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Can It Be A Real Thanksgiving Without Smallpox?

The following is from an article called “The Truth About the First Thanksgiving” by James M. Lowen. Mr. Lowen has written Lies My Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America— (Above–One idea of the first Thanksgiving as painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. Mr. Ferris lived 1863-1930.)

The summer after the Pilgrims landed, they sent two envoys on a diplomatic mission to treat with Massasoit, a famous chief encamped some 40 miles away at what is now Warren, Rhode Island. The envoys discovered and described a scene of absolute havoc. Villages lay in ruins because there was no one to tend them. The ground was strewn with the skulls and the bones of thousands of Indians who had died and none was left to bury them. 

( Can’t figure out how to fix the glitchy font on the above paragraph—Things happen.)

During the next fifteen years, additional epidemics, most of which we know to have been smallpox, struck repeatedly. Europeans caught smallpox and the other maladies, to be sure, but most recovered, including, in a later century, the “heavily pockmarked George Washington.” Indians usually died. Therefore, almost as profound as their effect on Indian demographics was the impact of the epidemics on the two cultures, European and Indian. The English Separatists, already seeing their lives as part of a divinely inspired morality play, inferred that they had God on their side. John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, called the plague “miraculous.” To a friend in England in 1634, he wrote:

“But for the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for 300 miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by the small pox which still continues among them. So as God hath thereby cleared our title to this place, those who remain in these parts, being in all not fifty, have put themselves under our protect”

Here is a timeline of European disease epidemics among Native Americans.

Here is information about smallpox.

Most of us have much to be thankful for on Thanksgiving and on all days. Yet this does not mean we should forget how we got what we have, and what costs were inflicted on people we felt were in the way.

(Below —A scene from King Philip’s War. This 1675 conflict is a more accurate reflection of relations between white settlers and Native Americans in colonial New England than the painting at the top of this post.) 

Early American Conflict.jpg

November 24, 2008 Posted by | Art, Books, Colonial America, History | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment