The Real Story Behind The First Thanksgiving – American History And Jamestown and Plymouth Pilgrim Celebrations

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"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" By Jennie A. Brownscombe

(Best Syndication News) Although the date of the first Thanksgiving Day is in contention, it is currently recognized as the beginning of the Holiday Season and a time for giving thanks (see map and videos below). Early American settlers would have a harvest festival or autumn feast every year, and later Thanksgiving was considered a gathering time for family members.

The First Recorded Thanksgiving

The first recorded celebration of Thanksgiving occurred on September 8, 1565 in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and 600 settlers landed on the Florida peninsula and immediately give thanks to God for surviving their treacherous journey.

Pedro Menendez de Aviles and his crew held an immediate mass and Feast in what would be known as the La Florida colony. This was long before the American Revolution and the New World was still a very dangerous land.

According to Leon C. Metz in the El Paso Chronicles: A Record of Historical Events in El Paso Texas (ISBN 0-930208-32-3), there was an early Thanksgiving in El Paso. On April 30, 1598, the exploration party of Don Juan de Oñate took a break from their exploration. Although this party was not a “harvest festival”, Orate ordered his crew to conduct a celebration of thanksgiving.

Most historians point to a couple events as being the first American Thanksgiving: The Jamestown Virginia celebration of 1619 and the Plymouth Massachusetts celebration of 1623. These first festivals are associated with early North American settlers.

Jamestown Virginia Thanksgiving

About twenty miles north of Jamestown Virginia, colonists began a yearly autumn feast on December 4, 1620 in the small 8,000 acre hamlet of Berkeley Hundred. It was called a "day of thanksgiving" to God and was held each year to celebrate the day they first arrived in Virginia (1619).

In 1622 nine settlers from the Berkeley Hundred were killed along with one third of the whole Virginia colony. The local colonists fell back to Jamestown for protection. The site later became known as Berkeley Plantation, and was long known as the traditional home of the Harrison family, one of the First Families of Virginia. Residents continued to rejoice on their Thanksgiving day.

Plymouth Massachusetts Thanksgiving

Besides turkey, the original Pilgrim celebrants ate lobster, fish, clams and eels. The Plymouth Massachusetts Thanksgiving is associated with an end to collectivism and an Indian named Squanto (or Tisquantum).

In 1605 an English Captain named George Weymouth captured Indians to send them back to England for slavery. Squanto, one of those slaves, learned English and was later released from his indenture.

In 1912 Squanto returned to North America with Captain John Smith to find his whole village wiped out by disease. Later he taught the Pilgrims how to fish and harvest crops.

Early inhabitants of the Massachusetts colony experienced harsh winters and near starvation. In 1621, Governor William Bradford founded Plymouth along with other Pilgrims. They were not Puritans and they did not call themselves Pilgrims at the time. They called themselves “Saints” after fleeing religious persecution in England.

Initially Bradford tried communal living where everyone worked together (basic communism). By 1623 they were near starvation and something had to be done. The governor reported in his diary that the community became lazy because of the collectivist mentality. Many died and their numbers dwindled to below 150 inhabitants by spring 1623.

Bradford decided to divide the land up and allow individuals to fend for themselves. The Pilgrims began to plant early and work hard. The surviving Pilgrims had a bountiful harvest and a Thanksgiving was celebrated on August 9th.

Today’s Thanksgiving

An American writer named Sarah Josepha Hale (October 24, 1788 - April 30, 1879) lobbied for a Thanksgiving celebration for nearly 30 years. The author of “Mary had a little Lamb” wrote letters to five Presidents of the United States, including Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln.

Finally in 1863 Lincoln relented and the yearly celebration began. Today Thanksgiving is celebrated on the last Thursday in November. Eel and clams are rarely served, but Turkey has become the mainstay.

By Dan Wilson
Best Syndication News Writer

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