Beyond the Pilgrims to George Washington
Special Note: This article, along with considerable additional information, is included in Jim’s Book “Thanksgiving Day – Religious to Secular” available for purchase in Paperback and FREE in eBook format at this link: Jim’s Books
This is the second in a series of four articles on the history of Thanksgiving Day in the USA. In Part 1 of this series of articles (The Pilgrims), I covered the background of how a day of Thanksgiving took root with the Pilgrims in the Plymouth colony in 1621. In this second article, I will highlight the period of time beyond the Pilgrims through the early years of the birth of the United States.
Following the Pilgrims’ religiously based Thanksgiving celebration, God worked through many other early colonists in North America such as governors, clergy, military leaders, the Continental Congress, and ultimately President George Washington to observe a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God for His mercy, providential care and manifold blessings.
First let’s review and discuss some key scriptures that will open the eyes of our hearts so we can better understand what it means to give thanksgiving to God.
Scripture: (all NKJV unless otherwise noted)
Philippians 4:6 – 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;.
Psalm 107:8-9 – 8 Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men! 9 For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness.
Psalm 105-1-5: – 1 Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! 2 Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; Talk of all His wondrous works! 3 Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord! 4 Seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face evermore! 5 Remember His marvelous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth.
Psalm 69:30 – 30 I will praise the name of God with a song, And will magnify Him with thanksgiving.
Colossians 2:6-7 – 6 As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.
As the new world settlers established their colonial homes and towns up and down the eastern North American continent, they also built churches. There they regularly and collectively worshiped God and confidently petitioned Him for His divine providence (compare Philippians 4:6). Their religious background influenced the establishment of their laws and daily conduct. The Bible served as their guide. Life was hard and simply surviving was often their most immediate objective. They supported and drew strength from God and each other.
While many of the colonists were not religious per se, most demonstrated a measure of Godliness. The devout openly practiced their faith in everyday life. It was natural for them to continuously give praise and thanksgiving to Almighty Jehovah God. They were indeed grateful to be in a place generally free from the often corrupt state mandated religions, persecution and intolerance so common in the European homelands they left behind. Amidst their difficult lives, they regularly practiced the Bible’s teachings to “… give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works…” (Psalms 107:8). Without many of the necessities of life they depended on God to satisfy the longing of their souls and fill them with His goodness (compare Psalm 107:9). In their worship they sang hymns of thanksgiving and praise glorifying God remembering the “marvelous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth” in accordance with Psalm 105:1-5 and Psalm 69:30.
History shows that the Massachusetts Bay Colony began their observance of a Thanksgiving Day in 1630 and continued frequently thereafter until 1680. The Connecticut Colony first celebrated Thanksgiving Day in 1637. Charlestown, located on the Charles River and much later (1874) would become a part of Boston, first celebrated their Thanksgiving Day in 1671 by decree of the town’s governing council. Dozens of other settlements were founded in what is now Massachusetts including Boston (1630), Concord (1635), Framingham (1647), Dunstable (1656), Marlborough (1660) and Worcester (1673). The local church was usually one of the first structures to be built in the newly settled communities. Over time as these and other colonial settlements were established, many designated a day of Thanksgiving in honor of a military victory, the adoption of a constitution, or an exceptionally bountiful harvest.
The 1700’s ushered in significant exploration and territorial expansion by the English, French, Dutch and Spanish. Amidst this expansion “The French and Indian War” (referred to as “The Seven Years War” in Europe) took place (1754-1763) between England and France. The colonies fought on the side of England. The British eventually prevailed and took possession of most of the French territories in North America giving a great deal of pride to the colonists. George Washington served as a military leader in support of the British in this war, experiencing what would become famous victories and famous defeats. The war was expensive for England and they began to impose significant taxes on the colonies to help cover the war costs causing growing division with the colonists.
The “taxation without representation” concept imposed by Britain helped bring about the unification of the colonies and they founded the First Continental Congress in 1774. The Congress collectively aired their grievances to the British and sought a halt to the enforcement of the Intolerable Acts. The British paid no attention to the request leading to the establishment of a Second Continental Congress, the appointment of George Washington as the Commander of the Continental Army, the Declaration of Independence (1776), and a hard-fought American Revolutionary War (1775-1783).
The defeat and surrender of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga ended the American Revolutionary War. At the request of the second Continental Congress, Commander Washington proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving and celebration for all thirteen colonies to be observed in 1777. George Washington was later elected as the first President of the United States of America (1789-1797).
