Thanksgiving, aside from being an annual day set aside for us to be thankful, lets us remember the struggles and triumph of the early American settlers. Thankful for finding a new home in America, for achieving a relationship with the local Native Americans, and for their promising future in the New World, Thanksgiving is an everlasting way for Americans to remember where we came from and on what values our country was built. There are many ways to remember the First Thanksgiving but if you're looking for an educational field trip focused on early American history, head this way!
Plimoth Plantation - Built upon the history of 1600s English settlers and the Wampanoag peoples in Massachusetts, the Plimoth Plantation site is both a living history park and a historical museum. Not only can you find historic artifacts and exhibits, but you can walk aboard the replica of the original Mayflower, the tall ship which brought over the early settlers, a fully replicated 17th century village, and Wampanoag Village. Plimoth Plantation has a number of educational activities, displays and demonstrations, as well as a public Thanksgiving dinner. Here, you get all the history of the English settlers as well as their relations with the local Native Americans.
Jamestown Settlement - You all know the story of the most famous English settlement, Jamestown. Now you get the opportunity to visit the living history recreation of that colonial village. Board three ships that sailed first in 1607 and crossed the Atlantic, walk through a recreation of Fort James and a Powhatan Village, explore museum galleries and exhibits, and more. You can eat dinner with the "colonists" at the Jamestown Settlement Cafe or simply learn about the foods which would have been served at the First Thanksgiving with a three day event, "Foods and Feasts of Colonial Virginia." After Thanksgiving, make sure you come back for their Christmas exhibits and events!
Colonial Williamsburg - Everlastingly popular, and the site of more than two dozen historic attractions, live historically accurate demonstrations, shows and more, Colonial Williamsburg is a fantastic opportunity to teach your students about colonial Virginia. Apart from their regular shows and museums, the park also puts on a yearly Thanksgiving Day Feast where families can gather around a traditional meal, complete with colonial characters. If you prefer not to participate in the dinner, visitors to the park can still watch as the "colonists" prepare the meal in an authentically colonial manner, plucking turkeys and juicing cranberries.
Historic Jamestowne - Where Jamestown Settlement recreates the living history side of Jamestown, Historic Jamestowne preserves the original site. Ongoing archaeological digs, museum exhibits, and artifacts explained by practicing historians make Historic Jamestowne a sincerely authentic educational experience. Go down in the dig sites with the archaeologists, explore the history of the first settlers and of famous Native Americans like Pocahontas and her father Chief Powhatan. Though the park is not open on Thanksgiving, Historic Jamestowne is a wonderfully educational destination for student groups to explore the true life history of the first colonists.
American Museum of Natural History - One of the top museums in the world, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum works wonders with history, as you'll see in their many exhibits. Written in Bone, in particular, examines the archaeological findings of Historic Jamestowne to create whole histories surrounding the 17th century bones and the people they once belonged to. The exhibit also showcases how they are "Unearthing 17th Century Chesapeake" through archaeology and anthropology, uncovering the true story of the first colonists in Jamestown, the harsh conditions they had to endure, and what kind of life they had in early America.
National Museum of American History - Another popular Washington, D.C. museum, the American History Museum, as its mission, accurately portrays the ongoing history of our country. Start at the beginning and explore the origins of America all the way through the Revolutionary War and the American fight for freedom. Discover what the settlers only dreamed of by coming to America. See the whole span of American history including George Washington's own military uniform, the history of American currency from colonial times onward, the history of the presidency, and much, much more.
Frontier Culture Museum - This all-encompassing museum captures not only the tale of a single era and peoples but follows the story of various groups of early settlers from the 16th and 17th centuries. There are several different themed "farms" fashioned accurately after a "1600s English Farm," a "1700s Irish Farm," a "1700s West African Farm," and many others. Though the complex doesn't have any traditional Thanksgiving events or exhibits, your student group will have a blast learning about life in early America via these living history exhibits. Let them literally step into the villages of early America and see what life was like for the original settlers.
Old Sturbridge Village - Where Colonial Williamsburg captures life in the colonial south, Old Sturbridge Village does so in the north, New England to be exact. Just like in Colonial Williamsburg, Old Sturbridge Village also puts on a Thanksgiving Day feast which they call "Bounty." Come and see the 1830s brought to life through New England customs, early 19th century dining etiquette and recipes flooding the table with delicious smells and warmth. The Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center is open with educational exhibits on the Native American-colonist relations, Native American food traditions, and a live presentation by a "colonial minister" about the real meaning of the thankful holiday.