Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Legacy Belongs to Hispanic Americans (St.Augustine Had First Thanksgiving in 1565)

Nation's Oldest City: First Thanksgiving was in 1565 -- here

Susan Parker
Special to The Record
Publication Date: 11/19/06

It's that time of year when we in St. Augustine remind the rest of the nation that the first community thanksgiving took place here in 1565. Michael Gannon, professor emeritus of history at the University of Florida and former St. Augustine resident, has told this story many times.

Let's just say that there are those in the Northeast who have been less than enthusiastic about this piece of information. Several years ago, some member of the Massachusetts media dubbed Prof. Gannon "the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving."

St. Augustine's thanksgiving took place the same day that the arriving colonists from Spain stepped ashore here. When St. Augustine's founders held a Mass of thanksgiving on Sept. 8, 1565, it was not, however, the first time in today's U.S. for that sort of act. For more than 40 years Spanish adventurers and settlers had landed in Florida in the southeast. These earlier adventurers surely conducted a thanksgiving ritual in gratitude for surviving sea voyages. French settlers in Florida would have done the same in the early 1560s.

The event in early September in 1565 in St. Augustine was the first documented time that the Indians participated in the thanksgiving activities. Gonzalo Solis de Meras wrote that Pedro Menendez, leader of the St. Augustine colonists, "had the Indians fed and dined himself." This was an eyewitness account as Solis de Meras himself was present at the thanksgiving meal. Four hundred years later in The Cross in the Sand, Prof. Gannon put this event in perspective:"It was the first community act of religion and thanksgiving in the first permanent settlement in the land." That community included Europeans, Africans, and Indians.

From this short account by Solis de Meras, it appears that the Spanish provided the food. The Spaniards' supplies had been brought with them from Spain. Among the foodstuffs loaded onto the ships were more than 150 barrels of wine, 170 hundredweight barrels of tuna, several tons of bacon, fat pork, and ham. Olive oil, flour, white biscuit, plain biscuit, garbanzos, lentils and other beans, and 500 pounds of almonds also crossed the ocean with St. Augustine's settlers.

The food had been divided among the ships of Menendez' fleet before sailing from Spain. Some of the food was consumed during the trans-Atlantic voyage.

Some of it was lost when two of the fleet's vessels either sank or were captured. But Menendez decided that cutting into the supplies for the colonists in order to establish good relations with the Indians was worth any shortfall.

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