|Curriculum Plan 1
Myths, Truths, and Uncertainites Surrounding the Thanksgiving Story
Lauri C, Gabrielle Ehlers, Briana Scott, and Tamara S
Social studies curriculum should present a more balanced view of significant events in American History, such as the Thanksgiving Story. The typical Thanksgiving narrative is laced with myths and omitted truths. While some uncertainties remain, the story is far from the picture-perfect account often portrayed to students. A successful lesson should present students with factual information and reasonable uncertainties. Truth underlying the American celebration serves to enrich United States history and provide students with information to, ultimately, form their own thought-provoking conclusions.
The social studies curriculum should present a more balanced view of significant events in American History such as the Thanksgiving Story. This story usually glorified Protestant values and their contribution to our heritage at the expense of our multicultural country. Native Americans were discriminated against in many texts used in American classrooms. Such texts portray falsified cut-and-dried accounts, shunning students from uncertainty and controversy (Loewen, 2007). However, the Thanksgiving Story, as with much of history, cannot be told with absolute certainty. Even the most righteous history educator does not have all of the concrete facts surrounding the ‘first Thanksgiving.’ Textbooks, however, tell the story with utmost confidence. In turn, providing students with inaccurate information with much of the truth omitted and heavily laced with fiction. It is unfortunate because reasonable uncertainty may enrich social studies curriculum. “If textbooks allowed for controversy, they could show students which claims rest on strong evidence, which on softer ground” (Loewen, 2007, p. 39). Understanding this American Holiday will allow students to have a more honest awareness of this patriotic celebration1. Ultimately, accurate teaching of the story of Thanksgiving, should allow students to explore different accounts, exhort myths, understand truths, internalize the Holiday, and relate it to their personal experiences.
A typical Thanksgiving narrative is as follows:
The Pilgrims sailed from Europe on the Mayflower to escape religious persecution and settled at Plymouth Rock. To rejoice their survival in “The New World,” they celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621. A local Indian named Squanto befriended the Pilgrims and introduced them to local Indian tribes. The Pilgrims invited the Indians to celebrate the first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims and Indians feasted on turkey, potatoes, berries, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and popcorn. They became great friends.
This narrative is misleading regarding the relationship and experiences between the Europeans and the Indians in New England during the 1620’s. There are several myths in this story that can be dispelled by research.
First, not all immigrants on the Mayflower were Pilgrims, a name used to describe people who travel for religious reasons. Most of these passengers were not aboard to escape religious persecution. (Dow & Slapin, 2004, p.45). The English ship, the Mayflower, lodged many ordinary folk seeking their fortune in the new world, English Separatists hired help as Myles Standish, and other colonists who were emigrating due to the influence of the London financiers of the expedition2. When they arrived in the new land, the Plimoth colonists used religious justifications for their poor treatment toward the Indians3. The colonists were concerned only with themselves and they were not there to befriend the Indians (M.M. Bruchac, correspondence, Fall 2004).
Friendship was unlikely to have sparked instantly among any in the two groups, however, many accounts portray an instantaneous positive relationship formed between the Europeans and Squanto. This Wampanoag Indian is misrepresented in the traditional Thanksgiving myth. Textbooks often present an uncontroversial and fabricated depiction of Squanto’s story4. In actuality, Squanto’s story and how he came to know Europeans is far from fairy-tail5. Squanto was captured by an Englishman, sold into slavery in Spain, eventually escaped, and returned to find most of his tribe killed from an epidemic brought to his village by the Europeans (Gudzune, 2008, Loewen, 2007, and Knoji, 2012). Some content, including Squanto translated for the Pilgrims and taught them how to farm, is agreed upon many sources. However, there are many contradicting details surrounding Squanto6. Evidently, the truth exhibits far more complexity than the story typically presented to students. Squanto is often claimed to have been invited to the thanksgiving feast, however, the large discrepancies between sources make it difficult to confirm or deny with certainty.
