New Hampshire and the Observance of Thanksgiving


The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 when Governor William Bradford proclaimed a three-day feast after a successful harvest, following the devastating winter where over half their members died. But do you know the role New Hampshire has played in this most American of holidays?

    As early as 1781, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia proclaimed November 28 “as a day of solemn thanksgiving to God for all his mercies,” and sent copies of the document to each colony (see below). New Hampshire’s first Governor, Meshech Weare (the official title then was “President”), ordered the proclamation “forthwith printed,” and delivered  far and wide “to the several worshipping assemblies in this state, to whom it is recommended religiously to observe said day, and to abstain from all servile labor thereon.” So much for the mythology of a “separation of church and state” mindset among the nation’s founders.


New Hampshire's Sara Josepha Hale

    In fact, days of “thanksgiving, fasting, and prayer” were common in the founding era, and a holiday commemorating the Pilgrim’s sacrifices after harvest was popular throughout the 13 colonies, although not observed on a common date. George Washington was the first president to declare a national Thanksgiving Day under the new Constitution in 1789.

    Thanksgiving remained popular throughout the country during the 1800s, but it was the 35 year crusade of a New Hampshire woman, Sara Josepha Hale of Newport (above), author of the anti-slavery best-seller, Northwood, and a powerful editor of a national magazine, that persuaded President Abraham Lincoln, who Sara had personally lobbied, to declare the last Thursday in November a national holiday in 1863.

    In an effort to extend the Christmas shopping season following the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt, a Mayflower descendant, changed the observance to the third Thursday in November. After much controversy, however, Congress permanently changed the date back to the fourth Thursday in 1941. 

From the Fall 2008 Shallop, a publication of the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of New Hampshire   

Dean Dexter is a past governor of the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of New Hampshire, 2008-2011



Posted November 24, 2008

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