On October 3, 1789 President Washington issued the first proclamation for the USA to observe Thanksgiving Day on Thursday, November 26, 1789. The texts for both of Washington’s proclamations are included below for your reference. As you read it, you can’t help but note the multiple references to the providence of Almighty God, His mercy and His protection. The observance of a national Thanksgiving Day for the USA was now firmly in place as both a religious and a secular day with devotion and thankfulness to God at the center of the day’s activities.
Digressing a bit, in approximately 63 AD Paul wrote a letter to the recently established church in Colossae, a small and insignificant market town. This church was established by Paul’s fellow servants in ministry, Epaphras and perhaps Timothy (see Colossians 1:7-8). Colossae was located in the Roman province of Asia, an area now included in the country of Turkey and approximately 120 miles east of Ephesus. Paul advised that as followers of Christ Jesus The Lord they should “… walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith … abounding in it with thanksgiving (Colossians 2:6-7). I would like to think that these words from God through Paul were acted out by most of those early colony leaders and settlers based upon what I have learned of the times. I can certainly say Paul’s advice is just as sound for us today as well.
Over the past few weeks in researching and praying over this article, God has blessed me with a new and expanded appreciation for the history of Thanksgiving Day. I hope that it will do the same for you. Please join me in this prayer:
Lord God, I thank You for your love and guidance on my life. I give you praise and thanksgiving for Your goodness and mercy. I pray for your continued leadership and that the mind of Christ will be in me as I continue to research and write this series of articles. Thank you Lord for saving my soul. Thank you Lord for making me whole. Thank you Lord for giving to me, thy great salvation so rich and free. In the mighty name of Jesus, The Christ. Amen and Amen!!
In Part 3 of this series of articles I will continue to examine the history of Thanksgiving in the USA from the time of the President George Washington through President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.
Related Links and Articles:
- What is the Origin of America’s Annual Thanksgiving Day?
- Spark Notes on The American Revolution
- Timeline: From Founding Through he American Revolution
Related Articles by Jim Davenport
- Thanksgiving Day – Religious to Secular – Part 1
- Thanksgiving Day – Religious to Secular – Part 2
- Thanksgiving Day – Religious to Secular – Part 3
- Thanksgiving Day – Religious to Secular – Part 4
- Thank You Lord for Saving My Soul
- Thank You Lord for Saving My Soul – Update
- Blessings in Disguise – a Thanksgiving Devotional
- An Attitude of Thankfulness
- An Attitude of Thanklessness
- An Anchor in the Time of the Storm
- How to Become a Christian
- A Summary of All of Jim Davenport’s Articles
Related Southern Gospel Music by The Good News:
Chronology of Significant USA Thanksgiving Events 1630-1795Below is a summary of key dates, people, events and public proclamations related to Thanksgiving Day for the period under study. The primary source for the information in this table was compiled from the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
|When and Who||What|
|1630 – Massachusetts Bay Colony||Consisting primarily of Puritan Christians celebrated Thanksgiving for first time in 1630 and frequently thereafter until about 1680.|
|1639 – Connecticut Colony||Celebrated Thanksgiving first in 1639; annually after 1647.|
|1671 – Charlestown, Massachusetts||First recorded Thanksgiving observance June 29, 1671, by proclamation of the town’s governing council.|
|1777 – Second Continental Congress||First national proclamation of Thanksgiving; draft created by Samuel Adams; adopted by the Continental Congress. FOR AS MUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success: It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth “in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost. And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.|
|1777 – George Washington||Leader of the revolutionary forces in the American Revolutionary War; proclaimed a Thanksgiving in December 1777 as a victory celebration honoring the defeat of the British at Saratoga.|
|1789 – House of Representatives||First Amendment of the newly drafted Constitution recommended to states for ratification. Elias Boudinot from New Jersey proposed that House and Senate recommend to President Washington that he proclaim a day of thanksgiving for “the many signal favors of Almighty God.” Boudinot said that he “could not think of letting the session pass over without offering an opportunity to all the citizens of the United States of joining, with one voice, in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings he had poured down upon them.”|
|1789 – George Washington||On October 3, 1789 President George Washington made the following proclamation and created the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the USA: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, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by 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, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. 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 transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.|
|1795 – George Washington||Again proclaimed a Thanksgiving Day in the USA.|