Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Real First Thanksgiving

We all learned in kindergarten that Thanksgiving was the meal shared by the pilgrims and the Indians (Native Americans). But there is more (as always) to the story. Traditionally, we learned that the first Thanksgiving was held in 1621 by the pilgrims in Plymouth. 


However the truth is that the first Thanksgiving was held in 1619 at Berkeley Plantation on the James river in Virginia. There was no meal. It was a day of fasting and praying. 75 days after they landed in Virginia, the colonists gathered and read from the Book of Common Prayer. The first meal following their fast differs from what we all learned as youngsters. There was no turkey, cranberries, or pumpkin pie. Most likely they ate crabs and oysters from the sea, fresh fish caught in the James, and the few rations left from what they brought on their voyage from England.



Image result for thanksgiving at berkeley plantation



2 years later in October of 1621, an account by Edward Winslow who was there, chronicled a 3 day celebration of the first harvest in the new world. His account notes that 90 Native Americans (of the Wampanoag tribe) and 53 settlers got together for a feast and the religious celebration thanking God for a successful harvest.

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According to Winslow’s account the Wampanoag’s brought fresh venison from 5 deer they had killed. Waterfowl that was (most likely) stuffed with onions and herbs, shellfish, smoked fish, chestnuts, walnuts, corn (multi colored ‘Indian corn’), carrots, turnips, and squashes - maybe pumpkins (which is a type of squash) was most likely on the table. The Wampanoags drank water, while colonists drank beer or ale. 

But there is more. Florida also claims that the first Thanksgiving was held in St Augustine in 1565. The Spanish celebrated a mass of Thanksgiving. Following the mass, Explorer Pedro Menendez de Avile was said to have invited members of the Timcucua tribe to share a meal.



By the 1850s the Thanksgiving celebration was held in most states and colonies. In 1789, George Washington designated November 26 as the official Thanksgiving date. However, it was President Lincoln who made Thanksgiving an official National Holiday in 1863, as the last Thursday in the month of November. Then in 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week. Not being a very popular move, he signed another bill in 1941 moving it back to the 4th Thursday in November.

There are services of Thanksgiving celebrated in American churches, usually the Sunday before Thanksgiving. One of the more popular Hymns of Thanksgiving is "We Gather Together" which dates back 1597. 

Young school children learn about the first Thanksgiving, often with plays complete with pilgrims and Indians (Native Americans).
Image result for children in pilgrim costumes for plays


Pre-schoolers traditionally make a turkey from their hand prints

Image result for children construction paper thanksgiving turkey
As usual, the Victorians had "Thanksgiving Day" cards;

Image result for vintage school children at thanksgiving




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