Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving

Catherine O'Neill Grace, Sisse Brimberg, Plimoth Plantation
For ages 8 to 12
National Geographic, 2001   ISBN: 978-0792270270

Many Americans grow up with the idea that Thanksgiving is all about the story of the kindly Pilgrims who invited the local wild Indians to a harvest meal which they cooked. We now know that this is little more than a myth. The English settlers who were living in New Plymouth in 1621 never called themselves Pilgrims. They did not wear the dark clothes and tall hats with silver buckles that they are so often shown wearing in popular illustrations. The Native Americans who attended that famous three day long celebration did not wear feathered headdresses. Instead they wore beautiful clothes of “deerskin, elk hide, moose hide, and fur.” Often the skins were painted with lovely designs. And though the gathering was for feasting and playing, it was also a time for diplomacy as well. During the three days Governor Bradford and the leader of the Native people, Massanoit, created a peace agreement which ended up lasting a generation.

Other myths also surround the story of that first Thanksgiving. The English did not create a settlement out of the wilderness. Instead they took over a Native village, Putuxet, whose people had been practically wiped out by a plague. Thus the English came to land that had been tilled for thousands of years. The English also stole Native corn caches which they used for food and seed. They conveniently said that this corn had been bestowed on them by God. The local Native people, not surprisingly, felt that these newcomers were thieves and did not feel too kindly towards them.

It would seem, alas, that the settlers who we have always been taught were brave and honorable people were not as good as we thought. They took what they needed and did not think about the fact that they were, quite simply, stealing from others. History taught us only one side of the story. We did not hear the voices of the Wampanoag people, who ended up helping the English in spite of everything.

In this wonderful book this one sided and skewed history is set straight. Finally we get to hear about the “People of the First Light” who lived in the Cape Cod area for thousands of years and who were there when the first Europeans arrived looking for new lands and opportunities. Despite the fact that they had no reason to trust any European, these people were willing to help the Plymouth settlers and live with them in peace, and this is just what they did – until the relationship turned sour. Then hostilities broke out and after much loss of life and heartbreak, the Wampanoag lost the battle and were driven from their homes.