Happy Thanksgiving


Good Day to all and Happy Thanksgiving!  Here is my annual “local Thanksgiving” column.

Did you know a turkey, although common if you could get one, was not necessarily the centerpiece of early Thanksgiving celebrations in the area?  Prayers of thanks and other ceremonies have been around for ages, but Thanksgiving as we know it, likely had its origins in traditions dating from the English Reformation during the reign of Henry VIII, 1509-1547.  Days of Thanksgiving were also called following the English victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588.  In addition, it’s possible the Pilgrims were influenced by annual Thanksgiving services held in Leiden, Holland, where they were staying in the early 1600’s, celebrating the city’s relief from a Spanish siege in 1574.

In the United States, Thanksgiving is most often traced to a 1621 feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts, following a productive harvest.  However, some strenuously maintain the earliest Thanksgiving service in what is now the United States occurred almost 60 years earlier on September 8, 1565 at Florida’s Saint Augustine.

Although as president, George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide Thanksgiving celebration on November 26, 1789, the actual celebratory date still varied from state to state until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday of November.  On December 26, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress moving Thanksgiving from the last, to the fourth Thursday in November.

Closer to home, Joyce Hindman, former Punta Gorda mayor and the country’s first volunteer-draftee of World War II, was born in Alabama and came to Charlotte County permanently around 1929, when he was 10 years old, to work in his Uncle A. C. Frizell’s Murdock store.  His remembrances of an early Thanksgiving included hunting on his uncle’s ranch in open woods, about where the county administration building now stands, to harvest a turkey and numerous quail.

Beatrice Cotton’s family moved to the Cleveland community just northeast of Punta Gorda from Miami, bringing along two pet ducks.  Her uncle was Dell Cleveland, who had settled in a town named, not for his family, but a former president.  He worked for George Brown’s Cleveland Marine Steam Ways as an engine mechanic.  Her favorite Thanksgiving recollection concerned the ducks, apparently no longer pets, and how one fell from the roasting pan, but was quickly picked off the floor before serving.  My family has a similar story concerning “floor stew”.

Punta Gorda’s Esther McCullough (Jordan), school teacher, dental assistant, and Chamber of Commerce secretary, had fond memories of a particular Thanksgiving, likely in the early 1920’s, in an orange grove off U. S. 17 across from the Tower filling station.  Until Hurricane Charley, the “Tower” was located at the corner of Riverside Drive and U. S. 17 just before the highway crosses Shell Creek.  On the menu were wild turkey and a 10-pound bass caught in a nearby lake.  In Charlotte Harbor, the Riggs family, on Laura Street, also enjoyed wild turkey and quail, harvested a day earlier, along with collard greens.

Lois Peeples (Cole), recalling her first Thanksgiving around 1910, could remember only collard greens.   I suspect her fisherman Dad also had oysters and other seafood items on the menu.  The family lived just northeast of Gasparilla Island on Cole Island, now part of the Boca Grande Causeway.

In Englewood, L. A. Ainger, former Charlotte County School Board member, whose family homesteaded on a creek, which would bear their name, in the general area of Holiday Mobile Estates on State Road 776 (S. McCall Road), recalled his dad harvesting a turkey just up the creek for their 1925 Thanksgiving when he was a youngster.  In El Jobean, the Simons, Donna and her circus performer husband, “Suicide”, enjoyed turkey, duck, oysters, and mullet with friends during a depression era Thanksgiving feast.  As one can see, it wasn’t difficult to put together a good feed in early Charlotte County.

Finally, Jarvis Howard and his brother Frederick first came to the Charlotte Harbor community in 1873.  They returned in early January 1874 with their families and homesteaded across the river on a bluff near today’s Solana area. Interestingly, Jarvis’ detailed 1875 journal makes no mention of Thanksgiving.

Photographs of several folks mentioned can be viewed by visiting Charlotte County online library resources.  Select “Library Catalog”, click on “Physical Items”, then “Archive Search”.  Enter the subject of your search on the “Search” line.  Visit the same site and select “History Exhibits” to find out what history related programs and videos are available.

Photos are also available on The Punta Gorda History Center’s website.  Choose “Online Collection”, then “Key Word Search”.

Check out History Services’ “Telling Your Stories: History in the Parks” project.  It began in January 2021 with placement of the first interpretive sign “Charlotte Harbor Spa” at South County Regional Park.  The last was dedicated December 15, 2021 at Centennial Park featuring Florida postcards.  All dedicated signs can be viewed at online library resources.  Select “Programs and Services”, then “History Services” and “Virtual Programs”.  Visit the same site and select “History Exhibits”, or phone 941-629-7278, to find out what history related programs and videos are available.

“Did You Know” appears, typically, every other Wednesday, courtesy of this newspaper and the Charlotte County Historical Society.  The Society’s mission is to help promote and preserve Charlotte County’s rich history.  We are also always looking for volunteers and interested individuals to serve as board members.  If you believe our area’s history is as important as we do, please visit Charlotte County Historical Society on-line at https://cchistoricalsociety.com/, or call 941- 769-1270 for more information.



November 22 column