The history of Thanksgiving is thought to be originated in 1621 when the Plymouth colonists new to America, known as the “Pilgrims,” shared an autumn harvest feast with the Wampanoag Indians. That meal came to symbolize the cooperation and interaction between the English settlers and the Native Americans. In actuality, the feast was the Indians’ custom to give thanks for a successful crop. Native Americans of all tribes organized harvest festivals, dances and other celebrations long before the colonists arrived.
The menu did not contain what we call traditional fare like pumpkin pie and turkey as we know it. Wild venison and fowl were on the table and whatever else was available.
The first official Thanksgiving proclamation was issued in 1777 by the Continental Congress. Six national presidential proclamations were issued in the first 30 years of the U.S. after it was declared independent from England before 1815. Lincoln made two proclamations during the Civil War and declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday as “a prayerful day of Thanksgiving” on the last Thursday in November according to historians. It was proclaimed yearly on behalf of the nation by the president. In 1941 during the term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, it was made a permanent holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. Each year now the presiding president makes the traditional “pardon for a turkey” in a publicity display at the Capitol.
There was a little reluctance on the part of the South after the Civil War to embrace the holiday as it had a “Yankee” connotation coming after the defeat of the South. Nonetheless, President Lincoln hoped to unite the nation and celebrate the harvest. The celebration was gradually embraced over the country. Thanksgiving is always associated with religious celebration and is a special festival service in many Christian churches.
When questioning many of the older citizens of our community, they recall celebrating the holiday as a family. The men often hunted or “camped out.” Some families camped out, too. Mrs. Amelia Herrington’s family recalls going to the “river field” to camp and Grandma Kitty went, too. They would coon hunt, build a fire and have fun. The menu was whatever was available in wild fowl or game, fresh butchered pork, fresh sweet potatoes and greens.
Some families raised domesticated turkeys just like chickens were raised. They had a turkey house like a chicken house and used them for eggs and ate them. I barely recall seeing the white birds in their house. These were far different to eat than the wild birds which had little breast and were sinewy, gamey and tough. All garden produce had to be harvested, washed and prepared. Everything was made from scratch.
Today when you share the family Thanksgiving meal, see how lucky you are to have the plump delicious bird already dressed for you to cook. You can buy the sweet potatoes without digging them or growing them. You can even buy your veggies ready to cook and get a ready made pie crust for convenience. Will this meal be as good or as appreciated as those meals that our forefathers shared? It is a time to give thanks and enjoy the family and count our blessings.
From Historic Effingham Society to you and yours, we wish you a wonderful holiday and great day with your family and friends.
This article was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have questions, comments or photos to share you can call her at 754-6681 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org