History of Campbell County, Tennessee
 

Time Line

THANKSGIVING DAY HISTORY

By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. 

     The Thanksgiving Day holiday is one of the grandest celebrations since the founding of this country. It is one of the special holidays set aside each year for which we give thanks for our religious freedom in the United States.

     This special day was originally founded in this great country as a harvest festival that was held by the Pilgrims of Plymouth colony in 1621. The Pilgrims had landed on shore from the Mayflower on Dec 21, 1620. Only about half the original men and women survived the first dreadful winter. Food reserves were not to be had.

     However, following this frightful winter, spring plantings were made and the harvest was good. Twenty acres of Indian corn, from which the Indians had furnished seed, was harvested. Barley and meat were plentiful. Governor William Bradford sent four men to hunt for fowl; they returned with enough waterfowl and wild turkeys to last for a week.
Fishermen supplied cod and bass. The friendly Indians contributed five deer. Ninety Indians, along with their chief, Massasoit, feasted with the colonists for three days.

     This grand feast must have occurred before December 11, 1621, for it was detailed in a letter written on this date by Edward Winslow, describing the ceremonious occasion. (Members of the Berkeley plantation near present-day Charles City, Va., on December 4, 1619 offered an earlier Thanksgiving in prayer alone.)

     Records do not show that this particular feast was called "thanksgiving." It was a practice the first two years of this ceremony for the Puritans to appoint a given day for the feast. Not until two years later, in 1623, was a day given when the Pilgrims set apart a day of Thanksgiving for rain that ended a severe drought.

     Thanksgiving days following harvests later came to be celebrated throughout the New England colonies, but on different and varying dates. The tradition was kept alive by proclamations of state governors.

     Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of a woman's magazine called "Godey's Lady's Book," was instrumental in getting a national holiday called Thanksgiving Day. She began her crusade in 1846, and yearly she wrote editorials, sent letters to the presidents and governors, and to other distinguished individuals.

     She chose as the date the last Thursday in November because it was on November 26, 1789, that George Washington had proclaimed a National Thanksgiving Day in honor of the new United States Constitution.

     Sarah Hale finally secured the endorsement of President Abraham Lincoln. On October 3, 1863, during the Civil War, President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26, of that year, and also named the last Thursday of November as the day to be observed every year.

     After the Revolution the tradition of Thanksgiving extended from New England to the Middle States. It next progressed to the West, but developed more slowly in the South.

     All the presidents following Washington did not implement Thanksgiving days. Jefferson refused such a proclamation stating the president had no authority to designate any religious undertaking. James Madison, Jefferson's successor, held the same perspective and only issued proclamations setting apart days for religious worship during the war with England, and then only after Congress had requested this be done.

     Washington, in his eighth year as president, issued two proclamations, while John Adams, in his four years issued two. Madison, in his eight years, issued four. After Madison, such proclamations were few, and perhaps none until the Civil War.

     Lincoln and every president that followed him proclaimed the holiday each year. However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt thought Thanksgiving Day fell too close to Christmas. He proclaimed, in 1939, the third Thursday as Thanksgiving Day.

     Compliance was not widespread in all states. And so, in December 1941, a joint resolution of Congress designated the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

     Thanksgiving Day in Canada is celebrated the second Monday in October, it being officially recognized in 1879. It was first observed at Port Royal, Nova Scotia, in 1710, when the town and fort passed into English hands for the last time.
Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Laos, Liberia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Grenada, and the Virgin Islands all celebrate a day of Thanksgiving.

     In America Thanksgiving Day has been transformed from a Holy Day to a holiday. Rather than giving thanks for our many blessings, a grand feast is the subject of the day. The family reunions and the meal have taken preference over the Thanksgiving sermon.

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