Was the First Thanksgiving Actually in St. Augustine?

On the second to last Thursday of each November, families gather to gorge on a traditional turkey feast and talk about what they are thankful for.  We like to call this day “Thanksgiving”. The Thanksgiving tradition stems from a three day feast that occurred in Plymouth Massachusetts with the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe in 1621.  This is what we’ve been taught since grade school. However, there is now speculation that this Celebration was not the first Thanksgiving. There are now claims that the “First Thanksgiving” actually occurred in St. Augustine.

This year marked St. Augustine’s 450th Commemoration of when Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles washed ashore on September 8, 1565, and claimed Florida for Spain. This was followed by the 800 new colonists gathering around a makeshift altar where the Fleet’s Captain, Father Francisco Lopez performed a Catholic Mass of Thanksgiving for arriving to the new land safely.  When the mass ended, Menendez invited the Timucua Tribe members to join in a communal meal with the newcomers. Could this have been the first Thanksgiving?

There are only a few differences between the “First Thanksgiving” in Florida and the “First Thanksgiving” in Massachusetts.  Firstly, the feast that occurred in Massachusetts was three days long and included food that was grown and harvested by the pilgrims on the new soil The feast would be repeated each year after a good harvest. Conversely, the Spanish gave thanks in St. Augustine for the safe passage to the New World, but that tradition was not repeated.

Additionally, the food that is traditionally eaten on modern  Thanksgiving is food that was actually grown by the colonists in Plymouth.  In St. Augustine, the colonists found whatever was left over from the voyage and created food from that.  It is believed the meal included hard bisquits and Cocido, a rich garbanzo stew.

While there are different places that want to claim they hosted the “First Thanksgiving” (including Jamestown), it really doesn’t matter who celebrated it first.  Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for what we are grateful for, such as arriving to land safely, having food to eat or even just being able to put a roof over your own head; not for who celebrated it first and what they ate.  Happy Thanksgiving!