Thursday, November 26, 2015

Pilgrim Violence And The First Thanksgiving

19th century wood engraving of the 1637 slaughter of 400 Pequots, Granger collection (NYC)
What has come to be known as the first American celebration of Thanksgiving in the New World took place at the time Pilgrims were waging war against the native Pequots. As many as 400 men, women, and children of that tribe who were gathered for their annual green corn dance were mercilessly slaughtered and/or burned to death. 

The following is a first hand account by an actual participant, John Underhill, as quoted in a Wikipedia piece:

"Captaine Mason entring into a Wigwam, brought out a fire-brand, after hee had wounded many in the house, then hee set fire on the West-side where he entred, my selfe set fire on the South end with a traine of Powder, the fires of both meeting in the center of the Fort blazed most terribly, and burnt all in the space of halfe an houre; many couragious fellowes were unwilling to come out, and fought most desperately through the Palisadoes, so as they were scorched and burnt with the very flame, and were deprived of their armes, in regard the fire burnt their very bowstrings, and so perished valiantly: mercy they did deserve for their valour, could we have had opportunitie to have bestowed it; many were burnt in the Fort, both men, women, and children, others forced out, and came in troopes to the Indians, twentie, and thirtie at a time, which our souldiers received and entertained with the point of the sword; downe fell men, women, and children, those that scaped us, fell into the hands of the Indians, that were in the reere of us; it is reported by themselves, that there were about foure hundred soules in this Fort, and not above five of them escaped out of our hands."[3]

This Thanksgiving, while we recognize the need for civil authorities to maintain order within their borders through just laws and the use of a well regulated police force and a fair court system, may we never support or condone terrorist and violent acts on the part of any nation against another, whether by means of air or drone strikes, suicide bombers or by armed troops on the ground. Rather, may we all pray for and work towards a world in which war is denounced and nations everywhere "beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks".

For a more detailed account of the early Pilgrim story, with footnotes, see
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