By Frances Chapman
Sophomore, political science major, Arabic minor
Like many Americans, my Thanksgiving memories include making colorful paper turkeys in school and eating delicious turkey at home. While the widely held perception of Native Americans and Plymouth colonists is the most pervasive imagery in November, this is largely mythic.
Myth: English Colonists Held the First Thanksgiving.
According to Dr. Michael Gannon, a retired history professor from the University of Florida, Spanish colonists led by Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles held one of the earlier Thanksgiving celebrations in 1565. Aviles, one of the founders of St. Augustine, is also noted for decimating the French Huguenot population established near the St. Johns River. These Huguenots, according to the Library of Congress, also celebrated a similar Thanksgiving feast a year earlier.
Myth: The first English settlers to celebrate Thanksgiving were in Plymouth.
In Thanksgiving and Other Harvest Festivals, author Ann Morill noted that such celebrations were routine in Jamestown years before the Plymouth colonists reached their famous rock. In the spring of 1610, Jamestown colonists celebrated the arrival of food from English supply ships after a brutal famine, rather than a bountiful harvest that is associated with the Plymouth colonists.
Myth: Colonists shared turkey with their Native American friends.
The Spanish colonists of St. Augustine feasted on bean soup with the Timucua tribe of Florida. The pilgrims of Plymouth, however, did include turkey in their festivities, along with duck, geese, venison, lobsters, clams, bass, corn, green vegetables, and dried fruits, according to the Library of Congress. Moreover, some of the Thanksgiving celebrations occurred during times of troubling relations between Native Americans and European colonists. One such celebration, held by English settlers called “The Berkely Hundred” in Virginia, came before an event called the Massacre of 1633, where Native Americans and colonists alike were murdered after years of rising tension, according to Dr. Peter Hoffer of the University of Georgia.
Myth: Thanksgiving is considered by all Americans as a time to remember the bounty of the country.
Many members of academia consider Thanksgiving a time that Americans view the country in a positive perception, yet as a holiday that should be for reflection of all of America’s actions, positive and negative. For instance, University of Texas at Austin professor Robert Jensen has stated, “One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting.”
Myth: Thanksgiving is only celebrated in the United States.
Reflecting the multicultural origins of Thanksgiving, today, many countries around the globe observe the holiday. Beyond the United States, similar celebrations occur in Canada, Norfolk Island, and Liberia.
This Thanksgiving, when you will inevitably be bombarded by imagery of men with buckles on their hats and plump turkeys, remember the diverse tradition of the holiday in the United States. Its meaning supersedes a day to shovel food into your mouth; rather, it serves as a reminder of the difficulties colonists of all cultures faced on the same land and the extent to which they were willing to claim it.