Our image of the week is from a rather gruesome colonial episode.


The Ashanti Wars occurred between the 1820s and the start of the twentieth century. They took place in the Ashanti Empire, a territory in modern-day Ghana, West Africa, and were fought between the British Empire and the Ashanti Empire

The above image is a scene from a battle early in these wars, in July 1824 to be precise. It shows the British in their red coats overcoming the Ashantis. But what can we take from it? The fact that European technology was superior to the Ashanti’s more traditional weapons? Or that this was a victory for ‘civilization’?

Or merely that it was just a futile battle in a war that ultimately damaged the territory and in which nearly everybody was a loser?



Now, have you heard about History is Now magazine? It has a range of fascinating articles related to modern history! In the latest issue there is even a piece related to the Ashanti Wars.

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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

If you haven’t heard, we are very happy to announce that History is Now magazine has been launched on Android! And what’s more you can get your first copy for free instantly…

Click here for more information and to take up a free trial!

You will in fact get access to the magazine for 31 days, which will mean that you get two issues for free if you take up our offer today.

And to give you a taste of the latest issue, here is what our editor says…

We have a special issue that has a focus on empire. More specifically, we’re going to be looking at a range of views and stories on empires. And unfortunately for those who think that empire was good for the world, the views expressed are often less than positive. We have an article on the British in India in which the intriguing customs that sprung up in British India are considered. The article also looks at the importance of women in British rule, as well as the often racist views that underpinned the system. Following, we have another article by somebody who had less than flattering views on empire – famed writer George Orwell. He spent time working in British Burma and grew to loathe empire. Then we have a piece on the remnants of American Empire and how a colonial legacy has left one island in limbo.

Finally on empire, we have an article by somebody who did like empire. We explore the Ashanti Wars and the views of George Clarke Musgrave, a journalist who accompanied the British military to West Africa. There he came face-to-face with a brutal king and saw his beloved Britain regain control of a troublesome region.

But there is more inside the magazine!

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 George Levrier-Jones

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Our image of the week shows an impact of British colonial rule in India, the use of Indian soldiers as British forces.


The British ran India – or at least parts of it – for hundreds of years. This led to a number of, shall we say, interesting outcomes. From bizarre social customs to ‘White Mughals’, there were a number of fascinating results.

Another of these interesting outcomes is shown below in our image of the week.

The image shows us a group of redcoats, British soldiers, but with a twist. Rather than coming from Britain, these soldiers were Indian. Known as sepoys these troops were very important to British rule in India. Indeed, without them it would have been nearly impossible to run a country the size - and with the population - of India.

In the painting we can see troops in a variety of different-colored clothing, turbans, flags in their hands, and a variety of facial hair! Behind them are troops high-up on camels. A fascinating scene.


You can find more about the British in India in the new issue of History Is Now Magazine. The magazine is free now for one month or more on both Android and the iOS store.

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Image source


AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Empires define the world we live in. And they still touch many aspects of our lives from wars people we know are involved in to which television programs we watch. So the new issue of History is Now magazine is an Empire special in which across a number of articles we look at various aspects of empires past and present.

The new issue of History is Now magazine is out now.

To find out more, take up a free trial of the magazine for up to 2 months and download your free copy of our interactive digital magazine for the iPad and iPhone today!

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Plus, the new issue is available in a text version – perfect for smaller devices.

And coming within the next week – History is Now magazine for Android!

And here is what our editor has to say about the new issue…

Welcome to the May issue of History is Now magazine! As you may have guessed from our cover, we’ve done something a bit different this month…

We have a special issue that has a focus on empire. More specifically, we’re going to be looking at a range of views and stories on empires. And unfortunately for those who think that empire was good for the world, the views expressed are often less than positive. We have an article on the British in India in which the intriguing customs that sprung up in British India are considered. The article also looks at the importance of women in British rule, as well as the often racist views that underpinned the system. Following, we have another article by somebody who had less than flattering views on empire – famed writer George Orwell. He spent time working in British Burma and grew to loathe empire. Then we have a piece on the remnants of American Empire and how a colonial legacy has left one island in limbo.

