There were a Number of Thanksgiving Celebrations in North America Prior to 1621

As you sit down to enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner, please don’t make the mistake of referring to the Pilgrims and “the first Thanksgiving.” They weren’t the first.

Spanish documents show the first recorded meal between European colonists and Native Americans happened on the grounds of what is now the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, Florida in 1565. However, that may or may not be considered as a meal of “thanksgiving.” They fact that they ate together doesn’t automatically qualify as giving thanks.

It is believed that the first recorded Thanksgiving celebration was held in April 1598 in Nuevo Mexico, about 25 miles south of what is now El Paso, Texas (which puts it in present-day Mexico, not the U.S.)

I wrote about that many years ago in the November 25, 2002 edition of newsletter which is still available at: http://www.eogn.com/archives/news0247.htm.

In addition, French settlers are believed to have celebrated some sort of Thanksgiving meal in 1604 or 1605 at St. Croix Island, located in the river that divides present-day Canada from the United States. However, there is no surviving proof of such a celebration so maybe it happened or maybe it didn’t.

In any case, French settlers arrived at St. Croix Island in 1604 and many died in the first winter of starvation and scurvy. The site was later abandoned as the remaining settlers moved from the island to the nearby mainland and eventually more settlers joined them from France. You can read more about the first French settlement in North America in an article in the New England Historic Genealogical Society‘s web site at: http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/st-croix-island-lost-french-colony-maine/.

The next recorded “Thanksgiving” took place at today’s Berkeley Plantation on the banks of Virginia’s James River after 38 British settlers landed on December 4, 1619, two years before the more famous festivities in Plymouth, Mass. They celebrated “a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God,” reading from the Book of Common Prayer. There was no grand meal. In fact, they likely fasted, a common practice during religious days in those times. Details may be found in many web sites. I used the Williamsburg, Virginia web site at https://www.visitwilliamsburg.com/trip-idea/first-thanksgiving-america for reference.

Oh yes, there also was a later Thanksgiving meal celebrated at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts by a later group of colonists, usually referred to as the Pilgrims. Actually, only a minority of the group were members of a Puritan sect known as the Separatists, led by Governor William Bradford. The other settlers that arrived in Plimoth were not there for religious purposes. Instead, they were a mixture of adventurers who hoped to make a profit from the fur trade, from fishing, and from any other method they could invent.

However, at their first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621, it is believed that Pilgrims, Adventurers, and about 90 Indians all dined together.

2 Comments

A very Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours also, Dick. I’m thankful for your newsletters and continued interest in history and the evolution of solving our research problems. Also, I am very thankful for having known you in my former life of so long ago. Continue with your great work. I look forward to it everyday.

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There is that one Pilgrim who had been to America before, he was with the Jamestown group and returned to England to find out his wife died and his children were in care of a noble. He was grateful that one of his sons was named . The Pilgrim’s name is Stephen Hopkins and he has left behind unknown very large number of descendants today.

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