5 Places That Claim to Be the Site of the First Thanksgiving

(Photo: FILE)

When people think of the first Thanksgiving, generally what comes to mind are images of Pilgrims and Indians eating together in colonial Massachusetts.

Widely considered the "First Thanksgiving," this event took place in November 1621 when the Plymouth colonists and members of the Wampanoag tribe shared in an autumn harvest feast.

However, there are five places within North America that held Thanksgiving observances that predate the Plymouth Colony, with some arguing that their respective location should be credited at being the site of the first Thanksgiving.

1. Florida (1565)

(Photo: Facebook/St. Augustine, Florida)A group in 2016 reenacting the September 8, 1565 founding of St. Augustine, Florida.


Over 50 years before the Plymouth Rock Thanksgiving, Spanish settlers celebrated the founding of St. Augustine in what is now the state of Florida with a mass and feast. 

Historian Michael V. Gannon said in an interview with South Florida Opulence that "their first act was to hold a religious service to thank God for the safe arrival of the Spanish fleet."

"After the mass, Father Francisco Lopez, the chaplin of the Spanish ships and the first pastor of St. Augustine, stipulated that the natives from the Timucua tribe be fed along with the Spanish settlers, including Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the leader of the expedition. It was the very first Thanksgiving and the first Thanksgiving meal in the United States," Gannon said. 

2. Newfoundland (1578)

(Photo: Screengrab / http://www.heritage.nf.ca/)The official Coat of Arms for Newfoundland.

In 1578, English explorer Martin Frobisher landed in what is now Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, as part of his quest to locate the fabled Northwest Passage.

In response to his safe travels to the Great White North, over four decades before the Plymouth Colony celebration, Frobisher and his men held a service of thanks.

"Frobisher, an English explorer in the uncharted northern territories, organized the first religious Thanksgiving for his crew and early Canadian settlers as a way to take stock of all they had accomplished in a short time," noted the Guardian Liberty Voice.

"During his 1578 voyage to Baffin Island to set up a new English colony, Frobisher's ships were scattered. At Frobisher Bay, the explorer was happily reunited with his fleet, and all who had survived the storms honored their reunion with a day of thanks."

3. Texas (1598)

(Photo: Jose Cisneros/SEGHS)A painting depicting what many believe to be the real first Thanksgiving in North America. Conquistadors under the leadership of Don Juan De Oñate celebrating the occasion in 1598 at modern day San Elizario, Texas.

Over 20 years before the widely known feast in New England, Spanish Conquistadors held a mass and a feast giving thanks in what is now San Elizario, Texas.

Al Borrego, artist and spokesman for the San Elizario Genealogical and Historical Society, told The Christian Post in a 2013 interview about the historical event.

"Oñate, colonizer of New Mexico, entered what is now the United States, near San Elizario, Texas, on April 20, 1598, at the banks of the Rio Bravo," Borrego said.

"They built a church with a nave large enough to hold the expedition (over 500), held a mass followed by the 'Toma' (official taking possession of the territory the river drained into), followed by a feast and celebration and even a comedy in the afternoon."

The San Elizario celebration had all the key trappings of a Thanksgiving, right down to the local indigenous population joining in the meal.

"We like November Thanksgiving," said Borrego, who noted that one of the perks of living in San Elizario was that "we get to celebrate twice!"

4. Maine (1607)

(Photo: Screengrab/YouTube/ilhouette)A marker at Popham Colony, located in modern-day Phippsburg, Maine.

Fourteen years before the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe feasted together, the short-lived settlement of Popham Colony held two celebrations considered by some to be thanksgiving observances.

"The first occurred in September when the settlers encountered a native tribe (the Abenaki). Nine canoes arrived at the Popham settlement with about 40 people. The settlers gave them food and Skidwarres and one other Abenaki stayed the night," a researcher with the Maine Historical Society told CP.

"Later in October, five tribesmen arrived: Skidwarres, Nahandada and his wife, one other and a tribal leader named Amenquin. They feasted for two days with Popham and the others. The second day was Sunday, so they also joined the settlers in morning and evening prayers."

Captain George Popham, leader of the colony, died within a year of the two ceremonies. Issues following his death led to the abandonment of the settlement.

"The fact the Popham Colony failed to be a permanent settlement is probably the major reason the Thanksgiving there is not remembered," reasoned the researcher.

"Additionally, it was not a harvest fest or a day of thanks for surviving a harsh winter or celebrating the arrival of a supply ship."

5. Virginia (1619)

(Photo: Berkeley Plantation / Gary Smith Images)Thanksgiving service held at Berkeley Plantation, Virginia in 1619, as depicted by painter Sidney King.

Two years before the Plymouth Colony Thanksgiving, colonial Virginia had a celebration of thanks held at Berkeley Plantation in modern day Charles City.

In December of that year, Captain John Woodlief and 35 settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation from Bristol, England, and gave thanks to God for their safe travels.

Graham Woodlief, president of the Virginia Thanksgiving Festival and direct decendant of Capt. Woodlief, credited the celebration as "the first recorded English Thanksgiving in the New World."

"The fact that they were ordered by England to give thanks and to do it annually and perpetually made it the first 'official' Thanksgiving. It was also two years before the Pilgrims had their three-day harvest feast," said Woodlief to CP.

"Their giving of thanks was ordered by their colony Governor, William Bradford, not by England and was spontaneous, not by Proclamation as the Berkeley Thanksgiving was."

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