The First Hancock Thanksgiving

During the reign of Henry VIII, Thomas Hancock was born in 1525 in London and baptized at St. Mary Woolnot Church. One of Thomas's grandsons, William Hancock, came to America in 1619. William, born Sept. 4, 1580 in Devonshire England, became an investor in the Virginia Company of London which was created by King James I for the purpose of colonizing America. The first settlement of the company was established in Jamestown in 1607.

Later, in 1619, 38 men, including William, traveled to America from Berkeley Castle in Glouscestershire England. The company they formed, the Berkeley Company, received a grant of 8,000 acres in Virginia. They sailed from England on the small ship Margaret. It was an arduous three-month voyage, but finally, on December 4th, 1619, they arrived at their New World destination. Captain John Woodlief and Anglican missionary George Thorpe led the troop ashore and followed the orders they had been given in England. The proprietor's instruction said, "the day of our ship's arrival ... shall be yearly and perpetually kept as a day of thanksgiving."

Today, a plaque at Berkley Plantation located Charles City, VA, about 30 miles west of Jamestown, states, "The first official, annual Thanksgiving in America was observed by Berkeley’s brave adventurers on December 4, 1619." This Thanksgiving was celebrated more than one year before the Pilgrims set foot on New England’s shore (Oct. 1621).

"O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy;" Psalms 107:1-2

However, on March 22, 1622 the Berkeley Hundred settlement was attacked by Native Americans and William, along with many others, was killed. Shortly after 1630, three of William's sons came to America. Augustine, Simon and William became prominent planters in Virginia and established a family line that today includes many thousands of their descendants. From Virginia, their descendants migrated throughout the southeastern and midwestern states and today are living in all parts of the country. Simon Hancock had a son named William. One of this William Hancock line moved to Craven Co., North Carolina and then on to Lowndes, Berrian, Colquit, and Cook counties of Georgia.

One of those descendants, James Newton Hancock, Jr., married Louise Russell and settled in Irwin County, GA. Newt and Louise, my grandparents, became the parents of three children, five grandchildren and, at present, eight grandchildren.

One other note of interest: In the early 1700s, the Harrison family purchased the Berkeley Hundred land, where William was killed, and built a plantation. This became the ancestral home of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, two presidents—Old Tippecanoe (William Henry Harrison) and his grandson Benjamin Harrison, and two Governors.

Respectfully Submitted,

Jay Hancock

Matthews, NC

October 9, 2005

Information from National Park Service, USA:



Berkeley Plantation web site:


On December 4, 1619 settlers stepped ashore at Berkeley Hundred along the James River and, in accordance with the proprietor's instruction that "the day of our ship's arrival ... shall be yearly and perpetually kept as a day of thanksgiving," celebrated the first official Thanksgiving Day. In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims held a celebration to give thanks to God for his bounty and blessings. This occasion was the origin of the traditional Thanksgiving as we know it today.