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So, where was the first Thanksgiving?

If you say, Plymouth, Massachusetts your answer would match that of most 7th graders as well as their mothers.

A story that’s set in 1621, about a year after their arrival on the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock.. the pilgrims gathered with the friendly, local, Native Americans for a bountiful feast of Thanksgiving.

“It’s the event held in Plymouth in 1621 that has been an inspiration to Americans for generations,” says Plymouth Historian Peggy Baker.

Berkeley Plantation At the Berkley Plantation on the James River, near Jamestown and Historic Williamsburg, Virginia, the people around there will respectfully beg to differ with those folks in Plymouth, Massachusetts.”

Malcolm Jamieson, Owner of the Berkley Plantation,  other historians here say it was easily two years earlier…In 1619 when another shipful of settlers…led by Captain John Woodlief arrived in Virginia and followed the orders of his English sponsors.

They Gave Thanks for Their Safe Arrival to the New World

The first Thanksgiving occurred when Captain John Woodlief led the newly-arrived English colonists to a grassy slope along the James River and instructed them to drop to their knees and pray in thanks for a safe arrival to the New World. It was December 4, 1619, and 38 men from Berkeley Parish in England vowed:

“Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrivall at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

You’ll find their vow carved on a brick gazebo marking the location believed to be where Woodlief knelt beside the James River.

Support for Virginia’s claim to the first Thanksgiving came from President Bush in 2007 and before that, President Kennedy.

But wait, watching this debate with almost a discernible smirk are native americans.

“The concept of Thanksgiving was not alien to my people,” says Chief Stephen Adkins, Tribal Chief of the Chickahominy Indians.

They say their ancestors had been having Thanksgivings for centuries before the settlers arrived.

Still, in all versions of the story, you find the word that finds the common ground…”thanks

Visit Berkeley Plantation and tour the grounds, gardens and three-story manor house built in 1776. See this birthplace of Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and of his son, the ninth U.S. President William Henry Harrison. Harrison’s grandson, another Benjamin Harrison, became the 23rd U.S. president.


Virginia’s First Thanksgiving Festival at Berkeley Plantation


November 2, 2008
November 1, 2009
November 7, 2010

One Response

  1. The victors get to write the history.

    There was an awakening of interest in America’s colonial history beginning in 1876, America’s centennial. Virginia, once considered hallowed ground, had fallen out of favor following the defeat of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. There were scores of books and articles written on colonial history during the last quarter of the 19th century that all but completely ignored Jamestown and focused on Plymouth and the virtues of the Pilgrims as America’s founders. This disinformation lasted pretty much until 1907, the tercentennial of Jamestown’s founding with its grand Jamestown Exposition that brought back to mind Virginia’s leading role in the establishment of the United States. And, the more recent archaeological rediscovery of the long-lost 1607 James Fort site at Jamestown has stirred a modern reawakening of interest in America’s earliest beginnings.

    It may still be some time before Virginia completely regains its prominence as the true birthplace of the United States, but Presidents Lincoln, Kennedy and Bush have publicly recognized the 1619 thanksgiving at Virginia’s Berkeley Plantation as America’s original Thanksgiving.

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