Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

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by Rev. John Farmer

Our season of thanksgiving

Our American Thanksgiving is ripe with prejudice. Up on the Bay in the Massachusetts colony they hold for the Pilgrims, who set foot ashore and were a year later thankful for their survival (1621).

To the south of us, it is claimed that the First Thanksgiving took place at what is now St. Augustine, Fla., on September 8, 1565, when six hundred Spanish settlers who landed there held a Mass of Thanksgiving for their safe delivery to the New World.

Also, the city of El Paso, Texas, claims the First Thanksgiving was held in what is now known as the U.S. Spaniard Don Juan de Oñate ordered his expedition party to rest and conducted a mass in celebration of thanksgiving on April 30, 1598.

Locally, many adhere to the fact that on December 4, 1619, a group of 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred. This is land of about 8,000 acres on the north bank of the James River near Herring Creek in an area then known as Charles Cittie, some 20 miles upstream of Jamestown, where the first permanent settlement of the Colony of Virginia was established, May 14, 1607. The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a “Day of Thanksgiving to God.”

On that first day, Capt. Woodliffe/Woodlief held the service of thanksgiving. As quoted from the section of the Charter of Berkeley Hundred specifying the thanksgiving service: “We ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

After several years, the site became Berkeley Plantation, and was long the traditional home of the Harrison family, one of the First Families of Virginia. In 1634, it became part of the first eight shires of Virginia, as Charles City County, one of the oldest in the U.S. It is located along Virginia State Route 5, which runs parallel to the river’s northern borders past sites of many of the James River Plantations between the colonial capital city of Williamsburg and the present Rockville, capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia in Richmond. Berkeley Plantation continues to be the site of an annual Thanksgiving event to this day.

Our friend Graham Woodlief, formally of Bertrand and the Irvington Baptist Church, annually issues the Farmers an invitation to join him upon the Banks of the James. Alas, prior “Ho, Ho, Ho” commitments preclude us joining such a celebration.

An interesting aside regarding the descendants of Capt. John Woodlief (above) is that Graham and Marilyn purchased land on the late J. Harwood and Louise Cochrane’s Rockville estate where upon they built their new home, exiting the Northern Neck, as the Cochranes were taking up part-time residency on the banks of Carter’s Creek, later the sands of Mosquito Point. We are blessed to have been loved by them and so many other fine families who’ve come from afar to enlarge the Irvington family.

Graham and I also share in the newspaper business. Me, a contributor for the RapRecord, he, now a retired boss man at Media General, some comparison eh? He is now president of the group that provides the annual James River Reenactment Festival. Make plans now, to attend early November next year.

From the time of George Washington’s presidency through that of Abe Lincoln the Thanksgiving Holiday was celebrated on the final Thursday each November. Congress passed a bill requiring that Thanksgiving be observed annually, on the fourth Thursday of November. President Roosevelt signed the bill on November 26, 1941, making the date of Thanksgiving a matter of federal law.

Usually moms and/or dads in the kitchen celebrate the day, with kids at the TV watching some annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. In NYC my preferred annual parade weaves its way from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square. Please note that the final entry this year in the West Point and Kilmarnock parades will be a Santa of some local renown…

Wait, about face, let’s take a detour. Did you realize that there is a theme of Thanksgiving running through Scripture? Here are a few:

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples.” —Psalms 105:1.

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him; bless His name.” —Psalms 100:4.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” —Philippians 4:6.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Thy name, O Most High; to declare Thy loving-kindness in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night… For Thou, O Lord, hast made me glad by what Thou hast done, I will sing for joy at the work of Thy hands. How great are Thy works, O Lord!” —Psalms 92:1, 4-5.

Of course, many will have other great Biblical quotes relative to the holiday. I think it would be super if, before every meal, families, neighbors, and friends would pause to share Scripture before we partake the common meal. Then, say a prayer of thanksgiving as well.


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