Access to the Past

NMAI Article

Following up on our recent post, the editors would like to let our readers know about an article about the Project, Access to the Past, in the latest issue of American Indian. In it, we talk about some of the ways we engage with communities, and our thoughts on why we do.

American Indian is the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian‘s award-winning quarterly magazine about Native art and culture in the Americas.

And more to come soon about what we have been up to since our last postings.

Coming Soon . . .

Dear Colleagues,

As you are probably aware, it’s been some time since we’ve updated the Op-Ed Blog.  We’ve been quite busy.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posting news about things we’ve been working on for last several months.

Watch this space,

-The Editors

“We did not land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.”

For this Thanksgiving, we republish our post of November 27, 2013.

tdayFrank James, whose Wampanoag name is Wamsutta, organized the United American Indians of New England in 1970 after a speech he had written for the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim arrival was considered inappropriate and too inflamatory by the event’s organizers. 

It began like this:

I speak to you as a man — a Wampanoag Man. I am a proud man, proud of my ancestry, my accomplishments won by a strict parental direction (“You must succeed – your face is a different color in this small Cape Cod community!”). I am a product of poverty and discrimination from these two social and economic diseases. I, and my brothers and sisters, have painfully overcome, and to some extent we have earned the respect of our community. We are Indians first – but we are termed “good citizens.” Sometimes we are arrogant but only because society has pressured us to be so.

It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you – celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People . . .

The comment continued to a criticism of the mythology that has grown around Pilgrims, Thanksgiving, and the treatment of American Indians.

. . . History wants us to believe that the Indian was a savage, illiterate, uncivilized animal. A history that was written by an organized, disciplined people, to expose us as an unorganized and undisciplined entity. Two distinctly different cultures met. One thought they must control life; the other believed life was to be enjoyed, because nature decreed it. Let us remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white man. The Indian feels pain, gets hurt, and becomes defensive, has dreams, bears tragedy and failure, suffers from loneliness, needs to cry as well as laugh. He, too, is often misunderstood.

The white man in the presence of the Indian is still mystified by his uncanny ability to make him feel uncomfortable. This may be the image the white man has created of the Indian; his “savageness” has boomeranged and isn’t a mystery; it is fear; fear of the Indian’s temperament!

In the place of this speech, James was offered an alternative, written by a public relations person, but he refused to be censored and withdrew from participating in the celebration.  Instead, he led a protest on Cole’s Hill near Plymouth Rock and close to a replica of the Mayflower where stood a statue of the Wampanoag leader Massasoit.  The protest included burying Plymouth Rock, boarding the Mayflower to remove the Union Jack flying from its mast, and replacing it with the flag that had flown over liberated Alcatraz Island.

tday-2Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered on Cole’s Hill on Thanksgiving Day, not to celebrate the Pilgrims’ arrival but to commemorate a National Day of Mourning.  The photograph above was taken on November 28, 1996 at the 27th National Day of Mourning.  The following year, as protesters and hundreds of their supporters attempted to march through the center of the Town of Plymouth, a confrontation with police lead to violence.  Protesters were clubbed and maced.  Twenty five were arrested for disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly.

As part of a subsequent settlement between the Town of Plymouth and the United American Indians of New England, the parties agreed to place a plaque at Cole’s Hill to recognize the significance of the first protest in calling for a national day of mourning. 

One of the plaques, in part, reads:

Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture. Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression that Native Americans continue to experience.

Despite the controversy, the National Day of Mourning commemoration still continues to attract people to its message.  (A video of the 2011 protest can be seen here.)  As two movement leaders, Mahtowin Munro (Lakota) and Moonanum James (Wampanoag), explain,

Increasing numbers of people are seeking alternatives to such holidays as Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. They are coming to the conclusion that, if we are ever to achieve some sense of community, we must first face the truth about the history of this country and the toll that history has taken on the lives of millions of Indigenous, Black, Latino, Asian, and poor and working class white people.

The myth of Thanksgiving, served up with dollops of European superiority and manifest destiny, just does not work for many people in this country. As Malcolm X once said about the African-American experience in America, “We did not land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.” 


For Frank James’ full 1970 speech, click here.  To read more about the 1997 incident, see James W. Baker’s Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday (University of New Hampshire Press, 2009).  For more on the history of Plymouth Rock, see Chapter 5 of Peter Gardella’s American Civil Religion: What Americans Hold Sacred (Oxford University Press, 2014).

