GOP Senator Cotton Criticizes NYT for Calling First Thanksgiving a 'Myth' on the 400th Anniversary of Mayflower's Arrival

In an op-ed published by Fox News on Saturday, GOP Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas criticized The New York Times for calling Thanksgiving a "myth," and said the story of Pilgrims should be widely celebrated.

Cotton's article stated that this year marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower's arrival in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, setting the stage for America's foundation, and opening the doors for what would become known as the first Thanksgiving holiday.

But rather than celebrating this arrival, Cotton claimed that "the Pilgrims have fallen out of fashion in elite circles."

"Just this week, The New York Times food section published an article that called the Pilgrim story, including the First Thanksgiving, a "myth" and a "caricature." In place of these so-called "myths," the liberal newspaper seeks to substitute its own, claiming the history of our nation is an unbroken tale of conflict, oppression and misery," he added.

Cotton was referring to an article written by The New York Times' Brett Anderson on November 17, which acknowledged the mass destruction of Native American life by the Pilgrims, and noted historical inaccuracies often associated with the story of Thanksgiving.

"The brutality of settlers' expansion into the Great Plains and American West has been drastically underplayed in popular myths about the founding and growth of the United States," the article said. "Arguably the best-known of those myths is the story of the first Thanksgiving."

Anderson went on to explain that the narrative "of friendly Indians handing over food, knowledge and land to kindhearted Pilgrims," fails to note the violent history involved with the arrival of pilgrim settlers, including the massacre of tens of millions of buffalo, which led to mass starvation of Native American tribes.

Anderson's article included perspectives from activists, historians, and Indigenous people who believe that the Thanksgiving holiday misrepresents a tragic part of history.

"Thanksgiving is kind of like Columbus Day for Native people," said, Robert Magnan, a Native American from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. "Why would we celebrate people who tried to destroy us?"

But Cotton held firm in his belief that the arrival of Pilgrims "foreshadowed many of the principles of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution more than a century later, including faith in God, the natural equality of mankind, government by consent, and the rule of law."

Tom Cotton
Senator Tom Cotton looks on as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin delivers the annual financial stability report on January 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. On Saturday, Cotton published an Op-Ed in Fox News, criticizing the New York Times for calling Thanksgiving a "myth," and stated that the holiday and arrival of pilgrims should be widely celebrated. Pete Marovich/Getty

The senator continued by telling the story of Thanksgiving as a unity between the Native American tribe Wampanoag, and the Pilgrim settlers, who coexisted in peace to hunt, explore, and dine together.

"As the Pilgrims recovered and prospered throughout 1621, they received the blessings of a bountiful fall harvest," he wrote. "The Pilgrims invited Massasoit and the Wampanoags to join them in a feast to express their gratitude to their allies and to give thanks to God for His abundant gifts. This meal, of course, was the First Thanksgiving."

But historians have often debunked this story, noting that there was no evidence to suggest Native Americans were invited to a communal feast.

"The English-written record does not mention an invitation, and Wampanoag oral tradition does not seem to reach back to this event," Kate Sheehan, a spokeswoman for the living history museum, Plimoth Plantation, told The New York Times.

And as Newsweek previously noted, the holiday did not gain widespread recognition until roughly 240 years after the supposed feast, when President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Newsweek reached out to Cotton for addition comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.