A Thanksgiving Timeline

The Pilgrims are credited for starting the tradition of Thanksgiving in 1621, but how did it become a national holiday?

What follows is a quick timeline of the evolution of Thanksgiving from a tradition to being an official holiday celebrated on a specific date.

*November 23, 1775 – The Revolutionary War was seven months old, and patriots in Boston called for a “Day of Public Thanksgiving to be held in the colony of Massachusetts to celebrate their “Rights and Privileges” despite the attempts of their “barbarous Enemies” to deprive them of such.” It was a very anti-British celebration.

*December 18, 1777 – The war was still going strong, but to celebrate the victory of American Continental forces in the Battle of Saratoga, General George Washington called for Thursday, December 18 to be a day in which to engage in “Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise.” For the first time, all thirteen colonies participated.

*In 1879, President Washington called for a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. Congress agreed, but did not declare an official holiday.

Thomas Jefferson, our third president, believed that a Thanksgiving holiday was a violation of the separation of church and state, so there was no official day of thanksgiving between 1815 and 1863.

*In 1846 Sarah Josephina Hale, the editor of Gody’s Lady’s Book, began a 17-year letter writing campaign in support of an official national Thanksgiving holiday. In September of 1863, she wrote to Abraham Lincoln, imploring him to set an official day for thanksgiving.

*October 3, 1863 – President Lincoln, in a bid to heal a the nation during the Civil War, announced: ”I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States…to set apart and observe he last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”  

Lincoln proclaimed that the official Thanksgiving day would be the last Thursday in November. Sarah Josephina Hale was 74 years old, but lived to see the official holiday she’d fought so hard for.

*In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt, by executive order, moved the holiday to the third Thursday in November, in order to allow more shopping days until Christmas. (Thanksgiving fell on November 30 that year.) The new holiday was called Franksgiving by those who were opposed. There was such an outcry that Congress officially moved Thanksgiving back to the fourth Thursday of November, where it remains today.

Please everyone, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Best wishes,


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Jeannie Watt raises cattle in Montana and loves all things western. When she's not writing, Jeannie enjoys sewing, making mosaic mirrors, riding her horses and buying hay. Lots and lots of hay.

28 thoughts on “A Thanksgiving Timeline”

  1. Thanks you for sharing this amazing but if Thanksgiving History. I wish you and yours, plus everyone here at P & P a very Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. I’m sure I knew this at some point in my life but if I did I definitely don’t recall it so thank you for the great History Lesson this morning! I hope you and yours have a very Happy Thanksgiving! Stay safe!

  3. What a wonderful blessing to read this blog. 17 years to get an official day of Thanksgiving! Way to go Miss Hale. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

  4. I knew about President Lincoln’s proclamation but not the times prior to that. The 1777 Thanksgiving was especially interesting to me because my mom grew up at the edge of the Sarotoga Battlefield Park and I had never heard that before. We did get extensive history lessons about the battle and its significance but no mention of Thanksgiving.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all. I am thankful for this blog and all the history, travel,and information about books and authors that it provides.

    • I learned a lot researching this post. I find the Revolutionary War fascinating, and as I grow older, the dynamics become even more interesting. Happy Thanksgiving, Alice. We are grateful for our faithful readers! Thank you for being here!

  5. This is so very interesting, Thank you so much for sharing it. May you and your family have a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving.

  6. Jeannie, thanks for the history lesson. It is sad that we have to be reminded to take the time to be thankful for all we have. I like the Native American tradition in many tribes of having Thanksgivings throughout the year for specific things in our lives to be thankful for. That being said, I am glad that some countries designate a time for their people to think about all they have and those who help make their lives what it is.
    I hope you and yours have a nice Christmas and a wonderful Holiday Season.

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