12 Thanksgiving ‘Facts’ That Everyone Believes… But They Shouldn’t.

12 Thanksgiving ‘Facts’ That Everyone Believes… But They Shouldn’t. November 26, 2017

While many schools have switched to revisionist history textbooks, most especially after the success of Howard Zinn’s *A People’s History of the United States*, some generations continue to pass on the victors’ myths that they have learned as children. The first Thanksgiving is just one of many stories that have been hammered and spoiled in all directions. It is perfectly normal to be uninformed – we cannot examine every incoming source in full or completely commit ourselves as historians (a career requiring a lifetime) – but it is a great disservice to the individual and future generations to stay misinformed. The good news is that beyond the unhelpful picture books and comfort of our memories, there is a wealth of information leading to key pieces. The bad news? Navigating through the slew of information can be tough. Below you will find a list of some commonly accepted Thanksgiving myths, both past and present, and a very beginning dialogue on how to ‘debunk’ them. You will find that as you delve into history books and Internet forums that the debunking, which also includes the debunking of debunkers, is never ending. You don’t have to know all the answers, but you should be able to join in on the conversation.According to Paula Peters, a scholar of Wampanoag history, Tisquantum (who we know as Squanto) was among 20 men taken from Patuxet (modern-day Plymouth) against their will in 1614. He was the only known one to return home after his near brush with slavery. Upon his return, Tisquantum found that the home he’d left no longer existed due to a deadly plague, noted historian Charles C. Mann. He started back towards Massachusetts on foot, but was seized on account of his relations with the distrusted Europeans. Tisquantum was sent to Massasoit, the political-military leader of the Wampanoag confederation, as a captive. Massasoit’s people were also hit by the plague while the neighboring rival group, Narragansett, was left unaffected. This put them in a precarious situation. Massasoit thought he could save his group by allying with the Pilgrims, and enlisted Tisquantum, who had become fluent in English during his time in Britain, as a translator. With goals to ultimately rebuild the old community he had lost at a locale near Plymouth and eventually make this new Patuxet the center of the Wampanoag confederation, Tisquantum intended to play the Native and English people against one another. In short, ‘Squanto’ was power hungry.

Mann wrote in a 2005 Smithsonian article: “By fall the settlers’ situation was secure enough that they held a feast of thanksgiving. Massasoit showed up with ‘some ninety men,’ Winslow later recalled, most of them with weapons. The Pilgrim militia responded by marching around and firing their guns in the air in a manner intended to convey menace. Gratified, both sides sat down, ate a lot of food and complained about the Narragansett. Ecce Thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving was not named a national holiday until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued two presidential Thanksgiving proclamations. Lincoln designated both August and November as times to to give thanks.

Despite famous depictions of Pilgrims, buckles did not rise in popularity until later in the seventeenth century. Though black and white were commonly worn on Sundays and formal occasions, men were often robed in other colors such as beige, earthy green, and brown. Women usually dressed in red, earth green, brown, blue, violet, and gray.

Though the Mayflower transported tailors, merchants, trumpets, and drums, among other things, they did not bring along livestock or farmers. One man on board, William Mullins, reportedly brought over 126 pairs of shoes and 13 pairs of boots. In regards to furniture, the pilgrims only brought chests and boxes. The Wampanoag people, who have lived in that area of the U.S. for over 12,000 years, taught them how to fish, hunt, and harvest.

Thanksgiving as a family gathering is a modern interpretation. In the past, it was to celebrate gains past sustenance and growth in community (or rather, strategic relations). In addition, Native people spent more than just one day giving thanks – and for various reasons – in ceremonial form.

Historian George Willison noted that the story about the rock was a public relations stunt to garner attention. He discovered that the legend was based on a questionable testimony made by 95-year-old Thomas Faunce a century after the Mayflower landed. Willison notes further that the Pilgrims did not land in Plymouth at first; they found themselves in Provincetown.

The short answer is “It’s Complicated.” Former Chief Curator of the Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, MA, Jeremy Bangs wrote in an article on the History News Network: “The modern idea that in a religious thanksgiving everyone spent the day praying’ is inconsistent with the only description of the specific activities of a definitely identified thanksgiving day in early Plymouth Colony — the thanksgiving held in Scituate in 1636 when a religious service was followed by feasting.” Bangs adds: “That ‘what we think of as Thanksgiving was really a harvest festival’ (as if that meant it could not have been a thanksgiving) repeats Deetz’s incorrect opinion that an English harvest festival was non-religious or even irreligious.” And most poignantly: “Ever been to a midwestern church picnic? Did tossing horseshoes and playing softball make it non-religious?”

Though turkey was recorded as part of a normal Pilgrim diet, there is no evidence that they ate it at their Thanksgiving festival. They enjoyed “fowling,” according to Edward Winslow’s firsthand account in Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, but the type was not specifically identified. The traditional Thanksgiving recipes we know today were probably popularized by the Victorians (though the first American cookbook published in 1796 includes recipes for some familiar Thanksgiving dishes including a kind of pumpkin pudding similar to pumpkin pie).

Harvard University Press published Harold R. Shurtleff’s book, “The Log Cabin Myth: A Study of the Early Dwellings of the English Colonists in North America” in 1939. In American Studies: An Annotated Bibliography, Volume 1, Jack Salzman wrote this description: “This volume seeks to overturn the common public belief that the log cabin was the earliest form of dwelling of the first English settlers in North America. In addition to proving that there were no log cabins until at least the end of the 17th century, Shurtleff is interested also in discovering how and why the myth of the log cabin originated and flourished in the U.S.” The book is available as a collectible on Amazon for $155 if you’re interested.

Pilgrims were known as separatists, those who wanted to separate themselves from the Anglican Church, while Puritans had no intention of breaking ties with the Church. Both groups were non-conformists and refused to accept authority beyond that which could be found in the written word. Historians in a History.com video titled “Puritans vs. Pilgrims” reveal: “1620, the Pilgrims ‘land at Plymouth Rock.’ Nine years later, the Puritans arrive at Salem. The two groups merge and spread across New England. But it’s not long before they start bickering. Their faith fractures and the cracks are what carves today’s state lines.”

Watch the video [here][1]. [1]: http://www.history.com/topics/us-states/massachusetts/videos/puritans-vs-pilgrims

From ushistory.org: “Many settlers died of scurvy and malnutrition during that horrible first winter. Of the 102 original Mayflower passengers, only 44 survived. Again like in Jamestown, the kindness of the local Native Americans saved them from a frosty death.”

Health and science writer Christopher Wanjek wrote in LiveScience: “[There’s a myth that] there’s a natural chemical in turkey called tryptophan that makes you sleepy after the Thanksgiving meal. Alas, it is only marginally true. What’s making you sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner is any combination of booze, bad conversation and a carbohydrate-heavy meal, but not the turkey itself… The real culprits are all those carbohydrates from potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, bread and pie.”