British Capt. Simeon Ecuyer, portrayed by Colonial Williamsburg interpreter Ken Treese, second from right, offered blankets infected with smallpox to the American Indians besieging Fort Pitt. From left, Patrick Simmonds, Christopher Jones, Ted Boscana, Treese and Patrick Andrews interpret the exchange at Colonial Willimasburg in 2003 (Image courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation/The Philadelphia Tribune).
By Michael Coard
Exactly 400 years ago on Nov. 9, 1621 (or as early as Sept. 21 as some scholars believe) in Plymouth, Mass., Pilgrims from England supposedly celebrated their first so-called Thanksgiving feast with the Wampanoag Nation a year after their arrival on the land of those indigenous red people.
Tragically, those trusting red men, women, and children had no idea that the unimaginable hell of widespread death and massive land robbery would soon follow.
When the Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower in 1620, they didn’t bring thanks. They didn’t even give thanks. Instead, they brought racist genocide and gave nothing.
And they eventually succeeded in mass killing and mass land robbery not because they were smarter or stronger but because they were sadistically evil racists who initiated the use of a weapon of mass destruction that previously had been unheard of on this land.
Dr. Howard N. Simpson, author of “Invisible Armies: The Impact of Disease on American History,” points out that “The Europeans were able to conquer America not because of their military genius or their religious motivation or their ambition or (even) their greed. They conquered it by waging … biological warfare.”
J. Leitch Wright Jr., in “The Only Land They Knew,” notes that “In 1623, the British indulged in the first use of chemical warfare in the colonies when negotiating a treaty with tribes, headed by Chief Chiskiac, near the Potomac River. The British offered a toast symbolizing ‘eternal friendship,’ whereupon the chief, his family, advisors, and two hundred followers dropped dead of poison.”
The New England Historical Society confirms that “About 60,000 ‘Indians’ lived in (New England, i.e.,) New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut at the beginning of the 17th century ….. (And) according to some estimates, Maine had more than 20,000 Penobscot, Micmac, and Passamaquoddy ‘Indians.’ A century later, New England’s ‘Indian’ population began to disappear. Some ‘tribes’ were already extinct.”
In a 1763 letter to a colleague, Sir Jeffrey Amherst, a high-ranking British military officer, not only suggested using vicious wild dogs to hunt down red men, women, and children — which was wickedly done — but also suggested using diseased blankets on red men, women, and children when he wrote, “Could it not be contrived to send Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians? We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them.” That, too, was wickedly done.
Thanksgiving, as an American holiday, is a celebration of that racist genocide and massive land robbery. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to what Wamsutta (also known as Frank B. James), the official representative of the Wampanoag Nation, wrote on Sept. 10, 1970, in response to an invitation from the Massachusetts Department of Commerce for his “tribe” to participate in the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival:
“This is a time of celebration for you- celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America … It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my people. Even before the Pilgrims landed [here], it was a common practice for explorers to capture ‘Indians,’ take them to Europe, and sell them as slaves … The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans. … Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew these facts. Yet he and his people welcomed and befriended the settlers … This action by Massaoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed … the white man with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end, that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be … free.”
History gives us facts and there were atrocities. There were broken promises and most of these centered around land ownership. … Never before had we had to deal with fences and stone walls. But the white man needed to prove his worth by the amount of land that he owned. Only ten years later, when the Puritans came, they treated the Wampanoag with even less kindness in converting the souls of the so- called ‘savages … ‘ (And the ‘Indians’ who rejected the Puritans’ Christianity were) pressed between stone slabs and [also] hanged …. And … down through the years, there is record after record of ‘Indian’ lands taken and … reservations set up ….
Although time has drained our culture and our language is almost extinct, we the Wampanoags still walk the lands of Massachusetts. (But) our spirit refuses to die …. We still have the spirit. We still have the unique culture. We still have the will and, most important of all, the determination to remain as ‘Indians’ …
“We are determined, and our presence here this evening is living testimony that this is only the beginning of the American ‘Indian’ … to regain the position in this country that is rightfully ours.”
Oh, by the way, Massasoit — the Wampanoag chief who naively trusted the Pilgrims- had a son named Metacomet who learned from his father’s mistake and rebelled against the English invaders. In response, those English savages not only beheaded and dismembered Metacomet. They also impaled his head on a spike in Plymouth, Massachusetts and sadistically displayed it there for 25 years.
Brother Wamsutta’s historically accurate Sept. 10, 1970, speech was never heard publicly at the Massachusetts 350th anniversary event because that state’s white government officials banned him from reading it aloud there after they had requested and received a copy of it beforehand.
Here are five indisputable facts you must know about Thanksgiving so you won’t make the mistake of celebrating racist genocide:
1. Amy Jakober, the senior communications officer for the First Nations Development Institute, explains that “Narratives of a harmonious Thanksgiving celebration were created to justify westward expansion and Manifest Destiny,” which was a central tenet in the murderously racist white supremacy myth that European settlers were destined by God to kill red people and take their land.
2. The red nations (and there were 500 of them on this land they called Turtle Island) were inhabited by people accurately and generally known as the Onkwehonwe whose ancestors had been in the so-called New World for approximately 14,000 years.
3. In a seminal book entitled “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” history professor James W. Loewen writes, “The Pilgrims did not introduce the tradition (of Thanksgiving) …. ‘Indians’ had observed autumnal harvest celebrations for centuries. Although George Washington … (in 1789 did issue a proclamation setting aside November 26) as a national day of thanksgiving, (America’s) …. modern celebration dates back only to 1863. During the Civil War, when the Union needed all the patriotism that such an observance might muster, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday.”
4. Another researcher and author, Richard Greener, asserts that May 26, 1637 could be considered the first European so-called Thanksgiving on this land because Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop proclaimed that date as a “day of thanksgiving” to celebrate the victory of a band of heavily armed Puritans who had just slaughtered 700 innocent Pequot “Indians” in what is now known as Mystic, Connecticut.
5. Shortly after the Pilgrims (and later the Puritans in 1630) invaded this land and throughout the history of the United States, our red brothers and sisters were slaughtered by the millions as a result of racist genocidal terrorism in the form of biological warfare, torture, rape, murder, land robbery, and colonization.
One of many examples of such genocidal terrorism was Senate Bill 102 signed by President Andrew Jackson in 1830 and known as the “Indian” Removal Act. It resulted in the gruesome “Trail of Tears” wherein approximately 100,000 red men, women, and children suffered the trail’s tortuous tribulations and possibly as many as 30 percent of them were killed on the way as a result of shootings, beatings, starvation, dysentery, whooping cough, cholera in the summer, pneumonia in the winter, and exposure to extreme weather conditions. Also, this genocidal legislation robbed our red brothers and sisters of more than 25 million acres of fertile farmland in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, and elsewhere.
Despite the horrific foundation of white Thanksgiving, I’m certainly not suggesting that Black folks not chill out on November 25 by socializing, eating, and drinking with family members and loved ones. In fact, Black folks should do all of that because it’s important for us to come together to always celebrate love- but never to celebrate racist genocide.
And while we’re chillin’ out on Nov. 25, we all should check out a four-and-a-half minute YouTube video entitled “Reclaiming Native Truth.” It’s produced by the First Nations Development Institute and begins with a hilarious but deadly serious and profoundly important introduction by Dave Chappelle. You can find it here.
Opinion contributor Michael Coard is an attorney and radio host. His work appears weekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. He wrote this column for the Philadelphia Tribune, where it first appeared.
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