Celebrating a feast of thanksgiving was not an unusual occurrence among European settlers or Indians The Europeans and the Wampanoags had participated in several Thanksgiving meals independently prior to 16217. Additionally, the meal that was celebrated between the Natives and the English was never referred to as a Thanksgiving (Foldvary, 2004, p. 1). For the English Settlers, in order for a feast to be considered a Thanksgiving meal, the clergy had to declare it as one. However, the day described by historian's as the first Thanksgiving, was never declared a day of Thanksgiving by the clergy. (New England Folklore Blog, 2011). Additionally, the American Indians had also celebrated many feasts of Thanksgiving prior to 1621 when they shared a meal with the Puritan Settlers. The Wampanoags celebrated Thanksgiving feasts at least six times a year to express thankfulness.
There are also conflicting historical accounts of how the Indians and Europeans came to be together on this particular Thanksgiving Day in 1621. According to oral accounts from the Wampanoag people, when the Native people nearby first heard the gunshots of the hunting colonists, they thought that the colonists were preparing for war and that Massasoit needed to be informed. When Massasoit showed up with ninety men and no women or children, it could be assumed that he was being cautious. When he saw there was a party going on, his men then went out and brought back five deer and lots of turkeys (Dow&Slapin, 2004, p.4). Other accounts mention that the English Settlers did invite the Wampanoag people to celebrate a three day shooting party with them.
An irrefutable fact is that a harvest festival did take place in 1621, and Europeans and Indians provided food and celebrated together8. However the myth lists modern day Thanksgiving foods, not the meals people would have eaten in the 17th century. Records indicate the Europeans had corn and fowl for the celebration, however the Indians provided most of the food (Dow and Slapin, 2004). Based on the two surviving records of the event, and the geography and ecology of the region, historians surmise that wild fowl, nasaump (corn porridge), pompion (mashed pumpkin), beans, squash, corn soup, corn bread and berries were most likely part of the meal (Bates, 2011; Dow & Slapin, 2004; “Thanksgiving,” 2012). 9
One of the most tragic myths perpetuated by the traditional Thanksgiving narrative is that Europeans and Indians became great friends and lived peacefully together. However, things quickly went downhill for the Indians of New England after 1621. The English multiplied and the Indians died in great number from European diseases (Loewen, 2007). This allowed the English to expand into Indian lands without much resistance. Still, conflicts arose between the settlers and the Indians over land, trade routes and hunting grounds. The growing competition for resources led to two of the bloodiest wars in American history, the Pequot War (late 1636-1638) and King Philip’s War (1675-1676)10. These wars are significant because they establish a pattern of behavior by the English that continued well into the 20th century11. The English and the Indians did not become good friends, they became enemies, and terrible atrocities took place because of the conflict and intolerance.
Although American’s relate Thanksgiving to a feast between the Pilgrims and Indians in 1621 on Plymouth colony, the Holiday was historically established much differently12. The Holiday does not represent a traditional harvest of foods and friendship between the Europeans and Native Americans. For the Indians, it serves as a bitter reminder of the hardships encountered. While Americans rejoice Thanksgiving, it is at the expense of the Indians who ultimately gave up their land for the nation to become what it is today (Pilgrim Hall Museum, 2005). Nonetheless, students should embrace their family traditions surrounding the holiday. Truth underlying the American celebration serves to enrich United States history and provide students with information to, ultimately, form their own thought-provoking conclusions.
Serparatists and Mayflower Passengers
According to M.M. Bruchac (correspondence, Fall, 2004), some of the settlers were Separatists who wanted to “purify” the Church. Religious dissidents who had broken away from the Church of England were called Puritans. The Separatists did not refer to themselves as Pilgrims. Separatists were a small group that did not accept the authority of the Protestant or Anglican Church because they wanted to reach a pure form of belief in religious life. They were organized according to a model of the first Christian Communities (Mingiuc , 2010, p.212). Forty-one men signed the Mayflower Compact so they thought an agreement was necessary because some of the non-Separatists would defy the others if they landed in a place other than that in the land grant they had received from the London Company (2012). “Myles Standish was not a Separatist but a Roman Catholic. He was hired as a military advisor. He built a fort at Plymouth and was one of the few to survive the first winter.”(Weinberger, 1991, p.11). “There were 102 passengers on the Mayflower only thrity-seven of who were from the Leiden congregation, in addition to the crew.” The Leiden Congregation was English Separatists (Collins, 2012, p.2)
Example of Plimoth Colonist Religious Justification for Negative Treatment Toward Indians
In a Thanksgiving sermon delivered at Plimoth in 1623, Cotton Mather, the Elider praised God for the small pox epidemic that had wiped out the majority of the Wampanoag trib (M.M. Bruchac, correspondence, Fall 2004).
