Thursday, November 25, 2004

Apparently, some Virginians are upset that the settlers near Jamestown don't get credit for having the first Thanksgiving. Apparently, in 1619, a year before the Mayflower, some settlers thanked God for their safe arrival in Virginia.
Carolyn Travers, a historian for Plymouth Plantation, has heard it all before. She drolly ticks off a list of other claims to the first Thanksgiving in the United States: the explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1541 in the Texas Panhandle. French Huguenots in 1564 in Florida. English settlers and Abenaki Indians in 1607 in Maine.

"There are so many early Thanksgivings, Berkeley is not the first by any stretch of the imagination," she said. "It's a silly claim. Historically, Berkeley came before us. Tell me why it's important."

What is important, she says, is that the Pilgrims' three-day feast of turkey, venison, fish, squash, pumpkin and cranberries captured the fancy of a young country of immigrants searching for a sense of identity. What better image, she said, than that of a pious, hardworking family gathering with "restrained revelry" with friends and Native Americans to give thanks, play games and share in the fruits of its labors.

"When immigrants began arriving who were not from England, the Pilgrims got presented as: These are the people you should turn into. These are the real Americans," she said.

As for Virginia and its all-male Thanksgiving: "People trying to go out, get gold, get rich and get out is not an attractive image," she said. "It's not necessarily the person who you wanted to be descended from."

I agree. Jamestown gets the props for being the first permanent English settlement in North America and that's fine but they don't rate more. I think schoolchildren will continue studying the Plymouth settlers.