When Pennsylvania’s founder and proprietor, William Penn, visited about 1700 the Gwynedd Meeting House that had just been established by fellow Quakers on what today is DeKalb Pike, north of Montgomery County’s Norristown, Native Americans of the Leni Lenape tribe’s Unami clan were also known to frequent the area.
After all, they had lived in these parts for many hundreds of years before such newly arrived European settlers came and then essentially annihilated the natives, despite those “original people” initially wanting to share the bountiful land jam-packed with such game as bears, deer, boars and wild turkeys.
“There was at this time a great preparation among the Indians near [the log-cabin meeting house] for some public festival,” notes the 1870 J.B. Lippincott & Co. book, Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, in the Olden Time, that I found online.
The proprietor’s daughter, “Letitia Penn, then a lively young girl, greatly desired to be present, but her father would not give his consent, though she entreated much,” perhaps an early indication of Penn’s growing reservations about the natives, even with establishing the English colony to live in harmony with them.
Tragically, within a mere 50 years, according to the book, land-hungry settlers would force the natives off the land, sometimes committing despicable acts of genocide, horrors that we must acknowledge as many partake of Thanksgiving feasts on Thursday, Nov. 28 during Native American Heritage Month that places the focus back on the incredible dynasties and cultures that were devastated by the so-called advancements of settlers.
Attitudes about Thanksgiving must be adjusted from the falsehood that the natives and settlers harmoniously broke bread and lived happily ever after, when nothing is further from the truth.
Even today, our so-called president, Donald Trump, salutes one of the greatest Native American killers in history, former President Andrew Jackson, who signed in 1830 the Indian Removal Act that led to the genocide and vicious looting of Native Americans’ possessions, even in Pennsylvania.
However, such atrocities had earlier and deeper roots in the Commonwealth:
“In [1763 or] 1764 occurred the terrible massacre of the Indians in the prison of Lancaster [in or near Conestoga], where they were placed for security,” says Lippincott’s book. “A company of fifty [mostly Irish-Scottish] men from Paxton, with blackened faces, armed and mounted, entered the town in full gallop, went to the prison and effected their cruel purposes.”
Of the 16 natives whom had been placed in “protective custody,” 14 were gruesomely murdered. “In this manner lay the whole of them, men, women and children, spread about the prison yard: shot-scalped-hacked-and cut to pieces,” said one eyewitness, William Henry of Lancaster.
Even as Native Americans tried to fight back, they were pushed to the brink of extinction and further west to such states as Oklahoma on to horrid reservations as the 19th-century passed and the madness continued.
Believe it or not, Frank L. Baum, the author of the magical story that was made into the timeless film, "The Wizard of Oz," fueled the national fury to demonize and kill off Native Americans as publisher of The Saturday Pioneer newspaper in Aberdeen, South Dakota from 1890 to 1891 when he called for their complete extermination in an editorial, according to several sources.
In nearby Carlisle, Pa., the United States Indian Industrial School was established as the “flagship” boarding school in the country between 1879 and 1918 where Native American children lived after being snatched from their families in a nationwide dragnet, often as innocent orphans following the massacres of their parents.
At the school, they were forced to mimic European ways and to relinquish their indigenous customs, including language, attire and religious practices, etc., under the threat of corporal punishment or even death.
Modern researchers contend that up to 500 children died under very suspicious circumstances at Carlisle, a place from which the celebrated track-and-field athlete Jim Thorpe (his assigned European name) tried to escape on several occasions before becoming an Olympic gold medalist in 1912, the first Native-American to do so for this country.
Today, there are just small numbers of Leni Lenape living in Pennsylvania.
And although a tiny percentage of Native American tribes in various parts of the country have become wealthy via casinos and even oil, many live in squalid conditions on unfertile land suffering from exceptionally high rates of alcoholism and diabetes.
Their communities and schools are often horribly inadequate due to poor funding, as the suicide rate among America’s “original people” skyrockets to unimaginable levels.
So, as millions of families sit down to succulent feasts this Thanksgiving, it’s so important to realize that the first custodians of the land continue to give and sacrifice so much, but are excluded from partaking of the bountiful harvests from the very seeds that they first planted and nourished millenniums ago.