First Official Thanksgiving in America

Each first Sunday in November a Thanksgiving Festival is held at the Berkeley Plantation in accordance with documentation from 1619. The event fulfills instructions given to the 38 settlers who arrived on the banks of the James River at Berkeley Hundred as documented in the proclamation:

“Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

The settlers set sail in a ship called The Margaret from the Port of Bristol in England, where at the Berkeley Castle funding for the journey was supplied by landowners including Sir Richard Berkeley and William Throckmorton. Agriculture was going through difficult times and many people in the area wanted to start a new life for themselves in America, and so they joined the leaders Sir John Woodleefe, George Thorpe, and John Smyth, who had planned this remarkable and historic voyage. Although they encountered severe weather that delayed their journey, the landing on December 4, 1619, is well documented by the Virginia Company of London.

Charles Berkeley from the Berkeley Castle stressed in his speech for the 1994 Virginia First Thanksgiving Festival that “this was the first thanksgiving to be held on American soil but it was not officially recognized until President Kennedy’s term of office in the 1960s, as beforehand the Pilgrim Fathers were considered to have been the first American settlers to offer Thanksgiving. The Berkeleys in fact preceded them . . . .”

Former Virginia Governor Mills Godwin summarized the setting well in his 1981 remarks: “Berkeley has been a working plantation in Virginia since 1619, and a handsome brick manor house was built here early in the 18th Century. Here was born Benjamin Harrison, V, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a post-Revolutionary Governor of Virginia, and his son, William Henry Harrison, the ninth President of the United States. Today, while privately owned, Berkeley has been magnificently restored and is open to the public as one of America’s distinguished historic shrines.”

As we express our gratitude at these Thanksgiving events, so we live out our words by offering thanks, remembering the past, and pledging to continue the great legacy of those before us who celebrated perpetually . . . and look forward to a great future in this free nation.

Source: Covenant News Newswire, November 21, 2005

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