Williamsburg Thanksgiving?

The First Thanksgiving In Williamsburg, Virginia

Article By: <br>Trish Thomas

Article By:
Trish Thomas

Co-owner of Williamsburg Walking Tours since 2011, she offers guided tours of Williamsburg’s history, the African American experience in Williamsburg, and the Civil War in Williamsburg.

About Trish

Are you ready to take your Williamsburg historical Thanksgiving quiz?

Which one of these two statements is historically true?

  1. The pilgrims in Massachusetts and the Wampanoag Indians came together for the first Thanksgiving.
  2. The Virginia settlers got together at the Berkeley plantation, in Williamsburg in early December, to commemorate their arrival in the New World with a ceremony that was the first American Thanksgiving, years before the Pilgrims had what many consider the first Thanksgiving.

If you’re a believer in the first one I have a shock for you. The right answer is number #2, first Thanksgiving was in Williamsburg Virginia

Thanksgiving Shock

For some of you I’m guessing there’s a little bit of shock associated with that statement. Maybe even denial. I mean this is the stuff of fairytales in American historical folklore. Everything from the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special ,to about 1 billion different items with orange brown and red turkeys on them, attest to the American Thanksgiving being in Massachusetts with the Pilgrims. Just the possibility of this could nullify decades of macaroni turkey art, Pilgrim costumes, and elementary school plays re enacting these events. And on top of that, no one wants to think they are living a lie.

Even the history channel has gone into the actual historical account of the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrims from England, telling the story of how they barely survived on what they had, coming together for the first Thanksgiving in the building of this new grand free world…in the North.

But the evidence against the Pilgrim Thanksgiving is both extensive and authoritative. I pulled some information from a Washingtonian article. Here are some of the indisputable facts:

  • The Berkeley company gave a written mandate to the Virginia Settlers that their arrival day be celebrated as a day of Thanksgiving in 1619, two years before the Pilgrim Thanksgiving.
  • Retired William and Mary President D Lyon Tyler found documented written records about this first Thanksgiving that were originally published in New York in the late 1800s.
  • President Kennedy had Arthur Schlesinger send a telegram to Virginia State Senator John Wicker claiming it was true in 1962.
  • President George W. Bush also publicly acknowledged this fact.

kennedy thanksgivingBut I don’t see the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special being banned or pulled from television. My children have no clue of this new revelation. And while there are people who have celebrated this American History Alternative Festival for decades, most Americans are not going to abandon this tradition of a Pilgrim Thanksgiving.

Is a Williamsburg Virginia Thanksgiving really worth considering?

American history is filled with accounts of at least two versions. One version of American history seems to be a homogenized ultra kind cartoon style version where we are always right and no “real” harm is done to anyone. It kind of leaves you with that feeling for those who weren’t allowed to celebrate at either Thanksgiving, or be free, really did not have it all that bad.

The Williamsburg version comes from the tradition of alternate history..

This version attests that the facts aren’t that accurate and America was really not that nice. I mean, younger people must have always been suspicious that the Pilgrims feasted with a Native American group, but future settlers would turn on the Native American groups that helped the first settlers to survive. Definitely not a great historical example of gratitude. And rather than hide this fact, the country does not deny this incredible contribution by Native Americans or the brutal treatment of them in the decades after the First Thanksgiving.

Stuck Between A (Plymouth) Rock And A Hard Place Named Williamsburg

We sit in an ambiguous situation. We still hold to the Pilgrim Thanksgiving myth but know that there was another earlier Thanksgiving in Williamsburg. Maybe it is foreshadowing of the competitive conflict that would emerge between Northern and Southern Americans as time went on, going from small Colonial roots, to a nation divided on Southern and Northern cultural lines in the 1860s, each vying to create an America based on what they wanted.

But why not have both versions?

Why can’t we just celebrate both. Why not have the original Thanksgiving and maybe a Thanksgiving Harvest Festival Meal on the date of the historical first Williamsburg Thanksgiving. Even better yet why not just give both colonies credit and write a history where both colonies quickly came to a tradition of a feast of gratitude in the hostile new world. A few years difference is not that big a deal. In fact, it would be great to reconcile both groups of colonists, though different and in opposite locations, which would form an America we live in today. An America where we need to accept the differences and historical mistakes that haunt our past.

I think in general we need to revisit the past and make sure our accounts are accurate. Maybe even commission a second Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special where the Peanuts gang learns of the true first Thanksgiving and comes to accept it. Maybe they could call it ‘there are 2 versions of Thanksgiving Charlie Brown.”Not sure if there are any takers for that idea but..

Happy Thanksgiving (whichever version you celebrate)

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