The following guest post is by Amber Paranick, a librarian in the Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room. Amber collaborated with us before showcasing early U.S. articles related to ice hockey from the Chronicling America database in the post “King of Winter Sports.”
The history of the Thanksgiving holiday can be traced back to 1621, when Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is now recognized as the first Thanksgiving held in the colonies. Since then, the history is rife with myth and uncertainty. The first President of the United States, George Washington, issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation under the new Constitution on October 3, 1789 making November 26 a day of thanksgiving and prayer. The Gazette of the United States, a New York newspaper, printed the Proclamation in its entirety right on the front page of the issue dated October 10, 1789. Recently, an original copy of this proclamation penned by G.W. went up for auction for a pretty penny (or quarter, shall we say).
Even though John Adams and James Madison followed suit and issued ad hoc proclamations during their presidencies, the day itself did not become a national holiday until after the U.S. Civil War. Sarah Josepha Hale, famous editor of the popular, Godey’s Lady’s Book magazine, played a major role in this. She issued yearly editorials and recipes and encouraged the celebration of the holiday, The Great American Festival. She wrote many a letter, including one to President Lincoln in September 1863 “to put forth his Proclamation, appointing the last Thursday in November as the National Thanksgiving.” Her efforts finally paid off when Lincoln issued a Proclamation on October 3, 1863, inviting fellow citizens in every part of the United States “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and prayer…”.
Lincoln was also the first to ‘pardon’ a live turkey. As a story in the Hartford Courant from 1865 reported, when a live turkey was sent to the White House for the Thanksgiving one year, Lincoln’s young son, Tad, protested by declaring “that the turkey had as good a right to live as any body, and the pampered gobbler remained in the President’s grounds.”
Lots of other newspaper articles on Thanksgiving are just waiting to be discovered in the Library’s Chronicling America newspaper database, whether you’re interested in Thanksgiving Day football games, advice on getting dressed for Thanksgiving dinner, or how to cook like a politician’s wife. To get you started, check out our Thanksgiving Day Topics Page Guide.
Want a second-helping? Read about a Thanksgiving poem transcribed for President Lincoln. More detailed histories of Thanksgiving can be found through the following posts: