The very first “thanksgiving” was celebrated in 1619, one year before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth by another group of English settlers. The event was held on the banks of the James River at what is now Berkeley Plantation, the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison, signer of the Declaration of Independence and father of the ninth President of the United States, William Henry.
Most Americans, however, remember that the Thanksgiving Day tradition was modeled after the 1621 event in Plymouth, Massachusetts where fifty Pilgrims and ninety Wampanoag Indians feasted for three full days. The Pilgrims were indeed thankful for friendship and a bountiful harvest. In the previous year, half of the Pilgrims had starved to death. A Patuxet Indian named Squanto came to their rescue helping them to survive in the New World.
Throughout our history, Americans were called hundreds of times by their leaders to days of fasting and prayer and subsequent days of thanksgiving often by local officials and governors.
The first Thanksgiving Proclamation was issued by the Governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts on June 20, 1676. The council wanted to offer thanks for a series of victories in the ongoing “War with the Heathen Natives” setting apart the 29th of June as a “day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favor.”
But it was President George Washington at the request of the Congress, who on October 3, 1789 issued the first national Thanksgiving Day Proclamation from New York City. Setting aside November 26, the proclamation stated that “our duty as a people, with devout reverence and affectionate gratitude, to acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God and to implore Him to continue and confirm the blessings we experience.”
But few Americans gathering this week with family and friends for the feast know about the woman (yes– it was a woman) most credited with making Thanksgiving Day a national holiday.
Born Sarah J. Buell (Sarah Josepha Hale) on October 24, 1788, in Newport, New Hampshire, it was Sarah’s persistent petitions that brought about the holiday. She sent hundreds of letters to politicians including five presidents imploring them to institute a national day of thanksgiving.
Buell became one of the most influential women in the United States as the editor of the most widely circulated women’s magazine called Godey’s Lady’s Book. She also penned “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” the most-well-known poem in American history.
But it was not until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln received her letter in the midst of the Civil War that the New England tradition would become a national one. “If every state would join in Thanksgiving,” she wrote, “would it not be a renewed pledge of love and loyalty to the Constitution?” Lincoln agreed.
He set apart the last Thursday of November as a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” He called upon Americans “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.”
Lincoln would issue three more Thanksgiving Proclamations from the White House. Subsequent presidents issued similar proclamations but the states chose different days for the thanksgiving observance. It was not until 1934 that Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that to “set aside in the autumn of each year a day on which to give thanks to Almighty God for the blessings of life is a wise and reverent custom, long cherished by our people.” In 1941, the Congress made the third Thursday of November an official national holiday.
Again and again even in our darkest days, our leaders have called upon us to give thanks to our Creator for our many blessings. This year was a difficult year for so many Americans who are out of work or have suffered economic hardship. Nevertheless, we are a nation that has always persevered through hardship and we will again. Because even when challenged we have always been a grateful nation.
So with gratitude, it is fitting that we should reflect upon what is good and what God has given us. It is in that spirit that Adam and I along with our entire family and our Made in USA Certified -team wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy Thanksgiving.
*For more U.S. Census Bureau Thanksgiving -Fun Facts: