Was the first Thanksgiving really held by the pilgrims shortly after the Mayflower anchored at Plymouth? Texans claim the first Thanksgiving in America was proclaimed in Palo Duro Canyon by Padre Juan De Cadilla for Coronado’s troops in 1541, 79 years before the Pilgrims.

At any rate, Thanksgiving as an annual national holiday was slow in coming. Throughout early American history, some leaders issued Thanksgiving proclamations; some did not. Many were against it for various reasons, and Thanksgiving was an on-again, off-again affair … until Sarah Hale got hold of it. Sarah was a young widow with five children and a millinery shop. She used spare moments for writing, and in 1823 her first book appeared. She was soon hired as editor of a small magazine; then, in 1837, she was named editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, the nation’s foremost women’s magazine. Circulation mushroomed. Godey’s wasn’t a Christian magazine, but Sarah, an Episcopalian, was a devout Christian who injected religious issues into her editorials. In 1846 she launched a crusade to establish Thanksgiving as a holiday. She wrote stirring editorials about it, and November issues featured Thanksgiving poetry, stories, and turkey recipes. She pelted politicians with personal letters on the subject, and by 1859 thirty governors had agreed to a common day of Thanksgiving.

Still, no national holiday emerged. As America lurched toward civil war, Sarah tried a new tactic. Disunion, she wrote in 1859, could be averted by Thanksgiving: If every State would join in union Thanksgiving on the 24th of this month, would it not be a renewed pledge of love and loyalty to the Constitution!

But war erupted in 1861. In 1863 she wrote President Lincoln, laying before you a subject of deep interest … the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a national and fixed union festival. The beleaguered president finally agreed, and on October 3, 1863, he established Thanksgiving as a national holiday for the last Thursday of November. Even in war, Lincoln said, we can count our blessings: “They are gracious gifts of the most high God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

Tell the Lord how thankful you are,
Because he is kind and always merciful.
Tell the Lord how thankful you are,
Because he is kind and always merciful.
(Psalm 118:1,29)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day: 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Oct. 3.


  1. You’re not the only one. I told you I am learning a lot through these posts. I am glad it helped and thank you so much for stopping by. Have a great weekend. Blessings and Peace.


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