An engraving depicts the Mayflower pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620. In reality, the pilgrims never wrote of any such rock. The first written mention of Plymouth Rock was in 1835.
When the Mayflower pilgrims and the Wampanoag sat down for the first Thanksgiving in 1621, it wasn’t actually that big of a deal. Likely, it was just a routine English harvest celebration. More significant—and less remembered—was the peace treaty that the parities established seven months earlier, which lasted for 50 years.
“There’s in fact very little historical record of the first Thanksgiving, which is why Thanksgiving wasn’t really celebrated as a holiday until the 19th century,” says Charles C. Mann, author of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. “To historians, it seems kind of funny that the celebration … now seems more important than the treaty itself.”
President Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday during the Civil War, and the feast has since become an American tradition. Yet the story of the Wampanoag and the pilgrims who first broke bread is not commonly known …
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