The History and Significance of Thanksgiving Day – Historic Prints
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The History and Significance of Thanksgiving Day


What is the True History of Thanksgiving Day?

What is the True History of Thanksgiving Day?

The history of Thanksgiving is most commonly associated with a harvest festival celebrated by Pilgrims in the Plymouth Plantation in 1621 in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. Though harvest celebrations and Thanksgiving celebrations were practiced in the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607 AD, the first permanent settlement in Virginia, Jamestown, began holding an annual thanksgiving in 1610. The first Thanksgiving celebrations were based primarily on religious grounds though they would eventually become more focused on civic pride and national identity.

The actual dates of the first Thanksgiving Day celebrations are unknown but are believed to have occurred sometime between September 21 and November 11. Though it is known that four adult pilgrim women prepared the first Thanksgiving feast, and according to the descendants of the Wampanoag, people heard celebratory gunfire and, fearing war approached the gathering only to be welcomed to the banquet and contributing food of their own.

In his personal account of the early colonial days, Of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford wrote of the first Thanksgiving celebration:

“They began now to gather in the small harvest they had and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they can be used (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl, there was a great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion. Which made many afterward write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.”


While another account recalls this day in Mourt’s Relation, a booklet that details the first year of life in North America after the Pilgrims landed on Cape Cod.

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you, partakers of our plenty.”


Though these quotes did not contribute to the early development of the Thanksgiving Day holiday, they do offer thoughtful insights into the earliest official celebration and give the reader an opportunity to understand the Pilgrim's experience more thoughtfully.

During the American Revolution, Thanksgiving Day celebrations became important acts of the desire for independence from British rule, just as the original Pilgrims had sought religious freedom from the Church of England.

When Did Thanksgiving Become a Holiday?

On Thursday, November 26, 1789, President George Washington announced a proclamation to hold a day of public prayer and Thanksgiving. It would not be until President Abraham Lincoln encouraged citizens to mark the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day. In 1870 Congress made Thanksgiving Day a national federal holiday along with Christmas Day, New Year's Day, and the 4th of July or Independence Day. However, the holiday was briefly moved to the third Thursday of November in 1940 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to stimulate holiday shopping.

This move Wass unpopular with most Americans who had grown accustomed to celebrations in late November and was officially recognized by Congress and ratified in a bill passed by Representative Earl Michener of Michigan. The bill was ratified on October 6, 1941, and passed into law by President Roosevelt, effective the following year.

This is why some folks from older generations may have an interesting anecdote when asked, when is Thanksgiving?

Making the Most of Thanksgiving Day

Making the Most of Thanksgiving Day

The most common celebrations are centered around gathering with family and friends over a large meal and giving thanks for the many good experiences and events over the past year. Consider unique decorations for Thanksgiving Day, like a cornucopia or horn of plenty, or a piece of vintage wall art that commemorates a historically significant city like Plymouth, MA. A vintage map creates a bond between the past and present for the viewer and transports them back in time, which can give a real perspective on the hardships the original settlers endured and overcame.

The traditional meal centers around roasted Turkey, and it is estimated that some 276 million Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving Day. A Presidential tradition of pardoning a turkey began in 1947, though it did not become an annual event until 1989 under President George H.W. Bush.

Another popular festivity that has grown in modern years is Thanksgiving Days parades, including the Iconic parade through New York City, where large floats create joy for the young and old alike. These Thanksgiving Day parades have become iconic celebrations that bring people together across the country and are aired publicly on television.

Where Did the First English Settlers Land in the United States?

The first colony in the United States was founded in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. The arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620 in modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, is often considered the beginning of the United States and is most popularly associated with the Thanksgiving Holiday. Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts, is considered one of the most iconic monuments to the early Pilgrims, along with other memorials like the Pilgrim Tower in Provincetown, MA.

By 1770 over two million people lived and worked in the thirteen British colonies and exported considerable amounts of resources, including grain and tobacco. The colonists also paid significant taxes to the British Government, which would be one of the leading factors leading up to the American Revolution.

Plymouth Massachusetts Bird's Eye View Map Canvas Wall Art

Image Source: Historic Prints - Plymouth Massachusetts Bird's Eye View Map Canvas Wall Art

Illustrated and produced by the prolific O.H. Bailey Co., this detailed panoramic map illustrates Plymouth, Massachusetts, in a period of significant prosperity and growth. Bailey produced nearly four hundred birds-eye perspectives in his career that spanned five decades. Plymouth was the world’s largest producer of rope during this time which was in high demand for sailing vessels which spurred the local economy for both shipping and commercial fishing.

Known as “America’s Hometown,” Plymouth has grown in recent years and is home to more than 45,000 residents. Lo ate some 40 miles south of Boston, Plymouth remains one of the most iconic and recognizable cities in the Northeast. Named after the city in Southwest England by English explorer John Smith, the city is one of America’s most enduring icons and remains an integral part of the nation’s history.

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