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Thanksgiving Day  -  TimeLine

Observed the Fourth Thursday of November

A TimeLine history of the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Thanksgiving  -  TimeLine  -  Other Traditions  -  Proclamations  -  Links

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks to God for the plenty He has provided.

"O that men would praise the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!" -Holy Bible; Psalm 107:8,15,21 and 31

Today, whether in thanks to God or the failure to thank God, it is a day American families gather together. Gathering sometimes in re-union to eat and to meet the new family members brought in whether through new birth or new marriages.
Churches hold their Thanksgiving services the Sunday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day. The Massy's Thankgiving Day parade has become a television tradition across America. Football is a mid-day tradition on Thanksgiving, for the sports enthusiast. Even the non-religious often observe the tradition of each person taking a turn to tell, "what they are thankful for."
The most remembered tradition is the feast; Turkey, Ham, Roast, Prime Rib or other main dishes accompanied by the vegetables, casseroles, salads, and deserts. The saying of 'grace' prior to the meal will often include proclaiming thanks to God for the food and other blessings bestowed upon us.

Thanksgiving  TimeLine
ancient pagan

Throughout history there have been many harvest, autumn and 'thanksgiving' festivals. The most known among them are of Grecian, Roman, and Egyptian civilizations. The festivals were to appeal to the gods for their harvest seasons.
England's home-harvest ceremonies were held to thank God for blessing the people with bountiful harvests. Thus the tradition of celebrating such "Thanks" in the fall after the harvest.
1578 First

