Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Virginia Thanksgiving Story

The above photo comes from, which also provides a little tune. All in fun? Sort of. Nevertheless, according to this article in the November 20, 2007 edition of the Washington Post, the Pilgrims-and-Indians story doesn't accurately reflect the origins of Thanksgiving, those true origins having been emphasized only once before in the 1963 Thanksgiving address given by President John F. Kennedy.

The following is the brief story of the Virginia Thanksgiving story (emphases mine):
In the Virginia story,...Capt. John Woodlief, a survivor of the Jamestown settlement's "starving time" who had returned to England, set sail from Bristol with 37 other settlers on the good ship Margaret to seek their fortune in the New World. After a violent storm blew them off course, they waded ashore Dec. 4, 1619 at what is now Berkeley Plantation [web site]. They opened their orders from their backers, which stated that they were to drop to their knees immediately and give thanks. Their landing date was to "be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God."

No one knows if they had anything other than old ship rations to eat. Historians surmise that they might have supped on roasted oysters and Virginia ham. The settlers didn't stick around long enough to write it down or develop a tradition: They were wiped out in a Powhatan Indian uprising in 1622. From there, the Virginia Thanksgiving story faded from view, save for a handful of die-hard groups that have been hosting a celebration at Berkeley for decades.
Quite an ignominious end for that particular group of settlers. No wonder that the story isn't often told.

According to the Washington Post article, academia and politics played a role in how we today perceive the origins of the holiday we're celebrating this week:
Up north is where most influential early Colonial historians lived and wrote extensively about the Mayflower landing at Plymouth Rock. Up north is where President Abraham Lincoln, in the middle of the Civil War, sought to bring the country together by creating a national holiday, to be called Thanksgiving. And thus the great harvest feast of turkey, pumpkins, corn, beans and squash that the pious Pilgrim families shared with their friendly native neighbors was enshrined as the official American story. (It's not like Lincoln was going to pick a site in the enemy land of Virginia.)
Native Virginian and ham lover though I may be, I don't much care about any "dispute" as to the origins of the holiday we're celebrating this week. The real meaning of Thanksgiving lies in the heart.

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posted by Always On Watch @ 11/21/2007 01:00:00 AM