Thanksgiving and the American Holocaust

A few months ago I learned that I am directly descended from a married couple, William and Susanna White, who arrived on these shores in 1620 aboard the Mayflower. While most people are proud to have ancestors who were Pilgrims, I have very mixed feelings about it because I also have a quantum of Native American blood. Here’s why I’m somewhat mortified about my Pilgrim heritage:

In a few days, we celebrate Thanksgiving, and school children will be hearing the myth about its founding, how the Pilgrims and Indians sat down to a meal together as friends and celebrated the harvest.

Like most myths, it has elements of truth, but it also totally ignores a dark side of the Plymouth Colony and other early settlers, the fact that in less than two decades they killed off nearly every member of the native tribes that had lived there for thousands of years and forced the rest onto reservations and stole their lands.

The local Indians were already wary of the English when the Pilgrims arrived in 1620. Earlier exploratory missions had routinely slaughtered the indigenous people and rounded them up to be taken to England and sold as slaves. Squanto, of the Thanksgiving story, spoke English because he had been one of the natives kidnapped and taken to England as a slave, but managed somehow to return home.

The colony’s crops failed in 1621, and they were saved from starvation through the efforts of Squanto, who had managed to grow 20 acres of corn. Though the Native Americans were suspicious of the English colonists, they nevertheless taught them their agriculture and fishing skills. Without these skills, the Pilgrims, half of whom died anyway, would have completely perished. They owed their very lives to the Indians.

Following the harvest, the colonists invited one Indian chief to come for a feast. To their horror, he arrived with 90 of his tribesmen who all joined them for the celebration. The Indians were never invited back and some historians argue that the main purpose of the invitation was to negotiate with the chief for their land.

The Pilgrims also cleverly set local tribesmen against each other, preferring to let the Indians kill each other off rather than doing it themselves. When a chief refused to cooperate with their treachery, he was beheaded and his head displayed at Plymouth Colony.

The Pequot Tribe occupied lands in the Plymouth area. Shortly after the arrival of the Pilgrims, many of the native inhabitants began to fall sick and die. Given the description of their deaths, smallpox was probably the disease which devastated the Pequots. The Pequots were estmated to number about 8,000 when the Pilgrims arrived. By 1637, disease brought by the Pilgrims had reduced their numbers to 1,500.

On the orders of the colonial governor, about 700 Pequots were slaughtered by the colonists in a massacre in 1637. The Indians were holding their green corn festival when an armed band of colonists surrounded the village by night and killed nearly everyone including women and children. Here is a description of the massacre written by William Bradford:

“Those that scraped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, others rune throw with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatchte, and very few escapted. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fyer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stincke and sente there of, but the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof 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.”

By the end of 1637, only a handful of Pequot were still alive. The massacre set the precedent for what would become a more than 200-year genocide of Native Americans. Massachusetts Colony also initiated the reservation system which would become the model for the isolation and deprival of the indigenous peoples.

Perhaps historian Gilbert Mercier said it best: “In other words, celebrating Thanksgiving is as if Germany had a day of celebration for the Holocaust. Thanksgiving is the American Holocaust.”

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God and Government

Part of our heritage in the United States is that some of the country’s founders were religious zealots who came here seeking freedom from oppression. But even though groups like the pilgrims had suffered under intolerance, they themselves were intolerant, apparently immune to the very history they had lived.

Today, over 300  years later, Americans still live with the heritage of forced Christian dogma, though officially there is supposed to be a separation of church and state, Christian ideas still have an impact in our everyday lives.

The government is supposed to represent all Americans, but if you’re atheist, agnostic, Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, Shinto, Wicca, or a bunch of other beliefs, the government is still in your face with Christian doctrine.

It’s right there on our money: In God We Trust. I thought we were supposed to be a nation that celebrated diversity. Can you imagine the furor that would rage if the Treasury Department decided to celebrate diversity by putting on some coins and bills In No God We Trust, for the 5 percent of Americans who says they are atheists? Maybe it could say In Yahweh We Trust for our five million Jewish citizens, or In Allah We Trust for our seven million Moslem citizens.

In Allah We Trust? Can you imagine the uproar? Only Christianity gets to propagandize with government backing. Isn’t that favoritism, plain and simple? Why not just eliminate all references to God on all our money?

Some states offer a license plate that bears the motto In God We Trust. There are no license plates offered for non-Christian faiths.

Christians might want to argue that God is a reference to a supreme being across all faiths. But that argument doesn’t hold up. Different faiths have different names for their deities. God is the name of the deity of Christians. The gods (notice even our capitalization rules are prejudiced) of other faiths go by many names, The Great Spirit, Zeus, Thor, Buddha, Satan, and many, many more, none of which appear on American money. There are 12,000 non-Christian congregations in the United States. None of them use the name God.

Atheists, of course, believe in no God. They’re citizens too. Why should their money bear this deist credo? Agnostics just aren’t sure. Why should they be forced to face the assertion that they trust in the Christian divinity? I mean who is this “We” in In God We Trust.

School children, no matter what their faith, are asked to recite the pledge of allegiance, including the phrase “one nation under God.” Our elected officials, from the President down, never make a speech  without mentioning God.

