CHARLES CITY – Governor Bob McDonnell will be the keynote speaker at a ceremony next month to dedicate and unveil a state historical marker commemorating the first English Thanksgiving.
Issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the “First English Thanksgiving in Virginia” marker will be dedicated at 2 p.m., Friday, November 1, at the sign’s location along Route 5 just west of the entrance to Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County.
In addition to Gov. McDonnell, speakers at the public unveiling ceremony will be H. Graham Woodlief, president of Virginia Thanksgiving Festival; Dr. William C. Bosher Jr. of Virginia Commonwealth University; Malcolm Jamieson, owner of Berkeley Plantation, and Kathleen S. Kilpatrick, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
The marker recalls that on December 4, 1619, the ship Margaret arrived in Virginia carrying “Capt. John Woodlief, a member of the Virginia Company, with 35 men to take charge of Berkeley Hundred,” in the marker’s words. Woodlief “bore instructions that the day of his ship’s arrival ‘be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to almighty God.’”
The marker notes that this became the basis for what became an annual tradition, when “in 1958, the Virginia First Thanksgiving Festival commemorated [Woodlief’s] directive as the first English Thanksgiving in North America with an annual reenactment at Berkeley Plantation.”
Woodlief family members, board members of the Virginia Thanksgiving Festival, and local and state elected officials will attend the ceremony, which will be followed by a reception at the Gazebo on the grounds of Berkeley Plantation.
Virginia First Thanksgiving Festival sponsored the historical marker and covered its manufacturing costs.
The marker’s text was approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources during its quarterly board meeting in December 2012.
Virginia’s historical highway marker program, which began in 1927 with the installation of the first historical markers along U.S. Route 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,400 official state markers, most maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, as well as by local partners in jurisdictions outside of VDOT’s authority.
Text of the marker:
First English Thanksgiving in Virginia
On 4 Dec. 1619, Capt. John Woodlief, a member of the Virginia Company, arrived aboard the ship Margaret with 35 men to take charge of Berkeley Hundred. An experienced former Jamestown settler, he became Berkeley's first governor. He bore instructions that the day of his ship’s arrival “be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to almighty God.” Beginning in 1958, the Virginia First Thanksgiving Festival commemorated this directive as the first English Thanksgiving in North America with an annual reenactment at Berkeley Plantation.