Nov 22, 2012

Thanksgiving History

By Susan Knight

Since everyone has waxed poetic about Thanksgiving and what they’re grateful for, I decided I would provide a little trivia about Thanksgiving. I’m all about trivia.

History buffs may say that William Bradford and the folks in “Plimoth” had the first Thanksgiving in 1621, but research tells me the first Thanksgiving was celebrated years earlier.

Mass in St. Augustine, Florida, 1565

 In 1565, Pedro Menendez de Avile, a Spanish explorer, invited members of a local tribe near St. Augustine for a Mass of thanks to God for the crew's safe arrival on the shores of Florida—followed by dinner.

A group of settlers in Virginia also beat them to it. Thirty-eight people from England arrived in what was called Berkeley Hundred, now Berkeley Plantation, on December 4, 1619. They made a charter that stated they would observe a yearly day of thanksgiving to God.

The charter outlined the service that should be held: “Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

Meanwhile, the good folks back at Plimouth Plantation tried and failed at living with everything in common. Sound familiar? Everyone worked for the common good, including farming, hunting and everyday activities of survival. It seems some folks didn’t like the idea of working hard to support other peoples’ families, so people grew lazy and there was no harvest to speak of that first year in Massachusetts.

Bradford then proposed people get their own land and they could work it however they desired. Lo, and behold, production greatly expanded.

In Bradford’s own words: “This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corne was planted than other waise would have bene by any means ye Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave farr better contente. The women now wente willingly into ye field, and tooke their little-ons with them to set corne, which before would aledg weaknes, and inabilitie; whom to have compelled would have bene though great tiranie and oppression. . . By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed . . . and some of ye abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any generall wante or famine hath not been amongst them since this day . . . ” (Wm. Bradford, “Of Plimoth Plantation,” original manuscript, Wright & Potter, Boston, 1901)

Did you know lobster, seal and swans were on those Pilgrims' menu? And did you know William Bradford's descendants include Noah Webster, Julia Child and Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist? Native Americans used cranberries for medicinal purposes. In fact, it was called “craneberry” because its drooping, pink blossoms in the spring resembled a crane. I warned you. I like trivia.
George Washington proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving in 1789. President Thomas Jefferson later opposed it; however, Presidents Adams and Monroe observed it. Every president after Abraham Lincoln decreed a day of thanks.

Sarah Josepha Hale

 Sarah Josepha Hale, a novelist and magazine editor, who penned
the nursery rhyme “Mary Had  Little Lamb,” influenced a day of thanks in the early days of the Union. She composed Thanksgiving editorials every year from 1827 and endeavored to persuade governors in each state to name November 25 a day of Thanksgiving. She said there should be two great religious holidays, Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day.

By 1851, Hale changed her stance about the day and wrote: The last Thursday in November has these advantages—harvests of all kinds are gathered in—summer travelers have returned to their homes—the diseases that, during summer and early autumn, often afflict some portions of our country, have ceased, and all are prepared to enjoy a day of Thanksgiving.”

In 1859, as the union moved farther apart, Hale felt it even more important to celebrate a day together and, in 1863, wrote to President Lincoln. Her petition brought Lincoln to declare the last Thursday of November a national day of Thanksgiving.

That day held until 1939. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, during the Great Depression, was persuaded to create a longer Christmas shopping season. Sometimes there were five Thursdays in November and shopkeepers needed to spur retail sales. The first year of the change of date was met with public outcry. Citizens called it “Franksgiving.” By 1941, President Roosevelt "reluctantly" signed a bill declaring the fourth Thursday, not the last Thursday, a legal holiday.

And so it has remained.
Please visit this LINK for more interesting trivia and history about Thanksgiving.

In conclusion, I hope we will all remember that Thanksgiving began as a religious observation. It’s not about the food . . . really. It’s about love, volunteerism, worship, family, friends. 

I’m grateful for a day to celebrate thanks to our Heavenly Father for all He has given me and done for me. I’m thankful for my Savior’s Atoning sacrifice. How can I ever repay Him?
I don’t know what I did to deserve to live in this great land of ours. It’s such a privilege. I'm especially thankful for those two elders who knocked on my door thirty-one years ago with a message about a restored church. Who knew?

May we always remember how loved we are by Deity and that we are offspring of Divinity.


  1. Beautiful! Love the information and our connection to true thanks is for the Lord and all the tender mercies I receive.

    I was explaining Black Friday to my daughter and she was having a hard time. She asked, "so, people go out a spend like crazy so soon after the day we are thankful for what we have?"

    I will share this with her and keep the focus in our home on simple thanks.
    Thnak you!

    1. Leesa, I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving Day. Isn't it wonderful your daughter "gets it?"
      Thanks for your comment.

  2. WOW! Thank you for researching all of this!

  3. Great post Susan! well done! We learned that Massasoit is my 11th great grandfather as well as several passengers from the Mayflower.That makes our "tradtional" story of Thanksgiving fun, too! Love your trivia!

    1. Kari, I have another friend who descends from John Alden. You're lucky to be a Mayflower descendent. Lots of genealogy already done for you.
      My ancestor, Richard Borden, helped found Rhode Island. Pilgrims, too, they were, escaping religious persecution. He is the ancestor of Borden's milk (remember Elsie the cow?), Bordentown, New Jersey and yes, even Lizzie Borden, who was exonerated for the murder of her parents, by the way (a cousin far removed).
      Two of his married signers of the Declaration of Independence. They were sisters and married to McLean and Hopkinson.
      But I do go on. . .
      Thanks for your comment! Much love to you!

  4. Great article, looks like you had a blast researching it.

    1. Jodi, thanks for looking! You're a true friend ♥
      I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving day.


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