Robert Ellis Column: The Importance of Virginia’s First True Thanksgiving | Chroniclers

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“FIRST THANKSGIVING”, A PAINTING BY SIDNEY KING / BERKELEY PLANTATION


By Robert Ellis

This is the image Americans are comfortable with on Thanksgiving: struggling pilgrims rescued by the generosity of gentle Native Americans, with food and goodwill shared between the native population and the newly arrived settlers.

We’ve recreated this scene year after year, decade after decade, century after century since the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving day to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November. Every now and then, we might even think of those austere, God-obsessed Puritans wearing black buckle hats as we look forward to the turkey and cranberry sauce, watch football, and look forward to Black Friday.

Those who live in Virginia know there was an earlier Thanksgiving here. In fact, this Thanksgiving in Virginia of 1619 had far more consequences than the one rooted in 1621 in Massachusetts, where immigrant pilgrims and their Wampanoag Native Americans together commemorated the colony’s first successful harvest.

The Puritans reached Plymouth Rock aboard the Mayflower on November 11, 1620, after a 66-day ocean voyage. But nearly a year earlier, on December 4, 1619, three dozen English settlers who left Bristol, England, survived the dangerous and cold currents of the North Atlantic for two and a half months aboard the Margaret, their 35-foot ship that landed in Virginia. .

Their goal, unlike later Puritans, was not motivated by religion but by money. They were funded by the Virginia Company, an English commercial trade and investment organization established by King James I in 1606. Its purpose was not for the Puritan to create a New Jerusalem or to build a city on a hill, but to earn money for its shareholders. tobacco. What the English then claimed to be Virginia stretched from the coast of present-day South Carolina to Canada.


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