Was the first Thanksgiving really in Florida, not Massachusetts? Or was it Texas? Virginia? Maine?
Blaring trumpets and thundering artillery serenaded Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés as he waded ashore on September 8, 1565. The Spanish admiral kissed a cross held aloft by the fleet’s captain, Father Francisco Lopez, then claimed Florida for both his God and his country. As curious members of the indigenous Timucua tribe looked on, the 800 newly arrived colonists gathered around a makeshift altar to watch Father Lopez perform a Catholic mass of thanksgiving for their safe arrival in the newly christened settlement of St. Augustine. At the invitation of Menéndez, the Timucuans then joined the newcomers in a communal meal.
Some historians argue that while America’s first Thanksgiving indeed took place in Florida, it actually occurred 40 miles further north and one year earlier than the one in St. Augustine when French Huguenots—Calvinists like the Pilgrims—held a service of thanksgiving and feasted with the Timucuans to celebrate the June 1564 establishment of Fort Caroline along the St. John’s River in present-day Jacksonville. “We sang a psalm of Thanksgiving unto God, beseeching him that it would please his Grace to continue his accustomed goodness toward us,” French explorer Rene Goulaine de Laudonnière wrote in his journal.
Unfortunately, divine blessings were fleeting for the French colonists. Less than two weeks after landing in the New World, Menéndez led an attack on Fort Caroline that resulted in the slaying of 130 French Huguenots, whom the Spaniards saw as heretics and interlopers. Weeks later the Spanish colonists massacred an additional 200 French shipwreck survivors at an inlet near St. Augustine that was eventually dubbed “Matanzas,” the Spanish word for “slaughters.”
The bloodshed helped to wash away historical memory of the thanksgiving ceremonies held by both the French and Spanish settlers in the 1560s until their rediscovery in recent decades. But Florida isn’t the only state that began in the 20th century to stake a claim to America’s first Thanksgiving. A historical marker erected by the Texas Society of the Daughters of the American Colonists outside Canyon, Texas, states that Father Juan de Padilla conducted a thanksgiving service there in May 1541 for an army of 1,500 accompanying Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Virginia and Maine have also put themselves forward as hosts of the nation’s first Thanksgiving in the years before the arrival of the Mayflower.
The feast of the colonists and Wampanoag Indians in Plymouth, Mass., that is widely acknowledged as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations did not happen until 1621.
What did they eat at the first Thanksgiving?
The menu for the meal shared by the Spaniards and Timucuans lacked most of today’s typical Thanksgiving dishes, but it did feature a traditional post-Thanksgiving staple; leftovers. Unlike the Pilgrims, who served food freshly harvested from American soil, the Spanish were forced to make do with whatever provisions survived the long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. According to Robyn Gioia, author of the children’s book “America’s REAL First Thanksgiving,” the European colonists likely ate hard biscuits and cocido—a rich garbanzo stew made with pork, garlic, saffron, cabbage and onion—washed down with red wine.
“The Timucua ate what was available to them locally and that could have included alligator, bear, wild turkey, venison, tortoise and food from the sea such as turtle, shark, mullet or sea catfish,” Gioia said. Archaeological research also shows the indigenous people ate large amounts of oysters and clams along with beans and squash.
Farther up in the east coast, the Thanksgiving meal in Plymouth probably had little in common with today’s traditional holiday spread. Although turkeys were indigenous, there’s no record of a big, roasted bird at the feast. The Wampanoag brought deer, and there would have been lots of local seafood (mussels, lobster, bass) plus the fruits of the first pilgrim harvest, including pumpkin. No mashed potatoes, though. Potatoes had only been recently shipped back to Europe from South America.
When did America first call for a national Thanksgiving?
America first called for a national day of thanksgiving to celebrate victory over the British in the Battle of Saratoga IN 1777. In 1789, George Washington again called for national day of thanks on the last Thursday of November in 1777 to commemorate the end of the Revolutionary War and the ratification of the Constitution. And during the Civil War, both the Confederacy and the Union issued Thanksgiving Day proclamations following major victories.
