November 27, 2008

1676 Thanksgiving celebrated beheading

Which Thanksgiving?Most of the other peoples in New England at first tried to avoid the conflict between the onetime participants in the "first Thanksgiving." But the confrontation soon engulfed the entire region, pitting the New England Colonies against a fragile alliance of Wampanoags, Narragansetts, Nipmucs and other Native American groups. Although these allies succeeded in killing hundreds of Colonists and burning British settlements up to the very fringes of Boston itself, the losses suffered by New England's indigenous peoples were even more devastating. Thousands died over the two years of the war, and many of those captured were sold into slavery in the British West Indies, including Metacom's wife and 9-year-old son.

Metacom met his end at the hands of a Colonial scouting party in August of 1676. His killers quartered and decapitated his body and sent Metacom's head to Plymouth, where for two decades it would be prominently displayed on a pike outside the colony's entrance. That same year, as the violence drew to a close, the colony of Connecticut declared a "day of Publique Thankesgiving" to celebrate "the subdueing of our enemies."

Perhaps it is not surprising that we choose to remember the Thanksgiving of 1621 and to forget the Thanksgiving of 1676. Who, after all, would not prefer to celebrate a moment of peaceful unity rather than one of bloody conflict? But if our public holidays are meant to be moments for self-reflection as well as self-congratulation, we should think of Thanksgiving not as a perpetual reenactment of the "first Thanksgiving" of 1621 but instead as a dynamic event whose meaning has shifted over time.
Below:  Metacom with his head intact.

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