The First Thanksgiving and the Myth of America

In History by Caris Adel10 Comments

“This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today.  Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race have changed before allowing them to read this classic work.” – Note at the beginning of Stories of the Pilgrimsby Margaret B. Pumphrey


With Thanksgiving coming up, I started to think about how we tell the story of it.  When the dominant culture reduces the day to a celebration of happy America embodied by friendly Pilgrims and Indians, what are we missing? How do we embrace thankfulness while also recognizing what we are thankful for usually comes at the expense of someone?  How does the way we shape our history inform our way of life now?  And what do I want my kids to understand about Thanksgiving and the story of America?

This is an introductory look at colonization and the myth of America.


I grew up absorbed in Americana.  I loved reading and I loved history, so of course I adored all things Pilgrim, all things Virginia, all things colonial and colonizing.  I didn’t realize how one-sided and ultimately harmful that was.  I didn’t realize that I had been steeping myself in white supremacy.

The myth of American can be found in such classic books as Pumphrey’s.  This was my absolute favorite book when I was young, and it was one of the first books I bought when my kids started reading.  In addition to the terribly racist portrayal of Native Americans, this book establishes the Pilgrims as ‘us’, the good Americans, the courageous settlers persecuted by authorities, blessed by God, and firmly creates the iconic ‘Pilgrim and Indian’.

“Myth is more important than history.  History is arbitrary, a collection of facts.  Myth we choose, we create, we perpetuate.” – A Voyage Long and Strange: On the Trail of Vikings, Conquistadors, Lost Colonists, and Other Adventurers in Early America

There are 3 stories of America’s founding that are iconic – Columbus, Jamestown, and Plymouth.  All 3 stories had devastating consequences for the indigenous people who lived there, but the way we tell these stories matters.

The founding of America and the tension between the colonizers and the natives seems to come to a peaceful resolution in the story of the First Thanksgiving, and other near future conflicts are glossed over.  We want to believe this happy story of friendship.  We want our guilt and discomfort to be assuaged.

The goal of this series is to look at many different books and resources, and compile the information in an easy to understand format to help us think more critically about what we believe about America and the structural inequalities that persist, as well as making it easier to begin discussing this with our kids.

Some of the questions may seem obvious or simplistic, but sometimes it’s the obvious questions that shake our understanding, and this was written with teaching the concepts to my kids in mind.

Deconstructing the common view of America we are taught as kids is a long process, but an important one.

That’s the only way we will be able to begin righting the wrongs.


Over the next couple of posts, I’m going to compare and contrast 2 very different texts as we look at the three stories of America’s beginning.  One is The Light and the Glory for Children : Discovering God’s Plan for America from Christopher Columbus to George Washington.  The other is A People’s History of the United States.  (There is also a children’s version of A People’s History, and an adult version of The Light and the Glory.)

The Light and the Glory is a book that takes the view of America as God’s appointed land, which is foundational to the American myth of being a Christian nation.  Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States presents the underside of history, the marginalized and oppressed stories that aren’t usually told.

This back and forth will compare the viewpoints and language used in these two books, along with some more neutral views from other books.

I think it’s important to look at the ways we describe our histories, the lens we view them through and the beliefs we frame them with.


Part 1 – The First Thanksgiving and the Myth of America
Part 2 – The Myth of America – Columbus, Christ-Bearer
Part 3 – The Myth of America – Jamestown – The Wrong Story To Tell
Part 4 – Pilgrims – God’s Provision at the Expense of Other People
Part 5 – Myth of America – Biased History Lesson
Part 6 – The Mayflower Compact – for God and King and White America
Part 7 – The First Thanksgiving – for a Massacre
Part 8 – The First Thanksgiving – Fears, Power, and Privilege
Part 9 – Colonialism – A History Lesson with Skittles
Part 10 – Myth of the First Thanksgiving – Other Festivals and Thanksgiving
Part 11 – Myth of America – The Clash of Spiritualities
Part 12 – The First Thanksgiving – A Day of Mourning
Part 13 – Resources


This series is available as a 40 page pdf, giving an introductory look at settler colonialism as it relates to the founding of America.  Discusses Columbus, Jamestown, Pilgrims and Native Americans and includes 4 lessons to teach the topics to kids.
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