Where was the first Thanksgiving held in North America? If you guessed Plymouth, Massachusetts, guess again. In fact, that probably was not even the second or third Thanksgiving, although we cannot be certain.
On April 30, 1598, Spanish nobleman Don Juan de Oñate and a group of settlers traveling northward from Zacatecas, Nueva España (now Mexico), reached the banks of El Rio Bravo (Rio Grande). The first recorded act of thanksgiving by colonizing Europeans on this continent occurred on that April day in 1598 in Nuevo Mexico, about 25 miles south of what is now El Paso, Texas.
After having begun their northward trek in March of that same year, the entire caravan was gathered at this point. The 400-person expedition included soldiers, families, servants, personal belongings, and livestock. Two thirds of the colonizers were from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands). There was even one from Greece and another from Flanders. The rest were Mexican Indians and mestizos (mixed bloods).
Pauline Chavez Bent has written an interesting account of this first Thanksgiving, which you can read on the New Mexico Genealogical Society's Web site at http://www.nmgs.org/art1stThanks.htm. You might also want to read a longer article entitled The First Thanksgiving Was Catholic by Marian T. Horvat at http://www.traditioninaction.org/History/B_005_Onate_Thanksgiving.html.
Many Americans mistakenly believe that the Pilgrims were the first to settle in this new land. However, the following all preceded the Pilgrims of 1620:
- Several settlements and temporary villages were established by the Vikings and possibly by the Irish more than 1,000 years ago. None of the settlements survived.
- In 1559, Tristan de Luna y Arellano led an attempt by Europeans to colonize Florida. He established a settlement at Pensacola Bay, but a series of misfortunes caused his efforts to be abandoned after two years.
- Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived in 1565 at a place he called San Augustín (now called St. Augustine, Florida) and established the first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States.
- Spanish settlers mentioned earlier settled in what is now the western tip of Texas and New Mexico in the 1590s.
- In 1604, Samuel de Champlain, along with Sieur de Mont, established what is now known as the first Acadian settlement on the North American continent on the Isle-of-St.-Croix, at St. Croix River near Calais, Maine. After experiencing a harsh winter and extreme cold on this small island, they moved their settlement into the rich agricultural area of the Bay of Fundy, which subsequently became known as Acadia. The permanent French colony of Port Royal was established in 1605.
- The islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon were colonized by France in 1604. The colony survived and still exists today on these tiny islands ten miles south of Newfoundland, Canada. The islands still belong to France. Many people today are unaware that France still has territory in North America.
- In 1607, some 100 men and boys sailed from England and landed in present-day Virginia and founded Jamestown. They found a hostile environment that probably would have destroyed the colony but for the resourcefulness of Captain John Smith, who managed to organize and motivate the settlers and save them from starvation.
- In 1608 Samuel de Champlain established what is now known as Quebec City.
With several colonies already established prior to the Pilgrims' later arrival in 1620, one can assume that others also celebrated an occasional thanksgiving feast. The only surviving record of such a feast, however, is the one in 1598 by Don Juan de Oñate and his group of Spanish settlers.