Where I live, you can’t buy beer, wine or liquor on Sunday. Why? Because it’s the Christian Sabbath, codified into local ordinances.

The phrase In God We Trust wasn’t on our money until 1864, and the “under God” in the pledge only dates back to 1955.

I’d like to make one thing clear. I’m not condemning Christians for their beliefs. One of the great things about our country is that everyone has the right to their own religious ideas. It was one of the rights that was established by the founding fathers in the Constitution.

But if you’re a Christian, shouldn’t you be embarrassed to have your beliefs thrust constantly into the face of non-believers? Didn’t Jesus say something about loving even your enemies? If Christians believe in compassion, why not show tolerance for all Americans by taking their God out of the equation?

Some readers will see this issue as silly, unimportant, and think anyone who objects to these God references could just ignore them. But if this issue is so trivial, why not just resolve it by eliminating these references?

The United States is rapidly becoming a rainbow of cultures. There was a time in our history when we were overwhelmingly a Christian nation. It’s just not that way anymore. Only 20 percent of Americans attend church on any given Sunday. Do the math. Four times as many abstain from religious services every week.

It’s time our government got out of the religion business, not part way, not most of the way, not 99 percent of the way. It’s time for a true division between religion and government.

Finding My Roots

Richard the Lionheart, King of England, Christian crusader and my direct ancestor.

Have you seen those commercials for Ancestry.com? The people in them always seem to find fascinating stuff about their ancestors.

I’ve been trying to track down my roots for a few decades now, but for years I haven’t done much because I had hit a wall and couldn’t make any progress. What I had found was that my ancestors were very ordinary, undistinguished, nearly all obscure farmers. I was also frustrated because I couldn’t track even one of my lines to the person who first came to the United States.

Then recently my wife mentioned that she had signed us up for a membership at Ancestry.com. I really wasn’t that excited. I’d been on Ancestry.com years ago and had already exhausted the possibilities there.

A few days later I was bored and decided to take a look at the site. What I discovered is that the information posted by other distant relatives had changed everything and what I eventually found was truly startling.

I didn’t write about all the wonderful things I found for quite a while for two reasons. First, I thought it might sound like bragging, and second, what I found was so amazing I thought people might think I was making it up.

I’m not making it up. Of course, I’m relying on the research of others, so I can’t verify the accuracy of everything I found. But if just some of it is true, my roots are fascinating.

The first big find for me was that a Scottish trader who was my direct ancestor married into the royal line of the Cherokees, putting a bunch of Cherokee chiefs in the family line. My ancestors included Cherokees with colorful names like The Terrapin and Old Jenny Dew.

I also discovered that humorist, movie star and Broadway sensation Will Rogers and I share that same Cherokee line. My wife and I both graduated from Will Rogers High School in Tulsa. Will Rogers, Jr. was my commencement speaker, though I had no idea at the time that he was a distant cousin. I even wrote a blog on Will Rogers earlier this year, before I knew we were related. Spooky, huh?

Not everything you find out is good. A little research on my Cherokee people revealed that the brother of one of my direct ancestors was one of the signers of the Treaty of New Echota, under which terms the Cherokees were forced to move from their native homeland to Oklahoma. They were rounded up by the U.S. Army and their brutal winter forced march came to be known as the Trail of Tears. Most of the signers of the treaty were murdered by tribal members in reprisal, including my relation.

The next revelations came about the role of my people in the Revolutionary War. One of my Pruitt kin, I was astounded to find out, was a spy for Gen. George Washington. Another of my forebears, Daniel Sisk, died in the Revolutionary War at the Battle of Kings Mountain in North Carolina, a battle I had never even heard of.

Then I found out something that blew me away. Two of my ancestors, a husband and wife, William and Susanna White, arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. Susanna was pregnant during the voyage and only weeks after their arrival at Plymouth, she gave birth to the first child in the colony, Peregine White. That baby is my direct ancestor.

I didn’t think I’d be able to top my Pilgrim roots, but I was wrong.

I tracked a number of my lines back across the ocean, and they nearly all led to England. As I tracked back in England, I found some family who were nobles, and then I traced the line to Edward III, King of England. In fact the whole Plantagenet line of Kings who ruled England from 1154 to 1485 were related, and among those kings was the legendary Richard the Lionheart.

Still going back, I found that because the Plantagenet kings married European royalty, my lines go back to France, Belgium, Spain and Italy. So it turns out I’m descended from the royal lines in those countries also.

It almost didn’t seem possible. This was in my namesake Pruitt line. I thought about my Grandpa Pruitt, a sharecropper who lived in poverty his whole life. That these humble relatives were descended from British kings was something I never would have expected.

There may be more. When you track your ancestors back for a thousand years, it becomes a massive research project. I’m still working on it.

What does it all mean? I’m not sure it’s all that significant. But I’m gratified to know that my genetics include, no matter how minutely, a diverse mix of kings, farmers, Cherokees, Pilgrims, and Revolutionary War soldiers. Their blood flows in my veins, and I’m somehow a crazy mixed-up mongrel amalgam.

So, thanks Ancestry.com! I’m ready to do the commercial anytime.