Florida experts insist first Thanksgiving here





Sure, Massachusetts has its pilgrims, its Mayflower, its turkey and corn.

But when it comes to Thanksgiving, Florida historians have been saying the same thing for years: It happened first in the Sunshine State — with salt pork, sea biscuits and garbanzo beans.

In the 1560s, French and Spanish settlers arrived separately on Florida's northern coast, and each celebrated with prayer and a thanksgiving feast. The Spanish gathering at St. Augustine even featured guests from a local American Indian tribe.

"They were thanking God, they had food, they said prayers," said Paul George, a history professor at Miami-Dade College. "They were the first ones to essentially give us a recorded celebration."

It wasn't until 1621, more than 50 years later, that Pilgrims came to Plymouth, Mass., and held the feast that was later dubbed the first Thanksgiving.

But the Florida celebrations didn't become widely known until the second half of the 20th century, long after Abraham Lincoln's 1863 declaration that the last Thursday in November would be the national day of Thanksgiving.

Michael Gannon, a University of Florida professor, upset New Englanders in the 1980s when he started pointing out that a book he wrote decades earlier established that the first Thanksgiving took place in St. Augustine on Sept. 8. 1565.

They called him the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving.

But no one really disputed that Pedro Menendez de Aviles, a Spanish explorer, invited the Timucua Indians to dinner in St. Augustine in 1565 after a thanksgiving Mass celebrating the explorers' safe arrival.




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