Year after year, Americans gather around the table on the fourth Thursday of November to celebrate Thanksgiving. Many recognize its origins as connected to the 1621 Pilgrim feast and thanksgiving prompted by a good harvest, but few know the woman responsible for making the celebration official. Sarah Josepha Hale, author and poet, fought to institutionalize Thanksgiving. Through her efforts, it was declared a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln.
This Thanksgiving is 152 years since the proclamation by President Lincoln, making it a national holiday. MyHeritage decided to locate the descendants of Sarah Hale and to look deeper into the legacy passed down through the generations of her family.
Sarah Josepha Buell was born October 24, 1788 in Newport, New Hampshire. She married lawyer David Hale in 1813, and the couple had five children. A writer and influential editor, she wrote letters to politicians for 27 years advocating for Thanksgiving to become an official holiday. Until then, Thanksgiving was celebrated mainly in New England, and on different dates in each state.
Hale wrote letters to five different US presidents: Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln. Although her initial letters failed to yield results, her letter to Lincoln convinced him to support 1863 legislation to establish the national holiday of Thanksgiving.
There weren’t many hotel or motel chains in those days, so famous people - indeed, all travellers - slept in taverns, inns, private homes or camped out under the stars.
Perhaps that’s why Presidents' Weekend is known as the best time for sales of mattresses and bedding, as every US department and bedding store advertises great prices!
Seriously though, Presidents’ Weekend is relatively new. When I was in elementary school in New York, we celebrated Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays on two weekends in February, each with a Monday or Friday off.
Since they were both legal holidays - with banks, businesses, government offices and schools closed – someone suggested that perhaps the two holidays could be combined with only one day off instead of two. While schoolchildren mourned the loss of an anticipated holiday, the business community welcomed it.
Each state sets its observance of the holiday, and not all US states observe Presidents' Weekend. Read the history here.
East Coast Turkey
Thanksgiving is a day thick with plenty. The penultimate November Thursday marries history, tradition, and myth in commemorative indulgence. Its goals are less commercial and Puritan-stiff than many a holiday, and it thumps with seasonal and human spirit.
The history of the day of thanks trickles down from early American settlers. It was to be a day of rest from battle with Native Americans, and the gruesome winter, which took the lives of nearly half of the early pilgrims. The first account of Thanksgiving dates to 1623, chronicled in Eliot's New-England History, and tells of Governor Bradford who "sent out a company for game [turkey which was of plenty in the are]...and abundant materials for a feast...and they feasted Massasoit and ninety of his Indians, and they thanked God for the good and the good things in it. So they kept their first Thanksgiving."