In the Beginning
When did Thanksgiving begin? Many claim it began in Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts in 1621. Proud Virginians have a strong claim that it was on the banks of the James River two years prior when American colonists first celebrated their blessings on a day of Thanksgiving. The Northerners won the Civil War. So, to the victors go the rights to write our history. So, the traditional origin of Thanksgiving features the Pilgrims and Indians of New England. You might be surprised to learn that a Laurens County man was the first to urge the adoption of the holiday in Georgia.
In 1619, a group of English settlers arrived at the Berkeley Plantation on the James River, southeast of present day Richmond, Virginia. Their charter of settlement provided, "We ordain that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for the plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God." That first celebration was held on December 4, 1619.
Nearly two years later in the fall of 1621, the settlers of the Massachusetts colony joined with their Indian friends in celebrating their good fortune during their first year on the North American continent. The holiday was primarily celebrated on an irregular basis. George Washington proclaimed a Thanksgiving in 1795. It would be nearly another quarter of a century before northeastern states revived the erratic celebrations.
The authorities of Augusta, Georgia proclaimed one of the first local Thanksgiving observations in Georgia on Friday, November 7, 1823. Members of the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches joined together for three services to thank God for His tender mercies over all the works and in whose favors, all are partakers.
The origin of Georgia's first official celebration of Thanksgiving Day came in 1826. Governor George M. Troup, in his annual message to the Georgia legislature, asked the assembly to proclaim a statewide celebration of Thanksgiving Day. Troup, a resident of Laurens County, was one of the most powerful and admired chief executives of Georgia in the first half of the 19th Century. Troup urged the legislators to set a day aside to render from time to time homage and adoration so justly due to that Being, who is the donor of all good.
Robert Rea, of Greene County, introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives on November 18, 1826 to set apart a day statewide for prayer and thanksgiving. Madison County Senator Robert Groves introduced a similar resolution five days later in the upper house in acquiescence to the Governor's request. Both houses adopted the resolution on December 4th.
Legislators acknowledged the many undeserved favors bestowed by the hand of providence. In paying honor to the Almighty, the legislature authorized the governor to set forth measures to establish a state wide day of Thanksgiving to be held on the first Thursday of the next year, January 4, 1827.
On the 8th of December, Gov. Troup urged all denominations to assemble in their respective churches and celebrate the day with penitential hearts and uplifted hands to make grateful acknowledgment for the benefactions received from the Universal Parent.
Thanksgiving celebrations continued to be sporadic in Georgia until the 1840s. The corporate authorities of Savannah determined that November 25, 1841 be a day of public Thanksgiving. Daniel Hook, the Mayor of Augusta, proclaimed that the last day of 1841, would be set aside as "A day of Public Thanksgiving to Almighty God for blessing our city with its accustomed good health."
On December 19, 1842, the Georgia legislature officially adopted the first Friday of November in 1843 to be a day of Thanksgiving, to be attended with appropriate religious services in the several churches throughout the state. The statewide observance once again changed in 1845, when Governor George W. Crawford proclaimed the 13th day of February as a day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, in congratulating the people of Georgia on the introduction of this time-honored custom of the Eastern States. A dozen years later, the legislature determined that the celebration be held on November 26, 1857, the fourth Friday of that month.
Known more for her authorship of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, is more responsible than anyone for the national celebration of Thanksgiving. Mrs. Hale, is probably one of the most unknown successful women of the 19th Century. She was the first to urge equal education for women and the first to start day care nurseries for working women. And, Mrs. Hale was the first woman to serve as an editor of a woman's magazine. It was Mrs. Hale who wrote to urge President Abraham Lincoln to issue his Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863.
It would take another eighty years before the date was made uniform across the nation. Amazingly, the designation of Thanksgiving Day as being the fourth Thursday of November, was not officially adopted by the Federal government until the day after Christmas 1941, two years after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt suggested the national holiday as a way of boosting the country's economy.
On this day of Thanksgiving, let us all acknowledge our gratitude for the blessings we have. Celebrate the day with those you love. But remember those who are not as blessed, not only on this Thursday, but all the year long.