President Bush Offers Thanksgiving Greetings
Charles City, Virginia
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Thanks very much. Thanks for the warm welcome. I am proud to be back in the great state of Virginia. I particularly appreciate the chance to visit Berkeley Plantation. I thank the good people who care for this historic treasure. Over the years, Presidents have visited Berkeley. President William Henry Harrison called it home. As a matter of fact, it was here where he composed the longest inauguration speech in history. He went on for nearly two hours. You don’t need to worry; I’m not going to try to one-up him today.
President George W. Bush talks with 85-year-old Doris Lewis Monday, Nov. 19, 2007, during a stop at the Central Virginia Community Food Bank in Richmond, Va. “You have a sweet heart,” the President told the volunteer, who was celebrating her birthday at the warehouse. White House photo by Chris Greenberg Berkeley also claims to be the site of America’s first official Thanksgiving. The good folks here say that the founders of Berkeley held their celebration before the Pilgrims had even left port. As you can imagine, this version of events is not very popular up north. But even the administration of President Kennedy — a son of Massachusetts — recognized Berkeley’s role in this important holiday. And so this afternoon, I’ve come to honor Berkeley’s history — and to continue the great American tradition of giving thanks.
Laura sends her best. Most people say, I wish she’d have come and not you. She’s doing just fine and I know she is going to be envious when I describe how beautiful this part of the country is. And I thank you for giving me a chance to come.
I want to thank my friend, Tom Saunders, who is the founder of the Saunders Trust for American History at the New York Historical Society — that means he and his and wife, Jordan, are raising money to make sure this site is as beautiful as it is and stays an important part of our history and legacy.
I thank Judy and Jamie Jamieson, who happen to be the owners of this beautiful site. And I appreciate your hospitality. I can’t help but recognize my daughter’s future father-in-law — I appreciate you coming. A lot of people think she’s showed some pretty good common sense to marry somebody from Virginia. He’s doing all right, himself.
I appreciate the fact that the Congressman from this district, Congressman Bobby Scott is with us. Thanks for coming, Bobby. Congressman Eric Cantor from Richmond is with us. (Applause.) And Congressman Randy Forbes; appreciate you coming, Randy. I want to thank the Lieutenant Governor, Bill Bolling, for joining us. Thank you for coming, Governor. Bob McDonnell, the Attorney General; General, I appreciate you being here. I had the honor of meeting the High Sheriff. Sheriff, thank you and your law enforcement officials. I’m proud to be with you. I want to thank all the local officeholders and state officeholders. And most of all, thank you for letting me come by and I appreciate you coming.
Every November, we celebrate the traditions of Thanksgiving; we’re fixing to do so again. We remember that the Pilgrims gave thanks after their first harvest in New England. We remember that George Washington led his men in thanksgiving during the American Revolution. And we remember that Abraham Lincoln revived the Thanksgiving tradition in the midst of a bloody civil war.
Yet few Americans remember much about Berkeley. They don’t know the story of the Berkeley Thanksgiving. This story has its beginnings in the founding of the colony of Virginia four centuries ago. As the colony grew, settlers ventured beyond the walls of Jamestown, and into the surrounding countryside. The Berkeley Company of England acquired 8,000 acres of nearby land, and commissioned an expedition to settle it.
In 1619, a band of 38 settlers departed Bristol, England for Berkeley aboard a ship like the one behind me. At the end of their long voyage, the men reviewed their orders from home. And here’s what the orders said: “The day of our ship’s arrival shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.” Upon hearing those orders, the men fell to their knees in prayer. And with this humble act of faith, the settlers celebrated their first Thanksgiving in the New World.
In the years that followed, the settlers at Berkeley faced many hardships. And in 1622, the settlement was destroyed. Berkeley became a successful plantation after it was rebuilt, when people returned to this site. And it is an important part of our history. And as we look back on the story of Berkeley, we remember that we live in a land of many blessings.