Though most narratives render the American Thanksgiving as an extension of the English Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock, there is strong evidence that Florida experienced its own versions of the same holiday.
Specifically, Northeast Florida, where explorers landed decades before the Pilgrims reached Massachusetts, as the Jacksonville Historical Society notes.
“Fifty-six years before the Pilgrims celebrated their feast, Spanish explorer Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles arrived on the coast of Florida. He came ashore on September 8, 1565, naming the land on which he stepped ‘St. Augustine’ in honor of the saint on whose feast day, Aug. 28, the land was sighted. Members of the Timucua tribe, which had occupied the site for more than 4,000 years, greeted Menéndez and his group of some 800 Catholic colonists peacefully.”
But even before that, another North Florida Thanksgiving….
“On June 30, 1564 — a year before the St. Augustine celebration — the French explorer Rene Goulaine de Laudonnière called for a feast to celebrate the establishment of Fort Caroline atop the St. Johns Bluff, near present-day Jacksonville. (Laudonnière had reached the coast of Florida on June 22, and then proceeded up the waterway that Jean Ribault, two years earlier, had dubbed the River of May; today, we know it as the St. Johns River.) The Timucua Indians warmly welcomed the French Huguenots and helped prepare a feast in their honor.”
The National Parks Service notes that the traditional Thanksgiving narrative simply left out these celebrations.
“The thanksgiving at St. Augustine was celebrated 56 years before the Puritan Pilgrim thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation (Massachusetts), but it did not become the origin of a national annual tradition. During the 18th century, British forces won out over those of Spain and France for mastery over the continent,” the NPS asserts.
“Thus, British observances, such as the annual reenactment of the Pilgrims’ harvest festival in 1621, became a national practice. After the United States became an independent country, Congress recommended one yearly day of thanksgiving for the whole nation to celebrate. George Washington suggested the date November 26.”