Like many things related to American History, Thanksgiving is the victim to many misconceptions surrounding the “First Thanksgiving”. Often, history, is romanticized and simplified to fit fanciful ideals about our nation. More often than not, what was history gets distorted into little more than cultural folk tales! Thanksgiving is a big contender for being romanticized and distorted:
- The Pilgrims ate Turkey at the “First Thanksgiving”
While wild turkey was a source of food for Native Americans and Pilgrims alike, the first meal was most likely other birds, like geese, duck and swans. Also, the Native Americans were said to have brought a few deer!
2. The Pilgrims and Native Americans Had an Idyllic Meal Together
While it’s nice to think of a nice multicultural feast, the Pilgrims didn’t originally invite the Native Americans. The record implies they just showed up! Maybe they were the first party-crashers!
3.The “First Thanksgiving” was “Thanksgiving”
Not quite. It was more of a harvest festival. The Pilgrim’s culture often gave thanks to God for various things and feast days were common. Much of Europe had similar customs. “Thanksgiving” as we know it came much later!
4. The Pilgrims Wore Black Clothes and Buckles on Their Hat
That image came around in the Victorian Era, notorious for romanticizing history. Instead, they wore what the average Englishmen did, clothing in many different colors. Black is expensive to dye, and was only for their very best clothing. They certainly wouldn’t saunter around the wilderness in it, much like we wouldn’t chop wood in a tuxedo! Think more like Shakespeare clothing, for a more accurate picture… (PS. The Victorians were responsible for the flat-earth myth that medieval people thought the world was flat as well!)
5. They All Sat Down For Dinner
They didn’t really have utensils, so both the Pilgrims and Native Americans ate with their hands! Mostly, they just grabbed food and ate wherever, like a casual party. The event also lasted for 3 days, not just one dinner!
6. Puritans And Pilgrims are The Same Thing
Not really, the Pilgrims wanted to separate from the Church of England completely, due to what they thought was too much “popery”! The Puritans wanted to “purify” the Church of England of it’s “popery” instead. Both were very devout groups and didn’t like Catholicism or the new Church of England! The Puritans settled Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Pilgrims settled Plymouth. (Just for the record, Jamestown was a secular business enterprise, not founded for religious reasons…) Also, the Pilgrims didn’t call themselves that as their own special name!
7. They came for Religious Freedom and From Persecution
While on some level they did, to set up their own society, but they certainly didn’t tolerate other denominations! We like to think of it the same as our American ideal of religious freedom, but it wasn’t a utopia for religion at all! Try being Quaker, you could be executed or banished out of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Also, they had almost draconian laws regarding church attendance and behavior on the Sabbath. Missing church was severely punished! Sure, they sought religious freedom, but not for anyone else! Religion was tied into politics, and also very real to them. There was a hell and a heaven, and a God who you were at the mercy of. Damnation was a very real thing, and if you don’t worship the right way, God would be angry! Religious tolerance can’t happen if one believes that the other faiths would anger a very real God!
8. Lastly, The Pilgrims Were NOT Americans!
They were not Americans. They were not in any way US citizens! The United States did not exist back then! Before 100 years later when they did split from English rule, these people were Englishmen and women. They had English customs and English culture and heritage. They shared English values. Often, they become part of US history, and it creates a picture of them being the ideal patriots and “American heroes”. We often are dismayed if we find out they didn’t embody contemporary American values, but really? They lived a century before we thought of splitting with England! While it seems obvious they weren’t US citizens, we still hold them to ideals from our country, not theirs. Sure, they are part of our story, but they had their own story too, independent from America’s story.