Americans are celebrating the Thanksgiving Holiday today.
The first autmn feast observance was made by Pilgrim settlers in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621. Of the original 102 immigrants, only 56 had survived. But the harvest of 1621 was bountiful, so Governor William Bradford ordered a celebration. More than 90 Wampanoag Indians joined them, for without the Wampanoag's help the colonists would not have survived. The three-day celebration included venison, duck, goose, fish, berries, watercress, lobster, dried fruit, clams and plums.
No observance was made in 1622. After a drought broke in 1623, another "day of thanksgiving" was observed in Massachusetts.
In 1676, the town of Charleston, Mass., observed a day of thanksgiving on June 29 in order to celebrate the town's founding. No Indians attended; the celebration was meant partly to be in recognition of the colonists' recent victory over the "heathen natives".
The next Thanksgiving celebration was not held until 1777. A December "day of thanksgiving" was observed throughout all 13 English colonies in the New World to observe the American victory over the British at Saratoga. Congress and Gen. George Washington proclaimed annual "thanksgiving day" celebrations in December until 1783 (with the exception of 1782).
In 1789, President George Washington ordered a national day of thanksgiving in December to honor the Pilgrim settlers. But there was widespread disagreement over the holiday. Some felt the focus on the Pilgrims (at the expense of other settlements) was inappropriate; Thomas Jefferson argued that a "Day of Thanksgiving" was undignified. Washington proclaimed a "thanksgiving day" in 1795; President John Adams did so again in 1798 and 1799. President James Madison declared another in 1812 to celebrate the end of war, and declared two in 1815.
But the concept of a national day of thanks did not die. A number of American women kept up a small but steady drumbeat of support for a holiday through articles and essays in various publications. Several states held state-level "Thanksgiving Day" holidays. But many Southern states refused to to hold a holiday out of religious bigotry against Puritanism.
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November to be "Thanksgiving Day." On Nov. 19, Lincoln had consecrated the national battelfield and cemetery at Gettysburg (delivering his famous "Gettysburg Address"). Deeply moved by what he had seen and heard, Lincoln ordered a national holiday to be observed.
The actual date of Thanksgiving moved a couple of time over the next 70 years.
In 1924, Macy's department store began holding an annual parade in New York City to celebrate Thanksgiving and "officially welcome" Santa Claus to the city. The first balloon appeared in 1927; it was "Felix the Cat." (It was suspended from 1942 to 1944 due to World War II.)
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the next-to-last Thursday in November to create a longer Christmas shopping season. But Roosevelt's decision was not mandatory, and half the states continued to celebrate the holiday on the last Thursday in November. In 1941, Congress established the fourth Thursday in November as the official Thanksgiving holiday. (Sometimes this is the last Thursday and sometimes the second-to-last Thursday in November; Congress essentially "split the difference").
But, because Americans are so poor at history, here is a brief run-down of settlements in the New World for those of you who want to know when the Pilgrims (and others!) got here.
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1000 A.D. - Leif Ericson, a Viking, explores the east coast of North America and sights Newfoundland. He establishes a short-lived settlement there.
1492 – The Italian explorer Christopher Columbus makes the first of four voyages to the New World on behalf of Spain.
1497 - John Cabot of England explores the Atlantic coast of Canada and claims the area for England.
1499 – The Italian navigator, Amerigo Vespucci, explores the northeast coast of South America on behalf of Spain.
1507 - The name "America" is first used in a geography book.
1513 - Ponce de Leon of Spain lands in Florida.
1519 - Hernando Cortes conquers the Aztec empire.
1519-1522 – A Portugese, Ferdinand Magellans is the first person to sail around the world.
1524 - Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian exploring on behalf of France, lands on the Carolina coast then sails north and discovers the Hudson River. He continues northward, entering Narragansett Bay and then landing on Nova Scotia.
1541 - Hernando de Soto of Spain discovers the Mississippi River.
1565 - The first permanent European colony in North America is founded at St. Augustine (Florida) by the Spanish.
1584 – English captains Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe explore Roanoke Island, Virginia, and claim the territory for England.
1585 – Sir Richard Grenville lands the first English colony in America at Roanoke Island, Virginia. The colony is abandoned in 1586 after the colonists engage in war with the Native Americans.
1587 – Grenville brings a second group of settlers to Roanoke. The first English child in the New World, Virginia Dare, is born in Roanoke on August 18. Grenville sails for home, and war with Spain breaks out. Grenville sells his interest in the colony to a group of investors. When they return to Roanoke in 1590, the colony is found to have been mysteriously abandoned with no sign of any graves or dead.
