Thanksgiving & the NATIONAL Day of MOURNING

November 2020 marks the 399th anniversary of the ‘First Thanksgiving’ and the 50th anniversary of the National Day of Mourning.

In our commemorations, we have been keen to acknowledge the light and inspiration found through gratitude at Thanksgiving, but also that the arrival of the pilgrims in America is not a cause for celebration for all people. The pilgrims thought they were going to a ‘new world’ and hoping to create a ‘new Eden’, free from what they saw as corruption in the mainstream churches of Europe.

But this was not an empty land. Native Americans had already been living in that area of the American east coast for at least 10,000 years. 


The story of the first thanksgiving has become a legend to many in America, but like most legends it is often told with some inaccuracies. Although the pilgrims would not have survived without the help of Tisquantum and other first nation allies, their early encounters were not entirely peaceful.

That harvest meal in autumn of 1621 lasted through three days of prayerful thanksgiving as well as feasting. There were more Native Americans than Europeans there, and the meal probably did not include turkey, though we know venison was eaten as Sachem Massasoit’s men hunted five deer. 
‘Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours’ 
– Edward Winslow

The first National Day of MOURNING

In 1970’s celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage, Wamsutta Frank James was invited to address the annual dinner, attended by Plymouth MA’s dignitaries. His prepared speech was deemed inappropriate, and he was given an edited version to deliver to the gathered people. But he refused to be censored and instead took his remarks to Coles Hill in Plymouth and gave his original speech there. 
‘This is a time of celebration for you – celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People.’ 
– Wamsutta Frank James
In November 2019, we hosted a National Day of Mourning exhibition in the Pilgrims Gallery, with support and guidance from our partners representing the Wampanoag nation. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we were unable to host such an exhibition in the Mayflower 400 anniversary year. Instead, we created ways for people to engage with the National Day of Mourning narrative online.

Below are two videos, one from Smoke Sygnals telling the story of the National Day of Mourning; and one from the perspective of an imagined pilgrim character, reflecting on the early years of the Colony and wondering about the future