A Brief History
On December 4, 1619, 38 British settlers landed from the ship, Margaret (out of Bristol, England) along the North shore of the James River in Virginia in order to found a new town in the Virginia Colony called Berkeley Hundred.
Apparently oblivious to just how idiotic it is to arrive in North America in December instead of the Spring when crops could be planted and impending Winter would not threaten survival, these eager settlers were dropped off by the crew of the Margaret and by order of the Virginia Company of London (known by various other names, such as The London Company) the settlers were instructed to hold a “Thanksgiving” celebration on that day and on every December 4th hence. “The day of our ship’s arrival…shall be yearly and perpetually kept as a day of Thanksgiving.”
The day was righteously honored as a Thanksgiving Day, and this occurred 2 years before the Pilgrims of the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock fame conducted their much more famous “Thanksgiving” that is generally presented to school kids in the United States as the “First Thanksgiving.”
The Berkeley Hundred settlement along with many others in Virginia was attacked by irate Native Americans in 1622, and 9 of the settlers were killed. The survivors fled to Jamestown, which had received ample warning and was not surprised by an Indian attack. The Berkeley Hundred lay abandoned by Europeans for several years, and then was bought in 1636. The area in which the thousand acres of the Berkeley Hundred had become part of Charles City Shire in 1634 (I know, why did they not call it the “Berkeley Thousand?” Beats me!)
The owner of our celebrated land was hanged in 1676 after taking part in the deliciously named Bacon Rebellion, and the Virginia Governor confiscated the property. The Harrison family bought the land and kept it in their family for many years, the property getting the name The Berkeley Plantation along the way.
Now you know the real story of the “First Thanksgiving” in America, so you can tell all your friends and relatives to stop believing what they were told in school. (Pilgrims were overrated anyway!) Question for students (and subscribers): What other historical inaccuracies concerning the early English settlement of America can you think of? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Baker, James W. and Peter J. Gomes. Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday (Revisiting New England). University of New Hampshire Press, 2009.
Kirkpatrick, Melanie. Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience. Encounter Books, 2016.
McKenzie, Robert Tracy. The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History. IVP Academic, 2013.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Joe Orbin of a shrine of the first U.S. Thanksgiving in 1619 at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.