By Gainor Davis - Historical Society of Carroll County
Nov 21, 2018 at 6:00 AM
In his first presidential proclamation, George Washington designated Nov. 26, 1789 as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. However, it wasn’t until 74 years later on Nov. 26, 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation naming the last Thursday in November as a national day of celebration. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 finally fixed the date for the fourth Thursday in November.
Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of the popular women’s magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, can be called the architect of the Thanksgiving holiday as we know it today. Beginning in 1827, Hale petitioned 13 presidents to establish Thanksgiving as an annual event. On her 13th try, she convinced Lincoln that establishing this celebration would be a way to unite the country in the midst of the Civil War and establish traditions around which United States citizens could rally.
In creating the national holiday of Thanksgiving, Americans cited the Pilgrims’ three-day “harvest celebration” established to acknowledge the success of their first harvest in 1621. Of the 100 settlers who arrived on the Mayflower, only 53 survived. The Wampanoag tribe, who had helped the English through the hard first year in the New World, brought 90 guests. There would have been no communal table. Most people would have sat on the ground and eaten their food using spoons, knives and hands. No one would have possessed a fork — a luxury reserved for the upper classes.
Today’s traditional fare — turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie — would not have been part of the “first Thanksgiving.” Most historians agree that the menu would have been limited to wildfowl (ducks, geese, swans, passenger pigeons and possibly some turkeys), corn (in the form of bread or porridge), squash, beans, and venison (supplied by the natives). The bounty of the ocean provided colonists and natives with a variety of shellfish and eels. Neither potatoes or yams were native to North America. These expensive delicacies, imported from the South American colonies, would have been known first in Europe. Due to the lack of both butter and wheat, no pies would have been baked.
The harvest home tradition consisted of feasting and sport (recreation), but most of all an outpouring of gratitude to God for his blessings and the bounty of nature. While we celebrate with family and friends and sit on the couch to watch a football game, we should also be cognizant of the many things for which we should be grateful.
As the Executive Director of the Historical Society of Carroll County, I want to thank the many people who enable HSCC to preserve Carroll County’s heritage by donating their family treasures, who volunteer their time and talents to insure that our history is accessible to anyone who is interested, and who give generously to projects that allow HSCC to remain a vital part of this community’s fabric. I send you all a “Hearty Thanksgiving Greeting.”
Gainor B. Davis is executive director of the Historical Society of Carroll County.