Which president refused to recognize Thanksgiving?
Thomas Jefferson was famously the only Founding Father and early president who refused to declare days of thanksgiving and fasting in the United States. Unlike his political rivals the Federalists, Jefferson believed in “a wall of separation between Church and State” and believed that endorsing such celebrations as president would amount to a state-sponsored religious worship.
What does the poem ‘Mary had a little lamb’ have to do with Thanksgiving?
The first official proclamation of a national Thanksgiving holiday didn’t come until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln called for an annual Thanksgiving celebration on the final Thursday in November. The proclamation was the result of years of impassioned lobbying by “Mary Had a Little Lamb” author and abolitionist Sarah Josepha Hale.
How did a botched Thanksgiving order lead to the TV tray dinner?
In 1953, an employee at C.A. Swanson & Sons overestimated demand for Thanksgiving turkey, and the company was left with some 260 tons of extra frozen birds. As a solution, Smithsonian reports, a Swanson salesman ordered 5,000 aluminum trays, devised a turkey meal and recruited an assembly line of workers to compile what would become the first TV tray dinners. A culinary hit was born. In the first full year of production, 1954, the company sold 10 million turkey TV tray dinners.
Why is football a Thanksgiving tradition?
The winning combo of football and Thanksgiving kicked off way before there was anything called the NFL. The first Thanksgiving football game was a college match between Yale and Princeton in 1876, only 13 years after Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Soon after, Thanksgiving was picked for the date of the college football championships. By the 1890s, thousands of college and high school football rivalries were played every Thanksgiving.
Who was the first president to pardon a turkey?
Starting in the 1940s, farmers would gift the president with some plump birds for roast turkey over the holidays, which the first family would invariably eat. While President John F. Kennedy was the first American president to spare a turkey’s life (“We’ll just let this one grow,” JFK quipped in 1963. “It’s our Thanksgiving present to him.”) the annual White House tradition of “pardoning” a turkey officially started with George H.W. Bush in 1989.
Which president received a raccoon as a Thanksgiving gift?
In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge received a somewhat odd Thanksgiving gift in the form of a live raccoon. Meant to be eaten (the Mississippi man who sent it called raccoon meat “toothsome”), the Coolidge family adopted the pet and named it Rebecca. Rebecca was only the latest addition to their already substantial White House menagerie that included a black bear, a wallaby, and a pygmy hippo named Billy.
When was the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?
To celebrate the expansion of its Herald Square superstore, Macy’s announced its very first “Big Christmas Parade” two weeks before Thanksgiving in 1924, promising “magnificent floats,” bands and an “animal circus.” A huge success, Macy’s trimmed the parade route from six miles to two miles and signed a TV contract with NBC to broadcast the now famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
When did the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade start featuring balloons?
The first oversized balloons debuted in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in 1927. The brainchild of Anthony Frederick Sarg, a German-born puppeteer and theatrical designer who also created Macy’s fantastical Christmas window displays, the first balloons were filled with oxygen, not helium. That year they featured Felix the Cat and inflated animals like elephants, tigers and a giant hummingbird.
Which president tried to move the date of Thanksgiving and why?
Concerned that the Christmas shopping season was cut short by a late Thanksgiving, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decreed in 1939 that Thanksgiving would be celebrated a week earlier. “Franksgiving,” as it was known, was decried by Thanksgiving traditionalists and political rivals (one even compared FDR to Hitler) and was adopted by only 23 of the 48 states. Congress officially moved Thanksgiving back to the fourth Thursday of November in 1941, where it has remained ever since.
Klein, Christopher. “Did Florida Host the First Thanksgiving?” https://www.history.com/news/did-florida-host-the-first-thanksgiving. 21 Nov. 2019