History and Historiography

The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story

By Michelle Tarado, Indian Country

Too often the story of the 1621 Thanksgiving is told from the Pilgrims’ point of view, and when the Wampanoag, who partook in this feast too, are included, it is usually in a brief or distorted way. In search of the Native American perspective, we looked to Plymouth, where the official first Thanksgiving took place and where today the Wampanoag side of the story can be found.

Plimoth Plantation is one of Plymouth’s top attractions and probably the place to go for the first Thanksgiving story. It is a living museum, with its replica 17th century Wampanoag Homesite, a representation of the homesite used by Hobbamock, who served as emissary between the Wampanoag and Pilgrims, and staffed by 23 Native Americans, mostly Wampanoag; 17th century English Village; and the Mayflower II, a replica of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth.

According to a Plimoth Plantation timeline, the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Harbor on December 16, 1620. The Pilgrims settled in an area that was once Patuxet, a Wampanoag village abandoned four years prior after a deadly outbreak of a plague, brought by European traders who first appeared in the area in 1616. The museum’s literature tells that before 1616, the Wampanoag numbered 50,000 to 100,000, occupying 69 villages scattered throughout southeastern Massachusetts and eastern Rhode Island. The plague, however, killed thousands, up to two-thirds, of them. Many also had been captured and sold as slaves.

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