AMERICA’S FIRST THANKSGIVING ~ BERKELEY PLANTATION

Posted by on Nov 26, 2013 in Blog, History, Uncategorized | 5 comments

Front of Berkeley Mansion

Front of Berkeley Mansion

A visit to Berkeley Plantation in Virginia will take you on a journey back to one of the earliest English settlements in America and the sight of the first Thanksgiving.

Berkeley Plantation is twenty-nine miles from the first English settlement at Jamestown that was established in 1607. It is one of many plantations situated along the James River in southeastern Virginia. Traveling by land, it is located twenty-three miles southeast of Richmond along historic Rte 5 where one will see farmland, some modest commercial ventures, and exits to many other plantations.

There were a variety of reasons people emigrated from England to the colonies in the 1600’s. Some came for religious freedom, others to escape poverty, over population, and failing industries. There were also immigrants pursuing financial opportunities. Profit was the motive in 1618 when four English gentlemen met in London to establish a company to start the “Berkeley Hundred and Plantation” on the 8,000 acres and three miles of waterfront granted them by King James I.  Their expedition sailed on the “Good Ship Margaret” in August of 1619 from Bristol, England to settle, grow crops, and establish commercial ventures. One of the men, John Smyth of Nibley, was the historian of the Berkeley family and Berkeley castle in England. He also chronicled the “Berkeley expedition” and settlement of Virginia from 1609-1622.

 

View of the James River

View of the James River

 

The First Official Thanksgiving in America

Most of us associate the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. Actually, the first official Thanksgiving occurred 590 miles south of Plymouth and almost two years before the Pilgrims and Indians shared a harvest feast. The “Margaret” dropped anchor at the Berkeley site December 4, 1619, and upon going ashore the Captain John Woodlief and the company of men dropped to their knees and prayed:

 

First Official Thanksgiving Commemoration Plaque -2

First Official Thanksgiving Commemoration Plaque -2

First Official Thanksgiving Commemoration Plaque

First Official Thanksgiving Commemoration Plaque 1

 

 

 

“We ordaine that this day of our ships arrival,

at the place assigned for plantacon (plantation) in the land of Virginia,

shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy

as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

  

Where the Massachusetts celebration was primarily a social occasion with the Indians, the Berkeley event was strictly a religious one. The London Company gave specific instructions that this religious ceremony was to be repeated annually, and it was . . . for a time. The Virginia settlers and the Indians initially enjoyed friendly relations; however on March 22, 1622, in a calculated plan, Chief Opechancanough led a massive attack at many of the settlements for 140 miles on either side of the James River and Berkeley was among those that perished. Jamestown prepared for the attack as they were warned of the intended massacre by an Indian named Chanco, so were able to defend themselves. The Massacre of 1622 ended the settlement of Berkeley and the annual celebration of Thanksgiving until 1958 when it was reinstated.

(This is in part a re-print of a blogpost I posted on Colonial Quills.)

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday, 394 years after that first Thanksgiving in Virginia, my prayer is that we will all draw closer to God, and be thankful for the many ways He has blessed us individually and as a nation. 

5 Comments

  1. What a fascinating piece of history! I’ve never heard of the Berkeley Plantation and am happy that it can be designated as the first Thanksgiving in America. 🙂 How sad it was so short lived. It was so dangerous living on the frontier throughout the new colonies. It’s a wonder anyone survived. Without the Lord’s help, I’m sure none of them would have survived. Have a blessed Thanksgiving, Janet!

  2. Thanks Elaine. Berkeley Plantation is one of the fascinating James River Plantations. It is also the place where “Taps” was made and:
    The Birthplace of William Henry Harrison, 9th President
    The Birthplace of Benjamin Harrison V ―Signer of the Declaration of Independence
    And the ancestral Home of Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President.

    • Have a blessed Thanksgiving, Elaine.

  3. Thanks to a post you did about Berkley Plantation on the Colonial Quills website sometime ago, my husband and I visited it. As we stood on the lawn looking at the River, we could envision the landing of the English at Berkley. What a wonderful post! Keep writing, Janet. I so enjoy your articles! And Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Cynthia. We are so blessed to live in an area with so many fascinating places rich with history. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.