents and the 13 volume Colonial Documentary History, both thick sets of letters and reports from colonial officials to their superiors and the king in England, and the private papers of Sir William Johnson, British Indian agent for the New York colony for 30 years in the mid-1600s.
“My research is authentic because it is documentary,” Newell said. “You can’t get anything more accurate than that because it is first hand. It is not hearsay.”
Newell said the next 100 Thanksgivings commemorated the killing of the Indians at what is now Groton, Ct. [home of a nuclear submarine base] rather than a celebration with them. He said the image of Indians and Pilgrims sitting around a large table to celebrate Thanksgiving Day was “fictitious” although Indians did share food with the first settlers.
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