It has only been since Virginia became our adopted home that we have learned that the first English Thanksgiving celebration in America occurred on December 4, 1619 at Berkeley Hundred along the James River here in Virginia. The men had just completed a two and a half months’ voyage across the Atlantic from Bristol, England. It was a diverse group of sailors, soldiers, craftsmen – even a priest – that had come together for a single purpose. Clifford Dowdey wrote in his book “The Great Plantation”: “The men placed their personal luggage on the hard ground, gazed at the woods enclosing them and listened in complete silence. Then at a command from Captain John Woodlief, the men kneeled and said a prayer of Thanksgiving to Almighty God for their safe voyage.”Captain Woodlief’s descendant, Graham Woodlief writes: “They did this in accordance with the proclamation they received from the Berkeley Company in England, instructing them, upon arrival, to give thanks and to do so annually and perpetually. The first English Thanksgiving in America had just occurred.” In recent years, my family and i have on several occasions attended and participated in that annual reenactment and remembrance of thanksgiving that continues to this day.
As we come upon this annual time on our calendars to give thanks, i am mindful of another thanksgiving account that occurred 1600 years prior to that remembrance along the James River….