the first Thanksgiving meal in America was celebrated by the Spanish



The Thanksgivinghas its origin officially in the year 1621, when a group of pilgrims (the English Puritans) celebrated in Plymouth, in the current state of Massachusetts, the end of the harvest sharing their food with the indigenous people of the area. However, the Spanish conquerors had staged celebrations of similar characteristics at least in 1565 and 1598, on what is now American soil.

Like it or not, the US has deep Hispanic roots. The Americans have consecrated in their collective memory the arrival of the English Puritans as the genesis of their nation, under the seal of an Anglo-Saxon colonization, thus disdaining the civilizing and evangelizing work of Spain since
southern United States

to the very heart of the continent. The presence of the Spanish Empire in the North of the New World It dates back to the early 16th century and debunks many of the founding myths of this country.

The conventional history of North America considers its nation’s point of origin the arrival of a ship named el «Mayflower» to Plymouth in 1620, where the English Puritans – tired of their country’s supposed concessions to the Catholic Church – established several permanent colonies in what was later known as New England. However, overemphasizing the importance of that episode has ended up overlapping an unappealable historical reality: the first European settlement in North America, San Agustín de Florida, had been founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés 56 years before.

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth por Jennie A. Brownscombe (1914). Museo Pilgrim Hall.
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth por Jennie A. Brownscombe (1914). Museo Pilgrim Hall.

After more than half a century preventing any other European nation from permanently settling on the continent discovered by Christopher Columbus, the Spanish saw a serious threat in the French plans to build a colony in the northern area, explored since the Hispanic arrival but without fixed settlements. A group of Huguenots (Calvinists of France) landed in February 1562, in the estuary of the river known today as el St. Johns River, and settled in South Carolina. With little food or resources, the few survivors had to return to France after several months. But a few years later, another better prepared French expedition managed to establish itself in Florida, over the present-day Jacksonville region, in what was christened Fort Caroline.

Turkey, Venison, and Salted Pork Stew

The success of the raid set off alarms at the Madrid court, from where it was decided to send one of its most prestigious sailors, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. After dispersing the French fleet and taking possession of the place in the name of the King of Spain on August 28, 1565, the Asturian admiral was helped by the Saturiwa tribe to find and attack the Huguenot settlement. With 50 soldiers, Menendez hunted down the inhabitants of Fort Caroline and ordered something harshly criticized throughout Europe: to execute all the prisoners. From Spain the measure was justified, from the legal point of view, as the usual when pirates were captured. The Spanish Kings considered that the entire continent belonged to them by right and any intrusion was considered piracy.

Engraving by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés.
Engraving by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés.

Just one month after the founding of San AgustinPedro Menéndez de Avilés celebrated a meal very similar to what is commemorated for Thanksgiving in honor of his Saturiwa allies. The menu likely included turkey, venison, and salty pork stew. In addition, Europeans and natives later attended a solemn mass.

At the end of the century, in 1598, the Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate organized another similar great celebration in the banks of the Rio Grande, also with members of native tribes, after leading the settlers on an arduous 353-kilometer trek through the Mexican desert. A historical episode very similar to the one organized 23 years later, in 1621, by the 50 English settlers called “pilgrims” (pilgrims), who shared their food with their neighbors, the friendly Wampanoag Indians. In both cases they were encounters between very different civilizations in order to thank God that they were still alive despite their unequal struggle against the elements.

However, it must be remembered that the Plymouth colony was not even the first to be founded by the English in the north of the continent. In 1583, Queen Elizabeth I of England authorized the pirate Sir Walter Raleigh to found a colony North Florida, which he called Virginia. It was in this land that the Pilgrims and Indians would share a meal two years earlier than in Plymouth. Which has led many American historians to argue that it was in Virginia that the holiday was first celebrated. In fact, the London company that sent these pilgrims, upon learning of the act of brotherhood between civilizations, ordered that the date be marked as the annual celebration of Thanksgiving.

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