The Real First Thanksgiving In Virginia with a Recipe for Cherry Cordial

Magical ride: Virginia boasts Civil War history, Tippecanoe, first Thanksgiving too!

Folks in the Virginia Commonwealth insist that the first public Thanksgiving took place well over a year before the landing of the pilgrims in Massachusetts. Captain John Woodlief and a column 38 of newly-arrived English colonists walked to a rolling slope along the James River and prayed in thanks for a safe arrival to the New World on December 4, 1619 where they vowed:
“Wee 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.

The contingent from Berkeley Parrish in England settled along the James on land that was to become historic Berkeley Plantation. Their vow, now carved on a brick gazebo there, marks the spot believed to be where Woodlief and his men knelt beside the river that day in the New World and prayed.

In addition to the first Thanksgiving, Berkeley Plantation was the “site of the first distillation of bourbon whiskey, produced by missionary George Thorpe, who declared it ‘much better than British ale.’ The Georgian mansion is believed to be the oldest three-story brick house in Virginia. Berkeley became a focal point of economic, cultural and social life in colonial Virginia and host to more than 10 presidents, including George Washington. Berkeley is the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, William Henry Harrison ( “Old Tippecanoe”), his son the ninth U.S. President, and a grandson, another Benjamin Harrison the 23rd U.S. president.( from ttp:// A- must- visit when you are in the Richmond area.

I recently enjoyed an early autumn visit to Berkeley Plantation that included a guided tour of the ground floor rooms of the three story 1726 manor house and a walk through the gardens.
But to bring this site to life for me and knowing I love horses, my friend Erin Bagnell , arranged a charming carriage ride with Mr. Jim Hundley. Photographed for RIDE Magazine, let me share part of our ride with you. . .

“The sound of Mr. Hundley’s Post horn precedes our view of his wagonette break carriage pulled by two well-muscled grey cross-breds . When his team Hugs and Jack Frost and his elegant carriage come into view, they float steady down the long drive and arrive in front of the manor house. Erin and I climb in and settle on the softly worn leather seats. With a ‘walk on’ command Jim drives us away for an afternoon ride and picnic. The horses pull us from Berkeley Plantation to adjacent Westover Plantation along the sliver of river road skirting the wide James under wild cherry and gum tree canopy. Lulled by the steady clip-clop of their hooves and the motion of the carriage, I’m pulled into the past realizing we are retracing a visit that has been repeated between neighbors countless times throughout the history of this special place.”

To be able to tour the landscape and feel it’s history, you simply must experience it from an antique carriage.

And while we gather our loved ones and think about the first white settlers wherever they landed on the continent, we should reflect on the first peoples that were already here. In many ways they ensured the first settlers’ survival. Bow your heads and give thanks for the brotherhood of man. Then offer a toast with Miss Porter’s Cherry Cordial, our recipe for your table this season:

Miss Porter’s Slow Cherry Cordial
Abundant wild cherries in Virginia make this southern favorite a perfect Holiday gift!

Place a gallon of washed cherries in a glass bowl or directly into a pottery crock with wooden lid. Add a bottle or two of good bourbon whiskey and completely cover the fruit. Rest the lid on top of the cherries keeping them in the soak and allow air to pass through. After six weeks, pour off the whiskey and reserve both whiskey and cherries.

Take your drunken cherries and place them in a large bowl. Gently mash them on the bottom and sides of the bowl. Do not crush the pits. Strain the mashed cherries through a soft, cotton flour sack or similar and add this cherry juice back into the to the whiskey or the bourbon. Discard the pits. Measure this cherry liquor accurately and record.

In a large saucepan or bowl make a heavy syrup for the cordial by using this ratio:
Mix until dissolved 1/2 cup of water to a pound of sugar for every 2 quarts of cherry liquor. Stir this sugar syrup into the liquor until blended. Decant the beverage in clean, clear glass bottles and cork.

Civil War Sesquicentennial in 2013: On a grassy plain not far from Berkeley Manor a plaque commemorates the location Union General Daniel A. Butterfield composed “Taps,” used as a “lights out” bugle call for soldiers camped on the grounds. In 2011 the 150th Sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War begins; did you realize that more Civil War battles were fought in Virginia than any where else? Ms. Bagnell tells us, “ with regard to Civil War Sesquicentennial tourism efforts, Virginia’s capital city, Richmond, served as the Confederate capital from 1861 to 1865 and has been considered as “ground zero” of the American Civil War story. The story of the wartime Richmond Region home front is one of struggle, courage, perseverance and strength. The largest hospital ever on the North American continent was a Confederate hospital in Richmond. Few Civil War regions suffered as Richmond did, when food and basic necessities became scarce, families struggled to survive and women assumed new roles in their households and the community. Enslaved Americans yearned for, fought for and earned their freedom. The Richmond Region played a pivotal role in shaping our nation’s history and today, reminders of Richmond’s role in the Civil War are apparent throughout the Region, with National Battlefield Parks, museums (including the American Civil War Center, the first museum of its kind to explore the war through Union, Confederate and African American perspectives), state and county historic sites, historic homes, cemeteries, slave-trade sites, and interpreted trails. The Richmond Region will take the lead in raising awareness about this important milestone in U.S. history, by educating residents and visitors about the important events and personal stories that framed the American Civil War. Throughout the Civil War Sesquicentennial, Richmond will serve as a top-of-mind Civil War destination, offering a comprehensive, compelling and authentic Civil War learning experience in a vibrant, accessible location. Add to that of course easy accessibility (tow low-cost air carriers fly in to Richmond International Airport), affordable accommodations, world-class dining, shopping, arts and culture.” The General Assembly of Virginia created the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission to prepare for and commemorate the sesquicentennial of Virginia’s participation in the American Civil War. A Virginia Civil War web site has already been developed and will serve as a valuable tool for visitors:

By | 2017-07-11T21:39:22+00:00 October 18th, 2009|Categories: Cocktails, Destinations, Food & Wine Discoveries, Recipes, Sip, United States|Tags: |0 Comments

About the Author:

Michelle is a freelance journalist specializing in luxury and experiential travel. Her readers number in the millions through her various online outlets and print magazines. She loves to explore a culture through their culture and food. "Sometimes, " she says , "luxury can be a shack on the beach with a sand floor and a ceiling of stars."

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