For several years now, Thanksgiving has been met with a wave of protest from woke groups who claim the holiday is racist and celebrates the theft of land and the genocide of indigenous peoples by European settlers. However, history has something to say about that.
From the beginning, the pilgrims were outcasts. Not only were Puritans outcasts from the Church of England, but the pilgrims themselves were even an outcast sect of the Puritans. The Pilgrims were referred to as Separatists. The trip to the New World was so they could create their own community far away from the persecution of the King. Their trip was financed by a private firm and the Pilgrims were to pay them back from fishing and growing crops (something the Pilgrims had no knowledge of). The lands they came to were not inhabited when they came ashore and they were a small group of 101.
The Algonquian speaking peoples populated what is the southern part of New England (and much of the US). The tribes of the east coast had been trading with the Dutch for over 100 years. Some Euro traders soured this relationship when they began kidnapping and enslaving native tribes people. In 1616, disease was introduced to the native population that filled the east coast which had wiped out several confederations including much of the Wampanoag upon whose land the Pilgrims landed. The Pilgrims saw that the land had been cleared in the village of Patuxet, but were amazed to find no one. The Pilgrims would later meet Samoset of the Abenaki tribe who spoke some English and explained what happened. Samoset would introduce the Pilgrims to Squanto who was the last remaining member of the Patuxet and who himself was only saved due to being captured by Spaniards and sold into slavery. He was bought by and Englishman who set him free, taught him to read and speak English and who taught him Christianity. Squanto himself was converted. He was then sent back to his homeland by the English. Sqyanto served 20 years as interpreter for the Pilgrims and taught them fishing and agriculture techniques that saved the colony from hunger. Squanto and Samoset introduced the Separatists to Massasoit, sachem of the Wampanoag. They would form a bond and treaty of mutual protection that would last 50 years.
It wasn't until later years that other groups that settled in other parts of New England that trouble began as those settlers began warring against the natives. The Pilgrims themselves, however, had a good relationship with the Wampanoag tribe. It should also be noted that a plot was discovered that Squanto sought to overthrow the Sachem Massasoit (amongst other allegations). The Pilgrims eventually handed Squanto over for justice at the hands of the tribe. It was at this moment that foreign ships appeared in the harbor. Fearing it was the French, William Bradford changed his mind stating he must identify the ship before handing over Squanto. The Wampanoag left in anger at the delay. Squanto later died of a fever with William Bradford by his side. Bradford later described his death,
In this place Squanto fell sick of Indian fever, bleeding much at the nose (which the Indians take as a symptom of death) and within a few days died there; desiring the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen's God in Heaven; and bequeathed sundry of his things to English friends, as remembrances of his love; of whom they had a great loss.
Thanksgiving feasts were common in England. There was no "first Thanksgiving" per se, but rather a harvest feast. There was another by other colonies during the same period. As America grew, communities had Thanksgiving/Harvest feasts. By the 1860s, different states and Canada had Thanksgiving feasts at different times. There's even a recording of a Thanksgiving feast in Texas at a Mission in the 1500s. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln commemorated a day of Thanksgiving to thank God for blessing the Union during the civil war. This was after a campaign for such a day by Sarah Joseph Hale written in letters for 40 years. Most states had taken to the last Thursday in November for a day of Thanksgiving which was also "Evacuation Day", a day marking the exit of the British Army from America after the Revolution. The final date was recognized after reconstruction ended in the 1870s. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the next to last Thursday as Thanksgiving day to increase the holiday shopping time. However, in 1941, he signed a new resolution marking the 4th Thursday in November as Thanksgiving day.
So what does all this have to do with racism? Well, in a word, nothing. The actions of both Europeans and Americans against native peoples have been grouped together and blamed on both Columbus and the Pilgrims. However, the Pilgrims themselves never took such actions against the Narraganset. The Native peoples themselves had just as much political intrigue and violent tendencies as any other people group and wars between tribes were constantly fought as each tribe took slaves and land. Today, Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks to God for all that He has done for us. The call of racism is a misguided attempt to bring to light the crimes committed centuries ago and it is untruthful at best. So this season, study the true history of the Pilgrims and their relationship with the Narraganset as well as other settlers and their awful treatment of native tribes. And then, give thanks to the creator of us all and pray for reconciliation through Christ Jesus who is LORD of all and LORD over all.