The First Thanksgiving in Retrospect

By Jim Hethcox


We have all heard of and studied the celebration of the first Thanksgiving and the events that led up to this festival of thanksgiving to God by the Pilgrims.  They left England on September 6, 1620 and after two months of storm-tossed seas, they landed at Plymouth Rock in present day Massachusetts.  After reaching Plymouth Rock they had a prayer service and then began to construct crude shelters.  Ill prepared for the harsh winter, nearly half of the party died before spring.  It wasnít until the following December, in1621 that they decided to celebrate a three day festival dedicated to God for his good Providence and bounty during that summerís growing season.  Thus began the tradition we know today as Thanksgiving.

However, that was not the first Thanksgiving, but the one that derived the current tradition of Thanksgiving in America.  Actually, the first Thanksgiving celebration occurred in Virginia in 1608 some twelve years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.  Captain John Woodlief conducted that thanksgiving service.  Captain Woodlief was the Captain of the good ship Margaret that had just brought many early settlers to present day Virginia.  So, contrary to traditional belief, the first Thanksgiving was actually conducted in Virginia in 1608, not in Massachusetts in 1621. 

Just recently I have learned, through a detailed genealogical search, of my own link to some of these first settlers.  Captain John Woodlief was my 11th great grandfather.  Another interesting character in that early crossing was Richard Pace.  Richard Pace, my 10th great grandfather, was an early plantation owner and patriot of the new world.  His plantation was known as Paceís Paines and lay across the James River from Jamestown.  He learned of an impending Indian attack in 1622 through an Indian servant and rowed his boat across the James River to warn Jamestown of the impending danger.  He later received a letter of commendation acknowledging his efforts.  The Indians did attack in what is known in history books as the Jamestown Massacre of 1622, but Paceís warning no doubt saved many lives.

Richard Paceís 3rd great granddaughter, Amy Pace, married Solomon Strickland in 1764.  Solomon Strickland is reported to have been a six foot six redhead that served under General Elijah Clark during the American Revolutionary War.  Solomon Strickland was my 5th great grandfather.

Another of my early ancestors was Richard Braswell, Solomon Stricklandís great grandfather.  He was the Rector of the first English speaking Church in the new world, called St. Lukeís Church, near Smithfield, Virginia (the first being a Spanish mission in St. Augustine, Florida). 

I couldnít help but ponder what those earliest Americans would think of the modern version of the Thanksgiving holiday and the nation that they settled and founded.  Iím sure that in many ways they would be surprised to see the growth and blessings that God has shown to this great land.  They couldnít have imagined the magnitude of the great expanse known as North America.  But, I do believe they would be heart-broken as they surveyed the spiritual decline and moral decay in the America of our day. 

I wonder what they would write if they could pen their comments in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper.  What observations would they make concerning the state of affairs of the nation today?  Would they look around and find that this land, to which they had sought refuge from religious and political persecution, had itself become a land where God Himself was a stranger?  We see the fruits of the godlessness of this nation when we hear people wish each other a Happy Turkey-Day, as if we were somehow celebrating the turkey.   Then, they turn their holiday attention to feasting, football games, and hunting.  How many families will gather around a table overflowing with wonderful delicacies and begin filling their mouths without even stopping to say, thank you Lord for your many blessings.   

Since September 11, 2001 our national prayer has been, God Bless America.  Have we become so spiritually blind that it escapes us that God has indeed blessed America abundantly since those first colonists settled?  Or, is it that we have forgotten how to pray and the best we can muster in the form of a prayer is a borrowed line from an old song, God Bless America.   I wonder if this bumper-sticker prayer of todayís America might be more appropriate if it was a cry for, God to bless America with revival, and bless us with conviction of our sins, and bless us with godly leaders of our land, and most of all, God bless us with godly families.  Christian families where the mother and father are together, raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  That would be a prayer worth praying and one that would see immediate positive results.

We Americans have so much to be thankful for but we donít even know Him to whom thanks is due.  We have come to the place in our history where we can now say that we are living in a post-Christian era.  I have observed that there is a lot of religion in America today but not much true spirituality and not much Biblical truth.  We have forgotten our God and Savior. 

In retrospect, I donít believe we have much in common with those early Christian settlers from which we sprang.  They trusted God to supply all their need and depended on him daily as a way of life.  God help us to break with our secular culture and cease from worshipping at the altar of materialism!  And, may I say, ďAmerica, Bless GodĒ as we turn back to Him during this holy holiday of Thanksgiving to our Sovereign God.
























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