Thanksgiving remains one of America’s most undefiled holidays.
The first recorded Thanksgiving was celebrated on December 4, 1619, at Berkeley Hundred, a plantation on the northern banks of the James River about 20 miles upstream from Jamestown, the first permanent settlement of the Colony of Virginia.
Thirty-eight English colonists headed by Capt. John Woodlie arrived and this proclamation was read: “We ordain that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”
A year later the Pilgrims, Christian separatists who fled England (via Holland) under the tyranny of King James, arrived in New England.
Sighting land on a Sunday morning after a difficult two-month journey across the Atlantic, the Pilgrims, landing at Plymouth, remained on the Mayflower and worshiped God. It was the Lord’s Day and they honored Him.
The Pilgrims were unprepared for the starvation and sickness that first winter brought, but their trust in the Lord endured.
Of the 102 passengers who set sail for America in 1620, only half survived the harsh winter. Providentially, with assistance from the friendly Indians, they would eventually reap more bountiful harvests.
In 1621, led by Gov. William Bradford, they would celebrate with the Indians what is traditionally considered the First Thanksgiving. (It was President Lincoln who declared Thanksgiving a national celebration in 1863.)
The Pilgrims established a successful government, economic system and schools with Bradford leading for 30 years.
Our heritage is a nation built by men and women who gave thanks to Almighty God, the creator and ruler of all things.
The origins of our Thanksgiving are rooted in the three-day feast the Pilgrims declared in December 1621.
Presidents Washington and Lincoln both would later issue Thanksgiving proclamations.
Here, once again, for reflection are a passage of Scripture, Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation and observations on America by Alexis de Tocqueville, the mid-19th century French statesman:
Praise the LORD!
Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
Who can utter the mighty acts of the LORD?
Who can declare all His praise?
Blessed are those who keep justice,
And he who does righteousness at all times!
Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation
It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.
We know that by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world. May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.
But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people.
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father Who dwelleth in the heavens.
— A. Lincoln 1863
Observations by a French philosopher and statesman on America
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies; and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast commerce, and it was not there.
Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
— Alexis de Tocqueville, mid-19th century French statesman