Online Genealogy NewsletterThe First Thanksgiving
(The Pilgrims Missed It)
by Pauline Chavez BentThis article is from the New Mexico Genealogist, March 1999.
Thanksgiving Day in the United States is a holiday like no other: families gather to celebrate and enjoy the blessings of this land of freedom and plentitude. But to those of us who descend from the original colonizing families of New Mexico, our special day is April 30th.
On April 30th four centuries ago, our ancestors, led by Don Juan de Oñate, reached the banks of El Rio Bravo (Rio Grande). The first recorded act of thanksgiving by colonizing Europeans on this continent occurred on that April day in 1598 in Nuevo Mexico, about 25 miles south of what is now El Paso, Texas. After having begun their northward trek in March of that same year, the entire caravan was gathered at this point. The 400 person expedition included soldiers, families, servants, personal belongings, and livestock . . . virtually a living village. Two thirds of the colonizers were from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands). There was even one Greek and a man from Flanders! The rest were Mexican Indians and mestizos (mixed bloods).
The starting point for the colonists had been in Zacatecas, Nueva España (now Mexico) and by being part of the colonizing expedition they had been promised the title of Hidalgo, men with rights and privileges equal to Spain's nobility. Juan de Oñate was a man of wealth and prominence, the son of Cristobal Oñate, silver mine owner whose family had come to the New World from the Basque region of Spain. Titles granted to him by Viceroy Luis de Velasco were Governor and Adelantado of New Mexico. The colonists suffered hardships and deprivations as they headed north, but they were also headed toward posterity: they would participate in the first recorded act of Thanksgiving by colonizing Europeans on this continent22 years before the English colonists similarly gave thanks on the Atlantic coast. The expedition is well recorded by Gaspar Perez de Villagrá, the Spanish poet who traveled with the group. He wrote, "We were sadly lacking in all knowledge of the stars, the winds, and other knowledge by which to guide our steps."
On April 30, 1598, the scouts made camp along the Rio Grande and prepared to drink and eat their fill, for there they found fishes and waterfowl. Villagrá wrote,
"We built a great bonfire and roasted meat and fish, and then sat down to a repast the like of which we had never enjoyed before." Before this bountiful meal, Don Juan de Oñate personally nailed a cross to a living tree and prayed, "Open the door to these heathens, establish the church altars where the body and blood of the Son of God may be offered, open to us the way to security and peace for their preservation and ours, and give to our king and to me in his royal name, peaceful possession of these kingdoms and provinces for His blessed glory. Amen."On April 30, many of us with roots in New Mexico commemorate that first Thanksgiving, not with "turkey and all the trimmings," but with the knowledge that our ancestors helped settle and develop this landthrough tenacity, perseverance and deep faith. It is partly through their contributions that America was destined to become unique; providing freedom as well as opportunity to all people wishing to come to its shores.
Happy Thanksgiving Day!
The Last Conquistador: Juan de Oñate and the Settling of the Far Southwest, by Marc Simmons. University of Oklahoma Press, 1991, pp. 97-101.
Don Juan de Oñate, Colonizer of New Mexico, 1595-1628, by George P. Hammond and Agapito Rey. University of New Mexico Press, 1953.
The above article is from the New Mexico Genealogist, March 1999.
The following article is from the 25 Nov 2002 issue of the Eastman Online Genealogy Newsletter.
It has been reprinted here with the author's permission.
The First Thanksgivingby Richard W. Eastman
Where was the first Thanksgiving held in North America? If you guessed Plymouth, Massachusetts, guess again.
On April 30, 1598, Spanish nobleman Don Juan de Oñate and a group of settlers traveling northward from Zacatecas, Nueva España (now Mexico), reached the banks of El Rio Bravo (Rio Grande). The first recorded act of thanksgiving by colonizing Europeans on this continent occurred on that April day in 1598 in Nuevo Mexico, about 25 miles south of what is now El Paso, Texas.
After having begun their northward trek in March of that same year, the entire caravan was gathered at this point. The 400-person expedition included soldiers, families, servants, personal belongings, and livestock. Two thirds of the colonizers were from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands). There was even one from Greece and another from Flanders. The rest were Mexican Indians and mestizos (mixed bloods).
Pauline Chavez Bent has written an interesting account of this first Thanksgiving, which you can read on the New Mexico Genealogical Society's Web site at: http://www.nmgs.org/art1stThanks.php.
Many Americans mistakenly believe that the Pilgrims were the first to settle in this new land. However, the following all preceded the Pilgrims of 1620:
• Several settlements and temporary villages were established by the Vikings and possibly by the Irish more than 1,000 years ago. None of the settlements survived. In 1559, Tristan de Luna y Arellano led an attempt by Europeans to colonize Florida. He established a settlement at Pensacola Bay, but a series of misfortunes caused his efforts to be abandoned after two years.
• Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived in 1565 at a place he called San Augustín (St. Augustine, Florida) and established the first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States.
• Spanish settlers mentioned earlier settled in what is now the western tip of Texas and New Mexico in the 1590s.
• In 1604, Samuel de Champlain, along with Sieur de Mont, established what is now known as the first Acadian settlement on the North American continent on the Isle-of-St.-Croix, at St. Croix River near Calais, Maine. After experiencing a harsh winter and extreme cold on this small island, they moved their settlement into the rich agricultural area of the Bay of Fundy, which subsequently became known as Acadia. The permanent French colony of Port Royal was established in 1605.
• The islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon were colonized by France in 1604. The colony survived and still exists today on these tiny islands ten miles south of Newfoundland, Canada. The islands still belong to France. Many people today are unaware that France still has territory in North America.
• In 1607, some 100 men and boys sailed from England and landed in present-day Virginia and founded Jamestown. They found a hostile environment that probably would have destroyed the colony but for the resourcefulness of Captain John Smith, who managed to organize and motivate the settlers and save them from starvation.
• In 1608 Samuel de Champlain established what is now known as Quebec City.
With several colonies already established prior to the Pilgrims' later arrival in 1620, one can assume that others also celebrated an occasional thanksgiving feast.
The only surviving record of such a feast, however, is the one in 1598 by Don Juan de Oñate and his group of Spanish settlers.
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