Example of Textbook Account of Squanto’s Story
A common (inaccurate) account may include: Squanto and the Europeans met by mere coincidence. An instant friendship was formed. Squanto, who learned English from an English fisherman, translated and taught the Pilgrims how to farm. (Loewen, 2007)
Factual Account of Squanto’s Background
Suqanto’s real name was Tisquantum, he belonged to the Pawtuxet band of the Wampanoag Indians, and in approximately 1605 he was stolen by an English captain, named Thomas Hunt (Gudzune, 2008 and Loewen, 2007). Hunt brought his captives to London, where Squanto learned English (Gudzune, 2008). Nine years later, Squanto was sold into slavery in Spain (Loewen, 2007). Soon after, Squanto returned to his village, until he was captured again by another Englishman (Knoji, 2012). Eventually, Squanto escaped and returned to England (Loewen, 2007). When he returned, Squanto found most of his tribal members dead from the plague brought to his village by the Europeans, a plague textbooks fail to mention (Loewen, 2007). Since textbooks opt to simplify the story, they also leave out that Squanto was not the first of the Native Americans to greet the Pilgrims. Samoset, an eastern Abenaki chief, was the initial Indian to contact the Europeans (Oyate, 2003). This is important because Samoset may have introduced Squanto to the Pilgrims with the intent for Squanto to keep an eye on them since the Pilgrims were not trusted on their land (Oyate, 2003). Thus, Squanto did not have a pure history or instantaneous friendship with the Europeans.
Contradicting Details Surrounding Squanto
Sqaunto worked with the Pilgrims because when Squanto returned from being captured, he was the only living member of his village left, as his tribe members died from the epidemic (Loewen, 2007).
Samoset introduced Squanto to the Pilgrims with intent for Squanto to keep an eye on them because the Indians did not trust the Pilgrims on their land (Oyate, 2003).
Squanto was a peacemaker between the Indians and the Pilgrims (Knoji, 2012).
Squanto was distrusted by both Pilgrims and the Indians (Knoji, 2012).
Squanto died from smallpox in 1622 (Gudzune, 2008).
Squanto was poisoned to death in 1622 (Knoji, 2012).
Reasons for Thanksgivings
For the Puritans, Thanksgiving was a meal celebrating good fortune and harvest, often times there would be several Thanksgivings a year. During this time there were several Fast Days and Thanksgiving Days. Fast days were declared when living conditions were going poorly and Thanksgiving Days were declared when things were going well.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head website quotes Wampanoag Tribe member, Gladyss Widdiss as saying, “Every day (is) a day of thanksgiving to the Wampanoag . . .(We) give thanks to the dawn of the new day, at the end of the day, to the sun, to the moon, for rain for helping crops grow. . . There (is) always something to be thankful for. .. Giving thanks comes naturally for the Wampanoag.”
Additional Information Regarding 1621 Menu
The Wampanoag Indians came to the event with 5 deer (Ahern, 2011; “Thanksgiving,”, 2012). Many historians believe the dishes were prepared using Indian spices and cooking methods (“Thanksgiving,”, 2012). The Pilgrims did not have an oven and sugar was not produced in New England (the supply of sugar on the Mayflower was almost gone by 1621), so it’s unlikely that there were cakes, pies and other “traditional” Thanksgiving desserts (Dow & Slapin, 2004). Sweet corn, potatoes and sweet potatoes would not be introduced to New England until the 18th century, so there were no sweet potato pies or popcorn (Bates, 2011; Dow & Slapin, 2004).
