The first Thanksgiving in those British
colonies that became the United States of America, was held,
on December 4, 1619, at Harrison’s Landing, at the Berkeley
Plantation, in the Virginia colony, two years before Puritans
arrived in Massachusetts.
It was a religious observance in which
God was thanked for protecting the settlers and ensuring their
safe arrival in Virginia.
The Berkeley Hundred consisted of 8,000
acres of meadowland and virgin forests, with three miles of
river frontage. It lay fewer than 50 miles from Jamestown,
Virginia, and 83 miles, by road, from Fredericksburg,
Virginia. It was called a "Hundred" because 10 families, or
100 people, were expected to live there and earn livings from
When the settlers, aboard the sailing
vessel Margaret, reached their destination, west of Jamestown,
38 men were put ashore. Then, at the order of Capt. John
Woodlief, the Margaret’s master, the men gathered and thanked
God for their safe arrival, after a long, and dangerous sea
voyage, from England. It was further ordered that the day be
observed every year, "as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty
That first thanksgiving, and its
observance yearly thereafter, was a requirement stated in the
charter given the settlers when the left England for
Virginia. The charter stated,
"Wee ordaine that the day of
our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the
land of Virginia, shall be yearly perpetually kept holy as a
day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."
Opportunity not hate
The Virginia settlers differed
psychologically from the Puritans that settled Massachusetts.
They came for economic opportunity. They were members of the
Church of England and, compared with other European religious
groups, in the early 1600s, very tolerant. For example, they
did not physically harm people that held different religious
beliefs than theirs. The Pilgrims, were Puritans, the
religious group that colonized Massachusetts. They created a
religious state there, for their own religion only, and
persecuted, injured, and killed people with whose religious
beliefs they disagreed.
From what we know about the Puritans, the
three-day-long feast they held in 1621 was not a religious
harvest celebration. It was held to thank local Indians that
had helped the Pilgrims to survive a hard first year in the
colony. A thanksgiving day, in a Puritan community, would not
have included three days of eating and drinking, including
wine. It would have been a very solemn religious event that
focused on prayer. By comparison, the thanksgiving
observance, in Virginia, was strictly religious.
Ended by massacre
Virginia's Thanksgiving Day observances ceased, after Indians massacred most settlers there, in 1622. That first thanksgiving day, in 1619, was completely forgotten, until the mid 20th century, when long-forgotten documentation of the event was found. It was replaced by a mythical story about the three-day-long party held by Puritans and Indians, in Massachusetts, in 1621.
Long before 1619, a day of religious
thanksgiving for a good harvest, was observed in the
English-speaking world, and continues to be observed, other
than in the U.S.
The creation of the Pilgrims’
Thanksgiving myth was part of an attempt, in the 1890s and
early 1900s, to create a common, nationwide holiday, in the
aftermath of Lincoln’s War (1861-1865) and the Military
Occupation and plundering of the former Confederate states,
which followed (referred to in U.S. history books as
In the 1890s and early 1900s, Southerners
remembered vividly the way the U.S. military had been used by
Lincoln to deliberately destroy southern civil society, so as
to deny its resources to Confederate armies the U.S. could not
defeat in battle. Total war against civilians and enemy
military forces had been rejected in Western Europe since the
Thirty Years War (1616-1648), and West Pointers were taught,
in the years before Lincoln’s War, that it was not allowed.
As a result, Southern dislike, and even hatred, of U.S.
government remained very high.
In 1789, President George Washington, a
Virginian, as recommended by the U.S. Congress, designated
November 25, as a day of thanksgiving and called on all
Americans to unite in rendering unto almighty God their
sincere and humble thanks for His kind care, protection and,
many benefits. This observance is now a civil holiday.
Definitions: Settlers leave an
existing society with the collective purpose of recreating
their society in a new and often distant place. The place
they settle is a colony and settlers and their descendants are
colonists, for as long as their society remains connected to
the parent country. The people that settled Britain’s
American colonies moved from Britain and northwestern Europe
to Britain’s American territory, in the 1600s and 1700s, and
recreated their society here. Immigrants, in contrast, move
from one society to another. They do not create a new