If you guessed “Plymouth Colonists,” you might be surprised. These celebrations predate the Plymouth colonists and their feast of gratitude in 1621 —
In May 1541, Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and 1,500 men celebrated at the Palo Dur Canyon — located in the modern-day Texas Panhandle — after their expedition from Mexico City in search of gold. In 1959 the Texas Society Daughters of the American Colonists commemorated the event as the “first Thanksgiving.”
Another “first Thanksgiving” occurred on June 30, 1564, when French Huguenot colonists celebrated in a settlement near Jacksonville, Florida. This “first Thanksgiving,” was later commemorated at the Fort Carolina Memorial on the St. Johns River in eastern Jacksonville.
The harsh winter of 1609-1610 generated a famine that caused the deaths of 430 of the 490 settlers. In the spring of 1610, colonists in Jamestown, Virginia, enjoyed a Thanksgiving service after English supply ships arrived with food. This colonial celebration has also been considered the “first Thanksgiving.” (Source: Library of Congress — Wise Guide)
First Thanksgiving in Massachusetts
“In 1620, the area from Narragansett Bay in eastern Rhode Island to the Atlantic Ocean in southeastern Massachusetts, including Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, was the home of a village people who called themselves the Pokanoket …”
The “First Thanksgiving” celebrated by the Plymouth Colonists was based on customs that the immigrants brought with them. The Indian contribution to the event was the menu. Roast wild duck, goose and turkey, venison made into pies with corn meal crusts, were Indian food. The robust ale, made from their one successful English crop of barley was the main non-native food. The three day feast symbolizes a rarely achieved relationship of peaceful coexistence between Indians and Europeans in the 17th century. (Source: National Museum of American Indians — Harvest Ceremony: Study Guide)
For more information, visit You Are the Historian: Investigating the First Thanksgiving sponsored by the Plimoth Plantation Museum : Learn about being a historian by investigating the cultures of the Wampanoag Indians and the pilgrim colonists at the first Thanksgiving feast. (Flash is required.)