Virginia Thanksgiving Festival commemorates the commonwealth's history

The 57th Virginia Thanksgiving Festival was held at Berkeley Plantation Sunday to remember and celebrate history.

“The point of the festival is the re-enactment of the first Thanksgiving,” said Tammy Radcliff, manager of Berkeley Plantation. “When the settlers arrived they gave thanks … and we are continuing that today.”

Berkeley Hundred, now Berkeley Plantation, was where the first documented English Thanksgiving was held in North America on Dec. 2, 1619; more than a year before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts.

Guests were transported back to that time at the festival.

Historical re-enactors roamed the plantation grounds teaching guests about what life was like for early settlers. They showed visitors how the English survived in America through oral history, hands-on demonstrations and crafts.

Also at the event were members of the Chickahominy Tribe who taught guests about their tribe’s history and performed traditional dances in Native American regalia.

“(The Chickahominy) are our friends and neighbors and have participated and helped us put on the festival for many many years,” Radcliff said.

Jessica Stewart, a member of the Chickahominy tribe and leader of the Chickahominy Tribal Dancers, said she has been coming to the Virginia Thanksgiving Festival since she was 6 or 7 years old.

She said her favorite part of the day is sharing tribal history with visitors.

“(The Chickahominy) live in this small county and we always think that we don’t have many visitors, but there are so many out of state visitors that come (to the festival),” Steward said. “For them to just go back and share what they learned about our tribe is just amazing.”

Want to attend next year?

Next year’s festival will be Nov. 3, and it will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving. Radcliff said Jamestown Settlement will send the Godspeed to the festival.

For more information about the festival or to donate, visit

Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.

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