Sorry New England, Thanksgiving Belongs to Virginia
Many of us were brought up believing that Thanksgiving had its roots in a celebration held by the Pilgrims of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Natives of that area in 1620. I remember when I was in grade school, watching movies about the Pilgrims and their thanksgiving and doing numerous class activities associated with that celebration. How many of you remember this growing up?
In the last couple of decades more light has been shed on a real fact though, and sorry again to bring it up New England, but Thanksgiving belongs to Virginia. Even today, our New England friends to the north still believe they were the first to establish Thanksgiving. But that is far from the case. On December 4, 1619, a full year before the event in Massachusetts, the ship Margaret landed at Berkeley Hundred, now Berkeley Plantation in modern day Charles City County, and upon setting foot on ground at their destination, all the settlers aboard the ship got on their knees and offered prayers of thanksgiving as directed by their charter.
The main difference in the two events, aside from the year in which they occurred, lies in the reasoning for having given thanks. With the Thanksgiving that occurred in Virginia in 1619, it was expressly directed in the charter of the settlers that on the day of arrival, a religious prayer of Thanksgiving be made and that it “shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” The Massachusetts version of Thanksgiving was not established as a solemn event of prayer or even in the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony but was more a festival in which food was the center piece and shared between Natives and Pilgrims.
It would not be until November 5, 1963 that Virginia would finally be acknowledged for having the first official Thanksgiving when President John F. Kennedy said in his Thanksgiving Proclamation that, “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and Massachusetts, far from home, in a lonely wilderness set aside a time of Thanksgiving. They gave thanks for their safety, the health of their children, the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and for the faith which united them with their God.”
For a more detailed breakdown in how the first Thanksgiving came to pass in Virginia, visit Berkeley Plantation’s website at www.berkeleyplantation.com.
Dowdy, Clifford. The Great Plantation: A Profile of Berkeley Hundred and Plantation Virginia from Jamestown to Appomattox. Charles City, Virginia: Berkeley Plantation, 1980.
History of the First Thanksgiving, Berkeley Plantation. Accessed November 22, 2020. http://www.berkeleyplantation.com/first-thanksgiving.html.