The image of the 1996 protest (top) is from the Yale Indian Papers Project’s photograph collection.  The photograph of the 1970 National Day of Mourning (bottom) courtesy of


The Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, CT Receives National Historical Landmark Recognition

fms-houseU.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis today announced the designation of the Foreign Mission School (The Steward House) of Cornwall, Connecticut as a new national historic landmark.

Our colleague and YIPP advisor, John Demos’s recent book,The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic, played an important role in getting the site designated and preserved.

The following summary is from the National Landmark Nomination application written by students from Brown University:


As a central building of the Foreign Mission School (FMS) in Cornwall, Connecticut, and the site of enduring educational and social politics concerning racial tolerance, Asian and Native American migration, and American religious and cultural identity in the early nineteenth-century, the Steward’s House is nationally significant under NHL Criterion 1. Founded in 1816 by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) and in operation from 1817 to 1826, the FMS hosted over one-hundred students primarily from Asian-Pacific and North American nations and speaking at least twenty-four different languages. The Steward’s House of the FMS sits today in its original location in historic Cornwall Village, Connecticut, with a slightly reduced surrounding property. The wooden clapboard-faced New England farmhouse maintains a high level of historical integrity from the 1817 to 1826 period of significance, with the majority of the architectural attributes classifying it as a standard Federal-style center-hall farmhouse still in place, and with many of the original materials in both construction and cosmetic details still visible. Additionally, the vista created by the historic façades of the house and its larger setting within Cornwall Village generates an authentic impression of the original site for visitors. This level of integrity and sense of authenticity remain despite alterations to the building in which the singular placement of the additions are relegated to the rear of the house.

Congratulations to the Brown students!

Taking Stock


One of the initial goals of the Indian Papers Project was to encourage new scholarly research on New England Native communities by providing free access to a fragmented and widely dispersed documentary record.  Ten years later, we’re seeing the results of our efforts.

Here’s a partial list of just some of the publications that have used Project materials.


  • Wendy Warren, New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America (W.W. Norton & Co., 2016)
  • Jyotsna G. Singh and David D. Kim, eds., The Postcolonial World (Routledge, 2016)
  • Andrew Lipman, The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Conquest for the American Coast (Yale University Press, 2015)
  • Nancy Shoemaker, Native American Whalemen and the World: Indigenous Encounters and the Contingency of Race (University of North Carolina Press, 2015)
  • Julie A. Fisher and David Silverman, Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narragansetts: Diplomacy, War, and the Balance of Power in Seventeenth-Century New England and Indian Country (Cornell University Press, 2014)
  • Allegra di Bonaventura, For Adam’s Sake: A Family Saga in Colonial New England (W.W.Norton, 2013)
  • David Scott, Leviathan: The Rise of Britain as a World Power (Harper Press, 2013)
  • Christine DeLucia, Memory Frontier: Geographies of Violence and Regeneration in Colonial New England and the Native Northeast after King Philip’s War (Yale University Ph.D. Dissertation, 2013)
  • Linford Fisher, The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America (Oxford University Press, 2012)
  • Karen Ordahl Kupperman, The Atlantic in World History (Oxford University Press, 2012)
  • Paul Grant-Costa, Tobias Glaza and Michael Sletcher, “The Common Pot: Editing Native American Materials,” Scholarly Editing, Vol. 33, 2012,
  • Wayne E. Lee, “Subjects, Clients, Allies, or Mercenaries? The British Use of Irish and Amerindian Military Power, 1500-1800,” in H. V. Bowen, Elizabeth Mancke, John G. Reid, eds., Britain’s Oceanic Empire, Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds, c. 1550-1850 (Cambridge University Press, 2012)
  • Paul Grant-Costa and Elizabeth Mancke, “Anglo-American Commercial Relations” in H. V. Bowen, Elizabeth Mancke, John G. Reid, eds., Britain’s Oceanic Empire, Atlantic and Indian Ocean Worlds, c. 1550-1850 (Cambridge University Press, 2012)
  • Tobias Glaza and Paul Grant-Costa, “Breaking the Myth of the Unmanaged Landscape,” Connecticut Explored, Vol. 10, No. 2, Spring 2012, pp. 35-39, republished at
  • Matt Salyer, ‘“Between the Heavens and the Earth”: Narrating the Execution of Moses Paul,’ American Indian Culture and Research Journal, Vol. 36 (2012)
  • Craig Yirush, Settlers, Liberty, and Empire: The Roots of Early America Political Theory (Cambridge University Press, 2011)
  • Benjamin Carp, Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party & the Making of America (Yale University Press, 2010)