Martin Frobisher held the first formal celebration of Thanksgiving in North America. He had tried to establish a settlement, on Canada's Baffin Island in New Foundland, having failed to find a passage to the orient.
1607 First The first known Services of Thanksgiving in America was as early as 1607 in Virginia.
1619 Dec. In December 1619, thirty-eight English settlers arrived at the James River calling it Berkeley Plantation. (Now known as Charles City, Virginia) The group's charter required the day of their arrival be observed as a Day of Thanksgiving to God.
1610s Late Members of the English Separatist Church in escaping religious persecution had fled to Holland becoming disillusioned with the Dutch ways of life. They would become the Separatists that would join with others to the New World aboard the Mayflower in 1620.
1620 Sept. On September 6th the Pilgrims sailed from Plymouth, England in search for the New World, aboard the vessel Mayflower. Although dangerous and uncertain the voyage to the New World offered civil and religious liberties.
1620 Nov. 102 passengers survived the vast sea of storms with a faith in Divine Providence. In November of 1620 the cry, "Land!" was called. The Mayflower had been used to transport wine. The spilt wine had served to disinfect the cargo holds keeping disease to a minimum. The only person to die, was ironically the one who protested the hymns saying he would take joy at the tossing of their bodies overboard after they succumbed to disease.
1620 Nov. In late November the Mayflower arrived at what we now know as Massachusetts.
1620 Dec. Plymouth Rock was named and chosen as a suitable landing site. Before disembarking the "Mayflower Compact" was signed on December 11, 1620. The "Mayflower Compact" was America's first document of civil and self government.
1620 Dec. A Prayer service was held by the Pilgrims prior to the building of shelters.
1621 Winter Without experience of the harsh New England winters nearly half of the Pilgrims had died before the coming of spring.
1621 Spring The native Indian Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn and other food. Some sources say the Indians were Iroquois while others say they were Wampanoag Indians. One source has the Wampanoag Indians celebrating Keepunumuk which is the time of their harvest.
1621 Summer The summer of 1621 brought dry weather that threatened the crops. A Day of fasting and prayer was called to thank God and ask for a bountiful harvest. God answered the prayers with rain at the end of the day, saving the crops. Steadfast in prayer and assisted by the local Indians the summer of 1621 brought a bountiful harvest.
1621 Dec. To thank God for survival and the bountiful harvest a three day feast was declared to begin on December 13, 1621. This was America's first thanksgiving festival. (Services of Thanksgiving had been held in Virginia as early as 1607).
The Pilgrim's Thanksgiving celebration was described by Pilgrim Edward Winslow with the following words, "Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling [bird hunting] so that 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... served the company almost a week... Many of the Indians [came] amongst us and... 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... And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet BY THE GOODNESS OF GOD WE ARE... FAR FROM WANT."
1623 proclaim The festival feast was repeated after the drought of 1623. After a prayer service asking God for help, heavy rains fell the following day. Governor Bradford proclaimed another day of Thanksgiving inviting their Indian friends.
1630 day The Massachusetts Bay Colony first set a day for Thanksgiving in 1630 which was done frequently until 1680.
1639 day Connecticut occassionally observed a day of Thanksgiving beginning in 1639.
1644 day 1644 began the occassional day of Thanksgiving for the Dutch in New Netherland.
1647 day Connecticut began to observe a day of Thanksgiving annually after 1647.
1676 proclaim Puritan proclaimation of June 20th, 1676:
"The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God's Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being perswaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and soulds as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ."
1680 annual
The Massachusetts Bay Colony began to observe a day of Thanksgiving annually in 1680.
1668 Court
Lasting only five years the Plymouth Court had set the celebration of Thanksgiving on November 25th.
1676 proclaim With a unamous vote Edward Rawson was selected by the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts to proclaim June 29th as a day of thanksgiving. This was partly to ask thanks to God for the victory over the heathen natives.
1676 proclaim The Pilgrims proclaimed another day of thanksgiving in 1676.
1777 proclaim General George Washington Commander in Chief of the revolutionary forces proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving in December 1777. The observance gave thanks to God and celebrated the defeat of the British at Saratoga.
1777 proclaim Marking the victory over the British the 13 colonies joined in a communal celebration prompted by the Continental Congress proclaiming a day of Thanksgiving in December.
During the American Revolutionary War one or more Thanksgiving days were designated by the Continental Congress each year after 1777 except in 1782. The executives of the 13 colonies were suggested to observe the observances in their states.
1778 Canada It is believed that many of the colonial British loyalist who had fled to Canada during and after the American Revolution brought with them many of the American customs; among them a day of Thanksgiving.
1784 turkey Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to his daughter Sally (Mrs. Sarah Bache), expressed his belief that the Turkey would make a better symbol for America than the Bald Eagle. His preference became public and is thought to have helped make the Turkey a standard for the Thanksgiving feast.
1789 proclaim The new U.S. Congress recommeded a "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer" in thanks to God for casting His blessings on America.
George Washington made the first Presidential proclamation of a day of Thanksgiving in 1789. America celebrated its first Day of Thanksgivng to God under a new constitution. The first Thursday of November was designated as the date to observe the new holiday.
Washington's Proclamation
1789 proclaim The Tradition was made firm by the Protestant Episcopal Church (George Washington was a member) proclaiming the first Thursday of November to become its regular day to give thanks. 
1795 proclaim George Washington made another proclamation of a day of Thanksgiving in 1795.
1798 proclaim
President John Adams declared Thanksgiving to be a national event setting it to november 26th then due to the resistance moved it back.
1799 proclaim President John Adams again declared a day of Thanksgiving to be a national event.
1801 protest Some of the new founded states did not feel that hardships of a few Pilgrims warranted a national holiday.
President Thomas Jefferson scoffed at the suggestion of a 'celebration' for a day of Thanksgiving.
1812 proclaim Congress passed a resolution that President Madison proclaim a day of Thanksgiving after the end of the War of 1812.
1815 proclaim Two days of Thanksgiving were proclaimed in 1815 by President Madison; neither of those occured during fall.
1817 state The state of New York adopted the annual custom of Thankgiving Day in 1817.
1817 protest Some of the Southern States expressed opposition of a Thanksgiving day based on the origination from puritan bigotry.
1833 lobby Observance of Thanksgiving had remained at the State level. Mrs. Sarah Joseph Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book began to promote the idea of a National Thanksgiving Day about 1833.
1858 state By the mid 19th century Thanksgiving Day was being celebrated by many of the individual United States.
As of 1858, 25 State and 2 Territorial Governors were proclaiming annual Thanksgiving Day observances.
1863 Lincoln


