We were all taught that Plymouth, Massachusetts was the site of the first Thanksgiving right? But according to historians, a full year and 17 days before Pilgrims ever stepped foot upon New England soil, a group of English settlers led by Captain John Woodlief landed at the site of today’s Berkeley Plantation located 24 miles southwest of Richmond, Virginia. After they arrived on the shores of the James River, the settlers got on their knees and gave thanks for their safe passage. There was no traditional meal, no breaking bread with Native Americans, no turkey. America’s first Thanksgiving was about prayer, not food.
Captain John Woodlief departed Bristol, England on September 16th, 1619 aboard the 35 foot ship Margaret bound for the New World. Aboard with Woodlief were 35 settlers, a crew, five “captain’s assistant”, and a pilot. Woodlief had been to Virginian previously as survivor of the 1609 – 1610 Jamestown’s “Starving Time.” The mission of those aboard Margaret was to settle 8,000 acres of land along the James River that had been granted to them by the London based Berkeley Company.
Following a two and a half month journey across the Atlantic, the Margaret entered the Chesapeake Bay on November 28, 1619. They finally arrived at their destination, Berkeley Hundred, later called Berkeley Plantation, on December 4. They disembarked and gave thanks for their safe passage. The Berkeley Company had given written orders to Captain Woodlief that their arrival must “be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
For more than three centuries Virginia’s first Thanksgiving was lost to history. It was not until 1931 that a former president of William and Mary was researching early Virginia history when he came upon the Nibley Papers authored by John Smyth that recounted the 1619 settlement of Berkeley. This account provided the evidence that the New World’s Day of Thanksgiving did indeed occur in Virginia in 1619.
In November 1963, just 17 days prior to his assassination, President John F Kennedy in his Thanksgiving Proclamation acknowledged Virginia’s claim, saying
Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving.
The first celebration in the New World had taken place before the Pilgrims had even left port.
Berkeley Plantation is a historically significant Virginia residence as the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison V, a signer of the Declaration Of Independence, and his son the 9th President of the United States, William Henry Harrison.
Wallingford PA Real Estate – Wallingford, PA 19086