The Pequot War & King Philips War
The Pequot War (late 1636-1638)
After the first harvest festival was shared between Pilgrims and Indians, a great power shift began in New England between the Dutch, the English and the Indian tribes. European diseases decimated the dominant Indian tribe, the Pequot Indians (Bates, 2011). The large death tolls decreased their power and ability to hold their territory. The English and the Dutch began to dominate trade in New England. Their growing economic strength undermined Pequot authority over other Indian tribes in New England. This growing power struggle led to a war when Indians killed English traders John Stone and John Oldham. The English took revenge by invading Pequot territory, burning their villages, killing the men and selling the women and children as slaves. One of the most famous battles of this war is known as the Massacre at Mystic (which took place at Mistick Fort in Connecticut), in which more than 400 Pequot men, women and children were burned alive and slaughtered (Battlefields of the Pequot War Project, 2009 ).
Some Indian tribes like the Mohawks and Mohegan’s, sided with the English and helped defeat the Pequot (Bates, 2011; “Pequot,”, 2012). The Pequot satchem (i.e. chief), Sassacus, was killed by the Mohawk Indians in July 1637 (“Pequot,”, 2012). The war ended with the Hartford Treaty. Signed by the English, Mohegan and Narragansett Indians, it divided the surviving Pequot Indians among the victors and stripped them of their cultural identity. They could no longer be called Pequot’s and they were never allowed to live in their homeland again (Battlefields of the Pequot War Project, 2009; Mystic Voices, LLC., 2010).
King Philip’s War (1675-1676)
Pokunoket and Wampanoag Indians led an uprising against the English in 1675. Frustrated about increasing dependence on the English for trade, angry at the sale of tribal land, and being forced to accept English authority over Indian political and economic affairs, the Wampanoag and their allies attacked English settlements (E. Foner & J. A. Garraty (Eds.), 1991; Giersbach, 2004). Some Indian tribes sided with the English (namely the Mohegan, Pequot, Massachusetts and Nauset Indians). After the Pokunoket chief, Metacom (also known as King Philip), was captured and beheaded, some Indians escaped to Canada; but most were sold as slaves or died of disease (E. Foner & J. A. Garraty (Eds.), 1991). Currently, there are only five bands of the Wampanoag tribes remaining, only one of which is acknowledged by the American government (Gudzune, 2008).
Post 1600s European and Indian relations
The pattern of expanding into native territory; interfering in native relations in order to “divide and conquer”; expulsion and/or mass killing of the native population (i.e. genocide, ethnic cleansing); and finally cultural, economic and political domination of surviving natives (reservation system, plantation system, slavery). This pattern of behavior was repeated in the American South, and the Mid-West, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. This was later called Manifest Destiny, echoing the original Pilgrim’s beliefs that the Christian God supported the English and that they were meant by divine right to own all of America.
Historical Establishment of Thanksgiving Holiday
In 1789, President George Washington declared a Proclamation of National Thanksgiving for a single day on Thursday November, 26th (PBS, 2002). In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as an annual holiday, mainly to celebrate a positive summer for the Union campaign in the Civil War and America’s existence despite brutal conflict (PBS, 2010). It was not until 1941, that the United States Congress declared Thanksgiving to be the forth Thursday in November (Gudzune, 2008). Prior to the declared yearly holiday as it has become, Thanksgivings were proclaimed any time of the year, typically to celebrate a national victory, religious celebration, or harvest festival (PBS, 2010).
The Thanksgiving Story
- Myths, Truths, and Uncertainties -
Lesson Plan for Curriculum Plan #1
I’ll complete this later tonight.
NYS Social Studies Standards
Standard 1: History of the United States and New York
use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments, and turning points in the history of the United States and New York.
Standard 5: Civics, Citizenship, and Government
use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the basic civic values of American constitutional democracy; and the roles, rights, and responsibilities of citizenship, including avenues of participation.
Concepts/Themes: Citizenship & Civic Life
Citizenship in the United States, Canada, and nations of Latin America includes an awareness of the patriotic celebrations of those nations. In the United States these celebrations include:
Lincoln’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday, Independence Day, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, Election Day, Flag Day, Memorial Day, and Conservation Day.
