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The origin of Thanksgiving
From Pilgrims to Lincoln to FDR
Thanksgiving image for Web
This historical image is part of a poster promoting Thanksgiving Day as declared by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864. - photo by Special
    The first recorded Thanksgiving celebration in North America soil was held on Sept. 8, 1565 in Saint Augustine, Fla., after 600 Spanish settlers set foot in the New World for the first time. Led by Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the settlers built a little village, which would eventually become the city of Saint Augustine.
    The first British celebration of Thanksgiving in North America was held on Dec. 4, 1619. The 38 English settlers who arrived on the north side of the James River in Virginia had promised their benefactors that they would "ordain that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."
    The area they settled, first known as the "Berkeley Hundred," soon became the thriving Charles Cittie in the Colony of Virginia.
    Next came what is considered by many as the beginning of the traditional "Thanksgiving Feast."
    The Plymouth settlers did not refer to themselves as "Pilgrims." They called themselves "Saints," "Separatiss" or "Puritans." According to "Mourt's Relation: A Journey of the Pilgrims at Plymoth" (published in London in 1622) and Wampanoag Indian legends, when he first heard the gunshots in the foreigners village, Chief Massasoit assumed the colonists were preparing to wage war. Therefore, he led 90 of his best warriors into the small village.
    Prepared for the worst, he was quite surprised when he saw preparations for a party going on. He ordered his men to go get some game for the meal, and they returned with five deer and many turkeys.
    Georgia's first-ever day of thanksgiving was held in December 1733. According to "The Progress of Georgia" (1733), after Oglethorpe had traveled up the Savannah River and "chose a situation for a Town; and entered into a treaty with Tomochichi, the Micco, or Chief of the only nation of Indians living near it" he returned to where colonists waited. They heard the news that the colony of Georgia was about to be born.
    The colonists the "celebrated the Sunday following, as a Day of Thanksgiving for their safe arrival." There "was a plentiful Dinner provided for the Colony...being 4 fat hogs, 8 turkies, besides fowls, English Beef, and other provisions, a hogshead of punch, a hogshead of beer, and a large quantity of wine."
    The first "National Proclamation of Thanksgiving" came on the orders of General George Washington, to celebrate an American battle victory over the British. The Continental Congress ordered in December of 1777 that "it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God … (we) set apart Thursday, the eighteenth Day of December next, for Solemn Thanksgiving."
    A national Thanksgiving was first officially declared by President Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 3, 1864. In his "Proclamation of Prayer and Thanksgiving," he declared "a Day of Thanksgiving be offered to Him for His mercy in preserving our national existence." He chose the last Thursday in November every year to be observed as "Thanksgiving Day."
    In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the official observation of Thanksgiving up a week, so that shoppers would begin their holiday shopping earlier and merchants could make more money. Thirty-two states accepted his idea, but 16 refused, giving the nation two official "Days of Thanksgiving". Therefore, on Oct. 6, 1941, the U.S. Congress decided to end the bickering and formally set the date of our nation's "Thanksgiving Day" as the fourth Thursday of every November. F.D.R. signed the bill on Dec. 26, 1941.
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