Finally on empire, we have an article by somebody who did like empire. We explore the Ashanti Wars and the views of George Clarke Musgrave, a journalist who accompanied the British military to West Africa. There he came face-to-face with a brutal king and saw his beloved Britain regain control of a troublesome region.

But there is more. We also look at the story of one of the greatest economic bubbles in history. This tale involves Mississippi, France, and an outlandish Scotsman. Then we take a look at the stories behind some beautiful maps from the American Revolutionary War and the American Civil War. And to finish, we’ll also be starting an occasional feature in which we bring you some of the best articles from our blog. This month we shall be sharing an article on a bizarre World War I invention with you.

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George Levrier-Jones

In this article, Ben Parten considers the mandate system that was set up after World War I by Britain and France. This system allowed European Powers to rule countries including Iraq, Israel, and Lebanon. And its effects last to this day.


The First World War is called the Great War for a reason; its violence set the tone for the 20th century, and its aftermath posed new challenges to traditional political leadership. Yet, despite the title of a “world” war, the Great War’s global significance is often understated. In America, for instance, young students are often taught that the primary outcomes of the war were that it opened the door to Nazi Germany and established the United States as a world power. Those are both true, but there is one major consequence of the Great War that should be added to that list. To see this other significance, Americans and other Westerners should shirk their Western perspectives and look outside of Europe, particularly to the Middle East and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman’s demise opened up a large swath of land unclaimed by a world power and enabled the Allies to decide how it should be divided. With the Treaty of Sevres, the Allies drew up artificial boundaries for countries that have come to be the states of the “modern” Middle East. However, in the state-making process, the litany of different sects and ethnicities in the region were amalgamated into nominal nations, causing instability that America and other Western powers are still dealing with today.

The Wailing Wall or Western Wall, circa 1920. This site of worship in Jerusalem was to become a site of controversy after World War I.

The Wailing Wall or Western Wall, circa 1920. This site of worship in Jerusalem was to become a site of controversy after World War I.

Great Britain and the Mandate System

Great Britain and France began thinking about how to partition off the former Ottoman Empire in 1916.  As made famous in the motion picture Lawrence of Arabia, the British and the French had been conducting secret negotiations regarding the ownership of Syria. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, as it has come to be known, acknowledged France’s claim to greater Syria while giving Great Britain rights to Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq). As the war came to an official end in 1919, the question of how to officially divide the Ottoman lands was once again raised. Gathering in San Remo, Allied diplomats agreed to divide the lands into separate entities called mandates. These mandates would act as glorified colonies operating under the façade of self-determination and self-governance until their charters expired in the 1940s.

The British desire to control parts of this region derived from its economic interests in the Persian Gulf.  Therefore, Mesopotamia was transformed into the Kingdom of Iraq. Combining the three territorial capitols of Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul into Iraq gave the British a strong foothold in the region with direct access to the Persian Gulf and India. The other motivating factor for the British was their pledge to support Jewish settlement in Palestine as promised in the Balfour Declaration. The British incorporation of Jewish settlement in Palestine prompted immediate resistance from local Arab leaders. Thus, the Kingdom of Trans-Jordan was established to provide stability to the region and pacify the local Arabs.

No matter the theoretical objectives behind the British mandates, they lacked practical sense. For instance, Iraq became an ad hoc state where no national sentiments existed. The cities of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra were grouped together when they previously shared a separate and distinct identity. Mosul had a longstanding connection with the mountain lands of Southern Anatolia and Western Syria. Baghdad tended to be more urban, linking itself to east-west trade. Basra identified itself as a self-sustaining seaport, aligning itself more with the Gulf States than with Iraq. Underlying this regional divide was the great sectarian division amongst the populace. Over half of the population were followers of Shia Islam, yet the British named Faysal ibn Husayn, a Sunni, King of Iraq. There was also a large contingent of Kurdish people living in the Northeast portion of the Kingdom. Even under Faysal’s rule, these three distinct religious and ethnic (the Kurds are often identified as their own ethnicity) groups still adhered to clan loyalty and tribal governance, making state led unification and leadership difficult. 

