Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The “First” Thanksgiving

Most Americans think about Pilgrims and Indians gathering around the table when the first Thanksgiving comes to mind. However, in 1863, while the nation was in the midst of a civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation designating that the last Thursday in November be observed as a day of Thanksgiving by all Americans at home or abroad...

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), circa 1860s,
Carte de visite Collection
By the President of the United States of America: A Proclamation. The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful Providence of Almighty God, in the midst of a civil war of unequal magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to unite and provoke the aggressions of foreign States.

Peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theatre of military conflict. While that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union, the needful diversions of wealth and strength from the field of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Populations has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battle-field; and the country rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect a continuance of years with large increase of Freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor mortal man worked out these great things; they are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered us in mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged with one heart and voice by the whole American people.

I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens, and I recommend to them, that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all who have become widows, orphans, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the City of Washington, this, the 3d day of October, A. D., 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth. By the President: A. Lincoln., Wm. H. Seward, Secretary of State. -- Nashville Daily Union, October 8, 1863

Here in Tennessee, citizens and government officials alike took Lincoln's words to heart. The mayor of Nashville requested that all houses of business be closed in observance of the holiday. On November 26, 1863, Mayor Smith declared, "This day having been designated by the President of the United States as one of thanksgiving and prayer, it is therefore requested and ordered by the Mayor of the city, that all business houses be closed, to enable persons who desire to participate in the ceremonies of the occasion. – John Hu. Smith, Mayor of Nashville.” -- Nashville Daily Union, November 26, 1863

In that same edition of the Nashville Daily Union, we learn that the sick and wounded soldiers were well taken care of and had wonderful Thanksgiving dinners, thanks to the State Sanitary Commission at Indianapolis, Indiana. What did the soldiers have for dinner? They ate turkey, of course! In its account, the Nashville Daily Union recorded, “Good Things for the Soldiers in the Hospitals – We are gratified to learn from Mr. Ed Shaw, of the Indiana State Agency in this city, that two car loads of turkies, &c., were received yesterday, from Indiana, for distribution amongst the government hospitals at this post, for Thanksgiving Dinners for the sick and wounded soldiers. They were forwarded by Wm. Hannaman, Esq., President of the State Sanitary Commission at Indianapolis, and were brought free of charge by the Adams Express Company. Indiana is a glorious State – her people are determined to be ahead in every good work.” -- Nashville Daily Union, November 26, 1863

Program for the 2nd Balloon Company's 1931 Thanksgiving Dinner. Program includes a menu and lists the entire company roster, Fort Bragg (N.C.), November 26, 1931, Puryear Family Photograph Albums, ca. 1890-1945

Thanksgiving has been celebrated annually in America since that “first” Thanksgiving in 1863.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

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