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Tolerance, Diversity, and Virginia’s First Thanksgiving: Religion and the Roots of American Democracy
April 2 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Native peoples in what we now call Virginia had been giving thanks at harvest and other times throughout the year for millennia before the English arrived. In 1619, Virginia claims a moment that became America’s first English Thanksgiving. Perhaps with only a small stretch, the Old Dominion might also claim this as America’s first public religious moment. Indeed, eastern Virginia has a religious history rivaled only by New Englan for its length in British North America. Whether the 1619 Thanksgiving service on the Berkley Plantation, Williamsburg’s Bruton Parish later in the century, the arrival of evangelical Presbyterian revivalist Samuel Davies in the next century, or the Statute for Religious Freedom, religion has deep roots in Tidewater and Piedmont Virginia. Yet, if tolerance amidst diversity is the essence of American religion and the basis of the First Amendment, the modern Amercan religion emerged more quickly in Western Virginia than in the older east. In the Shenandoah Valley a rich diversity that included Germans, English, and Scots Irish– evangelicals, Calvinists, Quakers, and Anabaptists– all of whom considered themselves dissenters and co-existed while each matured institutionally and maintained its uniqueness. Rather than a melting pot, the Valley was a quilt or a salad bowl with each tradition contributing its distinctive size, shape, and seasoning. Put another way, the Valley expressed the First Amendment before the First Amendment.