Did Florida host the first Thanksgiving celebration? Some historians maintain that St. Augustine was where, long before the Pilgrims, Spanish colonists shared a celebratory feast with native Timucua tribesmen.
According to VivaFlorida, "The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by Spanish explorers, not pilgrims, in St. Augustine on September 8, 1565, between the Spanish and Timucuan tribe 56 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth in 1621. The first permanent European settlement in North America, and America’s “oldest city” is St. Augustine."
Of the large September 8, 1565 gathering, University of Florida professor emeritus of history, Michael Gannon, states “It was the first community act of religion and thanksgiving in the first permanent settlement in the land.”
While the Spaniards served up provisions that survived the long Atlantic Ocean voyage, according to author Robyn Gioia, “The Timucua ate what was available to them locally and that could have included alligator, bear, wild turkey, venison, tortoise and food from the sea such as turtle, shark, mullet or sea catfish."
Archaeological research also shows the indigenous people ate large amounts of oysters and clams along with beans and squash.
James W. Baker, author of "Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday," notes that others have argued rights to the holiday's provenance but, "While we can argue the case for Florida or Texas or any other claimant as a true ‘first’ occurrence of a holiday of that name, it is ultimately a moot point as all of them lack any historical agency in the evolution of the modern holiday.”
Timucua Tribe in Florida's Adventure Coast
Not only does November mark the Thanksgiving holiday, it is also National Native American Heritage Month.
Predating Florida's Seminoles, evidence was found in the Adventure Coast of Timucuan residency as early as the 1530's. Within Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, a mound is marked with a plaque. When visiting the park, the plaque can be seen on the left when walking to the river boat ride.
This is what it says "A Weeki Wachee workman, while bulldozing this area in 1970, unearthed what appeared to be skeletal remains of a murder victim. Cursory examination satisfied authorities that the bones were hundreds of years old and represented many human skeletons.
Subsequently, an expedition from the University of Florida evacuated this Indian mound, discovering artifacts linking it to the Timucuan Indian culture.
Pottery, beads pounded from silver Spanish coins, and other articles found in this mound have been dated between 1200 and 1700 A.D.
Because the Weeki Wachee discovery revealed the presence of Spanish explorers, the archeologists made observations that conjured up interesting mental pictures.
"No doubt, on a sunny morning in the 1530's a Spanish galleon dropped anchor off the gulf coast a few miles from here. A boat was lowered and an advance guard of armor-clad Spanish explorers headed for the shore. They worked their way up the bands of the winding river and came face to face with the Tinucuans. The Indians, thinking they were in the presence of Gods, offered their humble reverence to the Spaniards!"
Read more about Native American influence in this story about Florida's Adventure Coast place names.
A Thanksgiving Feast, Adventure Coast style
Here on Florida's Adventure Coast, some give a nod to Native American heritage, Spanish and coastal influences with their Thanksgiving feast.
As an alternative to traditional turkey and stuffing, the Turner family traditionally feasts on fire steamed oysters, boiled shrimp, stone crab claws and mullet.
Whatever manner of Thanksgiving food you eat, enjoy and take a moment to reflect on our rich and colorful history.