By Mae Castellano

Thanksgiving started 396 years ago in 1620.  It began when the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, with the voyage lasting 66 days and carrying 102 passengers.

The Plymouth colonists arrived to Cape Cod on Nov. 11, 1620.  The colonists were originally supposed to settle near the Hudson River but were forced to settle near Cape Cod because of poor winds.

According to, after five months in New England, the Plymouth colonists, later known as Pilgrims, first made contact with a Native American: an Abenaki Indian.  A few days later, the Abenaki Indian came back with Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe.

Squanto began to teach the Pilgrims different skills, including cultivating corn, extracting sap from maple trees, catching fish in rivers and avoiding poisonous plants.  Most importantly, Squanto helped forged an alliance with the Wamponoag tribe which lasted for more than 50 years.

In November of 1621, former Plymouth Colony Gov. William Bradford organized a celebratory feast for the Pilgrims’ first successful corn harvest, and invited their allies.  The feast lasted three days and is acknowledged as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colony.

The Pilgrims’ second Thanksgiving occurred in 1623.  It was a feast to celebrate and mark the end of a long drought that threatened the year’s harvest.

166 years later, in 1789, former United States Pres. George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation.  He asked Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion of the country’s war.

Following that event in 1817, New York was the first of many states to adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday.

Wanting Thanksgiving to become a national holiday, magazine editor and prolific writer Sarah Josepha Hale launched a campaign in 1827.  She was insistent for 36 years, and finally 16th Pres. Abraham Lincoln heeded her wish in 1863.

Lincoln scheduled the final Thursday of November as Thanksgiving.  This trend was celebrated up until 1939, when former Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up one week to attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression.

This plan was met with opposition, so he reluctantly signed a bill in 1941 to have the celebration of Thanksgiving be held on the fourth Thursday of November, and the date has been celebrated since.


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