Digging up the truth about the actual first thanksgiving

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The story of the first thanksgiving is often told through the pilgrims' perspective, with the first landing of settlers on Plymouth Rock.  But history may have it all wrong.

"There was actually a first thanksgiving here in St. Augustine, Florida almost a century earlier, in 1565," insisted retired University of Florida archaeologist Kathleen Deagan Ph.D. 

Deagan gives credit to Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. He landed in St. Augustine decades before the Pilgrims stepped foot in New England. 

"When Jamestown was founded, St. Augustine was ready for urban renewal," Deagan quipped.  

She discovered what she believes is the remains of a site Menéndez’s team established in a Native American town.  

"We found evidence that is absolutely the first encampment. We can't point to the exact table where the first thanksgiving was said."  But, she says, it happened on a gorgeous piece of Florida waterfront land near the Fountain of Youth. 

"Pedro landed with about 1,500 people and they wanted to have a massive thanksgiving. He invited the Indians of the area and all of the Spaniards and they had a thanksgiving feast," Deagan continued.  

The menu didn't include turkey. "They would have had garbanzo beans, salted fish, red wine and olives. No pumpkin pie.”

Deagan’s former colleague Michael Gannon was the first to publicly suggest the first thanksgiving was in St. Augustine. It caused such an uproar in Plymouth, Massachusetts, that city officials called a special meeting to decide how to deal with the information. In fact, the Boston Herald once called Gannon the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving.

Gannon passed away in 2017, but Deagan hopes their findings will someday re-write the history books.

"I would love to see the history of Thanksgiving in third-grade textbooks as happening here in St. Augustine. I think it will help refine our understanding of the roots of American culture, too." 

She knows reversing history won't be easy. "It's a hard thing to change hundreds of years of belief, but we think it's better to be accurate."