Raab on Forbes: When Was the First Thanksgiving?

As published on http://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanraab/2013/11/27/when-was-the-real-first-thanksgiving-that-depends/
When Was The Real First Thanksgiving? That Depends
On October 3, 1789, America’s first President under the 1787 Constitution, George Washington, issued a historic Thanksgiving Proclamation.  Congress had instructed him 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.”  This he did.  Many consider this the nation’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation.  But was it?  Well, that depends.
There had been many previous days of a general giving of thanks in America’s history, some bearing little relation to our present holiday.  Many took place long before America was a country, under the reign of the monarchs of England.  A 1678 document from Boston set a day of “fasting and prayer” for November 21 of that year for the “obtaining of the Lord’s gracious expression of himself unto, and continuance with us…”  Likewise, in 1721, then-Governor of Massachusetts Gurdon Saltonstall issued “a Proclamation for a Publick Thanksgiving,” also in November.  There are some who point to early Spanish celebrations during the 16th century, but these have little to do with what we celebrate today.
So when was the first Thanksgiving Day as we know it now?  Here are a few options.  You be the judge.
1) The Pilgrim harvest feast of 1621 is the inspiration for our holiday today. But a larger and more organized event in 1623 was the first recorded religious day of thanks for the new arrivals.
2) The first national Thanksgiving Day after the country declared its independence was set forth by President of the Continental Congress Henry Laurens.  Laurens set aside a Thursday in December of 1777 to thank God for the victory at Saratoga over General Burgoyne’s Army, a major accomplishment for the upstart colonists.
3) The first Thanksgiving Proclamation made by a man with the formal title “President of the United States” was issued by John Hanson, who adopted that title under the Articles of Confederation. He set aside the last Thursday in November, as it is today.  Hanson too was celebrating a major American achievement: progress in negotiations with the British to end the Revolutionary War. Hanson had issued another Thanksgiving Proclamation earlier that very year, the original document of which The Raab Collection sold a couple years ago, but this was the first to set the last Thursday in November as the date of celebration.
4) George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation by a President under the US Constitution of 1787.  He did so in 1789, and his proclamation set forth a “day of Publick Thanksgiving” for the final Thursday in November, as Hanson had done.  He urged that November 26 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– 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.”
5) Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, after the victory at Gettysburg, invited his “fellow citizens in every part of the United States… 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.”  Lincoln was the first President to attempt to standardize the date as a national holiday.  Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy during the Civil War, not to be outdone, issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation that same year.
6) Franklin Roosevelt changed tradition in 1939 to proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving on the third Thursday of the month of November, doing so because retailers felt it would benefit their Christmas shopping season.  This was mocked as “Franksgiving.” When a later study showed no measurable impact on business, Roosevelt changed his mind.  In 1941, he signed into law a bill designating the fourth Thursday in the month of November as Thanksgiving Day, when we celebrate it today. His was the first to formalize this day into law.
So when was the first official Thanksgiving? That depends on your definition of official, your definition of Thanksgiving, and your definition of first.

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