American History Museum corrects some of the Thanksgiving myths

The National Museum of American History is home to more than 1.8 million objects and more than three shelf-miles of archival collections. Upending 1620: Where Do We Begin? is a display that examines the early encounters between Wampanoag peoples and English colonists, and the important legacies of those encounters over the next 400 years. Click here for a two-and-a-half minute video of the display.

Those initial meetings became the subject of powerful myths, when later Americans reimagined the English as “Pilgrims” and founders of the U.S. nation.  (Above, right) A painting of Metacomet decorated a Philadelphia fire engine in the 1830s. By then, European Americans viewed him as the defeated hero of a vanishing people, and the Wampanoag have fought the false notion of their disappearance ever since.

Exploring the evidence that upends these myths highlights Wampanoag experience and persistence through the centuries, and invites a fuller understanding of the colonists’ views and motivations as well. The exhibit uses the term “Wampanaog” which never existed in 1620 as the tribe of the Massasoit was called “Pokanoket.”

The exhibit looks at the origins and evolution of Thanksgiving and the emergence of the National Day of Mourning, a protest first organized in 1970 in an effort to counter the Pilgrim myths. 

Objects on display include a 1998 Day of Mourning protest banner and a handmade Narragansett drum. as well as fragments of Plymouth Rock, and an heirloom chest of a Mayflower passenger.