The History of Thanksgiving

During America’s history, Thanksgiving has been observed on various dates. From revolutionary times through Lincoln’s time it was mostly up to the state to set a date for the celebration. By the beginning of the 19th century, the date most states favored was the final Thursday to coincide with Evacuation Day. This was the celebration of the British exit from the United States. Sarah Josepha Hale(famous for editing “Godeys ladys Book”) campaigned for 40 years to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. President Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation in 1863 that set aside the final Thursday in November for a day of Thanksgiving. This was to celebrate the bounties of the Union and for the military successes during the war.  But because of the ongoing war, Thanksgiving was not fully realized until about 1870 after reconstruction.

President Franklin D Roosevelt, and Congress signed a joint resolution on December 26th, 1941 changing Thanksgiving from the final Thursday to the fourth Thursday in November.

Two events in the history of America started the tradition of Thanksgiving. The first was a well recorded event in 1619 in Virginia celebrating the arrival of 38 settlers at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City, VA. The group’s charter laid out that this day should be celebrated yearly as thanksgiving to God. The second event is what most people think of when they think of Thanksgiving is the sparsely documented 1621 celebration in Plymouth, MA which was prompted by a good harvest that year.

Until 1682, Thanksgiving proclamations, were mostly made by Church leaders. After this time and until the time of American Revolution, state and church leaders were the proclaimers of this holiday. The first nationwide Thanksgiving event was put into place by President Washington, marking November 26, 1789 “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God”.