The Pilgrim and Wampanoag Role

Published 10/17 2012 02:13PM

Updated 10/17 2012 02:14PM

The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag were not particularly identified with Thanksgiving until about 1900, though interest in the Pilgrims as historic figures began shortly before the American Revolution.

With the publication of Longfellow's best-selling poem The Courtship of Miles Standish (1848) and the recovery of Governor Bradford's lost manuscript Of Plimoth Plantation (1855), public interest in the Pilgrims and Wampanoag grew just as Thanksgiving became nationally important. Until the third quarter of the 19th century, music, literature and popular art concentrated on the Pilgrims' landing at Plymouth Rock and their first encounters with Native People on Cape Cod.

After 1890, representations of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag began to reflect a shift of interest to the 1621 harvest celebration. By the beginning of the 20th century, the Pilgrims and the Thanksgiving holiday were used to teach children about American freedom and how to be good citizens. Each November, in classrooms across the country, students participated in Thanksgiving pageants, sang songs about Thanksgiving, and built log cabins to represent the homes of the Pilgrims. Immigrant children also learned that all Americans ate turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. The last lesson was especially effective with the recollections of most immigrant children in the 20th century including stories of rushing home after school in November to beg their parents to buy and roast a turkey for a holiday dinner.

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