During my recent visit to St. Augustine, Florida, I was surprised to learn that America’s very first Thanksgiving feast was celebrated not at Plymouth Rock, as we learn in grade school. In fact, Spanish colonists celebrated the first thanksgiving in St. Augustine 55 years before the English pilgrims landed.
First successful European settlement in N America had much to be thankful for
Sure, I’d done my research before traveling to the beachy city that is rich with 16th Century Spanish history. I knew that St. Augustine was the first successful European settlement in North America (established in 1565, even before the Plymouth or Jamestown colonies.) So I was eager to explore its iconic stone fort positioned at the water’s edge. But the “First Thanksgiving” thing caught me off-guard.
“Is that true?” questioned one of my travel companions, lifting an eyebrow. “Is this actually documented?”
We were walking the lush grounds at Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park right in the city limits and on the Intracoastal Waterway. We’d just sipped the sacred water from Ponce de León’s fountain of youth. Ponce was the first European to come ashore onto North America in 1513—he thought he’d found an island, but it was a continent. The Fountain of Youth legend sprang up when Europeans whose average height was then 5’5.75” met the indigenous people of Florida. The Timucuans’ high-protein diets of local seafood and healthful plants were more likely the cause of their tall stature and long lives than spring waters. Nevertheless, I drank deeply of the fabled fountain.
BTW, Ponce de León landed on Florida’s coast over 50 years before the true first Thanksgiving in St. Augustine.
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Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, the site of First Thanksgiving in St Augustine Florida?
Archeological records uncovered at Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park show that people lived around this spring for thousands of years.
We talked with a reenactor, a tall man from the Cheyenne tribe, who showed us how to throw an atlatl and spoke with us about the Timucuan people.
“They probably weren’t seven feet tall, like some say, but they were taller than the Spanish,” he smiled.
Fifty years after Ponce de León landed on Florida’s coast, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and 800 Spanish settlers founded the city of St. Augustine. Once ashore, the landing party celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving, followed by a feast of European food with indigenous people invited as guests.
Later after our park visit, and during our sunset sail, I hesitated to bring up the “true Thanksgiving” topic. So instead, we sipped bubbly and feasted off Instagramable charcuterie boards prepared by St. Augustine Sailing for our customized experience and talked of the dolphins, osprey and lighthouse we sailed by. With the salty wind in my hair, the last rays of the sun on my cheeks and local shrimp in my belly, I felt entirely pampered and content. I highly recommend the sailing splurge during your next visit to St. Augustine.
Read on for more “must-dos” when you are in St. Augustine:
Things to do in St. Augustine, Florida
1.) Eat shrimp and whatever fish is the ‘Catch of the Day’
St. Augustine’s official seafood is wild-caught shrimp. It was here that the US shrimp industry started. Troops stationed here in WWII were fed fried shrimp, and after the war, they brought home recipes for their new favorite dish. Soon, fried shrimp became an American classic.
2.) Discover St. Augustine’s Colonial District with St. Augustine Experiences Tour
We did the Perfect Pairing: St. Augustine’s Wine, Cocktail, and Food Experience, and loved the walking tour so much that we want to go back for the Ale Trail and chocolate tasting tours.
Our licensed guide, Alex, took us to the best places for local food pairings as we tasted and learned about the local food heritage. I’m passionate about passion fruit, so of course, I chose cocktails made with that exotic fruit.
You can see our guide Alex being the perfect host as he leads us through tastings in the background of the image to the left.
St. Augustine, Florida
+1 (904) 599-7432
3.) Explore the fortress at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
The Spanish built what is now the oldest masonry fort in the US to defend the Atlantic trade route and Florida. Although COVID has suspended cannon and musket firing demonstrations, you can still explore the inner sanctums of this incredible structure. Climb stone stairs to overlook the river and ocean. Check out the 16th-century cannons. Get a close-up look at coquina stone, made of thousands of small clamshells glued together by limestone deposits. And what about that first Thanksgiving dinner? It’s actually documented at the national monument’s website.
September 8, 1565 Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and 800 Spanish settlers found the city of St. Augustine. Once ashore, the landing party celebrates a Mass of Thanksgiving, followed by a feast of European food with indigenous people invited as guests.
December 18, 1620 Mayflower lands at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The pilgrims celebrate Thanksgiving sometime between late September and mid-November the following year in thanks for a successful harvest.
November 25, 2021 Today, we celebrate Thanksgiving with family gatherings, football and Black Friday shopping sprees. Make sure to check out my buying guides for the travelers on your list that I curated specifically for UNSTOPPABLE travelers.
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