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The Country's First Thanksgiving Was In Florida

Pedro Menendez de Aviles

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The country's first Thanksgiving actually took place in Florida, 56 years before the one in Massachusetts with the Pilgrims. Speaking to Robin Sussingham, host of The Zest podcast, historian Rodney Kite-Powell said that Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés held a religious ceremony and feast of Thanksgiving in St. Augustine on Sept. 8th, 1565.

About 800 crewmembers participated in the feast, along with the local tribe of  American Indians. A priest documented the event, reporting that the natives imitated the actions of the crewmembers. 

Kite-Powell says the food at this first Thanksgiving would have consisted of whatever the Spaniards had left after their long voyage, such as hardtack crackers, red wine, and a garbanzo bean soup. He said it isn't known whether the natives brought food, as they did in Plymouth. If they did bring food, they likely would have contributed food we think of as more traditional Thanksgiving foods, such as squash, corn, and turkey.

Kite-Powell credits Michael Gannon, a University of Florida history professor, with uncovering the story of the Florida Thanksgiving. “He published it in a newspaper many years ago,” Kite-Powell says. “It made national news. He got calls from all over the country from people who were furious at him, and he came to be known as the 'Grinch who stole Thanksgiving'." All of which Gannon thorough enjoyed, says Kite-Powell.

Robin Sussingham was Senior Editor at WUSF until September 2020.
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