November 27, 2009

Florida held the first Thanksgiving?

America’s real first Thanksgiving occurred in Florida

By Jason KellyFifty-five years before the pilgrims even landed in Plymouth, Spanish Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and his crew celebrated America’s first Thanksgiving about 100 miles north of UCF.

The European explorers traveled to northeastern Florida to establish a colonial settlement on behalf of the Spanish crown. They anchored off the coast of the Timucuan Indian village of Seloy, and it was there that they founded the port of San Agustín–present-day Saint Augustine.

The Timucuan people watched curiously as Admiral Menéndez and his uniformed men were rowed ashore to the sounds of blaring trumpets and thunderous artillery. Shortly after making landfall, a Catholic clergyman led the crew in an elaborate mass of Thanksgiving, rich in pomp and circumstance.

As the villagers observed the newcomers kneel down to kiss a cross, many followed in solemn reverence.

After several hymns and prayers, the Spanish and the Timucua joined together in a feast of Thanksgiving.
Comment:  The Texas claim in Texas Held the First Thanksgiving? predates the Florida claim. So now we have three first Thanksgivings. And other Thanksgiving celebrations predate the Pilgrims' feast too.

Whether the first Thanksgiving was in Florida, this article makes a good point. Namely, that we know little or nothing about the Spanish history of America. That we study and celebrate American history through English eyes, not Spanish eyes.

In terms of European influence on the continental United States, Spanish culture is undoubtedly no. 1. French may be no. 2 and English no. 3. But we act as if none of the Spanish or French explorations happened. Columbus "discovered" America and, a few years later, the Pilgrims arrived to "settle" it. Few people could name any incident in American history between 1492 and 1621.

How about if we have one holiday but celebrate it in several different ways? For instance, people in the Northeast, Southeast, and West could celebrate the New England, Florida, and Texas thanksgivings respectively. This idea poses no serious logistical problems, so why not?

Would that be too radical an idea for Americans to handle? Would it contradict our national myth that civilization progressed in a straight line from one white country to another: from Greece and Rome to England and then to the US? With no messy intermingling of whites, blacks, Indians, and other dark-skinned minorities?

In other words, that we're the pinnacle of civilization because God blessed America? Or as Theodore Roosevelt put it, that "it is of incalculable importance that America, Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red, black, and yellow aboriginal owners, and become the heritage of the dominant world races"? Is that what we're celebrating when we celebrate the one true (New England) Thanksgiving?


For more on Indians and St. Augustine, see Indians at St. Augustine Anniversary.

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