Thanksgiving in Virginia


We all know the story of the Pilgrims coming to Plymouth, Massachusetts and celebrating the first harvest with Squanto, a Patuxet Native American and the Wampanoag tribe in 1621. But did you know that there were other “Thanksgiving” celebrations before this event?


The first documented thanksgiving feasts in the territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards in the 16th century. Spanish explorer Pedro Men’ndez arrived on the coast of Florida and founded the first North American city, St. Augustine. On September 8, 1565, the Spanish and the native Timucua celebrated with a feast of Thanksgiving. The Spanish most likely offered cocido, a rich stew made with pork, and the Timucua may have brought wild turkey, venison, or even alligator, along with corn, beans, and squash.

Spanish Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving services were routine in what was to become the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607, with the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia holding a thanksgiving in 1610.

Jamestown Settlement

On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred, which comprised about 8,000 acres on the north bank of the James River, near Herring Creek, in an area then known as Charles Cittie, about 20 miles upstream from Jamestown, where the first permanent settlement of the Colony of Virginia had been established on May 14, 1607.

Berkeley Hundred

The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a “day of thanksgiving” to God. On that first day, Captain John Woodlief held the service of thanksgiving. As quoted from the section of the Charter of Berkeley Hundred specifying the thanksgiving service: “We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

Berkeley Thanksgiving

During the Indian massacre of 1622, nine of the settlers at Berkeley Hundreds were killed, as well as about a third of the entire population of the Virginia Colony. The Berkeley Hundred site and other outlying locations were abandoned as the colonists withdrew to Jamestown and other more secure points.

Present Day Berkeley

After several years, the site became Berkeley Plantation, and was long the traditional home of the Harrison family, one of the First Families of Virginia. In 1634, it became part of the first eight shires of Virginia, as Charles City County, one of the oldest in the United States, and is located along Virginia State Route 5, which runs parallel to the river’s northern borders past sites of many of the James River plantations between the colonial capital city of Williamsburg (now the site of Colonial Williamsburg) and the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia at Richmond.

Michelle and Brett
In Chesapeake on Thanksgiving Day 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from Virginia!

Brett and Michelle

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62 thoughts on “Thanksgiving in Virginia

  1. John says:

    Such rich and fascinating history.

  2. terry1954 says:

    that was fascinating information!!!

  3. Thanks – it was so interesting. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving ;o)

  4. twisterfish says:

    I have lived in Virginia for over 20 years and didn’t know half of this. Thank you for the history lesson. And Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  5. Happy Thanksgiving! You wrote such an interesting and beautiful article! I really enjoy reading your blog.

  6. mizqui says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to you (dear History keeper) from Qui Entertainment Magazine.

  7. adinparadise says:

    Thanks for the history of Thanksgiving, which was a lot more than I put in my post yesterday. 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

  8. Mrs. P says:

    You really do a nice job on your blog. I love that you keep us historically informed! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  9. A blessed and calm Thanksgiving to you and your families!

  10. hireanil says:

    Yes amazing info. Happy thanks giving to all of you wonderful readers.

  11. talkavino says:

    I knew you will give us a bit of a history, thank you! Happy Thanksgiving!

  12. David says:

    May you have a Happy Thanksgiving.

  13. Hey! We still praying 4 U….

    I was amazed by this history…What is even more fascinating for me is the similarities between the Jamestown settlement and some homes, which I have seen around the world including this very continent. If the Jamestown settlement looked this way in the 1600s, and yet, we have some houses today, which look like those in the Jamestown settlement, it seems like we are 412 (2012-1600s) years behind the development time…

  14. dayphoto says:

    Sometimes I wish I could live back then! Great Post! HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!


  15. beetleypete says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to you all in Virginia. Cheers for the like on my little post! regards, Pete. (England)

  16. snipewife says:

    Thanks for posting about all the rich history of Virginia. I’ve visited Berkeley Hundred (back when it was Martin’s Hundred and just rediscovered) and the new exhibits. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  17. neelkanth says:

    So lovely and appealing.

  18. hayley says:

    Happy Thanksgiving. I know very little about the origins of that tradition of yours!

  19. How interesting! As an Australian, I only knew the story of the pilgrims, so it was great to read the rest here.

  20. […] Belle Grove’s Thanksgiving in Virginia […]

  21. Jane Sadek says:

    Marvelous post. I so enjoy your rambles through history.

  22. Ruth Cook says:

    Thanks so very much for your informative blog. Also for mentioning the first Thanksgiving in St. Augustine. Most never acknowledge our early Florida history.

  23. Happy Thanksgiving, Michelle. I hope that it was filled with much love and good food (I’m sure it was).

  24. Cheri L. says:

    Nice site you have here and how exciting to be starting a historic bed and breakfast! We wish you well in this adventure. Bed and breakfasts are one of my favorite places to stay when traveling and having a historic background is a huge bonus. Thank you for stopping by The Brass Rag. I hope you’ll come back and see us soon.

  25. Glenda Ennis says:

    Thanks so much, Michelle, for including the other recorded days of Thanksgiving. I had meant to include the Berkeley one in my article on Thanksgiving in The Citizen; wish I had remembered. I still believe American is “a land of Thanksgiving.” Appreciate all your blogs. God bless.

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