To understand this thread, it helps to know two things about me:
1.I had five ancestors on the Mayflower.
2.As a former museum curator, I’m very aware of the ways in which we “curate” history—choosing which facts to preserve and glorify, and which to overlook or cast away.
Karl Jacoby, in this excellent article, touches on the moment in 1621 when the surviving Plymouth colonists and their Indigenous neighbours “feasted” together in what is traditionally viewed as the first Thanksgiving:
But he also reminds us that “American holidays…sometimes reveal more about what we have forgotten about the past than what we remember.”
And here’s what we’ve “forgotten”—here’s what the Pilgrim Fathers (with my ancestors among them) did in November 1620.
This was a year before that “first Thanksgiving”, as recorded in their own words in A Relation or Journal of the Proceedings of the Plantation Settled at Plymouth in New England, printed in London in 1622.
On first arriving in America, they went ashore at Cape Cod. Finding spots where the “Indians” had buried something, they dug and found a kettle full of corn, and after some discussion took the kettle and its contents for themselves.
A short while later they went back to that same spot and dug again and found more corn, “two or three baskets full of Indian wheat, and a bag of beans, with a good many of fair wheat ears.” They took it all.
Venturing further along the paths, they found “a place like a grave…and resolved to dig it up”. It was indeed a grave, carefully prepared with mats and painted boards, containing “bowls, trays, dishes, and such like trinkets” and “two bundles, the one bigger, the other less.”
The bigger bundle contained “the bones and skull of a man”, so they “opened the less bundle likewise, and found…the bones and head of a little child, about the legs, and other parts of it was bound strings, and bracelets of fine white beads;
“…there was also by it a little bow, about three quarters long, and some other knacks; we brought sundry of the prettiest things away with us, and covered the corpse up again.”
After this bit of grave robbery, they went back to digging in hopes of finding more buried food. They also found “two houses, which had been lately dwelt in, but the people were gone”.
Gone so quickly, in fact, they’d left food and belongings behind them (they were probably hiding in the safety of the trees, watching the settlers steal their hard-earned winter food stores and desecrate their loved ones’ graves).
The Englishmen rifled the contents of the houses. “Some of the best things we took away with us,” the journal notes.
My ancestors were part of that.
In Canada, we had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission—charged with acknowledging and recording the voices of those bearing witness to the harm done across seven generations by our brutal residential school system.
The commission set out calls to action aimed at “establishing new relationships embedded in mutual recognition and respect that will forge a brighter future” between Canadians and those of the Indigenous nations upon whose lands we settled.…
Reconciliation is a process, and a long one, but it starts with truth.
The truth is, that for those who were living here when they arrived, the arrival of my ancestors was nothing to celebrate.
So when I tell the story of the “first Thanksgiving” to my children, I believe I ought to tell the whole of it—not only the “feast” of 1621, but the events of the November before that...
when my ancestors stole “trinkets” from a child’s grave, helped themselves to whatever they wanted from somebody’s house, and dug up all the food someone else had worked hard to grow, harvest, and store, without caring what hardships that great theft might cause.
I’ll always wonder just how many people sickened from starvation, and how many died, because my ancestors carried off that food.
“We cannot change events in the past” Karl Jacoby reminds us in his article.
But we can learn from them. We can remember them.
And we can strive to do better.
Curating history to show just the pretty parts twists the past into a fairy tale.
Teach the truth.

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22 Nov
Holding the community of Waukesha in my thoughts and heart today, including the first victim: the woman Mr Brooks has apparently been abusing for some time. Last night there was a knife involved. The cops didn't go. Domestic abuse is a predictor of mass murder. Take it seriously.
This whole article leaves me sad & smh. But Mr Brooks ran over a woman Nov 5, put her in hospital, made bail Friday, there was a domestic disturbance involving a knife, and: "police did not respond to that scene before they immediately went to the parade"
I'm not specifically criticizing the Waukesha police, because I'd bet the police where I live here in Canada would do the same thing. I'm just saying things might have been different if we—all of us—viewed domestic violence as the serious crime it is, and gave proper penalties.
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