I used to live in Massachusetts and spent many a Thanksgiving there wishing my mother’s stuffing was hiding somewhere amidst my husband’s family’s holiday treats, and though I never quite made it to Plimoth Plantation www.plimoth.org , I believed in my bones that Massachusetts was the site of the first Thanksgiving.

That is until I moved to Virginia and my children went to an elementary school that put on a Thanksgiving pageant every year. One year one of my kids recited the line that went something like “Those so and so’s up north are always saying they’re better than us, in particular, taking credit for the first Thanksgiving when in fact, the first Thanksgiving was on Dec. 4th, 1619 at what is now Berkeley Plantation in Virginia.  Na na na NA na!” or something to that effect. 

I was intrigued and willing to go along with the history of my adopted home.  I had long thought that Massachusetts folks often acted as if all of American history happened within their boundaries–really just within the Boston area–so I wasn’t surprised that Virginia had been overlooked again. So at family gatherings I was happy for my children to correct the notion that Plimoth Plantation had dibs on Turkey Day.

That is until my Massachusetts-born husband and I stopped off at Berkeley Plantation www.berkeleyplantation.com and took a tour and wandered the grounds along the James River. Um, guess what, Virginia, but the North wins this one, too. It is true that on Dec. 4th, 1619 Capt. John Woodlief landed his ship at Berkeley, went ashore and with his 38 men knelt down and gave thanks for safe passage and said let’s do this again next year. But I doubt that was the first time somebody got off a sorry, stinking, crowded ship and said, “Thank God I’m off that sorry, stinking, crowded ship. Let’s do this again next year.”  Being thankful and giving thanks are wonderful ideas, but if we were to mark every “Thank God I survived that hellish trip” with a holiday buffet, we’d all weigh 500 lbs. There’s a reason no one outside Virginia has heard of John Woodlief, Berkeley Plantation, and the first Thanksgiving there: it’s a lame anecdote with no Pilgrims, no Indian tribe, and no food.  Nice try, Virginia, but I’m sticking with Squanto and Myles Standish on this one.

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