It’s Got Nothing to Do with Pilgrims and Indians

Every Thanksgiving I remember Sarah Josepha Hale for good reason — not only because she is one of my heroes and the person who inspired my masters thesis — in fact, she was the reason I went to grad school –but because SHE is the founder of Thanksgiving. 

Who was she? She was — for more than 30 years — the editor of the most successful popular periodical in the world at the time: Godey’s Lady’s Book. She had a clear, tactful yet insistent voice and was able to gather popular support for many of her ideas and projects — including Vassar College, the Bunker Hill Monument and helping Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor in the US, get into medical school. She employed Edgar Allen Poe as her literary editor, and her magazine was the first to publish literature ONLY by American writers. She wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for her own little girl who was named Mary and who did have a little lamb that went to school with her. She wrote an anti-slavery novel long before Harriet Beecher Stowe came out with Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

For YEARS she had pushed for a national day of thanksgiving, but it was not until 1863, when the US was in the middle of a civil war, that she was able to get the President to take the idea seriously. Her argument to Lincoln was that the people on this continent needed a reason to stop what they were doing and reflect on what brought Americans together.

From Sarah Josepha Hale, “Editor’s Table,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1858


“All the blessings of the fields,
All the stores the garden yields,
All the plenty summer pours,
Autumn’s rich, o’erflowing stores,
Peace, prosperity and health,
Private bliss and public wealth,
Knowledge with its gladdening streams,
Pure religion’s holier beams —
Lord, for these our souls shall raise
Grateful vows and solemn praise.”

We are most happy to agree with the large majority of the governors of the different States — as shown in their unanimity of action for several past years, and which, we hope, will this year be adopted by all — that the LAST THURSDAY IN NOVEMBER shall be the DAY Of NATIONAL THANKSGIVING for the American people. Let this day, from this time forth, as long as our Banner of Stars floats on the breeze, be the grand THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY of our nation, when the noise and tumult of wordliness may be exchanged for the laugh of happy children, the glad greetings of family reunion, and the humble gratitude of the Christian heart. This truly American Festival falls, this year on the twenty fifth day of this month.

Let us consecrate the day to benevolence of action, by sending good gifts to the poor, and doing those deeds of charity that will, for one day, make every American home the place of plenty and of rejoicing. These seasons of refreshing are of inestimable advantage to the popular heart; and if rightly managed, will greatly aid and strengthen public harmony of feeling. Let the people of all the States and Territories sit down together to the “feast of fat things,” and drink, in the sweet draught of joy and gratitude to the Divine giver of all our blessings, the pledge of renewed love to the Union, and to each other; and of peace and good-will to all men. Then the last Thursday in November will soon become the day of AMERICAN THANKSGIVING throughout the world.

More interesting reading about Sarah Josepha Hale here, on The Gad About Town.

15 thoughts on “It’s Got Nothing to Do with Pilgrims and Indians

    • The mythology is pilgrims and Indians. If you take women’s studies today you might hear of Sarah Hale and Thanksgiving, but there’s no marketing value in the story and, anyway, she probably wouldn’t want it to be Sarah Hale Day. There are millions of forgotten truths in history.

  1. I knew about her, but didn’t know of her other accomplishments. Isn’t it wonderful how corporate America was able to infuse Black Friday into a day of thanks giving. I wonder what she’d think of it now. HAPPY THANKSGIVING any old how. 🙂

    • I’m entertained by the current (???) push to close stores on Thanksgiving and eliminate Black Friday. You’d think these younguns came up with that idea. I remember when 7-11 first opened and it was Thanksgiving and my mom had forgotten whipping cream at the store. She was really in a turmoil about whether anyone should go to 7-11 and buy whipping cream on Thanksgiving. “It’s just wrong,” she said, “for people to work today.” We were all good with not being able to shop constantly. In European countries they actually DARE to close stores on holidays and Sundays.

      • If you think about it, as Plymouth Plantation was financed by a group of adventure capitalists with the intention of exploiting the beaver and the natives for profit, perhaps black Friday is in keeping with the true history of the Pilgrim experience.

