The History of the First Thanksgiving Painting

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(WBRE/WYOU-TV) — In 1621 history tells us the first Thanksgiving took place as the colonists survived the journey on the Mayflower. In 1914, a Wayne County Native painted a depiction of that historic event.

Eyewitness News Photojournalist Joseph Butash takes us to Honesdale and the story of Jennie Brownscombe and “The First Thanksgiving” explained by Sally Talaga, Wayne County Historical Society Museum Collections Volunteer.

“If something happened prior to modern photography, what is the image in our mind? The image in our mind is usually paintings or drawings and all. So that’s why “The First Thanksgiving” kind of resonates with at least us Americans. Well, she (Jennie Brownscombe) was born here in Honesdale, Pennsylvania in 1850. A farm family. Her father was a farmer. Her mother encouraged her when she was young, maybe that did it. She had maybe an inborn talent,” noted Talaga.

“So she taught a couple of terms here (Honesdale High School). Taught school, and with that money, was able to go to New York City to the Cooper Union. Studied in New York at the big art institute, art schools, of the time, all of them in New York. With her professor, and who knows how many other fellow students, they formed the art student league of New York,” Talaga noted.

“Studied in Britain, went back and forth over the Atlantic, many, many, times after that. Had a studio in Rome. She did have a great interest in American history. She was able to establish her ancestry back to the pilgrims,” said Talaga.

“There are several “First Thanksgivings”. One in Plymouth Hall, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It is a certain orientation, with a table here, and so forth. And there’s another one where it is flipped, meaning it’s not a mirrored image,” said Talaga.

“Well, she painted her entire life. She’s very, very, prolific. She was born in 1850. We have some sketches, and some entries into the Wayne County Fair, when she’s a youngster,” said Talaga.

“Not many people, perhaps recognize her name, Jennie Brownscombe, but many of us recognize her images. And one of those images is “The First Thanksgiving”, because it was used in elementary history textbooks for a number of years. She would frequently, during her entire life, come back here to Honesdale (Wayne County). We have documentation of that. There was a local funeral (in 1936). She was a member, or her family-her mother remained a member of the Central United Methodist Church (11th street). In her time 1850 to 1936, she was able to make a living through her art. She’s been called the Norman Rockwell of our time, but still, nobody recognizes her name (Jennie Brownscombe),” Talaga said.

Jennie’s final resting place is in the Glen Dyberry Cemetery in Honesdale. Talaga told us, “The First Thanksgiving” continues to be reproduced. Talaga plans on writing Jennie’s biography.

**Thank you to Plymouth Hall, in Plymouth, Massachusetts for use of the photo of the orginal painting.

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