Around Our Town...Thankgiving
11/01/2005 - "That all the People may with united Hearts on that Day express a just Sense of His unmerited Favors -- Particularly in that it hath pleased Him, by His over ruling Providence to support us in a just and necessary War for the Defence of our Rights and Liberties; ...by defeating the Councils and evil Designs of our Enemies, and giving us Victory over their Troops -- and by the Continuance of that Union among these States, which by his Blessing, will be their future Strength & Glory." --Samuel Adams on behalf of the Continental Congress, November 3, 1778
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The first known thanksgiving celebration in the New World was in Jamestown, the colony of Virginia, in 1607. However, the celebration we hark back to as the "First Thanksgiving" was the Pilgrims' three-day feast in early November of 1621. The Pilgrims were Puritans, Calvinist Protestants who rejected the institutional Church of England, embarking from Plymouth, England, on September 6, 1620, sailing for a new world that offered the promise of both civil and religious liberty.
Upon landing in America, the Pilgrims conducted a prayer service, then quickly turned to building shelters. Starvation and sickness during the ensuing New England winter killed almost half their population, but through prayer and hard work, with the assistance of their Indian friends, the Pilgrims reaped a rich harvest in the summer of 1621.
By the mid-17th century, the custom of autumnal Thanksgivings was established throughout New England. After adopting the Constitution's Bill of Rights, Congress approved a motion for proclamation of a national day of thanksgiving. Washington set his signature to the first day of thanks for the liberties enshrined in our new Constitution, writing:
"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....
"Now, therefore, I do recommend and 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 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 their becoming a nation; for the signal and 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 since 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.
"And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplication 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 several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our national government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
"Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, AD 1789."
After 1815, there were no more annual Thanksgiving proclamations until our citizens were imperiled by the War Between the States, when Abraham Lincoln declared November 26, 1863, a Day of Thanksgiving, calling for prayer and thanksgiving for the nation, saying in part, "...[It is] announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.... It has seemed to me fit and proper that...[God's blessings] should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people."
For the following 77 years, every subsequent president repeated that proclamation. In 1941, Congress permanently set the fourth Thursday of each November as our official national Thanksgiving.
So stand our nation's Thanksgiving Day observances. Unlike the Puritan colonists of Plymouth and the Revolutionary colonials, we are rarely poised on the perilous edge of hunger and death....Our fellow countrymen, U.S. troops, remaining in harm's way abroad the better to protect us, are atop the list for our heartfelt gratitude.
--Excerpted and edited from The Federalist Patriot, No. 04-47, by Mark Alexander. The full text may be read at: