CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF, FIRST “NEW WORLD ” SETTLEMENTS IN FLORIDA
Plymouth and Pilgrims connote to most Americans the scene of the very first Thanksgiving. So when you hear that Florida hosted the “real” first Thanksgiving, not Plymouth, Mass., does it raise an eyebrow?
There’s a Florida organization aiming to bust one of the most popular American history myths with education. Some folks want you to forget those textbook images of English Pilgrims and instead picture a more balmy southern setting for the very first Thanksgiving in the Sunshine State.
Florida historians want Americans to know that long before the Pilgrim landing, the “real” first Thanksgiving was in St. Augustine when Spanish explorers hosted a Thanksgiving feast with Florida’s Timucua Indians as guests.
Visit Florida to explore where European settlement of the “New World” began.
According to VivaFlorida:
Florida’s Spanish Colonial Heritage:
“The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by Spanish explorers, not pilgrims, in St. Augustine on September 8, 1565, between the Spanish and Timucuan tribe 56 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth in 1621. The first permanent European settlement in North America, and America’s “oldest city” is St. Augustine. St. Augustine was also the first U.S city to plot streets. The first European settlement attempt in the continental United States was made in Pensacola by Tristán de Luna in August 1559. In 1513, Ponce de Leon landed on Florida’s east coast and named the peninsula Florida as the season was Pascua Florida, (Flowery Easter).”
Maybe at Thanksgiving Floridians should begin a new tradition, acknowledging the Spaniards with a glass of Sangria?
But wait, there’s more controversy. Was Pocohantas actually a Florida Indian princess named “Hirrihigua”? Was Captain John Smith possibly a plagiarist, stealing the story of Juan Ortiz in Florida? Apparently some historians think so — “Google” it to find out more.
CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS ANCIENT DOCUMENTS
The Catholic church (Diocese of St. Augustine) has in its possession some of the oldest known European documents recorded in the U.S. — marriage, births, deaths, and confirmation records. These ancient church documents shed light on the earliest Spanish residents in St. Augustine, Florida from 1594 to 1763. One marriage record is dated January 1594 (i.e. 26 years before the well-known Pilgrim arrival at Plymouth.)
Another artifact at the Diocese in St. Augustine is reportedly “a piece of the coffin belonging to Pedo Menendez deAviles, the Spanish Navy admiral who founded St. Augustine in 1565,” according to an Associated Press article dated November 11, 2009.
But, hey — where are the docs that date back even further? “Missing from the collection are the documents from the first 29 years of Catholic life in St. Augustine… they may have been destroyed by Sir Francis Drake, the English privateer, who sacked the town in 1586,” states the AP article.
“OLDIES BUT GOODIES” — ST. AUGUSTINE & FERNANDINA BEACH, FLORIDA
While St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest city in the U.S., the barrier island a bit to the north, Amelia Island, is home to the second oldest city in Florida, Fernandina Beach. Fernandina’s Old Town site is very unique, being the only Spanish town in Florida with the original site plat remaining. Old Town Fernandina was also the very last Spanish city platted in the Western Hemisphere. According to the University of Florida “the Old Town grid remains as one of the last and purest examples of the Law of the Indies planning Edict of 1573.”
Local residents know, and visitors soon discover, that Amelia Island is called “the Isle of Eight Flags.” In the 450 year history of Amelia Island, eight different flags have fluttered in her ocean breezes — reportedly the only location in the country to have been “claimed” by so many. The different flags flown above Amelia’s shores began with the French from 1562-1565; Spanish 1565-1763; British 1763-1783; Spanish (again) 1783-1821 with 3 interruptions — Patriots 1812, Green Cross of Florida 1817, Mexican Rebel Flag 1817; United States of America 1821 to present with one interruption — the Confederate Flag, 1862.
Amelia Island’s Spanish Moss, “Tree Hair”
In the Amelia Island area, oak trees draped in Spanish moss are a distinguishing characteristic of the local landscape. The name, “Spanish moss,” is thought to have originated from its resemblance to the Spaniard explorers’ beards. Legend has it that the Indians called it “tree hair.” It’s not a true moss, but rather an epiphyte (or air plant). Visually, it adds interest, and drapes the local landscape with a distinctly southern charm.
For those who find American history intriguing, visit St. Augustine and Fernandina Beach, Florida, “oldies but goodies.” Amelia Island is the most northern point of what is called “the historic Buccaneer Trail,” which continues south through the Talbot Islands, Fort George Island and south on A1A through Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach, and Ponte Vedra Beach. The trail which follows the path of French explorer Jean Ribault, as well as Spanish settlers and even pirates, ends in St. Augustine, “where continuous European settlement of the New World began.”
Learn lots more about the state of Florida’s Spanish Colonial history at www.vivaFlorida.org, with interactive guide, interactive maps, history and multi-media.
MORE ABOUT THE HISTORIC CATHOLIC CHURCH DOCUMENTS
The precious Catholic Church documents mentioned above actually traveled around, and were reportedly in a Cuban crypt for over 100 years. Read the amazing story of these historic documents that almost met with destruction a few times, and find out about the University of Florida professor, Michael Gannon, Ph.D., who first started looking for early Catholic documents back in the 1960s. He rescued some of the oldest known European documents recorded in the U.S. Dr. Gannon is the author of “Cross in the Sand: The Early Catholic Church in Florida 1513-1870.”
BEST WISHES FOR A HAPPY THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY!