BlogHolidays November 11, 2022

Did Florida Host the First Thanksgiving? What!!!

Did Florida Host the First Thanksgiving? What!!!!!

More than 50 years before the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Spanish colonists in Florida feasted with Native Americans in what some call the first Thanksgiving.

Blaring trumpets and thundering artillery serenaded Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés as he waded ashore on September 8, 1565. The Spanish admiral kissed a cross held aloft by the fleet’s captain, Father Francisco Lopez, then claimed Florida for both his God and his country. As curious members of the indigenous Timucua tribe looked on, the 800 newly arrived colonists gathered around a makeshift altar as Father Lopez celebrated a Catholic mass of thanksgiving for their safe arrival in the newly christened settlement of St. Augustine. At the invitation of Menéndez, the Timucuans then joined the newcomers in a communal meal.

Some Florida historians have argued that this feast—and not the one held 56 years later by the Pilgrims and Wampanoags in Plymouth, Massachusetts—was actually North America’s first Thanksgiving. “It was the first community act of religion and thanksgiving in the first permanent settlement in the land,” wrote University of Florida professor emeritus of history Michael Gannon in his book “The Cross in the Sand.”

The menu for the meal shared by the Spaniards and Timucuans lacked most of today’s typical Thanksgiving dishes, but it did feature a traditional post-Thanksgiving staple—leftovers. Unlike the Pilgrims, who served food freshly harvested from American soil, the Spanish were forced to make do with whatever provisions survived the long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. According to Robyn Gioia, author of the children’s book “America’s REAL First Thanksgiving,” the European colonists likely ate hard biscuits and cocido—a rich garbanzo stew made with pork, garlic, saffron, cabbage and onion—washed down with red wine.

“The Timucua ate what was available to them locally and that could have included alligator, bear, wild turkey, venison, tortoise and food from the sea such as turtle, shark, mullet or sea catfish,” Gioia says. Archaeological research also shows the indigenous people ate large amounts of oysters and clams along with beans and squash.

Some historians argue that while America’s first Thanksgiving indeed took place in Florida, it actually occurred 40 miles further north and one year earlier than the one in St. Augustine when French Huguenots—Calvinists like the Pilgrims—held a service of thanksgiving and feasted with the Timucuans to celebrate the June 1564 establishment of Fort Caroline along the St. John’s River in present-day Jacksonville. “We sang a psalm of Thanksgiving unto God, beseeching him that it would please his Grace to continue his accustomed goodness toward us,” French explorer Rene Goulaine de Laudonnière wrote in his journal.

Unfortunately, divine blessings were fleeting for the French colonists. Less than two weeks after landing in the New World, Menéndez led an attack on Fort Caroline that resulted in the slaying of 130 French Huguenots, whom the Spaniards saw as heretics and interlopers. Weeks later the Spanish colonists massacred an additional 200 French shipwreck survivors at an inlet near St. Augustine that was eventually dubbed “Matanzas”—the Spanish word for “slaughters.”

The bloodshed helped to wash away historical memory of the thanksgiving ceremonies held by both the French and Spanish settlers in the 1560s until their rediscovery in recent decades. But Florida isn’t the only state that began in the 20th century to stake a claim on America’s first Thanksgiving. An historical marker erected by the Texas Society of the Daughters of the American Colonists outside Canyon, Texas, states that Father Juan de Padilla conducted a thanksgiving service there in May 1541 for an army of 1,500 accompanying Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Virginia and Maine have also put themselves forward as hosts of the nation’s first Thanksgiving in the years before the arrival of the Mayflower.

James W. Baker, author of “Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday,” notes that it was traditional for European explorers, such as Ponce de Leon upon his 1513 arrival in Florida, to give formal thanks for a safe trans-Atlantic crossing, but these isolated pre-Pilgrim ceremonies bear little connection to the future American holiday.

“While any of these can be said to be ‘Thanksgivings’ actually celebrated before 1620 and the Pilgrims, none were repeated or resulted in spawning a new tradition. As just isolated and ephemeral events, they do not bear any real historical significance beyond their position in time,” Baker says. “None of these events were made anything of historically, or even rediscovered, until the 20th century, and thus did not contribute to our modern American holiday tradition.”

