The First Thanksgiving

In elementary school, students were all told the story of the first Thanksgiving, probably some version of a fall feast where the English colonists and the Native Americans came together to eat. However, this isn’t the complete story, there is another side to this holiday. 

Many parts of the original story are incorrect. The myth is that friendly Native Americans welcome the Pilgrims to America, teach them how to live in this new place, sit down to dinner with them, and then disappear. 

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the interactions between the colonists and the Native Americans weren’t exactly friendly. When the English arrived, they brought with them a deadly disease called smallpox. Most of the Native American population was infected, and other interactions between the two resulted in violence, bloody battles, or many of the Native Americans being captured and made slaves. 

The Native American tribe said to be at the first Thanksgiving is called the Wampanoag Indians.

Studies also show that the traditional dinner was not the same as in the tale. According to the New Yorker, the Pilgrims did hold a three-day feast, which was attended by members of the Wampanoag tribe. 

 According to VOA News, in the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest by firing guns and cannons in Plymouth, Massachusetts. While it is true that the Wampanoag people might have shared food with the Pilgrims during this time, they also hunted for food.

So, what should be taught in school about Thanksgiving? Should we teach this troubling story of this holiday even to the younger children? RHS history teacher Abby Busse gives her opinion. 

We don’t currently teach about Thanksgiving in high school,” Busse said. “Right now, I think Thanksgiving is taught in lower elementary school and then touched on again during upper elementary school.  Maybe we should wait until upper elementary school when kids can understand “the first Thanksgiving” as part of a larger narrative that wasn’t usually so positive.”

While this fall holiday doesn’t have the greatest backstory, there are still many positive aspects of Thanksgiving. 

I personally love Thanksgiving,” Busse said. “I think it is a good opportunity to reflect on our troubled history while being able to recognize the positive things in our lives now.  We live in a country that has lasted through centuries of strife and the expansion of civil rights to different groups, and there is good reason to believe that your generation is going to accelerate this trend towards equal rights. Thanksgiving allows me to celebrate some of my favorite things, like food, football, and family.  I have a lot to be thankful for.”