Paintings created hundreds of
years after feast aren't historically, factually accurate
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Condensed by Native Village
If only there had been a camera at the First Thanksgiving...
Many of today's stereotypes about the feast and those who
attended originated from paintings created long after the 1621
event was over.
“The images often tell you more about the time they are
created than the time they actually are depicting,” says
Jenny Pulsipher, a Brigham Young University historian.
example is a popular painting of the First Thanksgiving
done in 1915 by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris, an American
He depicted the Indians wearing elaborate
feather headdresses common to tribes in the
Great Plains, not those in Massachusetts.
“In the early 20th century, people
thought that all Indians looked like Plains
Indians,” said Pulsipher. People tended to
assume “all Indians are the same when really
Indians are just as diverse as Europeans are.”
The Ferris painting also shows the natives
“They wouldn’t have been half-naked, either,
because this is November and it’s cold,”
The Wampanoag are shown sitting on the ground
as a Pilgrim woman hands them food.
At the time the painting was done, many
Americans considered native peoples uncivilized
— “so you have to feed them on the ground,”
Pulsipher says. “Obviously, it’s implying that
the ones who are standing are superior.
A modern painting of the First Thanksgiving might feature
both groups sitting at a table or together on the ground.
The Pilgrims and Wampanoag enjoyed a cooperative
relationship at the time, Pulsipher says -- “not one people
dominating over another.”
Another popular Thanksgiving painting was done by Jennie A.
Brownscombe in 1914. It depicts the Pilgrims' outfits more
realistically. The clothes are simpler, without Ferris's
“best dress” black outfits on the men or ruffles on the
women’s hats, Pulsipher says.
Most striking about Brownscombe's painting is
that you don’t immediately see any Indians; they
are sitting in the background.
This indicates the then-popular view of the
“vanished” Indian who once
lived in America but were now gone. Yet the
Indians living near Plymouth in the 1600s “way outnumbered the Pilgrims,” Pulsipher says, “and
they outnumbered them at the Thanksgiving meal, too.
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