We may think that the holiday of Thanksgiving has always been celebrated like we do it now--with big meals featuring turkey, and family gatherings around a football game or a parade with giant balloons. But the holiday in the past was quite different.
We've all heard about the first Thanksgiving when the starving Pilgrims shared a peaceful bountiful feast with their Native American neighbors in 1621. But Thanksgiving feasts occurred at many times of the year--chosen by the local officials to celebrate some event. The Continental Congress proclaimed the first National Day of Thanksgiving in 1777. But even before that, The Governor of Massachusetts made "A Proclamation for a Publick Thanksgiving" in 1773.
I HAVE therefore thought fit to appoint, and I do, with the Advice of His Majesty's Council, appoint Thursday the Twenty-fifth Day of November next to be a Day of Publick Thanksgiving throughout the Province, exhorting and requiring the several Societies for Religious Worship to assemble on that Day, and to offer up their devout Praises to GOD for the several Mercies aforementioned, and for all other Favours which He hath been graciously pleased to bestow upon us, accompanying their Thanksgivings with fervent Prayers that, after they shall have sang the Praises of God, they may not forget his Works.
And all servile Labour is forbidden on the said Day.
But maybe Governor Hutchinson's motives weren't so noble--this province-wide celebration was set to take place just about the time a shipment of tea was expected in Boston harbor. The Boston Tea Party took place just weeks later, on December 16th. Hutchinson's plea to remind the colonists of their duty perhaps fell on deaf ears: to succeed His Majesty's Councils and Endeavours for Preserving Peace to the British Dominions.
Unpopular Hutchinson, a prominent loyalist, may have polarized the colonials and precipitated the Revolution. You'll notice a rectangular section of the broadside is missing at the top. Here is the missing piece--maybe some patriot objected to having the British symbol so prominently displayed?
British Seal- likely what is missing from our copy of the Proclamation.
he Longmeadow Historical Society Archives includes a diary belonging to Stephen Colton (1815-1893). Every November, he made a brief note about Thanksgiving in 1851 like this; "27th Thanksgiving day, sermon by Mr. Harding Psalms 16-6, took supper at T. C. Terrys." Thanksgiving was a Thursday that year, and included going to church, and having a meal with someone outside of his nuclear family (the Terrys were in-laws).
Excerpt from 1851 Diary in Longmeadow mentioning Thanksgiving
The movable timing of the holiday was eventually standardized by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, when the last Thursday of November was selected as the official date. Over the years, the fact that November occasionally has five Thursdays proved to be problematic. In 1942 Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law that Thanksgiving Day would always fall on the fourth Thursday. Some suggested that large retailers like Macy's pressured the change to give the public another week to do their Christmas shopping, since advertising Christmas before Thanksgiving Day was frowned upon! What would they think of us now with Christmas advertising starting in September?
Happy Thanksgiving from everyone at the Longmeadow Historical Society!
Contributed by Betsy McKee, LHS Board Member
November 25, 2021