Kathryn Page Camp
It’s worth reminding ourselves how important it is to get the details right when writing about historical events. So this Thanksgiving week, I am reprinting parts of my November 26, 2014 IWC blog post titled “The Rest of the Thanksgiving Story.” Since I am only using parts of it, I made a few modifications to make the post flow more smoothly.
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I wanted to add a picture of the first Thanksgiving to this post. Unfortunately, the only ones I found that were clearly in the public domain were also historically inaccurate. The photo at the head of this post is a good example. The clothing and feathers are all wrong, and the position of the two groups, with the members of the Wampanoag nation sitting on the ground and the Pilgrims standing, implies that the Pilgrims were the dominant race. Since a white woman is handing out the food, the picture could also imply that the Pilgrims provided the feast and the Native Americans were simply recipients.
As writers, we should be careful not to make the same mistakes.
When I think of the first Thanksgiving, I think of friendly Native Americans bringing their knowledge and skills and provisions to feed the starving Pilgrims. Without that help, the Pilgrims would have perished.
I’ve read comments on the Internet complaining that people today think the Pilgrims and the Native Americans merely shared a meal together, or even that the Pilgrims were the benefactors rather than the beneficiaries. I can’t say whether those complaints are valid, but it hasn’t been my experience. I learned at school and at home that Squanto and his tribe taught the Pilgrims how to survive, and my children learned the same lesson.
That’s one of the reasons I like Thanksgiving. It’s the one time of year when we remember the Native American participants as the generous people they were. That’s a lot better than the frequent stereotype of half-dressed warriors burning homes and scalping “innocent” white settlers.
Those of us with European ancestry have many reasons to be grateful to the Native Americans.
So when you write about the first Thanksgiving, make sure you get it right.
The picture at the head of this post is by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris and was painted sometime around 1912-1915. It is in the public domain in the United States because of its age.
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer who writes adult non-fiction as Kathryn Page Camp and middle-grade fiction as Kaye Page. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014, and her first middle-grade historical novel, Desert Jewels, was released in August 2017. You can learn more about Kathryn at www.kathrynpagecamp.com.