60,000 American lives were lost at the Battle of Gettysburg. Abraham Lincoln delivered his "Gettysburg Address" in November.
Walking among the thousands of graves at Gettysburg Lincoln committed his life to Jesus Christ. Lincoln said, "When I left Springfield [to assume the Presidency] I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ." Lincoln's commitment set his mood to the eventual proclamation of a Thanksgiving Day. 
1863 lobby


Mrs. Joseph Hale maintained a thirty-year campaign, contacting President after President for a National Day of Thanksgiving. During the Civil War Mrs Hale wrote a series of editorials with the last appering in 1863 in the Godey's Lady's Book.  President Abraham Lincoln agreed and set aside the last Thursday in November as a national Day of Thanksgiving. The Day would be proclaimed by every President over the next seventy-five years.
Lincoln's Proclamation
1872 Canada The first official Thanksgiving Day in Canada was on April 5th, 1872 to give grattitude for the Prince of Wales' recovery from near death.
1876 football The Intercollegiate Football Association begins holding it championship games on Thanksgiving Day.
1879 Canada The Canadian Parliament first declared Thankgiving day in 1879 as an annual secular holiday.
1920 football The first NFL game on Thanksgiving is held in 1920. The Acron Pros beat the Canton Bulldogs seven to zero.
1934 football The Detroit Lions begin playing games in 1934 when the team lost to the Chicago Bears; nineteen to sixteen.
1939 moved

President Franklin Roosevelt had changed the date of Thanksgiving to be a week earlier (second to the last Thursday in November rather than the last Thursday) to create a longer shopping season for Christmas. Public uproar caused him to move it back.
1939 football During WWII the Thanksgiving Day football series was suspended from 1939 to 1944.
1941 Holiday The fourth Thursday was perminently established as a National Holiday in 1941, by the United States Congress. Thanksgiving Day becomes a National celebration. Congress had split the difference; the fourth Thursday is sometimes the last Thursday and sometimes the second to the last.
1942 Holiday In 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt signed Congress' bill setting the date of Thanksgiving day as the fourth Thursday of November.
1945 football The Thanksgiving Day football series begins playing games again in 1945.
1957 Canada The date of the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday had been moved on several occassions. In 1957 Canada established "a day of general thanksgiving" on the second Monday of October.
1965 Song The events of Thanksgiving day at the family of Arlo Guthrie prompted his song "Alice's Restaurant." The song is still played on many Radio Stations at least once on Thanksgiving Day.
1966 football The Dallas Cowboys begin playing football on Thanksgiving Day in 1966 with a win of twentysix over fourteen beating the Cleveland Browns.
1973 Cartoon "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" has become a Thankgiving classic shown on many TV Stations across America each Thanksgiving Day.
© Copyright 2010 Roger W Hancock
Other Information/Traditions of Thanksgiving

Turkey was only mentioned by William Bradford as one of the foul served at the first Thangsgiving feast. Bradford wrote, "besides waterfowl, there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many," There were 256 million turkeys raised in 2005 in the U.S. In 2003 the average American ate 13.7 pounds of turkey during the year.

The diminishing supply of flour probably prevented the Pilgrims serving of bread. A fried bread was made from the corn crop.

The Pilgrims had boiled pumpkin but had no pumpkin pie.

It is believed that Thursday was chosen for Thanksgiving so as to not interfere with the sabbath on Saturday or Sunday.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving ranks only fifth and is not the busiest shopping day of the year. The busiest shopping day is typically the Saturday before Christmas when many do their last minute Christmas-shopping.

Proclamation of President George Washington, 1789

Now, therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th 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; and 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 becoming a nation; for the signal manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of His providence, in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union and plenty which we have enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish Constitutions of Government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the 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.

-- Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, 3 October 1863.

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 unequalled 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 had 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 consciousness 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 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.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Other Links for Thanksgiving:

Thanksgiving Poetry by the PoetPatriot       
Thanksgiving Sayings for Church signs

The Provindences of the Mayflower voyage.

Sources for the TimeLine of Thanksgiving: - - - - - - - -

Thanksgiving Day  -  TimeLine

Observed the Fourth Thursday of November


© Copyright 2010 Roger W Hancock 


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