Early Thanksgiving Celebrations
The first such Thanksgiving celebration likely happened between September and November in 1621 in the Plymouth Bay colony. It was a day set aside to thank the Lord for the harvest. Whether or not they were invited, 90 Wampanoag Indians under the leader Massasoit attended. Edward Winslow said of the event:
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer.”
What was served at this first thanksgiving in the Plymouth Colony? As you read from Winslow’s quote, fowl and deer were served. It is reported by Sara Josepha Hale in the Goody’s Lady’s Book that turkey was the fowl served. In addition, fish, mussels and oysters, corn dishes,and breads were prepared for all the attendees.
The custom continued in New England after the fall harvest but not in the rest of the country. The Continental Congress declared the first national Thanksgiving to be celebrated on December 8, 1777. In 1789, George Washington declared the fourth Thursday of November a day of thanksgiving and prayer. James Madison did likewise during his presidency. Few future presidents did this.
But in 1845, Sarah Josepha Hale began campaigning for such an annual day of thanksgiving. Finally in 1863, (During the Civil War) Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November to be a national day of day of thanks, and a holiday.
“It seems to me fit and proper that they (gifts) should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do therefore, invite my fellow citizens to every part of the United States, and also those who are at seas and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
New York volunteers sent 400,000 pounds of turkey by ship to Grant’s army at City Point, VA for the observance of Thanksgiving in 1863. The observance of Thanksgiving continued to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November until President Roosevelt changed it to the fourth Thursday of November. It was codified into law in December 1941. It has remained a national legal holiday on the fourth Thursday of November ever since.
The next blog will review the first major Union victory of the war. Do you remember it? It was during the winter of 1862. Was it in the East or the West? Tune in during December. Happy Thanksgiving all.