Likewise, continued Jewish settlement in Palestine aroused tension between the Jewish immigrants and the native Palestinians. One of the first outbursts of violence occurred over the right to the access the Wailing or Western Wall. For centuries the Wall has served as a holy site for Jews to pray at in honor of the ancient kingdom of Israel, but the Wall also makes up the Dome of the Rock where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended into heaven. As both sides claimed lawful access to the wall, the intensity of the dispute boiled over into violence and riots that spread across the city. This same type of violence erupted again in the late 1930s after the British decided that the mandate was inoperable and recommended a separate Arab and Jewish state.


Greater Lebanon

Problems with the mandate system were not limited to the British mandates. For instance, the French divided their mandate to create Greater Lebanon in 1920 in order to provide refuge to the Maronite Christians, whom the French felt obligated to protect. The Maronites were the primary sect of Mt. Lebanon and Beirut, but the surrounding areas of Greater Lebanon were predominantly Muslim.  To quell Muslim dissatisfaction and ensure Maronite authority, the two sides, along with French help, established The National Pact. The Pact created a ruling government that would always place a Maronite as president, a Sunni as Prime Minister, and a Shi’a as President of the General Assembly regardless of population. The political hierarchy created by the National Pact was spun by the French and Maronite population in a way that celebrated diversity, but, in the end, it only convoluted Lebanese identity. The Maronites saw Lebanon as an extension of the Mediterranean; whereas the Muslims purported that Lebanon belonged to a Pan-Arab world. It is not hard to imagine then that sectarian strife would eventually explode, as it did in the fifteen-year-long Lebanese Civil War.

The primary failure of the mandate system was its attempt to create Western style nationalism in an area where nationalism had neither existed previously nor maintained the proper conditions for statehood. Forcing the number of different sects and ethnicities to exist under one political body was bound to cause fissures and division amongst the political and social structure of those states. Today, the states created by the San Remo Conference are still in existence and the sectarian disunion continues to plague the region. The fundamental difference between now and the years following The San Remo Conference is that the United States has replaced Great Britain and France as the primary intervening power. Since the 1970s America has been forced to deal with the geo-political headaches that were caused by World War I and the policies of its immediate aftermath. Nearly one hundred years after it ended, it is time to reconsider the Great War’s global impact to include the formation of the “modern” Middle East.


By Ben Parten


You can read more about change that World War I brought by reading our short article about women and World War I here.


Our image of the week looks at the time the Spanish Conquistadors took Tenochtitlan, modern day Mexico City.


We’re yet to foray closely into the history of Latin America on the site, and even though we have shared a few images, thought that we would start to make amends.

20140228 AZTEC 600 The capture of Tenochtitlan object96_t_725.jpg

Following Christopher Columbus’ founding of the Americas in 1492, European interest in the continent grew. The Portuguese and Spanish were the two European countries best able to explore the New World and set about doing so with gusto – and much violence. The Spanish Conquistadors went on to cause many problems for their ‘heathen’ foe while they were on the look out for gold. On one foray, they attacked the Aztec Empire, and eventually reached Tenochtitlan, modern day Mexico City, and laid siege to the city in 1521.

Our image shows the moment in which Hernan Cortes led his Conquistadors in a major attack on Tenochtitlan, an attack that would result in its fall in August 1521. The painting shows this mighty battle, with the Spanish, launching themselves into the city in armor and on horseback, about to cross a bridge. In the background we can see a grand Aztec pyramid and mountains in the distance.


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George Levrier-Jones

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

An image from the fascinating former Portuguese colonial capital in Mozambique is this week’s image of the week.

As you approach Ilha de Mocambique (Island of Mozambique) across a causeway, you are struck by the difference between this small former capital city and the surrounding towns. The town was the capital of Portuguese East Africa for many years, but the capital’s location then changed and the town slowly fell into some sort of decay.

In the image we can see the Misericordia Church bathed in sunlight, a girl walking by the steps of the church, and some ladies washing in the shade. A beautiful scene.

The image comes from Stig Nygaard in 2007 and is available here.


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George Levrier-Jones

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

This is the second article we have chosen as we end the year by re-publishing some of our top blog posts.

In a follow-up to articles on the initial Italian colonization attempts and Mussolini’s bloody conquest, we continue the story of how Italy brutally conquered Libya here. 


Going a few years back from Mussolini’s invasion of Libya, one of the main reasons for the original Italian invasion of Ottoman Libya was to expand Italy’s comparatively small colonial empire. Another concern was the rapid emigration of Italians to the United States and other countries (650,000 were estimated to have migrated to the US in 1910 alone). After the end of the Italian-Ottoman war, the Italians began to create plans to transport thousands and thousands of Italian colonists into the country’s newest territorial acquisition.

An photo of the 1937 Tripoli Grand  Prix

An photo of the 1937 Tripoli Grand Prix

State-sponsored colonization

It formally began in 1913 with the establishment of the Ufficio Fondario (the Land Office), which had the job of assigning land to would-be Italian colonists. The Land Office initially assumed that all uncultivated land was private property and only assigned public lands to the colonists. However on July 18 1922, the Italian governor of Libya, Giuseppe Volpi (who would later order the Reconquista of Libya), issued a decree declaring all uncultivated land to be in the public domain, increasing the amount of land available to Italian colonists tenfold.  Further decrees issued caused the confiscation of land owned by rebels or those aiding the rebels, in an effort to crackdown on dissent.

In 1928, de Bono (Volpi’s successor) issued subsidies and additional credits to help attract more colonists. Despite these measures, Italian immigration rates were much lower than what the government had expected, with little capital being invested in Libyan lands.

The situation changed in the early 1930s as a result of the Great Depression. A negative balance of trade, rampant unemployment and a strong lira encouraged mainland Italians to emigrate. Libya provided the perfect solution. With Omar Mukhtar executed and the rebels defeated, many public-works and infrastructure project ideas could finally be undertaken, in addition to resettlement projects. Indeed, all of these projects required manpower. It was the perfect region for the typical poor Italian patriot.

In 1934, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica were merged together to form a Tripoli-based province. Four years later, Mussolini would declare Libya an integral part of the Kingdom of Italy, forming the country’s nineteenth region, dubbing it La Quarta Sponda d’Italia (Italy’s Fourth Shore).

Mussolini, who was imprisoned in 1911 for his criticism of the original Italian invasion, had visited Libya three times; in 1926, 1937 and 1942. His 1937 visit was to open what was described as the largest public works project in Libya, the 1,132 mile long strada litoranea (coastal highway), which ran from the Tunisian border to the Egyptian frontier. Though the Italians insisted it was only to help improve tourism in the region, contemporaries saw the strategic military value of such a road. Indeed, this road proved to be crucial to victory in the North African front of World War II (and more recently, the Libyan Civil War). The press in Italy hailed it as a feat of Italian engineering, despite it being built on the back of Libyan laborers.

Two major waves of immigration occurred in the 1930s; one in October 1938 and the other in 1939. Both were organized by the Italian governor Balbo - he led a convoy of around 10,000 Italians to Libya in 1938 and another 10,000 in the following year. His plan was to settle 20,000 colonists annually for five years, with the ultimate goal of reaching 500,000 colonists by 1950. In what could be seen as a precursor to reactions against Jewish migration to British Palestine, Italian migration evoked resentment and protests in the Muslim World, with agitations against it appearing as far away as Baghdad.

More support for colonists emerged in the form of the agricultural corporation Ente which was meant to attract farmers. Using confiscated land, the colonists (numbering 50,000 in the late 1930s) worked on 2,000 farms. By 1939, the Italians had built 400 kilometers of new railroads and 4,000 kilometers of new roads. Until 1940, there was even a Tripoli Grand Prix organized annually, while Italian archaeologists excavated the ruined Phoenician settlement of Leptis Magna and sent artifacts to museums in the mainland.


The Libyan Side

Many of the colonists were poor, but were generally better off than the native Libyan population. Libyans, mostly paupers, resented Italian development, still remembering the virtual genocide committed by them. It was only in September 1933 that the concentration camps were finally shut – and they left a horrifying toll. 40,000 of the 100,000 total internees died in the camps. Though Libyans resented the foreigners, Italian propaganda portrayed a very different story. In Mussolini’s 1937 visit, he declared Libya to be “morally and profoundly Italian”, to which the Muslims of Tripoli greeted him by addressing him as “the greatest man of the century and a sincere friend of Islam.” He was even awarded the ‘Sword of Islam’ (a Florentine sword with a fabricated history) and was declared the “Protector of Islam.”

