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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