NORFOLK, Va. The Pilgrims' feast in Massachusetts has always overshadowed Berkeley Plantation's place in history. Now, a planned visit from President Bush has some Virginians giving thanks for the recognition.
Today, the president plans to stop by the plantation on the banks of the James River, where English settlers held a thanksgiving service almost two years before what is traditionally known as the nation's first Thanksgiving in New England.
"It's such a wonderful piece of history that I think has been sort of lost in the mists of time," Peggy DeBellis Bruce, president of Virginia Thanksgiving Festival Inc., said Friday. The group organizes a yearly festival at the plantation, which sits between Williamsburg and Richmond.
When Capt. John Woodlief and his crew of 37 men came upon the site on Dec. 4, 1619, they fell to their knees and read a proclamation stating that the day of their ship's arrival should be "yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."
During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday in November to be a national holiday.
With the South losing the war, the New England Thanksgiving tradition prevailed, although President John F. Kennedy did acknowledge Virginia in his 1963 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation that began: "Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving."
Lisa Suhay, a Norfolk children's author, has been trying to get Bush to pardon a pig in recognition of the Berkeley thanksgiving which may have included a meager meal with bacon or ham.
Suhay recounted the thanksgiving story in her recently published book "Pardon Me. It's Ham, Not Turkey." So far, more than 6,500 people have signed her pardon petition on a Web site that is collecting donations for the nonprofit Federation of Virginia Food Banks. Several politicians, including U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., have supported the cause.
White House spokesman Blair Jones said, though, that Bush will stick to the traditional turkey pardon, in the Rose Garden on Tuesday. The president will visit Berkeley the day before because it is a historic site that has welcomed other presidents, he said.
"The president will talk about what we as a nation can be thankful for during the holiday season," Jones said.
The country's first 10 presidents all spent time at the plantation. The ninth president, William Henry Harrison, was born at Berkeley and wrote his inaugural address in an upstairs bedroom there. He gave the nearly two-hour speech on a cold, wet day, caught a cold that developed into pneumonia and died a month later.
Lincoln also visited Berkeley, while Union troops were encamped there during the Civil War.
A drummer with those troops, John Jamieson, bought Berkeley in 1907. His son and daughter-in-law restored the mansion and his grandson, Malcolm E. "Jamie" Jamieson, now owns it.
"It's wonderful that President Bush is coming during the 100th anniversary of the Jamieson family owning Berkeley Plantation," Bruce said. "That makes it extra special."
On the Net:
Berkeley Plantation: www.berkeleyplantation.com/
Pig Pardon petition: www.pigpardon.com