Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving in America: 1621, 1623, 1789

Feast with Indians, 1621.

Washington Set the Day

In 1789, as November 26.

Lincoln Made it Annual.

By Henry J. Stern
November 27, 2009

Wednesday evening, eref Thanksgiving, we sent you President Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, which he issued on October 3, 1863. That eloquent statement of gratitude has been attributed by historians to Secretary of State William H. Seward. (Lincoln appointed his principal rival for the Presidential nomination, a New Yorker, as Secretary of State). Lincoln may have been contemplating his Gettysburg Address, which he delivered on November 19, two score and seven days after the Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Lincoln’s was the first Presidential proclamation to provide for a specific day to observe Thanksgiving every year, the last Thursday in November. (Congress changed it to the fourth Thursday in 1941 to prolong the Christmas shopping season. The holiday is intended as an occasion for family reunions, and for people to express gratitude for blessings received during the year, particularly the harvest in rural communities. In Canada, which has a shorter growing season than we do in the States, Thanksgiving is observed on the second Monday in October, a day chosen by parliamentary decree in 1957.

The first President of the United States, George Washington, issued a Thanksgiving message on October 3, 1789, eighty-four years to the day before Lincoln. Washington’s proclamation appears more reverential, Lincoln/Seward’s more specific. The General designated Thursday, November 26th, 1789, but did not provide for future observances. Similar decrees were issued intermittently over the years before the Civil War. President Thomas Jefferson declined to write one because he thought it was not the business of government to tell citizens of a secular nation to express gratitude to a deity.

BTW, Washington’s proclamation was 'Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789', New York being the seat of government at the time. Shortly afterward, the capital returned to Philadelphia. It remained there for ten years until the construction of the new national capital in the District of Columbia, cut out of Maryland sixteen miles north of Mount Vernon. The custom of siting a company near the home of its CEO is not of modern origin, although there were sound political reasons to locate the capital closer to the geographic center of the thirteen colonies.

We knew that the Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving shortly after they landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620. An account of the first Thanksgiving appeared in an editorial, A NATION BLESSED, published yesterday (Thanksgiving Day) in the Daily News. We quote the first three paragraphs of the editorial, two of which are attributed to Governor Bradford, although they may have been written by his scribe, if he had one:

'In the autumn of 1621, the pilgrims of the nascent Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, along with scores of Native Americans, gathered to celebrate a successful harvest with a feast that was to be considered this nation's first Thanksgiving. In the words of the governor of the colony, William Bradford:

'They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees)

'And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.''

Two years later, on November 29, 1623, Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony, is said to have issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation, the text of which has been published in several sites on the Internet. We strongly doubt its authenticity; its style and language are much too modern, considering that it was supposed to have been written just seven years after the death of William Shakespeare. The message does, however, express sentiments which Bradford is likely to have felt at that time.

'Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

'Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.'

--William Bradford
Ye Governor of Ye Colony

We renew our wishes for a happy Thanksgiving for all of you. Many of us will be eating leftovers this weekend, they are quite good. We should be grateful that we enjoy ample food, clothing and shelter. Remember in particular our good fortune to live in a free society, and our hope that everyone on Earth will enjoy the blessings that we take for granted today.

StarQuest #624 11.27.2009 960wds

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