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Year-Long Celebration Concludes With Commemoration Of "First Official" Thanksgiving

Stephen Adkins the chief of the Chickahominy Indian tribe
Stephen Adkins, chief of the Chickahominy Indian tribe, represented one of the first original cultures at Jamestown during the 400th anniversary of the “First Official English Thanksgiving”.

The first Thanksgiving didn’t take place in New England, according to Virginia historians. Instead, it happened about a year earlier on the banks of the James River in Charles City County.

A commemoration of the “First Official English Thanksgiving” took place Wednesday at Jamestown Settlement. It included live music from the Jamestown High School choir and a food drive. 

Speakers included representatives from the three original cultures at Jamestown: African, Native American and British Settlers also spoke.  

The first English Thanksgiving was about prayer, rather than food, said Graham Woodlief, a direct descendant of Captain John Woodlief, who led a group of English Settlers to what is now Berkeley Plantation.  

“The very first instruction was to give thanks to almighty God for their safe voyage and to give a prayer of thanksgiving annually and perpetually thereafter,” Woodlief said. “This was exactly one year and 17 days before the pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. Just to set the record straight.” 

Stephen Adkins is chief of the Chickahominy Indian tribe. 

“Am I thankful that my people were driven from their ancestral lands by the mid 17th century? Of course, the answer is a resounding no,” he said. “However, I am very thankful that we’re still here. That our contributions are being recognized.”

The First Lady of Virginia Pamela Northam and Michelle Gielan, a former CBS News anchor and author of Broadcasting Happiness: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change also spoke at the event. 

The celebration concluded a year-long commemoration of historical events that happened four centuries ago in the Commonwealth called the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution. The year 1619 also marked the arrival of the first Africans and the creation of the first legislative assembly in America. 

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.