Why the Myths of Plymouth Dominate the American Imagination

The most common story of the history of Thanksgiving is the one we learn as children, either at school or from our parents. It’s the short, simplified version: the Pilgrims sailed to Massachusetts for religious freedom, learned to grow crops from their native friend Squanto, and in November had a feast of turkey to thank God for a bountiful harvest. None of that is exactly accurate, but the nuances of history take some time and study to understand. UCLA historian Carla Pestana goes over some of the myths surrounding Thanksgiving, like the complicated idea of religious freedom.

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There’s also a narrative about religious freedom and persecution that we owe to Bradford, who says that the English king James I had harassed this little church out of England and they had to flee to the Netherlands, and that that church then came to settle Plymouth. It’s very compelling, but when they got to the Netherlands, they actually had perfect religious freedom. They don’t need to leave the Netherlands for religious freedom, and Bradford says as much; the idea that they go to America for religious freedom is just off.

I do think that in Plymouth they tended to be somewhat more tolerant of alternate religious views. Decades later when the Harvard president openly explains that he’s a Baptist and has to leave Massachusetts, he goes to Plymouth. The first Quaker in Massachusetts who gets converted goes to Plymouth. I actually think that’s one reason why Plymouth wins in the sweepstakes for becoming the most important founding moment in the region. They don’t kill witches like Salem. They don’t kill Quakers like Boston. Some of the worst things that people in the late 18th century were starting to be embarrassed about, about their ancestors, didn’t happen in Plymouth.

Read more of what really happened to bring about our Thanksgiving holiday at Smithsonian.

Source: neatorama

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