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In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims — early settlers of Plymouth Colony — held a three-day feast to celebrate a bountiful harvest. Many regard this event as the nation’s first Thanksgiving.
The Wampanoag Indians in attendance played a key role but historians have recorded harvest ceremonies of thanks among other groups of European settlers in North America, including the British colonists in Virginia as early as 1619.
How many colonists were there? The estimated population in 1620 was 2,499 according to “opens new windowHistorical Statistics of the United States,” published in 1949 by the Census Bureau.
Just 53 pilgrims celebrated the fall harvest, an English tradition, in the New World in 1621. In 2018, some 22.8 million people in the U.S. reported English ancestry. The number in Massachusetts was 607,612.
The first Thanksgiving included 90 Wampanoag Indians. The 2010 Census counted 6,500 members of the Wampanoag American Indian tribal grouping.
Click opens new windowthis link for more interesting facts about Thanksgiving
(PragerU video 5:35 min). The very first Thanksgiving happened almost 400 years ago—long before the nation was born. How did it evolve into America’s quintessential national holiday? Credit largely goes to two people—one, a name you know; the other, you’ve probably never heard—but should. Melanie Kirkpatrick, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, gives us the run-down on how a harvest party between Pilgrims and Indians became our oldest national tradition.
"The First Thanksgiving" (1914) by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1850-1936)
opens new windowThe History of Thanksgiving Day in America (American Heritage Education Foundation)
The First Thanksgiving in America: The Protestant Reformation of the 1500s had given rise to a devout group of Christians in England in the 1600s who called for reform of the Church of England. Though the church implemented some reforms during this time, some Christians did not believe its reforms went far enough. The “Puritans,” as they were called, wanted to purify the church from within, to expel what they saw as heresy and corruption in doctrine and worship. One remnant of ...
opens new windowThanksgiving (Plimouth Plantation)
People across the world have been celebrating and giving thanks for thousands of years. In this country, long before English colonists arrived, Native People celebrated many different days of thanksgiving, including, for example, a “Strawberry Thanksgiving” and a “Green Corn Thanksgiving.”
opens new windowA Thanksgiving Proclamation (Museum of the Bible)
opens new windowThanksgiving 2018 (History Channel, history.com)
Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United States, and Thanksgiving 2018 occurs on Thursday, November 22. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
opens new windowCongress Establishes Thanksgiving (National Archives)
on September 28, 1789, just before leaving for recess, the first Federal Congress passed a resolution asking that the President of the United States recommend to the nation a day of thanksgiving. A few days later, President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a "Day of Publick Thanksgivin" - the first time Thanksgiving was celebrated under the new Constitution. Subsequent presidents issued Thanksgiving Proclamations, but the dates and even months of the celebrations varied. It wasn't until President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Proclamation that Thanksgiving was regularly commemorated each year on the last Thursday of November.
opens new windowHistorical Highlights. The Thanksgiving Holiday. (US House of Representatives)
on this date, Representative Allen Treadway of Massachusetts made a plea on the House Floor for Congress to set the last Thursday of November as the legal holiday for Thanksgiving. On Thursday, November 26, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation for “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” Beginning in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln encouraged Americans to recognize the last Thursday of November as “a day of Thanksgiving.” A few years later in 1870, Congress followed suit by passing legislation making Thanksgiving (along with Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Independence Day) a national holiday...
opens new windowWho Were the Pilgrims Who Celebrated the First Thanksgiving? (National Endowment for the Humanities)
In 1620, the Mayflower plowed across the Atlantic through headwinds and ocean currents at an incredibly slow two miles per hour. The overcrowded vessel’s crossing took more than two harrowing months. On the way, its 102 passengers witnessed an astonishing scene. During a fierce storm, an indentured servant named John Howland had come topside for fresh air when the ship rolled violently, casting him into the raging sea. He sank well beneath the waves. Such a fate almost certainly meant death by drowning. Yet, somehow, Howland had managed to grab a halyard on his way overboard, and desperately clung to it long enough for the crew to haul him back to safety.
opens new windowThanksgiving (several articles from Christianity Today)
Today’s Thanksgiving feast has its origins in an English Reformation tradition carried on by the pilgrims who arrived at Plymouth in1620. In an affront to the Catholic liturgical calendar, Puritans celebrated days of fasting and days of feasting—notably the day of feasting at the end of the fall harvest—in gratitude for God’s provision. In an age where consumption of food is often far removed from fields where it is produced, a growing number of evangelicals have reinterpreted the holiday as a time not only to thank God for abundance, but to examine where abundance comes from and the ethics of food, hunger, and environment.