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A Thanksgiving Story

Who celebrated the First Thanksgiving?

On December 4,1619, a group of 38 English settlers arrived at Berkley Plantation in what is now Charles City, Virginia. The group had a charter that required them to observe the day of their arrival be observed yearly as a day of thanksgiving to God. Captain Joe Woodleaf held the service. In addition to 1619, the colonists possibly held service in 1920 and 1921. In 1922 the colony was wiped out and the event had been limited to the Berkley settlement.

What about the Pilgrims?

In 1620, the Pilgrims left Europe to travel to the new world motivated by 'a great hope for advancing the kingdom of Christ' , according to the pilgrim leader's diary, William Bradford.

The Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620. Over their first winter nearly half of the 102 original colonists died from pneumonia andd consumption. At one point there were only seven people able to get wood to make fires and care for the sick.

But the harvest of 1621 was bountiful. And the remaining colonists decided to celebrate with a feast. This was not a day of Pilgrim thanksgiving but pure celebration.

While the word thanksgiving is not used in reference to the feast; Edward Winslow's letter written December 11, 1621 regarding this celebration makes reference to God's blessing on the harvest, the 'goodness of God' in providing for them It also says the feast was held so that they 'might after a special manner rejoice together'. If that isn't Thanksgiving, I don't know what is!

The event occured in 1621, between September 21 and November 11, Mostlikely being around Michealmas {September 29) - traditional harvest time in English homes. The settlers asked their Indian ally, Chief Massasoit, to dine with them. He brought along nearly 100 warriors. This 'first' thanksgiving feast lasted 3 days. The Pilgrims and Indians ate out doors at large tables and competted together in tests of skill and strength.

Governor William Bradford sent 'four men fowling' after wild ducks, geese, and turkey. The warriors brought 5 deer.

Did the Pilgrims have other thanksgiving feasts?

The pilgrims didn't have a thanksgiving feast the following year. In the third year there was a prolonged drought that struck while the Pilgrims were pre-occupied with cultivating more land, building on to their houses, and planting extra corn for trade. Week after week went by with no rain. Even the Indians could not remember a time in which it had been so dry, so long. The sun blasted corn withered on its stalks and became tinder dry, and the ground cracked open and was so powdery a normal rain would not do any good.

Finally in July, Governor Bradford called a council of leaders. It was obvious that God was with-holding the rain for a reason, and they'ld better find out why. Bradford declared a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer. They gathered in their blockhouse church and began to search their hearts. It turned out these 'saints' had things to repent for - spiritual pride, jealousy, vindictiveness, greed, as well as broken relationships. One after another, they asked God's forgiveness and that of their fellow Pilgrims.

A tender, peaceful spirit grew among them and was enhanced as each hour passed. Late in the afternoon, as they emerged from the blockhouse, the sky which had been clear and hard for the past two months, was now covered with clouds all around them. The next morning a gentle, reviving rain began to fall.

Their harvest that fall was so abundant that they had surplus. Much to the delight of the Indians to the north who did not have a good growing season. To everyone's delight Governor Bradford 'set apart a day of thanksgiving' and also invited Chief Massasoit and his braves.

Another day of thanksgiving was proclaimed in June of 1676. The council of Charlestown, Massachusetts, held a meeting to see how best to express thanks for the victories in war with the heathen natives and the good fortune that had seen their community securely established. By unanimous vote they instructed Edward Rawson, the clerk, to proclaim June 26 as a day of thanksgiving.

What about colonial thanksgiving?

October of 1777 was the first time all 13 colonies joined in a thanksgiving celebration. Lasting eight days it also commemorated the patriotic victory over the British at Saratoga. This was a one time affair.

George Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1789. He called for a day of prayer and giving thanks to God. It was celebrated by all religious denominations, but discord among the colonies prevented it from being practiced by all the states. Many felt that the hardship of a few Pilgrims did not warrant a national holiday. And later, President Thomas Jefferson scoffed at the idea.

So, how did Thanksgiving Day come to be?

Sarah Josepha Hale's, a magazine editor, efforts are what led to what we know and recognize as Thanksgiving Day. Hale wrote several editorials championing her cause in Boston Ladies' Magazine and later in Godey's Lady's Book. She was fired with the determination of having the entire nation join together in setting apart a national day of 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. In 1852, Hale's campaign succeeded in uniting 29 states in marking the last Thursday of November as 'Thanksgivign Day'.

Finally after 40 years of campaigning thorugh editorial and writing letters to governors and presidents, Hale's compassion became a reality. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day 'of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father'.

Since then the date was only changed once, by Franklin Roosevelt, who moved it to the third Thursday in order to create a longer Christmas shopping season. Public uproar against this decision caused the Congress to move Thanksgiving back to its origianl date two years later.

 

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