Historians say that while America’s Thursday Thanksgiving holiday has roots in New England’s Puritan Calvinist tradition, there never was a single “first Thanksgiving”—neither in Plymouth for the three-day harvest celebration in 1621 or in any other place. He points out that the first time anyone claimed that the Pilgrims hosted the first Thanksgiving was more than two centuries later in 1841. “While we can argue the case for Florida or Texas or any other claimant as a true ‘first’ occurrence of a holiday of that name, it is ultimately a moot point as all of them lack any historical agency in the evolution of the modern holiday.”

Modern Version of a Colonial Thick Corn Mush, This no-fail 5 ingredient jiffy corn casserole recipe is versatile and bakes up into a savory side dish that will complement any meal.

When you sit down to a comforting dinner, whether pot roast, pork chops or grilled chicken, what side dishes do you make? This corn casserole recipe is easy and one of our favorite side dishes to make for everything from a weeknight dinner to a holiday meal. Which you probably find on the table in the Colonies. Whether Florida, Texas, New England or Jamestown. 

One of my favorite things about winter time is sitting down together as a family around the dinner table with a hot home-cooked meal. It’s this time of year when we like to pull out all of the classic family recipes such as meatloaf, baked chicken, Mexican soups….good, simple comfort food.

One of our favorite side dishes to have when we sit down together is this simple 5 Ingredient Corn Casserole.  This dish is so simple and versatile. Trust me…you won’t be able to mess it up!

This recipe was given to me by a friend, but if you’ve ever heard of is Paula Deen’s corn casserole, it’s very similar. I’m not sure where this originated though. It’s been around for years.

Is corn casserole the same thing as corn pudding?

I’ve realized since we shared this recipe that many people call this corn pudding. My husband loves pudding so he’s totally on board with this. This recipe does have an almost creamy texture from the cream corn, butter and sour cream.

Call it either…corn casserole or corn pudding. It’s basically the same thing. We do have a recipe that we call “corn pudding”. It has more of a custard base than this recipe. Find the corn pudding casserole here.

5 Ingredient Corn Casserole/Pudding

Jiffy Corn Casserole Ingredients

1 can of corn, drained

1 can of creamed corn

1 cup of sour cream

1 stick of melted butter (½ cup)

1 box of Jiffy Corn Muffin mix

There are many variations of this corn casserole. You can add egg, a touch of sugar, or cheese. But in our favorite? These 5 simple ingredients.

In order to make this rich, buttery casserole, there are only 2 steps:

Throw all of those ingredients in a bowl and mix them up.

Transfer the mixture to a greased 8×8 baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. The exact baking time will depend on the exact size pan you use, so just be sure to watch the casserole closely. You’ll know it is done when the center is completely set.

This dish is truly winter-time comfort food for our family.  We hope that it becomes a favorite for your family, too!

Want to try a variation of traditional corn casserole?

Corn Casserole with Eggs

Mix in 2 eggs….this creates just a bit more of a lighter corn casserole.

Cheesy Corn Casserole

Add ½ to 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese….because cheese makes everything better, right?

Corn Casserole with Sugar

Add ¼ cup to ½ cup sugar….this of course makes it a very sweet corn casserole. If you add the eggs and sugar, it almost takes like a corn cake and could be eaten for dessert!


Can I make corn casserole ahead of time?

Yes! Make this casserole up to 48 hours in advance. Mix up the casserole, place it in the baking dish and cover it with plastic wrap. When you are ready to bake it, remove it from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you put it in the oven. Then bake as the recipe suggests. **It might take a few extra minutes to bake since the casserole will be cold.**

How to Double Corn Casserole

We often double this recipe and bake it in a 9×13 pan. Depending on your oven, this may take an additional 15 minutes to bake, so plan accordingly.

Can you cook corn casserole in a crock pot?

Yes! Cook in a slow cooker on high for 2 ½ hours or on low for 4 hours. All slow cookers heat differently so watch the casserole closely. If you double the recipe it may take longer to cook.

Does corn casserole need to be refrigerated?

Yes! If there are leftovers of corn casserole, put them in a storage container or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Can I freeze a corn casserole?

For the best textured casserole, I would not recommend making this in advance and freezing the entire casserole to reheat later. If you have leftovers, they will freeze okay if you store it in an airtight container.