Social Studies Skills
recognize advantages and limitations of various sources
identify the types and kinds of information needed for the task
organize collected information
classify and/or categorize data by:
selecting appropriate headings for data
distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information and events
placing ideas in order, chronological and other
identifying differences and similarities in data
evaluate data by:
differentiating fact from opinion
identifying frames of reference
identifying value-laden words
detecting evidence of propaganda
evaluating author’s or person’s qualifications and motivation.
draw inferences from data by:
identifying relationships among the parts
weighing conflicting facts and statements
check on completeness of data and question hypotheses based on sufficiency of evidence
revise generalizations in the light of new data
present information effectively
participate in interpersonal and group relations
Identify discrepancies in the historical record and use evidence to construct a more accurate narrative.
Discuss why the inaccuracies persist.
Making history relevant and personal: Develop a new thanksgiving narrative, based on their interpretation of the past and their own culture and experience.
Prior and Subsequent Exploration of the Topic
This lesson on Thanksgiving is part of a unit on mythology, specifically modern day myths and how they are created, why they are created and and perpetuated in our culture. We will also discuss what we can learn about society from its myths.
This lesson will be designed for an inclusive classroom which will be comprised of general education students, English language learners, and students with special needs (learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, emotional disturbance, mobility restrictions, visual and hearing impairments, ADHD, and other medical conditions).
Materials, Media and Tools
chart paper & markers
graphic organizer handouts (30)
5 different handout packets with excepts from documents that give evidence to support or refute myths (each packet should have 4-6 documents for analysis).
Lesson Beginnings and Development
Introduction & Activating Prior Knowledge: Brainstorm what students know about the story of Thanksgiving with a graphic organizer (KWL or web diagram).
Problem & Hypothesis: After students have completed the organizer, distribute a handout with statements pertaining to the traditional Thanksgiving narrative. Have students form hypotheses about which statements they agree with and which statements they disagree with. Have students check off their hypotheses in the Before column on the handout. The teacher will explain that students will read documents to determine if the Thanksgiving story they have always been told is accurate. Students will then construct a new narrative based on the documents they have read.
Research & Analysis through cooperative learning: Each table will have different documents supporting or contradicting the traditional narrative as well as a graphic organizer. Students examine the documents to determine whether their evidence supports or contradicts the story and based on their findings with citations for each statement, they will determine if after analyzing the documents, they still agree or disagree with the statements pertaining to the traditional Thanksgiving narrative.
Their agreement or disagreement with the statement must be supported by the documents they have been provided. Each group member will be assigned a role/responsibility to ensure full group participation. Examples of student roles are:
Leader/Editor: This student is in charge of organizing the final product of the project. This student will make sure that the project meets the standards set out by the instructor plus any extras stipulated by the group. These standards generally include punctuality and completeness.
Recorder/Secretary: This person takes notes and keeps track of group data/sources/etc. This person distributes these notes to the rest of the group highlighting sections relevant for their parts of the project.
Checker: Someone needs to double-check data, bibliographic sources, or graphics for accuracy and correctness.
Spokesperson: This person would be responsible for the technical details of the final product and would be ready to summarize the group's progress and findings to the instructor and to other groups.
Time Keeper/Encourager: This student gets discussion moving and keeps it moving, often by asking the other group members questions, sometimes about what they've just been saying. This person also makes sure that the group stays on track and gets through a reasonable amount of material in the given time period.
Synthesis & Evaluation: Students construct new Thanksgiving narratives based on their research. Each group presents their new narrative to the class. Students discuss why and how the narratives have changed. Students re-check their hypotheses by by completing the After column in their handout. The entire class will then discuss how their beliefs about Thanksgiving have changed or remained the same. The discussion will develop through teacher and student posed higher order thinking questions. Some examples are listed below.
Why is it difficult to discover what "really" happened?
Why do you think these myths continue to be told?
Whose perspective is described in the common myths we know about Thanksgiving? What are the effects of this one-sided view?
How do multiple perspectives change the Thanksgiving narrative? Who is now included or excluded? How does it effect your opinion about early Americans?
What purpose do these narratives serve today? Why should we care about them?
Culmination and Revisiting Key Concepts
Summary & Application of skills and knowledge: Students will discuss the following questions to prepare for their homework assignment.
