Did You Know Virginia Held the First Thanksgiving?

Conley Ku, Layout Artist

For years, it had been considered
common knowledge that
the first Thanksgiving occurred in
Plymouth, Massachusetts, and included
a feast. Evidence uncovered
in the last 100 years proves that
this is actually false. According to
an article published in the Washingtonian
magazine, the Berkeley
Plantation in Virginia held the first
thanksgiving activities.
The Margaret, a colonist
ship sent from London’s Berkeley
Company, took two and a half
months to reach the shores of the
James River. They day they landed,
December 4, 1619, settlers excitedly
got off the boat and prayed their
thanks for the safe journey. Captain
John Woodlief declared that
the date be saved and “be yearly
and perpetually kept holy as a day
of Thanksgiving…”
They did just that, celebrating
their landing on December 4
for two more years. Native Americans,
sensing a threat to their territory,
killed nearly 350 Virginia
settlers in 1622 and Berkeley was
eventually abandoned.
On the date of the very first
Thanksgiving, there was no feast to
be had or shared with Native Americans.
The settlers, who had just arrived
in the New World, were alone
and only had rations from the ship
to eat. It is believed that they made
a meal of oysters and ham from the
food they brought from England.
The records from this first
Thanksgiving fell into obscurity
and were not recovered until over
300 years later, when they were rediscovered
by the College of William
and Mary’s former president.
Dr. Lyon G. Tyler, who was working
on a book of Virginia’s history,
came across records from the
Berkeley colony and the truth became
known. While it is still not
commonly known, Virginia historians
conclude that the papers
are concrete evidence that the first
“day of Thanksgiving” happened at
Berkeley. The current owner of Berkeley
Plantation, with help from Captain
Woodlief ’s descendants, holds an
annual Thanksgiving festival at the
site of the very first giving of thanks
in America. It has been a tradition
there since 1958.
Nearly two years prior to the
feast held by the Pilgrims at Plym

outh, the settlers at Berkeley Plantation
celebrated the first Thanksgiving.
While it disproves many common
misconceptions about the holiday, it
is our history. Hopefully the knowledge

of our state’s role in the origins of
Thanksgiving will become even more
widespread and become a source of
pride for Virginians everywhere.

The Berkeley Planataion, in Charles City, Virginia, was ths site of
the very first American Thanksgiving.
(Courtesy of the Library of Congress)