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Giving Thanks

This slideshow contains 10 items
1
Public thanksgiving proclamation, 1755

Public thanksgiving proclamation, 1755

Item 20113 info
Maine Historical Society

Thanksgiving observances were not always focused on harvests and feasts.

A good example is this 1755 proclamation, issued by Spencer Phips Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief of Massachusetts.

He proclaimed a celebration of public thanksgiving for Dec. 4, 1755 and urged colonists to give thanks for the successful harvest, along with victories over the French, the good health of King George and other British officials, and the good life colonists enjoyed.

The proclamation notes that "all servile labor" is forbidden for the day.


2
Abner Small to the Emersons, Nov. 20, 1861

Abner Small to the Emersons, Nov. 20, 1861

Item 5716 info
Maine Historical Society

A more personal comment about Thanksgiving comes from Abner Small of Gardiner, a soldier in the 16th Maine Volunteers during the Civil War.

He writes, before Thanksgiving, to his friends in Waterville:

"You are cordially invited to take a thanksgiving dinner with the 'subscriber' who would be most happy to help you to some choice bite of horse meat and condiments raised on the sacred soil of old Virginia."

Clearly, home and a more sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner were on Small's mind.


3
John M. Dillingham letter to mother, November 30, 1862

John M. Dillingham letter to mother, November 30, 1862

Item 19248 info
Freeport Historical Society

Another Civil War soldier, John Dillingham of Freeport, in an 1862 letter to his mother, described his Thanksgiving dinner, which sounded no more appealing to him than Small's did.

Dillingham wrote:

"I forgot to tell you what we had for thanksgivin dinner first we had hard bread and water then come the desert you had ought to have seen that desert shall I tell you what it was? well I will it was hard bread we had something else about three o clock but we stole it that was hard bread to."

Other meals probably were similar, but the fact that Dillingham mentions Thanksgiving and his lack of interesting food suggests the importance he placed in the holiday.


4
Home for Thanksgiving, 1898

Home for Thanksgiving, 1898

Item 6890 info
Maine Historical Society

The 13 American colonies celebrated Thanksgiving in 1777, in part to observe their victory over the British at Saratoga.

President George Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1789. President Thomas Jefferson declined to do the same when he was president.

Thanksgiving did become a national holiday, however, in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln designated the last Thursday in November as a day of thanks.

The painting at left by Seth W. Steward (1844-1924), a native of Monson, entitled "Home for Thanksgiving," depicts what quickly became a tradition around the holiday: returning home for a family celebration.


5
Thanksgiving proclamation, 1889

Thanksgiving proclamation, 1889

Item 1142 info
Maine Historical Society

By the time Maine Governor Edwin G. Burleigh issued his proclamation setting aside Thursday, November 28, 1889 as a day of public thanksgiving, the date already was a national holiday.

Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book, spent 40 years lobbying to have a permanent national day of Thanksgiving, an event she believed would help unite the country and preserve the Union.

Hale wrote a number of editorials in her publication advocating for such a day until 1863 when Lincoln agreed.

In one editorial, Hale wrote that on Thanksgiving, "the noise and tumult of worldliness may be exchanged for the laugh of happy children, the glad greetings of family reunion, and the humble gratitude of the Christian heart."

She suggested the day be observed 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 rejoicing."


6
Menu, Preble House, Portland, 1914

Menu, Preble House, Portland, 1914

Item 18070 info
Maine Historical Society

The "first" thanksgiving with the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians in Massachusetts included a feast that lasted three days, according to Edward Winslow's journal in 1621.

Most historians agree that the menu probably did not include turkey or many vegetables. Venison and wild fowl likely were the main features.

As this menu from a Thanksgiving dinner at the Preble House in Portland in 1914 suggests, the early 20th century version offered numerous choices -- bluefish, salmon, capon, beef tenderloin, venison, ribs of beef and turkey for starters.


7
North School pageant, Portland, ca. 1920

North School pageant, Portland, ca. 1920

Item 6121 info
Maine Historical Society

Most children and adults can remember Thanksgiving observances in school -- from drawing turkeys by tracing one's hand to dressing as Pilgrims and Indians and reenacting a version of the "first" Thanksgiving.

Here students at North School on Portland's Munjoy Hill, hold letters that spell out the name of the holiday.


8
Chestnut Street School Thanksgiving, Portland, 1924

Chestnut Street School Thanksgiving, Portland, 1924

Item 108 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Not everyone agrees that Massachusetts was the site of the first thanksgiving observance after Europeans arrived in North America.

And, despite the friendly handshake between the "Indian" and the "Pilgrim," by students at Portland's Chestnut Street School in 1924, not all American Indians view Thanksgiving as a time to celebrate that mythic past.

Many argue that the relationship between the Indians and the colonists was more complex than the holiday observance often suggests.


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Chestnut Street School Thanksgiving, 1924

Chestnut Street School Thanksgiving, 1924

Item 5267 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Regardless the meaning or composition of the "first" Thanksgiving, several things are certain.

Most Indians and colonists ate with their hands, not utensils. They sometimes used cloth to hold hot food while they ate it.

Food often was not passed around a table. Instead, the diners ate the food that was closest to them.

Meals were not served in unique courses. Instead, all the food was put on the table at once.

Dried corn and fruits probably were the most common "side" dishes at the meal.


10
Thanksgiving Day at Casco Street School, Portland, 1922

Thanksgiving Day at Casco Street School, Portland, 1922

Item 72 info
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Three "Pilgrims," children at Casco Street School in Portland, stand with cornucopias of food in what may have been a Thanksgiving food drive at the school in 1922.

The tradition of gathering and sharing food with the needy goes back to the mythic "first" thanksgiving and also was an important element of Sarah Josepha Hale's campaign for a national Thanksgiving holiday.


This slideshow contains 10 items