Americans all know the feel-good (but deeply flawed) narrative of the Pilgrim’s thanksgiving in 1621 – the first in the new world. During colonial times, and even throughout the Revolutionary War, the practice continued as the colonies set aside different days for thanksgiving, prayer and fasting – not feasting.
The first nationwide day of thanksgiving was in response to the American victory at Saratoga in October 1777. The Continental Congress suggested a day be set aside to honor the victory. George Washington, as commander-in-chief of the army, agreed and proclaimed December 18, 1777 as the first national day of thanksgiving. The Continental Congress issued thanksgiving proclamations in each year through 1784. Note: The 1777 proclamation is easily available online and well worth reading.
Following ratification of the Constitution, the first Congress beseeched President Washington to issue a proclamation of thanksgiving; Washington concurred and issued the proclamation on October 3, 1789 designating Thursday, November 26 as the day; his proclamation is reprinted below. This is the first thanksgiving in what now became the United States of America. However, Washington did not establish a permanent holiday. Presidents Adams and Madison also declared days of thanks but there were no thanksgivings between 1815 and 1863 when President Lincoln initiated an annual observance of thanksgiving in the USA on the fourth Thursday in November.
George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation (edited for length)
“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and whereas Congress requested a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to acknowledge the many and signal favors of Almighty God by affording the people an opportunity peaceably to establish a government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore, I do assign Thursday, the 26th day 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; that we may unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our duties properly; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discretely and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations, and to bless them with good governments, peace and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue; and generally, to grant to all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.” (October 3, 1789)
Next up is a retrospective of the past hurricane season