I grew up in Framingham, Massachusetts, so I always viewed the first Thanksgiving in America was at Plymouth Plantation in 1621.
Then I moved to Florida.
Forty two years before the English successfully cultivated a community in Jamestown, Virginia, and fifty-six years before the Pilgrims feasted in New England, the Spanish colony of St. Augustine celebrated the first Thanksgiving feast with the local Timucuans.
It was September 8, 1565, and following a Catholic religious service performed by Father Francisco Lopez, the fleet chaplain, the Spanish settlers sat down to a communal meal with the area Indians.
Mural at St. Augustine Cathedral of Thanksgiving
Despite his ruthless massacre of the Protestant colony of Fort Carolina on the St. Johns River, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, founder and first governor of Spanish La Florida, was an extremely devout Catholic, dedicated to spreading the faith to the Indians even using his own money. When he arrived on the shores of Florida, Menendez had Lopez go ashore first with a cross so he and his forces could kiss the cross when they reached land. Menendez was even buried in Franciscan robes.
Governor Menendez The First Host
The massive 208 foot Great Cross, the largest stainless steel freestanding cross in the world, has since 1965 stood in St. Augustine’s waterfront to symbolize the even. Nearby is a coquina stone statue of Father Lopez thanking God.
The Great Cross and Father Lopez
The first Thanksgiving hardly resembled the feast at Plymouth Colony since the Spanish did not have time to harvest a crop or bring in many animals from Cuba. There was no sign of Ben Franklin’s favorite bird, the turkey, on the table.
Pork and Garbonzo Beans
Instead the Spanish and Florida Indians dined on a meal of salted pork and garbanzo beans, with lots of bread and red wine. I doubt if many Americans would want to substitute their New England turkey and cranberries for any of the Florida fixings.