For the native Libyans, life was not easy. All Libyans, of whatever faith, were expected to give the Fascist salute. Most wore black shirts during Mussolini’s 1937 visit to Tripoli. And in an effort to spread the wonders of Fascism, the Italian government ordered the formation of a Fascist group for Libyan youths, the Gioventu Araba (Arab Youth), modeled after Italy’s Opera Nazionale Balilla.

In 1939, the Italians allowed Libyans to apply for Cittadinanza Italiana Speciale (special Italian citizenship) effectively relegating Libyans to second-class citizens. At the time, Libyans were not allowed to work professionally in jobs involving Italian subordinates. That said, it seemed unlikely to be a great problem anyway as soon enough there were only 16 Libyan university graduates in the country. All told, even if the Italian occupation led to significant improvements in infrastructure and agricultural output, it left behind a native Libyan population that was not skilled and largely uneducated, while the country lacked effective political institutions. The effects of this would be apparent in the following decades.

With the outbreak of World War II, Balbo’s plan was in tatters. Most of the fighting occurred on farms allocated to the colonists. By 1941, only 8,426 colonists remained. Within a year, this number had halved. Following the end of subsidies and government support, the colonists abandoned Libya. The Allied forces occupied Libya in 1943. Libya was to declare its independence in December 1951.


By Droodkin, the owner of the international history blog – click here to see the site.


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Further reading

If you would like to read in more depth about what life was like in Italian Libyan, I recommend Brian McLaren’s Architecture and Tourism in Italian Colonial Libya: An Ambivalent Modernism.

The Belgian colonization of the Congo was one of the worst examples of exploitative behavior from a European colonial power. Here we look at Belgian King Leopold II and the USA’s role in his acquisition of the West-Central African territory of the Congo.


The story of King Leopold II of Belgium and his obsessive quest for an African colony is a tale of greed, devastation, and woe. It is a journey into the darkness of humankind, with brutality and hypocrisy the sole victors. King Leopold’s Congolese experiment took several decades to develop and implement as this clever but devious King slowly and carefully maneuvered himself to manipulate many, including the people of the Congo, the international community, and even his own subjects. Motivated by desire, greed, envy, his own ego, and several other interested parties, a colony was established which would have tragic and lasting consequences for the native population. 

A young Leopold in 1853. He would later become an ambitious, greedy King.

A young Leopold in 1853. He would later become an ambitious, greedy King.

Leopold was born in Brussels, Belgium in 1835, and he came to power when he became King in 1865. By the time he became King, two things interested him greatly: territory and money - by which I mean financial gain. The combination of these would prove to be of great significance in his later life, along with that of millions of others. He became very jealous of the Great European Powers around him; of their riches, their power, and most importantly, of their colonies. He was very ambitious but equally frustrated. Belgium was too weak for him and his ambitions. Petit pays, petit gens (small country, small people) goes the phrase; however, the country that Belgium had gained independence from in the 1830s, the Netherlands, had a sizeable empire. He wanted such an empire for himself too. The Congo was one of the areas in Africa that was not recognized by all major powers as belonging to a European Power in the 1870s, and it promised many treasures, such as ivory and rubber, ready to be harvested at the cost of the native people there. Nonetheless, before Leopold could stake his claim on the land, he would have to manipulate several European nations to recognize his claim over it. But he also wanted the support of the United States.

And why the USA? After all, in the 1870s the USA was still quite inward-looking and trying to grow internally. The answer is that even at this time, the United States was fast becoming the most powerful and richest nation on earth, and to have its recognition of Leopold’s claim to the Congo would go a long way to convincing his European rivals. It was in that light that Leopold began his great quest.

