History of Thanksgiving

Families around the world gather and share a large feast in order to celebrate thanksgiving.


Bukola Moyosore

A Thanksgiving drawing with a cartoon of a turkey.

By Bukola Moyosore, Staff Writer

Thanksgiving is a national holiday that is celebrated every fourth Thursday of November. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared a large harvest feast that is known today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations. Later, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day to be held in November. Thanksgiving has now celebrated by individual states for more than two centuries.

In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and welcomed a group of the colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Governor Bradford sent four men on a “fowling” mission in preparation for the event, and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer. This was now remembered as the first American “Thanksgiving” and the festival lasted for three days.

Pilgrims held their second Thanksgiving celebration in 1623 to mark the end of a long drought that had jeopardized their harvest and prompted Governor Bradford to call for a religious fast. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress appointed one or more days of thanksgiving a year. In 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States. Washington told Americans to express their gratitude for independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. His successors John Adams and James Madison also appointed thanksgiving during their presidencies.

In 1817, New York became the first states to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday. However, and the South remained largely unfamiliar with Thanksgiving. In 1827, the prolific writer, Sarah Josepha Hale, launched a campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. She began to publish editorials and sent letters to governors, senators, presidents, and other politicians. Abraham Lincoln noticed her request in 1863, at the height of the Civil War. He scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that day every year until 1939.