Sunday, November 29, 2020

The History of Thanksgiving in America

By Elaine Marie Cooper The traditional first Thanksgiving in America took place in November of 1621, one year after the Pilgrim’s arrival in the new world. It had been a long and painful year for the colonists, with half of their number succumbing to illness. With the help pf both Providence and compassionate local natives, the group celebrated their survival. Subsequent annual feasts were not an official event for the American colonies, but states often declared their own celebration of a bountiful harvest. It became a much-anticipated event, with families often celebrating Thanksgiving more than once; first in their home colony, then crossing over the boundary of an adjacent colony to celebrate again with other family members. Then the war between England and America began. The tradition of Thanksgiving was firmly ensconced in the minds of American colonists however, so despite the battles, the fears and the inadequate food supplies for some, Thanksgiving was carried on. In November 4 of 1775, the city council of Watertown Massachusetts declared an official day of Thanksgiving. “We have thought fit, with the Advice of the Council and House of Representatives, to appoint Thursday the Twenty-third Day of November Instant, to be observed as a Day of public THANKSGIVING, throughout this Colony; hereby calling upon Ministers and People, to meet for religious Worship in said Day, and devoutly to offer up their unfeigned Praises to Almighty God, the Source and benevolent Bestower of all Good…” As printed in the Pennsylvania Evening Post, November 4, 1775. The War continued and often, spirits plummeted. General Washington, who was in charge of the American Continental troops, often escaped disaster by eluding the enemy forces rather than engaging in battle. There were few victories to claim.

Then the tide turned when the opposing forces met up in Saratoga, New York in September of 1777. The British were confident they could interfere with the American army in the north by overtaking the battlefield, thereby cutting off the New England troops from the rest of the colonies. But the plan was thwarted by an increasing number of American militia (some estimate 13,000 troops) vs. 7,000 Redcoats. Finally, the Americans had the upper hand. The victory brought celebration to the colonies along with support from the French government. It was an alliance the Americans had long sought. This is a partial text of the Continental Congress’ November 1, 1777 national Thanksgiving Day Proclamation; as printed in the Journals of Congress:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the 18th day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please him graciously to afford his blessings on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all blessings, independence and peace … This was the new country’s first national day of Thanksgiving. The Congress supported similar Thanksgiving proclamations through 1784. In 1789, New Jersey representative Elias Boudinot presented a resolution requesting that President Washington declare an observance of thanksgiving to honor the creation of the newly penned Constitution of the United States. Subsequent presidents also declared days of Thanksgiving, but not until the Civil War in the 1860’s was a regular holiday initiated by President Abraham Lincoln.

Elaine Marie Cooper has a recent release, Scarred Vessels, which features the black soldiers in the American Revolution as well as some little-known history of Rhode Island. Her newly contracted Dawn of America series will begin releasing this April with Love’s Kindling. The series is set in Revolutionary War Connecticut. Cooper is the award-winning author of Fields of the Fatherless and Bethany’s Calendar. Her 2016 release (Saratoga Letters) was finalist in Historical Romance in both the Selah Awards and Next Generation Indie Book Awards. She has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul and HomeLife magazine. She also penned the three-book historical series, Deer Run Saga. You can visit her website/ blog at


  1. Thank you for the post! I think that your post cemented Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday, with its' emphasis on giving thanks for our blessings and bounty and also the celebration of family.

  2. Amen! It is perhaps my favorite holiday as well. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I love Thanksgiving because it's a valid reason to cook a turkey :)

  4. LOL!!! I love turkey dinner!! This feast is truly my favorite, especially the leftovers, :)