We wanted to trace the history of Thanksgiving in Massachusetts for you, but the task proved challenging.
We all know the story of the “first Thanksgiving” in Plymouth in 1621, but what happened in the following years? As it turns out, it was not uncommon for authorities to call for a “day of Thanksgiving” at various times throughout a year. We thought we’d share some from the Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, v.1 (1628-1641):
June 5, 1632: “The Court, takeing into consideracion the greate mercy of God, vouchsafed to the churches of God in Germany and the Pallattinate, etc., hath appoynted the 13th day of this present moneth to be kept as a day of publique thanksgiving throughout the severall plantacions.
June 11, 1633: The 19th day of this moneth is appoynted to be kept as a day of publique thanksgiving throughout the severall plantacions.
October 16, 1633: In regard of the many & extraordinary mercyes which the Lord hath beene pleased to vouchsafe of late to this plantacion, viz., a plentifull harvest, ships safely arrived with persons of special use & quality, etc., it is ordered, that Wednesday, the 16th day of this present moneth, shall be kept as a day of publique thanksgiving throughout the severall plantacions. And whereas it is found by common experience that the keeping of lectures at the ordinary howres nowe observed in the forenoon to be dyvers wayes prejudicial to the common good, both in the losse of a whole day & bringing other charges and troubles to the place where the lecture is kept, it is therefore ordered, that hereafter no lecture shall begin before one a clocke in the afternoon.
August 5, 1634: It was ordered that Wednesday, the 20th of this moneth, shall be kept as a day of publique thanksgiving throughout the severall plantacions, for the safe arrival of shipps and passengers this summer, etc.
June 15, 1637: The 5th day of next weeke, being the 15th of this month, was appointed to bee kept a day of thanksgiving in the severall churches.
September 8, 1637: The 12th day of the 8th month was ordered to bee kept a day of publike thanksgiving to God for his great mercies in subdewing the Pecoits, bringing soldiers in safety, the success of the conference, & good news from Germany.
September 6, 1638: Intimation to bee given to the elders of each church of the desire to keep the last Thursday of the 8th month [October] a day of thanksgiving for the safe comeing of so many ships this yeare, & the seasonable weather in the spring, & now to ripen the harvest.
November 5, 1639: It was ordered, that the 28th day of this present month should bee kept a day of publike thanksgiving through the churches. Those churches that have kept a day already are left to their liberty.
Thanksgiving became a national holiday more than 200 years later with Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation in October 1863:
“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the 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 can not 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 unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, 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 theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.
“Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.
“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, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, 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. 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 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. 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 those who have become widows, orphans. mourners, 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 purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.”
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