Thursday, November 22, 2012

The First Thanksgiving?

Like most children raised in the United States,
I learned that the first Thanksgiving occurred 
in the early 1600s in Massachusetts.
Pilgrims. Indians. Food exchanged. Thanks and gratitude given.
We all know the story.
In elementary school, we traced our open hands to draw turkeys.
Later, we graduated to tempera or watercolor paintings 
of pilgrims, Indians, and open-air tables laden with food: 
turkeys, ears of corn, bowls of cranberries, squash, pumpkins.
Regardless of what we painted on our table still life,
the backdrop was always Plymouth, Massachusetts.

photo courtesy of

But then I grew up and moved to the Shire. 
And what did I see the first time 
I visited Berkley Plantation along the James River?
A sign commemorating the first Thanksgiving--in Virginia.

But then a few years later, while I was visiting Roanoke Island
in North Carolina, I discovered another sign
commemorating the first Thanksgiving--there in Carolina.
Very interesting.

I wondered if anyone else knew
 that Virginia and North Carolina claimed first status.
And so I decided to research it,
and I found this really great article "The First Thanksgiving"
  by the late genealogist Merwin Almy.
Although Mr. Almy passed away earlier this year,
is now maintained by his family.

Merwin Almy has settled the question, I believe.
According to Mr. Almy, 
the First Thanksgiving occurred in 1586 
on Roanoke Island in North Carolina.
And why did they give thanks? 
Mr. Almy wrote that when the relief ship finally arrived,
they were all so grateful they gave thanks at a special dinner
 and then "fed-up with the perils and hardships, 
they all went home."

Mr. Almy confirms that Thanksgivings also took place in Virginia.
He says that the first Virginia Thanksgiving was held at Jamestown Colony in 1609; 
then again in 1612, when the colonists gave thanks for, to quote Mr. Almy:
"the arrival of Governor Dale with a ship-load of girls
intended to become the wives of the settlers."
Oh, the things they leave out of the history books.

And a third time, a dinner of thanks, 
which was required by the charter of the Berkley Hundred settlement,
 was held in 1619 at Berkley Plantation 
 in present day Charles City County, Virginia.

And what year does Merwin Almy, genealogist and historian, 
give for the pilgrim's Thanksgiving celebration in Massachusetts?
Not until 1621, more than three decades 
after the southern colonists first gave thanks.

I think if Mr. Almy's research teaches us anything,
it's that the earliest American colonists 
understood they had a lot to be grateful for, regardless of their challenges.
Something we can all emulate, any time of the year.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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