Founder’s Day Marks First Thanksgiving
On September 8, 1565, more than 450 years ago, Admiral Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés stepped ashore from Matanzas Bay on behalf of Spain and founded St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest continuously occupied, European city in the continental United States. Each year, the city of St. Augustine marks this momentous occasion with Founder’s Day events; historical re-enactments, a mass, procession, meals and more.
Menéndez was joined by soldiers and sailors and more than 100 civilians. Married men and women, artisans, tradesmen and children made up the settlement at the Timucuan village of Seloy. Kneeling and kissing the cross carried by Father Lopez, Menéndez and his officers swore allegiance to God and King and proclaimed this place as “St. Augustine.”
The landing party celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving, and, afterward, Menéndez laid out a meal to which he invited as guests the native Timucuan Indians who occupied the site. The Thanksgiving at St. Augustine was celebrated 56 years before the Puritan-Pilgrim Thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts, which makes this the first Thanksgiving in the continental U.S between Europeans and native peoples.
Founder’s Day is celebrated in St. Augustine each year on the Saturday closest to September 8. The celebration starts in the morning at the Mission Nombre de Dios with a re-enactment of the landing of Pedro Menendez and his crew and a Catholic Mass of thanks and celebration.
After the Mass, the re-enactors process from the Mission to the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, the original location of Menendez’ first settlement of St. Augustine.
Once there, a blessing and reenactment of the first Thanksgiving occurs as Timucuans, nobles, priests, Captains, and commoners celebrate the successful founding of the settlement four and a half centuries ago.