What really happened at “the first Thanksgiving”? In This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving
(Bloomsbury, 2019), historian David J. Silverman
reveals the complex history surrounding the 1621 feast that every November many Americans associate with silver-buckled Pilgrim costumes, Squanto and Massasoit, and miraculous feats of friendship. Silverman bust these myths - and the many others - that skew American interpretations, understandings, and depictions of the Wampanoag peoples’ relationship with Plymouth colonists.
This Land is Their Land
painstakingly recounts the events leading up to and resulting from the Wampanoag-English alliance, and how the manipulation of this history continues to impact the present. Upon landing at Plymouth Rock four hundred years ago this November, English Separatists were swept up into the powerful currents of a dynamic indigenous world, populated with diverse peoples with diverse interests. Native figures such as Ousamequin, Tisquantum, Corbitant, Epenow, and others occupy center stage in This Land is Their Land
, encouraging readers to forego stereotypical depictions of powerful Englishmen and passive Native peoples for a more truthful rendition of Anglo-Native interactions on and around present-day Cape Cod. Silverman draws on twenty years of research and work alongside Wampanoag linguists, historians, and educators in an effort to construct a more honest history of the now-famous Wampanoag-English encounter. Underlying this history is the present reality of Wampanoag peoples who continue to commemorate the last Thursday in November as their Day of Mourning. Illuminating the damages still wrought by colonization and colonial mythologies, This Land is Their Land will leave many readers with much to chew on at the Thanksgiving table.
Annabel LaBrecque is a PhD student in the Department of History at UC Berkeley. You can follow her on Twitter @labrcq.