Thomas Doty – Storyteller

1959: Tommy's Thanksgiving Artwork


For my Thanksgiving artwork in grade school, I drew Indians in their mountaintop village and got a "B." My friend Susie drew Pilgrims eating turkey and got an "A." She could also draw better!

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

My ancestor Edward Doty was at the first Thanksgiving. He and his uncle Stephen Hopkins were Mayflower passengers. Doty was officially listed as Hopkins' servant. Having a servant meant more land in the New World. Having a nephew didn't. Hopkins and Doty were far from Puritans. My friend Roy Scarbrough's ancestors owned the Mayflower and had hired Hopkins and Doty to look after their investment.

The Hopkins-Doty home in Plymouth was a favorite hangout for native people. Doty and Hopkins knew Indian sign language, and Doty was starting to pick up spoken native languages. Unlike the Indians' visits to other Puritan homes, Doty and Hopkins didn't thump them with the Bible every half hour. Instead, they enjoyed each other's stories. And they played games.

I also have native blood in my family background. Many tribes in North America observe Thanksgiving as a Day of Mourning. If you have read the raw, uncut history of the "settlement" of this country, you'll know why. Genocide is a nasty word and it applies here. Big time. Some native folks believe that helping the Pilgrims when they arrived was a bad idea, a bad beginning. Look at what came next.

The holiday we call Thanksgiving has an interesting history, and plenty of conflicting accounts. We know that turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie weren't on the menu in 1621. The three day event was attended by 90 Wampanoag Indians and 52 colonists who ate deer (supplied by the Indians) and whatever was harvested that fall which remains mostly a mystery. We know that Thanksgiving was mainly a regional observance until President Lincoln declared it a national holiday in 1863.

As for what I know? I believe there were moments during that first Thanksgiving when who was Indian and who was European mattered little. They were friends who had traveled rough paths together and survived, even thrived. They were family and community. Those moments are precious. May you have many on this 390th anniversary of remembrance and gratitude.

November 24, 2011