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The first Thanksgiving: A FLORIDA event?

I’m from New England, a place rich in history and tradition.  The Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, Thanksgiving – all early American historical icons that New Englanders takes great pride in.

thanksgiving beachNow, however, I live in Pinellas County, Florida, a place rich in sunshine but a little light in the history department. Florida is a great place to live, but it simply doesn’t offer the rich past of the Northeast.

Heck, the state wasn’t even sold by the Spanish to the U.S. until 1819; Florida didn’t become a state until 1849. Many of the people considered to be the pioneers of Pinellas County didn’t live in these parts until the early part of the 20th Century.

So imagine my shock when I learned that the first Thanksgiving wasn’t the one held in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620, but was an altogether different celebration held in St. Augustine, Fla. about 55 years earlier.

The first Thanksgiving a Florida event? Who would have ever dreamed?

Nonetheless, that’s what Michael Gannon and several other Florida historians claim.

According to those accounts, a Spanish explorer, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, landed in what was to become St. Augustine on Sept. 8, 1565, and immediately decided to put together a Mass of Thanksgiving. He even decided to invite some of the local Timucua Indians, much as the Pilgrims allegedly did 56 years later.

There’s no record of what everyone had to eat on that day in St. Augustine, but one good bet is Cocido, a Spanish stew of beans, chicken and cabbage which is popular to this day.

Also, there’s a bit of controversy as to whether this Mass actually qualifies as a Thanksgiving event.

That’s okay – I’m told the people who run the Plimoth Plantation, the historic facility in Plymouth that commemorates the Pilgrims’ home, are going a little light on the “first-thanksgiving-in-the-new-world” claim these days, giving that honor up to the Indian tribes who populated the area long before the Pilgrims ever arrived.

Nonetheless, I like the idea that Florida has a claim to the first Thanksgiving. I’ll be sharing this story with the friends and relatives who join us for dinner on Thanksgiving Day. And I may even try my hand at Cocido if I can find a good recipe.

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