1607 – Jamestown, Virginia, is founded by the London Company. By the end of the year, starvation and disease reduce the original 105 settlers to just 32 survivors. Capt. John Smith is captured by Native American Chief Powhatan and saved from death by the chief's daughter, Pocahontas.
1609 - The Dutch East India Company sponsors a voyage of exploration to North America by Henry Hudson. In September he sails up the Hudson River to Albany.
1613 - A Dutch trading post is set up on lower Manhattan island.
1619 - The first session of the first legislative assembly in America occurs as the Virginia House of Burgesses convenes in Jamestown. It consists of 22 burgesses representing 11 plantations.
1619 - Twenty Africans are brought by a Dutch ship to Jamestown for sale as indentured servants, marking the beginning of slavery in America.
1620 – On November 9, the Mayflower lands at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with 101 colonists. The colonists, known as Pilgrims, had broken from the Church of England and settled in The Netherlands, which had a more secure tradition of religious tolerance, in 1607. In 1620, the Pilgrims emigrated to America. On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed by the 41 adult male Pilgrims, establishing a government with majority rule. The Mayflower Compact set the precedent for other colonies as they established governments in the New World.
1624 - Thirty families of Dutch colonists, sponsored by the Dutch West India Company, settle in what is now New York City.
1626 - Peter Minuit, a Dutch colonist, buys Manhattan island from Native Americans for 60 guilders (about $24) and names the island New Amsterdam.
1630 - In March, John Winthrop and more than 900 Puritan colonists land in Massachusetts Bay. In September, Boston was established and named the seat of government for the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
1633 - The first town government in the colonies was organized in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
1634 – More than 200 Catholic settlers, fleeing a rising tide of Puritan intolerance in England, arrive in Maryland and settle the town of Baltimore.
1635 – The Boston Latin School is established as the first public school in America.
1636 - In June, Roger Williams founds the colony of Rhode Island and the town of Providence. Williams had been banished from Puritan Massachusetts for calling for religious tolerance and enhanced political freedom, including separation of church and state. Providence becomes a haven for many other colonists fleeing religious intolerance.
1636 - Harvard College was founded.
1638 - The first printing press is set up in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1652 - Rhode Island declares slavery illegal.
1663 - King Charles II establishes the colony of Carolina and grants the territory to eight loyal supporters.
1664 - The Dutch New Netherland colony becomes English New York after Gov. Peter Stuyvesant surrenders to the British following a naval blockade.
1664 - Maryland passes a law making lifelong servitude for black slaves mandatory. Similar laws are later passed in New York, New Jersey, the Carolinas and Virginia.
1673 - Dutch military forces retake New York from the British.
1674 - The Treaty of Westminster ends hostilities between the English and Dutch and returns Dutch colonies in America to the English.
1675-1676 - King Philip's War erupts in New England between colonists and Native Americans. King Philip (the colonist's nickname for Metacomet, chief of the Wampanoags) engages in bloody war up and down the Connecticut River valley in Massachusetts and in the Plymouth and Rhode Island colonies. More than 600 English colonists and 3,000 Native Americans die. King Phillip is killed on August 12, 1676, ending Native American independence in New England forever.
1681 - Pennsylvania is founded by William Penn, a Quaker. Penn received a Royal charter with a large land grant from King Charles II.
1682 – The French explorer La Salle explores the lower Mississippi Valley region and claims it for France, naming the area Louisiana for King Louis XIV.
1682 - A large wave of immigrants arrives in Pennsylvania from Germany. They settle the area around Germantown, Penn.
1685 - Protestants in France lose their guarantee of religious freedom as King Louis XIV revokes the Edict of Nantes. Many to leave for America and the town of New Orleans.
1688 - Quakers in Pennsylvania issue a formal protest against slavery in America.
1690 - The beginning of King William's War as hostilities in Europe between the French and English spill over in the New World. In February, Schenectady, N.Y., is burned by the French with the aid of Native American allies.
1692 - In May, witchcraft hysteria grips the village of Salem, Massachusetts. Between June and September, 150 persons are accused and 20 persons -- including 14 women -- are executed. By October, the hysteria subsides and the remaining prisoners are released.
1693 - The College of William and Mary is founded in Williamsburg, Virginia.
1697 - The Massachusetts general court expresses official repentance regarding the actions of its judges during the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. Jurors sign a statement of regret and compensation is offered to families of those wrongly accused. In September, King William's War ends as the French and English sign the Treaty of Ryswick.
1700 - The Anglo population in the English colonies in America reaches 250,000.