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November 27th, 2008
09:28 AM ET

A Day of Thanksgiving

Ira Stoll
The Wall Street Journal

When was the first Thanksgiving? Most of us think of the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1621. But if the question is about the first national Thanksgiving holiday, the answer is that the tradition began at a lesser-known moment in 1777 in York, Pa.

In July 1776, the American colonists declared independence from Britain. The months that followed were so bleak that there was not much to give thanks for. The Journals of the Continental Congress record no Thanksgiving in that year, only two days of "solemn fasting" and prayer.

For much of 1777, the situation was not much better. British troops controlled New York City. The Americans lost the strategic stronghold of Fort Ticonderoga, in upstate New York, to the British in July. In Delaware, on Sept. 11, troops led by Gen. George Washington lost the Battle of Brandywine, in which 200 Americans were killed, 500 wounded and 400 captured. In Pennsylvania, early in the morning of Sept. 21, another 300 American soldiers were killed or wounded and 100 captured in a British surprise attack that became known as the Paoli Massacre. 

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Filed under: Ira Stoll • Raw Politics • Thanksgiving
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. KIm

    Thank-you to our Native American friends and what would have happened if they hadn't been there ? The gifts we share and Happy Thanksgiving.

    November 28, 2008 at 11:33 pm |
  2. Clark

    President Washington published the following proclamation:

    By the President of the United States of America, a 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–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 onto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase 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.

    November 27, 2008 at 2:22 pm |
  3. michelle m

    Happy Thanksgiving AC 360!! Love what you've done for us lately.

    November 27, 2008 at 1:50 pm |
  4. Phil Yeager

    Had the joy of putting together a Thanksgiving basket for a veteran family in need on Monday. The St. Cloud V.A. delivered baskets to all of the families in need that they could identify. I know this is off topic of the article, but sharing and giving should be what Thanksgiving and Christmas are about with so many of our people hurting today. Hopefully this will become "History"
    Blessings to all from Minnesota

    November 27, 2008 at 10:42 am |

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