Can anyone construct a narrative of an event?
How do you celebrate Thanksgiving today? What would your narrative sound like?
Will today's lesson change how you experience Thanksgiving?
Construct your own Thanksgiving narrative and discuss the impact of today's lesson on your thoughts about Thanksgiving.
This assignment will be assessed with a rubric.
Students will be given a "Before You Hand This In" checklist for self-assessment.
Reflection & Assessment: Student will share and post their Thanksgiving narratives in class. Students will read each others narratives and provide feedback.
We'll discuss how traditions are created by our families, and by our "national" family.
We'll discuss how the celebration of holidays change over time by comparing the Thanksgiving narratives created in class with students personal narratives.
Ahern, J. (1991). A Thanksgiving Quiz. Social Studies, 82(5), 176-78.
This peer reviewed journal article provides elementary classroom teachers with a true or false thanksgiving quiz (with answer key) along with resource information from the National Archives. The article also discusses some Thanksgiving myths and explains how educators can approach this misinformation in the classroom.
Bates, S. (2011). The real story of thanksgiving. Retrieved from http://www.manataka.org/page269.html
This site is maintained by the Manataka American Indian Council. It discusses American history from an Indian point of view and and provides information about American Indian culture, history, and current issues effecting American Indians in the United States and Canada.
Battlefields of the Pequot War Project. (2009, October 22). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://pequotwar.org/2009/10/the-pequot-war/
This website is designed and maintained by the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center which works to preserve the battlefields of the Pequot War. The site provides information about the archeological and historical aspects of the project and includes photographs information about the preservation process.
Dow, J., & Slapin, B. (2004). Deconstructing the Myths of “The First Thanksgiving”. Multicultural Review, 13(3), 44-53.
Giersbach, W. (2004). Philip’s War: America’s Most Devastating Conflict. Retrieved from http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/horsemusket/kingphilip/default.aspx
A webzine featuring articles about military history from ancient times to the present day. Articles include footnotes and scholarly reading recommendations.
King philip's war. In (1991). E. Foner & J. A. Garraty (Eds.), The Reader's companion to American History Retrieved from Foner, E., &
Garraty, J. A. (1991). King philip's war. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/topics/king-philips-war
This short article from the history channel's website provides summary of King Philip's War that's appropriate for grades 5 and up. The page includes links to articles within the site that discuss famous/important Englishmen and American Indians, as well as other pivotal events in the war between the English and American Indians.
Larsen, C. (2011). The plymouth thanksgiving story. Retrieved from Bates, S. (2011). The real story of thanksgiving. Retrieved from http://www.manataka.org/page269.html
This short story provides teachers with an alternative to the traditional 1st Thanksgiving myth. Appropriate for grades 3 and up, it discusses the conflict between American Indians and the Pilgrims, as well as the positive aspects of their first shared harvest festival.
Mystic Voices, LLC. (2010). Mystic voices: the story of the pequot war. Retrieved from http://www.pequotwar.com/history.html
This website is based on Rhode Island Public Television's documentary on the Pequot War which won 2 Emmy Awards. The site includes a short video, a timeline of the war, excerpts from primary documents, and a discussion of the objectives and themes of the documentary.
Pequot. (2012). The History Channel website. Retrieved 12:58, June 12, 2012, from http://www.history.com/topics/pequot.
This is an encyclopaedia excerpt about the Pequot Indians from Brittanica.com. The bulk of the article discusses the causes and impact of the Pequot War.
Thanksgiving. (2012). The History Channel website. Retrieved 10:34, June 11, 2012, from http://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving.
An article by the history channel about the tradition of thanksgiving and harvest festivals from ancient times to the present day. Particular attention is given to the evolution of thanksgiving traditions in America from the 1620's to the present day, as well as the controversy the holiday creates when one takes American Indian perspectives into account.
Lesson Plan/Narrative Citations:
New York State Education Department. (2009, April 28). Learning standards and core curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.p12.nysed.gov/ciai/socst/ssrg.html
This website provides PDF's of New York State's social studies learning standards and core curriculum. It also includes 2 booklets of learning experiences students should have in social studies from grades K-12.