Thanksgiving History Tours

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Spend Turkey Day where the pilgrims did and mix historic sites, parades and festivals with your cranberry sauce and stuffing

Thanksgiving is a time for family, turkey and football, right? Well, as we all learned back in school, there actually is a reason we sit at the table and give thanks each year (and not just because we get long weekends!). It's to commemorate the courage and perseverance of the Pilgrims. There are many places to visit which embody this history, so let's drop that drumstick get ready to make a few Thanksgiving pilgrimages

Berkeley Plantation--The First Thanksgiving

Many believe that New Englanders held the first Thanksgiving. But guess what? The first Thanksgiving in English-speaking America took place here in Virginia, at Berkeley Plantation, more than a year before the Mayflower set sail for Plymouth. Records show that Captain John Woodlief led his crew and passengers from their ship to a grassy slope here along the James River for the New World's first Thanksgiving service. Once they disembarked, in accordance with rules laid out by their British company expedition sponsor, the English colonists knelt down and prayed. The date was December 4, 1619.

Today on the exact site on the site where Woodlief knelt, a gazebo contains the following words: "Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God." To this day, Virginia continues to commemorate its noteworthy event the first Sunday each November here at Berkeley Plantation, the original Thanksgiving site. The festivities took place on Nov 7th this year, and featured skilled living history actors and musicians demonstrating instruments, tools and costumes of the 1600s and much more. (If you missed it on the 7th, you can still visit this fascinating historic home year round.) Berkeley Plantation is located at 12602 Harrison Landing Road in Charles City, Virginia. (888/466-6018).

The Jeffersonian Thanksgiving Festival

On Sunday, November 21, Charlottesville, Virginia continues a longstanding Thanksgiving tradition with their Governor Jefferson's Thanksgiving Festival. It features over sixty activities scheduled at seven different venues around Charlottesville's Historic Court Square and Downtown Mall are designed to let you experience what our community was like during the American Revolution between 1779 and 1781.

You'll get to step back in history and mingle with a cast of about 150 costumed people portraying famous statesmen, soldiers, merchants, clergymen and slaves who gathered during the American Revolution for a Day of Public Thanksgiving that was proclaimed by Virginia's Governor Thomas Jefferson in November 1779. Events include colonial folk music and dancing; children's games; horse-drawn carriage rides; the "little militia" at the soldier encampment; demonstrations of 18th century crafts and trades; crafts for children at the Discovery Museum; lectures on African-American history and culture; Governor Jefferson's Ball and more. For more information, call 804/978-4466.

The centerpiece of any Thanksgiving tour: Plymouth

Plymouth, Massachusetts is one of the most visited places in New England, especially during fall. That's because this is where the Pilgrims first settled back in the 1600's, and thankfully, many of the sites today are wonderfully preserved and/or restored to the Colonial period. Some of the primary places include:

  • The Richard Sparrow House at 42 Summer Street, built in 1640, is actually thought to be Plymouth's oldest home. (You'll even find pottery made on premises since 1932 in an adjoining craft gallery.)
  • Burial Hill is the site of the Pilgrims' first meeting house and fort. Look for the entrance via stone steps next to First Church.
  • The Old Court House (located in the town square) was built in 1749 and is the oldest wooden court house in America.
  • Howland House at 33 Sandwich Street, is the last surviving house in Plymouth in which a Mayflower Pilgrim actually lived.
  • Harlow Old Fort House, at 119 Sandwich Street, was built with timbers from the Plymouth Fort. Today, it is staffed with costumed guides who demonstrate candle dipping, weaving, spinning and more period-related activities.
  • Where to stay

  • Governor Bradford on the Harbour 98 Water Street, Plymouth, 800/332-1620, from $68
  • Comfort Inn Plymouth 155 Samoset St. US 44, Plymouth, 800/799-3078, from $82.99
  • John Carver Inn 25 Summer Street, Plymouth, 508/746-7100, from $109
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