(WRIC) – Ahead of Thanksgiving, some may think of food, family and often, Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The truth is people should be thinking local on Thanksgiving.
Along Route 5 in Charles City County sits Berkeley Plantation. Four hundred years ago, before Berkeley existed, there was a celebration there on the banks of the James River.
“We believe that’s the place where the first Thanksgiving was held right there,” said Graham Woodlief, President of the Virginia Thanksgiving Festival.
Woodlief told 8News he’s a descendant of Captain John Woodlief, the colonist who sailed a ship named ‘Margaret’ across the Atlantic and landed in Virginia in 1619.
“They were instructed by the Berkeley Company in England, they were to give thanks once they landed and to give a day of thanksgiving perpetually and annually thereafter,” Woodlief explained of that months-long voyage.
Graham Woodlief says he is at least 10 generations removed from the man who sailed across the Atlantic. He wants to set the record straight about Virginia’s history with Thanksgiving, a history that’s different than what many history books teach.
“Actually, Plymouth happened a year and 17 days later when they landed in Massachusetts and two years later than what we refer to as our first Thanksgiving,” G. Woodlief said.
Earlier this month, Berkeley Plantation hosted a 400-year feast to mark that first celebration along the James River. According to Woodlief, the festival this year was the biggest yet.
“We had over 4,000 people that day,” he told 8News.
As families and friends gather tomorrow, Woodlief says Thanksgiving is about Virginia and so much more.
“Well certainly we want to just set the record straight it a piece of Virginia history that’s important to our state,” he said. “We have to put the commercialism aside and realize what the holiday is about and it’s about family and it’s about giving thanks and celebrating and commemorating an important time back in 1619.”
That first Thanksgiving at Berkeley didn’t take place in November, but on Dec. 4, 1619.