First Thanksgiving in America
The Pilgrims, shown here celebrating their first Thanksgiving, were a group of Puritans who landed at Plymouth Rock, in what is now Massachusetts, United States, in 1620.
The pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving festival at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in October, 1621. The bitter winter of 1620, when the ship "Mayflower" had brought them to a new country, was over. They had known hunger, and sickness had carried away half the band of about 100 settlers.
But life was better now. The seeds sown early in 1621 had produced a harvest that allowed them to increase their scanty rations. The settlers were enjoying good health. Work was going ahead on the houses they were building along Town Brook. They walked peacefully and safely in the woods, for they had made friends with the Indians and signed a long-lasting peace treaty with Massasoit, head chief of the Wampanoags.
Because of their good fortune, the Pilgrims decreed a holiday on which all might, "after a more special manner, rejoice together."
Governor Bradford sent four men to shoot waterfowl and wild turkeys. The women worked hard cooking the food. Chief Massasoit was invited to the feast, and he brought with him 90 brightly painted braves--about four times the number of Pilgrim men. Some of Massasoit's men made themselves useful, going into the forest and bagging five deer.
It was a gay open-air festival, held in the field along the north bank of Town Brook. There were games of skill and chance. The Indians entertained with some of their dances. Captain Miles Standish staged a military review of his tiny force. There was target shooting with bows and arrows and firearms.
For 3 days the festivities went on, with the Pilgrims and their guests gorging themselves on venison cooked on a spit over a blazing open fire, roast ducks and geese, clams and other shellfish, smoked eel, groundnuts (a kind of potatolike root) baked in hot ashes, peas, salad greens, herbs, corn pones, and Injun (corn-rye) bread. The pilgrims served wine made from wild grapes.
There were cranberries by the bushel in neighboring bogs. But it is doubtful that the Pilgrims had yet found a tasty way of using them. It is also doubtful that the feast included another tasty invention - pumpkin pie. If such pie was served, it is certain that it was not topped with rich whipped cream, for the Pilgrims had no cows as yet and would
Edward Winslow's letter (written December 11, 1621 and sent to England by ship):
"Our Corne did proue well, & God be praysed, we had a good increase of Indian Corne, and our Barly indifferent good, but our Pease not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sowne, they came vp very well, and blossomed, but the Sunne parched them in the blossome; our harvest being gotten in, our Governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a more speciall manner reioyce together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst vs, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoyt, with some nintie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed fiue Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed upon our Governour, and upon the Captaine, and others. And although it be not alwayes so plentifull, as it was at this time with vs, yet by the goodneses of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty." Edward Winslow, Plymouth, in New England, this 11th of December, 1621. in A RELATION OR
Iournal of the beginning and proceedings of the English Plantation settled at Plimoth in NEW ENGLAND, by certaine English Aduenturers both Merchants and others. LONDON, Printed for Iohn Bellamie, 1622. pp. 60-61.
(modern version) Our corn did prove well, and, God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom.
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 fruit 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, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among 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, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
Governor William Bradford's Comments About the Harvest:
"They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty; for some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All ye somer ther was no wante. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter aproached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degree). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they took many, besids venison, &c. Besids they had aboute a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corne to yt proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports."
William Bradford. Bradford's History "Of Plimoth Plantation." Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., State Printers... 1898. p. 127. not have any for another 3 years.
. The actual origin of Thanksgiving is probably the harvest festivals that are traditional in many parts of the world. In 1623 a day of fasting and prayer during a period of drought was changed to one of thanksgiving because the rain came during the prayers. Gradually the custom prevailed in New England of annually celebrating thanksgiving after the harvest. During the revolutionary war, the Continental Congress ordered day be of national Thanksgiving.
In 1789 President Washington issued a call for Thanksgiving.
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness":
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.
In 1817 New York State adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom,
It was Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor, whose efforts eventually led to what we recognize as Thanksgiving. Hale wrote many editorials championing her cause in her Boston Ladies' Magazine, and later, in Godey's Lady's Book. She was fired with the determination of having the whole nation join together in setting apart a national day for giving thanks "unto Him from who all blessings flow."
