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The Truth About Thanksgiving That You Never Learned In History Class

It’s 1621, the year of the very first Thanksgiving celebration. The pilgrims have gathered to celebrate the first harvest in their newly settled land of Plymouth Colony — in what is now Massachusetts. In a gesture of good faith, the settlers invite their Native American brethren to feast on turkey, pie, and sweet potatoes. Sound familiar? Shockingly, much of this tale is complete fiction! What really happened isn't something kids are taught in schools.

The first Thanksgiving didn't happen when you think

Looking back in history, we can track the idea of having a special day of Thanksgiving to the Pilgrims who settled in America from England in the early 17th century. But the first Thanksgiving on record celebrated by those Puritans, whom we often call Pilgrims, wasn't in Massachusetts, but in Virginia — and it didn't happen in 1621.

A totally different month and year

Led by Captain John Woodlief, 38 men landed at Berkeley Hundred in Virginia’s Charles City County in December 1619. On the very day they arrived, they gave thanks to God as their original charter drawn up in London had stipulated they should. The charter also said that the anniversary of that day should be observed as a time for giving thanks to God in future years.

Not taught in schools

Now, that story about the first Thanksgiving in Virginia in 1619 might come as something of a surprise. It is not the familiar tale of the First Thanksgiving you almost certainly learned about in elementary school. The commonly accepted First Thanksgiving actually happened nearly two years later and in a different location.

Establishing Plymouth

Most of what we now celebrate as Thanksgiving is based on events at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts in 1621. And that festival, held in the fall, did not celebrate a safe landing but rather a successful harvest. It was in 1620 that the Pilgrims arrived aboard the Mayflower off the shores of the New World and established the Plymouth Colony.