One of Leopold’s early moves was to contact the United States’ ambassador to Belgium, one General Henry Shelton Sanford. He commissioned Sanford to acquire the services of the famous British-American explorer Henry Morton Stanley. Stanley, like Leopold, was extremely ambitious, and also had an egotistical and ambitious streak about him. By the time Leopold had secured his service, Stanley had already crossed the Congo, and had famously found the British missionary David Livingstone in 1871. In addition, Stanley had written about his escapades in Africa, presenting himself as something of a 19th century hero and celebrity. Acquiring the services of possibly the best explorer in the world was something of a coup for Leopold.

Ambassador Sanford’s involvement would go much further. It now became his responsibility to convince the President of the United States of Leopold’s claim and plans for the Congo. If the US could recognize this claim, Leopold would be in a very powerful position. But what would the US get in return for this recognition? Leopold promised the US that its citizens would be able to buy land in the Congo, and that US goods there would be free of all customs duties. Furthermore, Stanley had been touting himself as ‘born and bred’ in the United States, meaning that an American had not only played a role in discovering the Congo, but that one would continue to play a role in the territory. This was important to the United States as it was growing in stature and being recognized as a significant power in the international community.

Sanford’s own personal motivation was purely financial as he would stand to gain a great deal from this trade. As such, he lobbied the executive branch for recognition, despite Leopold omitting the fact that he had a monopoly on all trade there – and had no intention of giving it up. Although Sanford’s business affairs in the past bordered on poor to sketchy, and he owed his prominence in large part due to his inheritance, he saw this as too good an opportunity to pass away. He reasoned that any failure as a businessperson would be countered by his success as an accomplice of Leopold’s. He had already succeeded in acquiring Stanley’s services, and his involvement led to the United States recognizing the Congo as a colony of Belgium. Sanford even received royal praise from Leopold for his work, something that he actually valued more than the money itself.

Another key person in lobbying the President in favor of Belgium’s claim was Senator John Tyler Morgan. His wish was for the African-American population to return to Africa after the abolition of slavery in the USA. Morgan was very fearful of an African-American uprising, following demands for equality and liberty. He had also quickly seen an opportunity to send the black population back to Africa to work with the Congolese in enhancing trade, and as a place to sell any surplus cotton.

After the President of the United States agreed to recognize the Congo as being under King Leopold’s rule, it helped Leopold in petitioning European Powers to do the same. 

Leopold offered the French droit de preference, first right of refusal, should Leopold go bankrupt in his efforts to colonize the Congo. The French were extremely concerned about Leopold going bankrupt as they felt the colony would then fall into the hands of the British, their closest rivals, in part due to explorer Stanley’s Welsh origins. Because of this, the French were relatively easy to convince. Leopold also promised them the same trade agreement as the USA, but omitted to tell them of the one he had already agreed with the US. The French then recognized Leopold’s claim.

Leopold’s claim to the Congo was more formally agreed in the 1884 Berlin Conference, and the Congo Free State was declared the following year. Leopold and Belgium now had their part of the wider European Scramble for Africa.

The way for Leopold to go forward and colonize the Congo was clear. With recognition from important international powers, King Leopold II of Belgium had successfully manipulated the international community in to giving him permission to acquire the Congo - and fulfil his greedy ambitions. The effects of this recognition were to prove devastating…


By J Parker


Do you agree that the USA had a key role in allowing King Leopold II to capture the Congo? Thoughts below…


You can read about another European attempt at colonizing Africa in our article on the Italian colonization of Libya in issue 1 of our magazine History is Now. Click here to download the app and to subscribe for free for 2 months to the magazine.

On Thanksgiving, we look at the classic Thanksgiving painting.

20131128 800px-Thanksgiving-Brownscombe.jpg

Thanksgiving started as a tradition many centuries ago. In fact, it began almost as far back as European colonization of the American Colonies began. The widely-recognized first Thanksgiving is 1621, where settlers at the Plymouth Plantation held a celebration after the crops were delivered successfully that year. It later became a formal holiday in the US Civil War year of 1863 after Abraham Lincoln wanted to give thanks to the Lord.

The image above, The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, depicts that first celebration. It is a painting by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe from 1914, and was made famous after appearing in Life magazine.

In the picture we see the recent settlers mixing with the local Native American tribes, while thanks is given to the Lord. We are also drawn to the small children to the left of the picture.


We wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!


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George Levrier-Jones