      • Yep. I’m writing about that now, actually. The history is so depressing I can only read for about 20 minutes at time. I mean the two differences between Swiss or German or English immigrants in the 18th century and slaves coming over is that if the Swiss or German or English immigrants weren’t chained to the ship and if they survived their period of indentured servitude they would be free. It was a big “if”, too. Otherwise? No difference. Same crowded ships, same attitude of ship owners toward their ‘cargo’ same (literally the same guys) greedy Dutch and English traders rounding up ‘cargo’ to make the journeys profitable — same chances of surviving the voyage. You’re right. Black Friday is pretty honest carrying on of the tradition of greed and exploitation. They don’t teach that in school. They gloss over “indentured servitude” as if it were a part time job at a drive thru.

      • And it goes on. I remember my mother making it happen when we had very little, making our little trailer cozy with the smells of cooking, making her flour, sugar, and water pies. I remember having a bologna sandwich and cold beans for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner one year because I was out on missions and missed the big dinners at the chow hall. I remember having a piece of three-day-old toast and a dime of PCP one Thanksgiving dinner as I sat alone and thought my life was in the shitter . . . and it was. But I’m going to celebrate my mother’s efforts to create some good childhood memories today.

      • I’m going to celebrate by editing my manuscript, walking my dogs and waiting for snow. I wanted to go up to Colorado Springs, but not with my front tires and no new front tires until after pay day. It’s how it is, innit. And yeah, a dime of PCP and old toast is pretty much the shitter. I think my brother had a few Thanksgivings at that place but with a bottle. I’m glad you recognized it for what it was! Enjoy the sweetness of your memories of your mom’s efforts.

      • I thought about this, and the answer as to why white slavery is ignored is the same as why white poverty is ignored: slavery and poverty belong to minorities, anything that would take away from the white privilege narrative is not allowed (as if it would somehow take away form the immorality of slavery and poverty, not to mention there would be no general demographic to lay the blame on). It’s the same with trying to point out that over 90% of confederate soldiers didn’t own slaves, and most were conscripted into service and had no choice. Not to mention that their homes were being invaded by a juggernaut that rolled through the country doing the same things invading armies have always done: rape, pillage, burn, and murder. It’s not good to point out truths that don’t fit today’s accepted version of history. And for God’s sake let’s not talk about why George Washington kept sending Nathaniel Green off on far flung missions. We wouldn’t want to tarnish the reputation of Mrs. Green. Forgive me, I’m an old white guy, a member of the most hated demographic on the planet. And as such, I may have overstepped my bounds by harboring these opinions.

      • I agree with you. Our sanitized, sanctimonious and, yes, emasculated, culture is boring beyond belief and immoral. It reminds me SO MUCH of the post-Cultural Revolution China (1982) in which I lived. Even then the idea of “moral education” was powerful and there were no movies or TV shows that did not push propaganda. The propaganda at the time were how the one child family would lead to prosperity and the story of the good samaritan as it is not part of traditional Chinese culture to help a stranger. I even ended up a cover story on the Guangzhou newspaper because my flat tire allowed a simple Chinese road-side bike fixer to be a good samaritan and help the foreigner who’d come to help with the country’s reconstruction.

        I won’t even watch a film made after 2005 if I can help it — I’m sick of the gratuitous gay guy, the obligatory lesbian couple, the token African American (giving the illusion that Blacks are at least 1/4 of the population as every fourth person is black in these programs/films). The whole thing diminishes humanity disgustingly and allows people to identify with their wounds. That’s NEVER healthy, not for individuals or societies — What I REALLY REALLY hate is the idea that the atomic bombs dropped on Japan were WORSE than the thousands of bombs dropped everywhere else, that somehow THOSE deaths were a more horrible dead than all the other dead. How can there be “degrees of horror”?

        I hate the hypocrisy of it, and the fact that by accepting the cant, people do not need to examine themselves or history.

        Many? Most? Americans have never lived in a mixed-race neighborhood in which most people are on some kind of welfare and living below the poverty line and working 3 jobs, a neighborhood where gangs are active, territory matters — and is race related. I have and it was not about anything other than some very primitive motivations all of which are FED not HEALED by PC thinking or yammering, anyway. Most of the PC whites I knew would not park their car in my neighborhood unless I could put it in my garage and lock the door. Yeah, right. PC thinking is not generosity of spirit, imagination or courage.

        You see, I have no strong opinions on this. 🙂

      • Oh and the Union soldiers who arrived on some boat from Germany or Ireland and were told that if they wanted to be citizens, they had to fight the South. I guess people can’t handle the complexity…

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