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5 Thanksgiving Myths and the Facts Behind Them

November 20, 2012

By Hoff Matthews

Nothing draws people to a website better than list-based articles, so in the interest of boosting my pageviews, I’m publishing my own listicles here on my page. In this post I examine the most common misconceptions about Thanksgiving’s historical roots.


False! Actually, the Mayflower first made landfall on Cape Cod, in the vicinity of what is now modern-day Provincetown, where the Pilgrims were welcomed by a tribe of flamingly homosexual Native Americans.

Typical Provincetown resident, 1620

The tribe provided food and shelter to the European newcomers, aid which was sorely needed in the aftermath of a long sea voyage. Plymouth Rock actually marks the site of the mass grave in which the helpful natives’ corpses were interred after the colonists enslaved them and infected them with smallpox. Their noble sacrifice shall not be forgotten!


This one is only partly true. Patuxet tribe member Squanto, also known as Tisquantum, did in fact provide crucial assistance to the continent’s new arrivals, teaching them farming and fishing techniques which helped ensure the Plymouth colony’s survival. However, he was at first reluctant to do so, fearing that the colonists could not be trusted and might turn on their new neighbors. The Pilgrims managed to change his mind only after employing a plethora of persuasive techniques: First Squanto was tortured; then his children were killed; then his fellow tribe members were tortured and killed; and, finally, his prize livestock were killed and then somewhat redundantly tortured. Only after experiencing all this did Squanto agree to divulge what he knew of cultivating “maize.”

Before immolating himself in an act of penitential ritual suicide, Squanto placed a curse on the colony, vowing to return from the grave to exact bloody revenge on the descendants of the white men who brutally decimated his people. This curse provided the inspiration for the name and mascot of Plymouth’s minor league baseball team, the Phantom Injuns.

Mascot currently under review


This is another myth that does contain a grain of truth. Americans did at one time wear buckles on their clothes, but this did not become fashionable until the late 17th century, long after the first Thanksgiving in 1621. At that time, the only adornments considered socially acceptable for a Pilgrim to wear were the dismembered remains of local natives that he or she had killed.

Modern recreation of the era’s popular “bone bonnet”

Of course, some Pilgrims eschewed accessories altogether and only wore plain black clothing, in keeping with the austerity of their religion. These Pilgrims were considered more “authentic” and “edgy.”


False! Although we now think of Thanksgiving as an autumn holiday, the first one was most likely held in the early spring of 1621. After all, that was a time when the Pilgrims had plenty to be thankful for: Not only had they weathered a grueling New England winter, but they had also succeeded in decreasing the local native population by cleverly “gifting” the tribes with cholera-laced swaddling clothes. (Some historians believe that this incident represented the first “April Fool’s Day” as well.)

Thanksgiving would not come to be associated with fall until 1972, when Richard Nixon relocated the holiday to November in a successful attempt to distract the public from rumors that he was behind San Francisco’s notorious “Zodiac” killings.

This aspect of Nixon’s legacy remains largely unexplored


Almost certainly false. If the Pilgrims served any fowl at all, it’s more likely to have been geese, bald eagles or perhaps large sparrows. Seafood such as eel and spider crab may have been on the menu as well, but the entree was of course the local natives, who selflessly offered themselves up to be involuntarily killed and eaten. In a sense, the tribesmen were the feast’s guests of honor; many of them were seated at the banquet table immediately prior to being devoured, as it was believed that fattening them up and keeping them alive for as long as possible would keep their meat fresh and flavorful.

It’s not entirely clear how turkey came to be associated with the holiday. Some experts speculate that whatever parts of the natives the colonists didn’t eat themselves may have been fed to the flightless birds. However, it is also possible that the settlers noticed a familiar shape in the bloody handprints the natives left behind as they were dragged to their deaths:

Happy Thanksgiving!

2 Comments leave one →
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  1. 10 Pictures that Look Photoshopped–But Aren’t! « Hoff Matthews

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