On September 8th, 1565, more than fifty years before the famous Pilgrims and Wampanoag “First Thanksgiving,” one Spanish Admiral Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés waded onto a sandy shore in Florida. A number of curious members of the indigenous Timucua tribe watched as he kissed a cross, then claimed Florida for both his God and his country. Avilés was not alone, but had brought 800 new colonists with him. They were there to start an outpost of the great Spanish Empire. The colonists set up a makeshift alter, still watched by the Timucua, and celebrated a thanksgiving Catholic mass performed by one of the priests they had brought along, to bless their safe arrival.
Then the Spanish and the guest Timucua sat down for a communal meal. Was this the “true” First Thanksgiving? It could be argued both ways. In the end, what I take away is that the Pilgrims’ claim will always be disputed.