By Rosalyn Graham
Thanksgiving brings to mind the Pilgrims. After a 65-day voyage across the Atlantic, the Pilgrims landed on Cape Cod at a place they named Plymouth Harbor in December 1620. During that winter they lived on the Mayflower, going ashore to build storage and living quarters. More than half died that first winter from poor nutrition and the harsh winter weather. In the fall of 1621, the 53 surviving Pilgrims and 90 Indians including Chief Massasoit gathered to celebrate their successful harvest as was the English custom and to give thanks to God. The Pilgrims did not call this harvest festival a “Day of Thanksgiving,” which to them was a purely a religious day.
The combining of a harvest festival and a religious day of thanksgiving for a Thursday in November, celebrating abundance and family gatherings, was not proclaimed until two years later and led to future proclamations by governors and presidents which spread across America.
Governor William Bradford’s Proclamation
“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forest to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates our own conscience.
Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, go gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessing.”
William Bradford, Ye Governor of Ye Colony
Governor and Commander in Chief in and over the State of Vermont, In America
“Amid the many private and public Differences of a temporal Nature, Arguments for Praise and Thanksgiving multiply and arise from almost every Quarter – as it is of the Lord’s Mercies that we are not consumed, and because his Compassion fail not – But the many Favors and Blessings, in particular, with which we, as a People, have been indulged in the Course of the past Year, lay us under renewed Obligation to ascribe a Tribute of Praise and Thanksgiving to Almighty GOD, the beneficent Author of all Good.
I have therefore thought fit, by and with the Advice of the Council, and at the Desire of the Representatives of the Freemen of this State, in General Assembly met – to appoint and do hereby appoint Thursday the twenty-sixth Day of November next, to be observed as a Day of public THANKSGIVING throughout this State. “All servile Labor is forbidden on said Day.”
Given under my Hand in Council, at Windsor, this 18th Day of October, in the Year of our Lord 1778.
Thomas Chittenden was the first settler in Williston. During the American Revolution, Chittenden moved to Arlington and was a member of a committee to negotiate with the Continental Congress to allow Vermont to join the Union. From 1778– 1789, 1790–1791, he was Governor of the Vermont Republic. In 1791, Vermont joined the Union as the fourteenth state and he served as Governor until his death August 25, 1797. He is buried in the Thomas Chittenden Cemetery in Williston and a statue of him stands in front of the Williston Central School.
President George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation
“WHEREAS, it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor . . .
Now , therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union and plenty which we have enjoyed . . . And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgression; . . . “
President George Washington, October 3, 1789
President Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation
“In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity . . . No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who dealing with us . . . hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. To set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
President Abraham Lincoln, Washington, D.C., October 3, 1863
Lincoln’s Proclamation of the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day continues to the present.
Happy Thanksgiving, Shelburne Historical Society