A Little Bit of Thanksgiving History….

It seems men (oh, and women and children) have been celebrating a day of Thanksgiving for a long time in this country. On September 8, 1656, the first recorded Thanksgiving celebration occurred when 600 Spanish settlers landed at what is now St. Augustine, FL and held a mass of Thanksgiving for the safe passage to the new world. On April 30, 1598, Spaniard Don Juan de Onate ordered his expedition party to rest and conducted a mass of Thanksgiving.

On December 4, 1619, a group of 38 English settlers arrived at Berkley Hundred, about 20 miles upstream of Jamestown. Their charter required them to celebrate yearly their day of arrival. The 8000 acres settled there eventually became the Berkley plantation and continues to be the site of an annual Thanksgiving celebration. President Bush, in his official 2007 Thanksgiving address, said this:

“In the four centuries since the founders of Berkeley first knelt on these grounds, our nation has changed in many ways. Our people have prospered, our nation has grown, our Thanksgiving traditions have evolved — after all, they didn’t have football back then. Yet the source of all our blessings remains the same: We give thanks to the Author of Life who granted our forefathers safe passage to this land, who gives every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth the gift of freedom, and who watches over our nation every day.”

In 1621 the Pilgrims set apart a day of celebration immediately after their first harvest. It was not immediately regarded as a Thanksgiving service since harvest festivals were common among the Pilgrims and the natives.

Puritan Christians in the Massachusetts Bay Colony celebrated their first thanksgiving in 1630 and frequently after that until 1680 when it was established as an annual holiday. Connecticut colonists started one in 1639 and the Dutch in New Netherland in 1644. Charlestown, Massachusetts held the first recorded observance on June 29, 1671 by proclamation of the town’s governing council.

In the 18th century, colonies observed days of thanksgiving throughout the year. Many of these were not days of feasting and celebration but rather days of prayer and fasting. Later in the 1700’s, days of thanksgiving were periodically designated to celebrate a military victory, the adoption of a state constitution or a bountiful crop. The surrender of the British General Burgoyne at Saratoga was marked by the colonies as a Thanksgiving day in December 1777.

During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress would appoint one or more thanksgiving days per year and recommend their observance to the executives of the various states. The first National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was given by the Continental Congress in 1777.

On October 3, 1789, President George Washington created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States. He again proclaimed one in 1795. John Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799. No Thanksgiving proclamations were issued by Thomas Jefferson, but in 1814 the tradition was renewed by James Madison, in response to resolutions by Congress at the close of the War of 1812. Madison also declared the holiday twice in 1815, but neither day was in the autumn. In 1816, Governor Plamer of New Hampshire appointed Thursday, November 14 to be observed as a day of public Thanksgiving, while Governor Brooks of Massachusetts set aside Thursday, November 28 to be “observed throughout that State as a day of Thanksgiving.” From 1817, a day was annually appointed by the governor of New York. There was opposition to a day of Thanksgiving in some of the southern states on the grounds that it was a relic of Puritan bigotry, but by 1858, proclamations were being issued by the governors of 25 states and two territories.

In the middle of the Civil War, President Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November 1863. Here is the last half of that proclamation:

“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.”

Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, 3 October 1863.[7)

If you wish to read the whole proclamation, you can find it here.

President’s Lincoln’s successors continue his example of declaring the final Thursday of November to be the Thanksgiving holiday. But in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt broke with this tradition. November had 5 Thursdays that year, and he declared the 4th one to be the holiday. In 1940 he wanted the 3rd Thursday to be the holiday. The country was still in the midst of the Great Depression and he thought the earlier Thanksgiving would give shop owners a longer period to sell goods for Christmas. At the time, it was considered inappropriate to advertise goods for Christmas before Thanksgiving. (Boy has this ever changed!) The presidential declaration was legally non-binding and so was widely disregarded. Twenty-three states went along with his proclamation and 22 did not and some could not decide, like Texas, and took both weeks as government holidays. Critics termed Roosevelt’s dating of the holiday as “Franksgiving.“.

In 1941 Congress passed a bill requiring that Thanksgiving be celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November. In December, Roosevelt signed the bill, making the date of Thanksgiving now a matter of federal law.

Many of the foods we traditionally serve for Thanksgiving day are native to the Americas or were introduced as a new food source to the Europeans when they arrived. The serving of turkey dates back to the first Thanksgiving. The giving of thanks is also a religious observance. A 1998 Gallup poll estimated that 64% of Americans say grace on Thanksgiving.

(This information is all lifted from Wikipedia.)

Wow, what a long history of this “giving of thanks”. It is because these United States were settled and founded by a religious and moral people. We are the descendants of those religious and moral people. We are a nation founded on moral and religious principles, no matter what the naysayers may say. There are many who no longer wish to submit to moral and religious values; that is their prerogative. But there are equally as many who wish to preserve and protect the spiritual and moral values of our nation, without which there can truly be no “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

Have a wonderful, prosperous Thanksgiving holiday as we celebrate and give thanks to our Creator for all that He has done for us. I know our family has never gone hungry on Thanksgiving or any other day for that matter.


One thought on “A Little Bit of Thanksgiving History….

  1. Great post, Kathy! I loved it. What wonderful words to read before my second favorite holiday. Thanks, that was a lot of work.

    I totally agree with you, that this country’s founding was based on moral and religious thinking, whether people like to think that today or not. We must not forget that, and also must continue to be a moral Judeo/Christian-based society.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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