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Thanksgiving Day through history

A Plimoth Plantation actor, as Mary Winslow, cooks a meal. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Giving thanks through history

The 1621 feast held in Plymouth is widely recognized as the first Thanksgiving, but it was not the first time a group paused to give thanks in America. Here are some early celebrations in American history, and a look at how the Thanksgiving holiday has evolved:

May 1541: Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and 1,500 men hold a thanksgiving celebration in what is now known as the Texas panhandle.

June 30, 1564: French Huguenot colonists celebrate a day of thanksgiving in a settlement near what is now Jacksonville, Fla.

Aug. 9, 1607: English settlers led by Captain George Popham join Abenaki Indians for a harvest feast along the Kennebec River in Maine.


Spring 1610: Colonists in Jamestown, Va., hold a thanksgiving prayer service after ships arrive with food. (This is deemed by some as the first American Thanksgiving.)

Autumn 1621: Governor William Bradford invites the Wampanoag chief, Massasoit, to a three-day feast to celebrate the fall harvest.

1623: Governor Bradford proclaims Plymouth’s first religious Day of Thanksgiving after a drought ends and an English ship is spotted off the coast.

Nov. 26, 1691: King William and Queen Mary of England proclaim a thanksgiving for victory over the French.

Nov. 30, 1777: The Continental Congress declares that Dec. 18 is Thanksgiving for all 13 states. National Thanksgivings continue until 1784, as some states choose to resist the quintessential “New England holiday.’’

1789: A national Thanksgiving is proclaimed by President George Washington. Thanksgiving is celebrated in individual New England states and begins to spread (to New York in 1817, Michigan in 1824, Ohio in 1839).

1839: Historian Alexander Young discovers Edward Winslow’s eyewitness account of the 1621 feast in Plymouth. Young later wrote: “This was the first Thanksgiving, the harvest festival of New England. On this occasion they no doubt feasted on the wild turkey as well as venison.’’ His interpretation of the Plymouth feast eventually becomes widely accepted, and influences the shaping of the American holiday.


1846: Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of a popular women’s magazine (but best known as the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb’’) begins an editorial campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.

1863: President Abraham Lincoln proclaims that Thanksgiving will be celebrated as a national holiday on the last Thursday in November. He makes a similar proclamation the following year.

1865: President Andrew Johnson decides to mix things up a bit, and designates the first Thursday in December as Thanksgiving Day.

1869: President Ulysses Grant brings the holiday back into November, declaring Thanksgiving to be the third Thursday of November.

1876: The American Intercollegiate Football Association holds its first championship game on Thanksgiving Day.

1924: Macy’s department store holds its first Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

1939: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declares Nov. 23 to be Thanksgiving Day. Twenty-three states disagree with him, and announce that Nov. 30 is Thanksgiving. Texas and Colorado decide to get the best of both worlds, and celebrate both Thursdays as holidays.

1941: Roosevelt signs legislation establishing Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November. The legislation takes effect in 1942.

SOURCES: Library of Congress; Pilgrim Hall Museum; Plimoth Plantation