Thanksgiving – Firsts? VA – MA

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    I am reading “Albion’s Seed” by DH Fischer, one of the most interesting books I have ever read. It is simply wonderful reading.

    The “tradition” that most of us learned in public school is that the first Thanksgiving was held in 1621 in Plymouth by Pilgrim settlers and Native Americans.
    In the LC lecture on the Cavaliers, Professor McClanahan states that the first Thanksgiving was held in Virginia in 1618 (or 1619, I have to look at my notes.)
    DH Fischer states that the first Thanksgiving in the Massachusetts Bay colony took place in February of 1630/31 and that Thanksgiving began to occur regularly after King Philip’s (Metacom) War. (page 165). Although I have yet to reach the Cavalier portion of “Albion’s Seed” nothing regarding Thanksgiving is in the index outside of the Puritan culture.

    A – Where, exactly, did the Virginia Thanksgiving take place and what is the source?
    B – Does the “traditional” Thanksgiving of 1621 count as the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts?



    The Virginia one was in 1619 at what is now Berkeley Plantation. That estate is currently the oldest working farm in the USA. It is the ancestral home of the Harrisons, including Revolutionary Virginia governor Benjamin Harrison, President William Henry Harrison, and President Benjamin Harrison.


    I don’t know if the author is making the distinction, but Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were separate colonies until 1691. So, it’s possible that Plymouth had their thanksgiving feast with the native people in 1621, while Massachusetts Bay Colony had it’s first in 1630/31.

    Or, the distinction may be being made between the celebratory harvest feast of the Pilgrims and an “official” thanksgiving feast. The Pilgrims didn’t see their multi-day party with the natives as an official thanksgiving feast at the time, but as a celebration of the harvest. There was a set religious protocol to follow for a “real” Thanksgiving that they did not engage in. It may be that the author is saying that the first of these official, religious based thanksgivings that the Puritans would have viewed as a such didn’t actually happen until 1630/31 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Thanksgivings in Puritan society could be called for several different reasons, and not always after the harvest.

    This website might be helpful:

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