Secrets of the James

It shouldn’t be a secret: Virginia was the site of the first Thanksgiving in the New World

Every November, Virginians sit back and quietly let the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts take credit for celebrating America’s first Thanksgiving. Perhaps it’s because we southerners don’t like to brag about our accomplishments, but somewhere along the line Plymouth and Pilgrims became firmly associated with Thanksgiving in most Americans’ minds.

Well, it’s time to take those dower, black-hatted boy and girl Pilgrim figure candles off your holiday dinner table. The first official Thanksgiving was celebrated on December 4, 1619 on the banks of the James River at Berkeley Hundred. This 1618 land grant of the Virginia Company of London was located about 20 miles upriver from the Jamestown settlement.  If you do the math, you’ll find that was one year and 17 days before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. Need further proof? We have it in writing.

On September 16, 1619 a group of settlers funded by Sir William Throckmorton, Sir George Yeardley, George Thorpe, Richard Berkeley, and John Smyth of the Virginia Company of London set sail from Bristol, England on the Margaret under the leadership of Captain John Woodliffe. He carried with him the company charter that listed 10 ordinances, directions and instructions, the first of which stated: "wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God." And, on December 4th of that year the 38 settlers did just that, they held a day of thanksgiving.

Unlike the Pilgrims, this group of settlers arrived with provisions, tools, know-how and the domestic items needed to establish a viable town and to see to the spiritual welfare of the inhabitants. Extra points for that! However, their relationship with the indigenous population was not quite as amicable as that of the Plymouth Colony.  The well-coordinated “Indian Massacre of 1622” resulted in the abandonment of the Berkeley Hundred site in favor of the better fortified and defensible Jamestown. Still, first is first.

Each year a commemoration of the first Thanksgiving is held at Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County on the first Saturday in November.  If you missed it this year, you can still celebrate this Virginia first by regaling your Thanksgiving dinner guests with a bit of history and setting December 4th aside for a second celebration.

More information on the official Thanksgiving celebration at Berkeley Plantation can be found here.


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Top 5 Suggestions for Enjoying the River in Winter

by Amber Ellis, JRA Watershed Restoration Associate/Volunteer Coordinator

FDo you get the cold weather blues because it means several months away from the James River? Cheer up! With the right precautions, winter can be a great time to get out on the water. Take a look at these suggestions from JRA’s tough RiverRats.

1. “I follow the 100 rule. The combination of air temperature and water temperature must be over 100 or I don't go on the water.” Kim Payne, Lynchburg

2. “James River trips in the winter are limited to some lower James striper fishing which involves my brother's bass boat and high speed. Ski goggles are a must.” Steve Forrest, Powhatan

3. “I carry a drybag of clothes etc. plus a rescue beacon in case I get marooned on an island.” Joey Klingman, Hopewell

4. “I like breaking ice...A good skirt sure is nice.” Steve Willard, Richmond

5. “While cotton feels great, it is a terrible insulator once it gets wet. Leave the cotton at home!” Massey Whorley, Richmond

Visit our website for more information on the RiverRats program.



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