Friday, October 11, 2019

Where the First Thanksgiving Really Happened and Other Interesting Things

Coastal Virginia is a historic area and we took advantage of a beautiful day to visit the Berkeley Plantation.
Williamsburg is about 45 minutes away and then the plantation is about 30 miles from there.

I think I may have heard about the Berkeley Plantation but I was reminded of it about a week ago while talking with a new friend at a group gathering we attended.  Wiley said, "The Berkeley Plantation is where the first Thanksgiving happened!"  Really?

I said I hadn't heard that one and he said, "Oh yeah, it's well documented."  Over the years I learn that  Christopher Columbus didn't really discover America and now this.  Hmmm.  Pam and I hadn't had a day trip in a while, so we drove out to see what it was all about.

Perfect day for a drive!  The major highway road construction near Newport News/Yorktown/Jamestown/Williamsburg is now complete and it was a great drive.  Especially the stretch from Williamsburg to Berkeley Plantation.

We arrived right when they opened up at 9:30 and had 25 minutes to mull around and see some things on our own at one of the little museums.

We joined a tour of the property led by a well-informed docent who was dressed up for the part.
Early settlers from England arrived at what would become Berkeley Plantation and observed the first Thanksgiving in America on December 4, 1619.  This was 13 months before the celebration and feast at Plymouth Rock.
Here is how Wikipedia makes the distinction between the two.
Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England. The modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is traced to a well-recorded 1619 event in Virginia and a sparsely documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The 1619 arrival of 38 English settlers at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia, concluded with a religious celebration as dictated by the group's charter from the London Company, which specifically required "that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned ... in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God." The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest, which the Pilgrims celebrated with native Americans, who helped them pass the last winter by giving them food in the time of scarcity.

Other noteworthy facts associated with the Berkeley Plantation:
  • The first Bourbon Whiskey in America was distilled there 1621-1622.
  • Plantation purchased in 1691 by Benjamin Harrison III, ancestor of two U.S. presidents.
  • Was the first commercial shipyard on the James River, building 18 gun battleships for the Revolutionary Navy.
  • Tobacco was the cash crop on the 1400 acres, making the Harrisons wealthy.
  • The original plantation was built in 1726 when Benjamin Harrison IV built the mansion.   
  • The three story brick mansion is said to be the oldest 3-story brick house in Virginia.
  •  The eldest son, Benjamin V, operated the farm and became active in Virginia politics and was governor three times.  He also was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
  • William Henry Harrison, son of Benjamin V, became the 9th president of the U.S. in 1841. He holds the distinction of holding the office only 31 days, dying of pneumonia after his long-winded inaugural address in freezing cold weather.  
  • He served in the Northwest Territories with John Tyler who became his vice president and later  president after his short tenure.
  • John Tyler’s plantation is just a few miles up the road from Berkeley Plantation.
  • William Henry Harrison’s grandson, Benjamin, became the 23rd president of the U.S. in 1889. They are the only son-grandson duo in history to become presidents.
  • George Washington and later the succeeding 9 presidents all visited the Berkeley Plantation.
  • By 1862 the estate came upon hard times and was abandoned.  Union General George McClellan retreated here after the attempt to take Richmond from the Confederates in 1862.
  • During that encampment in July, Union Major General Daniel Butterfield tinkered with “Taps”, changing it into what it is known as today.  It has been played at the end of the duty day since then at military bases and at military funerals throughout the world.
  •  Later in 1862, President Lincoln visited Berkeley Plantation and visited McClellan’s Army 140,000 troops.
  • The grave sites of presidents William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison are on the property.  Truly modest by most standards.

While there we wandered around the grounds and had a picnic lunch on the river.  As things would turn out, Jamestown was doing a test run of the ship “Godspeed” which added to the interesting things of the day.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Berkeley Plantation and recommend it!

Thanks for joining us today!


  1. Very interesting! Something new to see the next time we are in Norfolk visiting our son!