In 1830, New York proclaimed an official state "Thanksgiving Day." Other states soon followed its example. The Territory of Minnesota celebrated its first Thanksgiving Day on December 26, 1850. The whole territory, including all of what is now the State of Minnesota plus the Dakotas as far west as the Missouri River, contained approximately 6,000 settlers but the book, The Frontier Holiday, describes a spirited celebration. Territory Governor, Alexander Ramsey, proclaimed the day of thanks:
"Young in years as a community, we have come into the wilderness, in the midst of savage men and uncultivated nature to found a new empire in aid of our pursuit of happiness, and to extend the area of enlightened republican Liberty . . . . Let us in the public temple of religion, by the fireside and family altar, on the prairie and in the forest, join in the expression of our gratitude, of our devotion to the God who brought our fathers safely through the perils of an early revolution, and who thus continues his favors to the remotest colonies of his sons."
By 1852, Hale's campaign succeeded in uniting 29 states in marking the last Thursday of November as "Thanksgiving Day."
Finally, after a 40-year campaign of writing editorials and letters to governors and presidents, Hale's passion became a reality. On September 28, 1863, Sarah Josepha Hale wrote a letter to President Lincoln and urged him to have the "day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival." On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day "of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father." Here is the text of Lincoln's proclamation:
Credit for a national Thanksgiving day was given to Sarah Hale who campaigned tireless late for a nationwide observance her letters to governors urging the adoption of the last Thursday in November for this purpose was finally excepted by 30 states in 1859.
On Oct. 3rd 1863, President Lincoln issued the first national proclamation fixing the last Thursday in November, "as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to God". Mainly religious in character the day has from the start to been marked by church services and family gatherings for a traditional dinner highlighted by roast turkey and pumpkin pie.
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. 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 one 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, tranquillity and Union.8
Lincoln issued a similar proclamation in 1864. U.S. presidents maintained the holiday on the last Thursday of November for 75 years (with the exception of Andrew Johnson designating the first Thursday in December as Thanksgiving Day 1865 and Ulysses Grant choosing the third Thursday for Thanksgiving Day 1869).
In 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declare the next-to-last Thursday of the month (November 23rd) to be Thanksgiving Day. This break with tradition was prompted by requests from the National Retail Dry Goods Association. Since 1939 had five Thursdays in November, this would create a longer Christmas shopping season. While governors usually followed the president's lead with state proclamations for the same day, on this year, twenty-three states observed Thanksgiving Day on November 23rd, the "Democratic" Thanksgiving. Twenty-three states celebrated on November 30th, Lincoln's "Republican" Thanksgiving. Texas and Colorado declared both Thursdays to be holidays.
After two years of public outcry and confusion, Congress introduced the legislation to ensure that future presidential proclamations could not impact the scheduling of the holiday.. They established Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November. The legislation took effect in 1942. Their plan to designate the fourth Thursday of the month allowed Thanksgiving Day to fall on the last Thursday five out of seven years.
Thanksgiving and Christians
There are those who want to remove any thought of God from our Thanksgiving celebrations. They wish to secularize the holiday and they reinvent history to attempt to prove their point. But it is evident from reading primary sources that Thanksgiving in America was always about giving thanks to God.
It is a Christian command and privilege to be grateful for the blessings of God (Deuteronomy 8:10; Psalm 107:19,21; Colossians 1:12-14; Philippians 1:3). Our Thanksgiving celebration is a wonderful reminder to "give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever" (1 Chronicles 16:34).
In New York and other eastern cities the custom of children for parading through the streets and costumes and masks collecting money and fruits and vegetables.
Our New EnglandThanksgiving
We have a New England Thanksgiving where the emphasis is definitely on FOOD. To us it is a celebration of the Harvest. My grandfather used to have Barley sugar lollypops shaped like turkeys for Thanksgiving and Santa's and Trees for Christmas. I have found a place in Plymouth Mass. That still makes them. If you're interested e-mail me.
Below is a menu of what we have and a link to some of the recipes that we use. I had hoped to been able to serve Plum Pudding which was Traditional when I grew up but not for the Jackson's (No way Ma) so I substituted Pecan and Apple Pie instead with Ice Cream of course.
Shrimp Smoked Salmon
Cheese and Crackers
Sausage Mushroom Stuffing
Giblet Gravy Cranberry Sauce Brussel Sprouts
Chestnuts Green Beans with Mushrooms
Creamed Onions 2 Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows
Mixed Nuts Celery, Carrots, Radishes, Scallions
Pecan Pie Apple Pie Fresh Cider
In the early 1600s, Dutch settlers brought the Prayer of Thanksgiving to the "New World". Music, based on a Netherlands folk hymn, was added and it became a favorite in the colonies and today is a traditional Thanksgiving hymn. This a translation by Theodore Baker 1851-1934).