First Thanksgivings, Huguenots, and Alligators

Thank you 05Next week is Thanksgiving in the US, and it seems like the perfect time to say “thank you.” So here’s a great big, heart-felt THANK YOU to all of you for reading my posts, buying my books, and for your kind comments and support. You are the best! Thank You So Much! Merci Beaucoup! Grazie Mille!

I hope you enjoy today’s story about a very early French Thanksgiving…


The First Thanksgiving?

In the US, the fourth Thursday of November is Thanksgiving Day – sometimes lovingly referred to as “Turkey Day.” And, as all American school children are taught, this holiday is a commemoration of the thanksgiving feast held in 1621. The Pilgrims invited their Native American neighbors to a three-day dinner centered around a big roasted turkey. They gave thanks that they hadn’t yet died in their strange new land and that they had actually learned to grow food thanks to the helpful and friendly natives. This historic meal is generally referred to as the first Thanksgiving… but was it really the first one?

At that time, the American continent was a “newly discovered” land, and several European powers were sending expeditions and claiming parts of it as their own. There may have been many thanksgiving feasts before the Pilgrims had theirs.

And this is the story of one of them that took place 57 years earlier … with French Huguenots, Floridian Indians, and alligators…

Timucua killing alligators 02
Timucua Indians killing really big alligators – were they destined for the Thanksgiving dinner table?

In the 16th century, the French Huguenots, who were Protestant and being persecuted in Catholic France, looked to America in hopes of establishing a colony where they could worship according to their beliefs.

In 1562, two ships carrying 150 of these French Protestant men set out for the new world. They settled on Parris Island, South Carolina, and founded Charlesfort, a short-lived settlement that ended after only one year.

But the Huguenots didn’t give up. They tried again two years later, in 1564. This time they founded Fort Caroline, near present-day Jacksonville, Florida. Their new settlement looked promising and they decided to celebrate. The captain, Rene Goulaine de Laudonnière called for a feast of thanksgiving on June 30, 1564 – more than half a century earlier than the Pilgrims. Could this have been the first Thanksgiving?

Timucua drying meat
Timucua Indians drying meats – It looks like there’s a small alligator on the smoker and the standing Indian is holding a larger one.

Was Alligator Served at the First Thanksgiving?

The local Timucua Indians were present and happy to help the French Huguenots with their thanksgiving feast. They would have brought vegetables that they had grown, such as beans, corn, and squash. And from their hunting expeditions, they would have contributed local birds, fish, game…and yes, even smoked alligator.

So if you are thinking about having a real traditional Thanksgiving dinner this year – you might consider replacing that turkey with alligator…

Thanksgiving alligator

*A cartographer and illustrator called Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues was present on these two Huguenot voyages. His drawings were published as engravings in 1591 and the two illustrations above are from those engravings. (The alligator platter is by me – but you probably guessed that.)

*Don’t Miss Anything – If you would like to receive an email every time I post an article (2-3 times per month), sign up to follow my blog. You’ll find the button just above my photo. And, of course, you can always leave a comment below. Thank you for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

*Stop by and see me if you are in the area on December 4th. I’ll have a table selling my books at the International Women’s Club of the Riviera’s annual Christmas fair. It’s at La Lune de Mougins, 1082 avenue Général de Gaulle, Mougins – from 10.30 to 14.30.

Margo Lestz


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