Editorial: Thanksgiving history not as advertised

Editorial: Thanksgiving history not as advertised

Michael Gold, Editor in Chief

Overlook all the Christmas advertising that started showing up on Halloween morning, but there is another holiday enjoyed by nearly everyone in the country and perhaps my favorite — Thanksgiving.

The first Thanksgiving celebrated in 1621 in Plymouth Plantation is usually what we think of when we think of the origins of the holiday, but is that true?

The reason it’s what we usually think of is simply because that is what we are taught in elementary school; and, at least in northeast Florida, we know that myth is as phony as the “magic bullet” theory.

Christopher Columbus discovers the “new world” in 1492 and Ponce de Leon discovers La Florida in 1513; however, it would be 1565 before an enduring settlement of European origin would be established as a military installation for the Spanish crown in what would become the United States — and that settlement is the City of St Augustine.

Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez held a Thanksgiving in St Augustine with native Timucuan Indians from the Village of Seloy some 56-years before the English pilgrims celebrated their Thanksgiving with members of the Wampanoag Indian tribe at Plymouth colony.

When the Menendez expedition landed, they immediately fortified an area, offloaded their ships and had a mass of thanksgiving and a feast. The first Thanksgiving.

Probably not important considering the settlement site was attacked, and burned down a number of times and then rebuilt, and it changed hands from Spanish to English to Spanish to English, yet continues to endure.

What is important is that nearly everyone outside of Florida who is not an American history teacher of some kind thinks of the Plymouth colony, or Jamestown settlement, as the site of the first Thanksgiving.

The first European child born in what would become the United States was not Virginia Dare, but Martín de Argūelles, born in 1566.

St. Augustine was an unusual place in that while it had slaves, they weren’t all from Africa and there were many free Africans as well.

Why? Because if you pledged allegiance to the Spanish crown and converted to Catholicism you could be a resident and protected.

Spanish slavery, as ugly as it was, was different. A Spanish slave could buy his or her freedom and many did.

It is only because England won the wars against Spain and France and Florida was a prize passed back and forth that St. Augustine is not what we look to at Thanksgiving.

I suppose it is a case of to the victors go not only the spoils but the place in history.

Archaeologically, we know a lot about the St. Augustine settlement and its original location in what is now the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park. An exhibit, “First Colony: Our Spanish Origins,” curated by Kathleen Deagan of the University of Florida at the Florida Museum of Natural History, tells the true story.

Eventually, this exhibit will travel across the country, bringing the Spanish origins of many of our citizens to light. Hopefully we can educate the rest of the nation and get the textbook publishers to fix this four-hundred-year-old mistake.

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