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First Thanksgiving Was in Florida?

Was the First Thanksgiving in Florida?

first thanksgiving was in Florida
This is an artist’s rendition of what the first Thanksgiving in Florida may have looked like.

Just to add to all the historical confusion and speculation, there are a substantial number of historians who suggest the first “Thanksgiving” was in Florida on what is now American soil. The feast was actually 55 years before the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth in 1621!

Here is what we know –

  • Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived in Florida in 1565.
  • Pedro claimed the area he landed in for God and Spain. He named the land St. Augustine.
  • The fleet’s chaplain, Father Francisco Lopez, erected a cross that Menendez kissed as part of the ceremony to thank God for safe passage to the new world.
  • On September 8, 1565, the explorers celebrated with a feast of thanksgiving. Historians consider this the first Thanksgiving in Florida and the new world.
  • Menendez invited “Indians” that we now call Native Americans to the feast. They were members of the Timucuan tribe.
  • There is a lot of speculation as to the menu for the first Thanksgiving in Florida. If they used what was on board their ships, the meal was of hard biscuits, garbanzo beans and perhaps salt pork. If the Native Americans contributed to the feast, it most likely would have been venison, oysters, mullet, wild turkey or turtle.
  • There is plenty of documentation to prove this Thanksgiving feast occurred.

The Records of Menedez de Aviles

It was common in the days of the explorers to keep accurate records and logs of their trips. From the logs of Menedez the following was recorded in his log:
First Thanksgiving in Florida - Pedro Menendez
Pedro Menedez de Aviles is given credit for hosting the first Thanksgiving in Florida.

“I sent on shore with the first 200 soldiers two captains – Juan Vincent, a brother of the Captain Juan Vicente, and Andres López Patiño, both old soldiers, in order to throw up a trench in the place most fit to fortify themselves in and to collect there the troops that were landed so as to protect them from the enemy if he should come upon them.” – PEDRO MENENDEZ DE AVILES, SEPTEMBER 1565

At the time, the Spanish and French were battling for superiority in the quest for new lands. Menedez’s men found no enemies onshore, but did find the settlement of the Seloy tribe, an offshoot of the Timucuans.

The First Thanksgiving Was in Florida – Just a Beginning for Spain

We have written about St. Augustine many times, even calling it “the most historic city in America”.  There stands a cross today on the prospective site where Pedro Menendez may have kissed the cross.
The settlement of St. Augustine was the beginning of Spanish dominance in “LaFlorida”, as they called it, for several hundred years. This base of operations was used to expand Spain’s influence from Mexico to St. Augustine. History provides us a glimpse of that dominance including the Old Spanish Trail.

The Old Spanish Trail in Florida

The old Spanish Trail was no more than a path through the woods from one location to the next. Most of the time it would go for a day’s travel and then be near a landmark like a lake, stream or high ground where the travelers spent the night.

The trail wound through the panhandle, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas. The Spanish believed there was gold between here and Mexico. They established missions along the way. Most of which were abandoned for lack of sustenance for the inhabitants or, on occasion, the Indians wiped them out.

The Other First Thanksgiving

first Thanksgiving was in Florida
This painting represents the first Thanksgiving as represented by Pilgrims in Plymouth Rock.
The Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620. Their first winter was devastating.

46 pilgrims who came by the Mayflower didn’t make it through the winter. Native Americans took pity on the travelers and taught them survivalist skills in the new world. This included planting and harvesting corn, the staple of the area. 

The remaining 56 colonists decided to celebrate their first good harvest with a feast and invited Squanto and the leader of the Wampanoags, Chief Massasoit along with 90 natives who had helped them survive their first year. 

Although you can find various stories about the original Thanksgiving, this Plymouth Rock harvest celebration of pilgrims and Native Americans took place in the autumn of 1621 – some 55-plus years after the feast in Florida.

They also discussed a treaty among themselves at that time. The feast was more of a traditional English harvest festival than a true “thanksgiving” observance and lasted three days. A few years later, Governor William Bradford called for another Thanksgiving feast and once again invited the natives.

Food Available to Explorers in the 1500s

first thanksgiving was in Florida at St. Augustine
The Spanish frequently had priests with them on voyages to give thanks along the way for bounties they found or pirated.

Based on work done in Pensacola at an excavation of a settlement from the 1550s, the diet of Spanish settlers was wider than thought.

Proteins Included: goat, sheep, pork, tripe, oysters, fish, eggs, sardines

Vegetables: garlic, onions, capers, rice, carrots, radishes

Fruits: apples, oranges, raisons

things you need when flying

Condiments: salt, black pepper, cinnamon, mustard , other spices

Oils & Liquidswine, vinegar, olive oil, lard, milk, honey

We find it fascinating that 800 years later we have the ability to figure out what people on Florida’s coastline were eating. it can be deduced that some of these foods were at the first Thanksgiving in Florida.

Further records show what was carried on ships traveling from Spain to their settlements in Florida. All of this data and interesting data is available at Luna Settlement Project.

History and Speculation is All We Have

Cross of the First Thanksgiving in FloridaOf course, no evidence exists that any such “Thanksgiving” celebration continued with any permanence throughout the years. But this lack of historical continuance of a feast of thanks applies to the Pilgrims of Plymouth in 1621 also. 

In fact, it wasn’t until some 200 years later before “Thanksgiving” was resurrected that President Lincoln proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day in 1863.

We live here, so we prefer to believe the first Thanksgiving was in Florida!

Below is a video reenactment of what Pedro Menéndez de Avilés supposedly celebrated and what could have happened on the first Thanksgiving in Florida.

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