Does Thanksgiving mark the Pequot massacre in Mystic?

You don't have to go far, in researching the origins of Thanksgiving, to come across some scholarly opinions that it was the bloody Pequot massacre of 1637 that everyone is commemorating, not the 1621 turkey picnic feast in Plymouth.

The record of the national holiday is clear: It was established by President Abraham Lincoln, who set aside the last Thursday of every November as a national day of thanks.

That proclamation Lincoln issued in October 1863 is surprisingly religious and pays homage to an Almighty Hand that might heal the "wounds of the nation" and restore it to "full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union."

There was no mention in the proclamation of colonists or Indians or turkeys. It seemed to be much more about an escape from the punishing Civil War than a celebration of a happy fall bounty feast held in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Indeed, the story of Thanksgiving myths and origins, beyond the fact of Lincoln's proclamation, has gotten quite murky over time, with all kinds of scholarly research into the source of the traditions we celebrate.

One persistent story line in this historical study of the country's Thanksgiving cultural myths is the connection to the Pequot massacre in Mystic.

"Should We Rename Thanksgiving 'National Ethnic Cleansing Day'?" read one typical headline over a 2012 Philly Magazine story on the topic of the Mystic massacre and the connection to the holiday.

"The Thanksgiving Day Massacre Or Would You Like Turkey with Your Genocide?" said a 2006 headline over a posting on the popular political website Daily Kos.

Here in eastern Connecticut, we know well the story of the May 26 massacre in Mystic, when Capt. John Mason, assisted by Mohegan warriors, led a raid on the Pequots' Mystic fort. Some 700 Pequots, including women and children, were killed after the fort was set afire.

The next day, Massachusetts Bay Gov. William Bradford designated a "day of Thanksgiving kept in all the churches for our victories against the Pequots."

Bradford later described the massacre in gory and horrific terms in his "History of Plymouth Plantation."

"It was a fearful sight to see them frying in the fryer and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stincke and sente," he wrote. "But the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave the prayers therof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemise in their hands and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enimie."

Reading that kind of makes you want to run up and throw some coins in a slot machine at the Pequots' Foxwoods Resort Casino. It also might make you want to root more enthusiastically for the Pequots in the new casino war with Bradford's Massachusetts.

Curiously, the story of a Thanksgiving connection to the Pequot massacre in Mystic has never penetrated the psyche at Foxwoods, as the casino once again this year prepares to go into full holiday preparation mode, with all kinds of Thanksgiving promotions and specials.

The tribe also generously donates turkeys each year to food banks for the poor.

This Saturday, the Pequots' casino will host a Thanksgiving eating extravaganza - the Foxwoods World Turkey-Eating Championship - in which contestants will try to break the record of 10 minutes to eat a giant turkey.

I will say this: There won't be a Puritan in sight.

The tribe's embrace of Thanksgiving reminds me of the first year the casino was open and the tribe's many new workers were given Columbus Day as a holiday.

You might think the tribe could find someone better than Christopher Columbus, who led the first major European contact with the Americas and its natives, to celebrate with a day off for workers.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

Twitter: @DavidCollinsct

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