Richmond Times-Dispatch

Reflection­s on the first Thanksgivi­ng

- H. GrahamWood­lief is president of Virginia Thanksgivi­ng Festival and a descendant of Captain JohnWoodli­ffe. Contact him at: gwoodlief@gmail.com

On Friday, April 3, 1931, an article titled “First Thanksgivi­ng in America Was Decreed for Town of Berkeley on James” was published in The Richmond News Leader. It was written by Dr. Lyon G. Tyler, a columnist for the newspaper. Dr. Tyler, the son of President John Tyler, lived on the James River, downriver from his friend and neighbor “Mac” Jamieson, who owned Berkeley Plantation.

Dr. Tyler was doing research at the New York Public Library and accidently uncovered the John Smyth of Nibley papers, a collection of notes and letters that told of an interestin­g voyage to the New World.

Smyth was a relative of Richard Berkeley, who owned Berkeley Castle in Gloucester­shire, England. They, along with two other adventurer­s — who were family members— met in London in the spring of 1618 to plan an expedition to Virginia.

The men had been given a land grant by King James I of 8,000 acres to start a settlement on the James River.

They needed a leader and chose JohnWoodli­ffe. He had been to the New World several times, including spending 11 years at Jamestown.

He was there during the “Starving Time” from 1609 to 1610. Known as the Berkeley Company, the four adventurer­s gave Woodliffe the title of captain and made him the first governor of the colony.

He leased the good ship Margaret, which weighed 47 tons and only was 35 feet long. It was a small ship built to carry 35 settlers, 19 crew members and CaptainWoo­dliffe across the stormy Atlantic for 2 1/2 months. He recruited 35 men of substance, craftsmen with the skills and determinat­ion to build a settlement. He also purchased the needed supplies.

After the long voyage across the ocean, they entered the Chesapeake Bay and sailed up the James River. The ship arrived at the Berkeley Hundred site on Dec. 4, 1619. As instructed by the Berkeley Company when they landed,

Captain Woodliffe opened a list of 10 commands he had been given. The very first instructio­n was that they say the following prayer when they landed. They prayed:

“Wee ordain that the day of our ship’s arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetuall­y keept holy as a day of Thanksgivi­ng to Almighty God.”

The first “official” English Thanksgivi­ng in America just had occurred, one year and 17 days before the Pilgrims landed in Massachuse­tts. They gave thanks for several more years until the settlement was destroyed in 1622.

This historic event was recognized by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, by President George W. Bush at Berkeley Plantation and by legislator­s

throughout Virginia. The late Gov. Gerald Baliles said in a 2007 speech at Berkeley, “Let us not allow Virginia’s First Thanksgivi­ng to languish in the mists of time. It could, should and ought to be the gift of history that never stops giving.”

As we reflect on Thanksgivi­ng, let it be a time of thankfulne­ss, gratefulne­ss and a time to be with family. Let us appreciate those early settlers who endured so much to bring us the freedoms we now enjoy.

And let us give thanks to this great country that we live in and for those first responders who work so diligently to protect our lives.

The late Gov. Gerald Baliles said in a 2007 speech at Berkeley, “Let us not allow Virginia’s First Thanksgivi­ng to languish in the midst’s of time. It could, should and ought to be the gift

of history that never stops giving”.

 ?? TIMES-DISPATCH ?? Members of the Colonial Players of Fort Lee Playhouse reenacted the “landing of the goode shippe Margaret” at the annual Virginia Thanksgivi­ng Festival at Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County in 2009.
TIMES-DISPATCH Members of the Colonial Players of Fort Lee Playhouse reenacted the “landing of the goode shippe Margaret” at the annual Virginia Thanksgivi­ng Festival at Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County in 2009.
 ?? H. Graham Woodlief ??
H. Graham Woodlief

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA