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Thu Nov 25, 2021, 07:17 AM

The First Thanksgiving Took Place in Virginia, not Massachusetts

I know I've written about this earlier, but I can't find those earlier threads. I'll keep looking.

NEWS & POLITICS

The First Thanksgiving Took Place in Virginia, not Massachusetts

WRITTEN BY MATT BLITZ | PUBLISHED ON NOVEMBER 18, 2015



"First Thanksgiving" by Sidney King; photograph courtesy Berkeley Plantation.

Years of elementary school history lessons taught us that Plymouth, Massachusetts, was the site of the first Thanksgiving. Those lessons were false. A year and 17 days before those Pilgrims ever stepped foot upon New England soil, a group of English settlers led by Captain John Woodlief landed at today’s Berkeley Plantation, 24 miles southwest of Richmond. After they arrived on the shores of the James River, the settlers got on their knees and gave thanks for their safe passage. There was no traditional meal, no lovefest with Native Americans, no turkey. America’s first Thanksgiving was about prayer, not food.

On September 16th, 1619, the Margaret departed Bristol, England, bound for the New World. Aboard the 35-foot-long ship were 35 settlers, a crew, five “captain’s assistant”, a pilot, and Woodlief, a much-experienced survivor of the 1609/1610 Jamestown’s “Starving Time.” The mission of those aboard Margaret was to settle 8,000 acres of land along the James River that had been granted to them by the London-based Berkeley Company. They were allowed to build farms, storehouses, homes, and a community on company land. In exchange, they were contracted as employees, working the land and handing over crops and profits to the company.

After a rough two-and-a-half months on the Atlantic, the ship entered the Chesapeake Bay on November 28, 1619. It took another week to navigate the stormy bay, but they arrived at their destination, Berkeley Hundred, later called Berkeley Plantation, on December 4. They disembarked and prayed. Historians think there was nothing but old ship rations to eat, so the settlers may have concocted a meal of oysters and ham out of necessity rather than celebration. At the behest of written orders given by the Berkeley Company to Captain Woodlief, it was declared that their arrival must “be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.” And that’s exactly what they did–for two years. On March 22, 1622, the Powhatan, who’d realized the settlers intended to expand their territory and continue their attempts to convert and “civilize” them, attacked Berkeley and other settlements, killing 347. Woodlief survived, but soon after, Berkeley Hundred was abandoned. For three centuries, Virginia’s first Thanksgiving was lost to history.

Graham Woodlief is a direct descendant of Captain Woodlief. While he’s known his family’s history since being a teenager, he’s devoted a considerable amount of energy to research since he retired in 2009. Today, Woodlief is president of the Virginia Thanksgiving Festival, which has been held annually since 1958. Woodlief says he thinks the major reason that Plymouth, and not Berkley, is universally thought to be the site of the first Thanksgiving is that “they had better PR than we did.” He also said the emphasis on prayer, instead of Plymouth’s festive harvest meal, also made Virginia’s Thanksgiving a bit less appealing, though more accurate. “In fact, most Thanksgivings in the early days were religious services, not meals,” Woodlief says.

309 years after the 1622 battle with the Powhatans, Berkeley Plantation’s missing history was rediscovered. In 1931, retired William & Mary President (and son of President John Tyler) Dr. Lyon G. Tyler was working on a book about early Virginia history. While doing research, he stumbled upon the Nibley Papers, documents and records taken by John Smyth of Nibley, Gloucestershire, about the 1619 settlement of Berkeley. Originally published by the New York State Library in 1899, the papers’ historical significance had gone undetected. According to Virginia historians, the papers are concrete proof that the New World’s “day of Thanksgiving” originated in their region. Upon his discovery, Tyler told Malcolm Jamieson, who had inherited Berkeley plantation in the 1920s. The plantation was already considered one of the more historic homes in the state, once a residence to a signer of the Declaration of Independence, as well as the birthplace of a US President. Now, it had another feather in its historic hat. Jamieson, with the help of descendants of Captain Woodlief, instituted the first Virginia Thanksgiving Festival in 1958. Its been celebrated ever since.

{snip}

THE FIRST THANKSGIVING OCCURRED IN VIRGINIA, NOT MASSACHUSETTS

Nov 26, 2020

The first Thanksgiving has always been credited to the pilgrims at Plimouth Rock in Massachusetts. But the first recorded Thanksgiving actually occurred three years earlier 600 miles south in Virginia. On September 16, 1619, the Good Ship Margaret which was only 35 ft. long and weighed 47 tons set sail from Bristol England with 35 settlers commissioned to 8000 acres 30 miles west of Jamestown on the James River. The land was given to the Virginia Company by King James and is the current site of Berkeley Plantation.

The crew was comprised of settlers, many of whom were craftsmen who were offered indentured status to settle at the site and carve out a working enterprise out of the wilderness. The Margaret arrived at Berkley Hundred on December 4, 1619. The 35 hearty souls who had traversed the North Atlantic on a 35 ft ship for two and a half months, came ashore with their luggage. The instructions from the Virginia Company required Captain John Woodlief to immediately conduct a religious ceremony of Thanksgiving.

This was not a feast, but was simply designed to thank God for the group’s safe passage. The religious service was continued on the anniversary of the landing until 1622. This was not revealed until Dr. John Tyler, grandson of President Tyler discovered the Nibley Papers {"Nibley Papers" has been lined out in the source article} in the 1930s.

In 1958 a reenactment of the first Thanksgiving was held and has been conducted each year since that time.

You can read the story of the first Thanksgiving here.

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Reply The First Thanksgiving Took Place in Virginia, not Massachusetts (Original post)
mahatmakanejeeves Nov 25 OP
LastDemocratInSC Nov 25 #1
mahatmakanejeeves Nov 25 #2
appalachiablue Nov 25 #3

Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Thu Nov 25, 2021, 09:23 AM

1. It's southeast of Richmond, not southwest.

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Response to LastDemocratInSC (Reply #1)

Thu Nov 25, 2021, 09:44 AM

2. Thanks. It's the Washingtonian. What do they know?

I'm surprised they haven't corrected that after all these years.

Thanks for writing. Happy Thanksgiving.

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Response to mahatmakanejeeves (Original post)

Thu Nov 25, 2021, 09:03 PM

3. Glad you posted, Va will never get national recognition

but it's interesting to know the history.

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