Friday, March 30, 2012

The "Other" First Thanksgiving

Now that I live in one of the original 13 colonies, I've learned more about colonial history than I ever did before since I like to visit historical sites. As a result, I detect a lot more slant of American history in typical history books. The story that always gets the most focus is Pilgrims and even their story is not always correctly told. Common misconceptions revolve around what they wore, what they ate at that infamous first Thanksgiving dinner, and even who came. A great source to learn the truth about the Pilgrims is the living history museum, Plimoth Plantation. There are lots of activities here.

However did you know that there was another Thanksgiving in the English colonies before the Pilgrims even arrived? Jamestown was established in Virginia in 1607. Despite much struggle for survival, it became the first successful English colony. Movies have been made that showcase the romance between Pocahontas and John Smith, but that never happened. (You can read more about her and the significance of her "saving" John Smith at the previous link, info from the apva.)

In 1618, investors in England made plans to send more men to colonize near Jamestown. The allotted site would have 8000 acres on the James River and would be called the Berkeley Hundred. John Woodlief was commissioned to be the captain of this venture. Being one of the survivors of the "starving time" of Jamestown, he determined to bring skilled craftsmen to the settlement. "they would be journeymen, joyners, carpenters, smiths, fowlers, and more comfortable with doing the work, rather than having it done for them." (Berkeley Plantation website) Some of the many supplies brought aboard ship were, "clothes, kitchen tools, construction and agricultural tools, weapons, Bibles, and 6000 beads for Indian trade." (Berkely Plantation website) The craftsmen who journeyed to the Berkeley Hundred became indentured servants, for 3-7 years, and were given 15-30 acres of land.

On December 4, 1619, the ship landed at its destination in Virginia. The men rowed ashore, knelt and prayed. "We ordaine that this day of our ships arrival, at the place assigned for plantacon, (meaning plantation) in the land of Virginia, shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God." (Berkeley Plantation website)

The Pilgrim's may have had the first Thanksgiving feast, but the Berkeley Hundred had the first traditional Thanksgiving. In those days, Thanksgiving was strictly religious with the focus on prayer, not food. Harvest festivals, though, were focused on food. Also, the Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving sporadically, when they decided to. However the Berkely Hundred had a yearly religious ceremony, giving thanks. The Berkely Hundred even had friendly relations with the Indians until 1622, when several groups of Indians planned simultaneous attacks on different plantations. The Massacre of 1622 resulted in the decimation of the Berkeley Hundred.

Today the site can be visited the first weekend of November, for a reenactment of the first Thanksgiving.

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