The image of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth in 1621 with the Pilgrims, Massasoit of Pokanoket and the Wampanoag Nation, is forever etched upon the American conscience. Edward Winslow, one of the pilgrims on the Mayflower, called it the "Providence of God" that they had overcome so much to reach New England and make a settlement here. The Pilgrims provided wild turkeys and Massasoit arrived with ninety Indians and brought five freshly killed deer, which they barbecued on an open fire. The gathering lasted three days and combined the spiritual devotion of a thanksgiving and a joyous community gathering. The following is the earliest description of Thanksgiving, quoted directly from Of Mourt’s Relation, written by Edward Winslow and William Bradford (London, 1622).
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
Our Founding Fathers were men of great faith, as shown in early American writings. One such document is the National Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of the Second Continental Congress of November 1, 1777, setting aside Thursday December 18, 1777 for such a day. This was published in the Journals of the Continental Congress. God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are explicitly cited within the text. Our Christian Heritage is clearly evident in this Proclamation.
"FORASMUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of; And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence, but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defence and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a Measure to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops and to crown our Arms with most signal success:
It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth Day of December next, for Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise; That with one Heart and one Voice the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favour, and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please God, through the Merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole; to inspire our Commanders both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all human blessings, Independence and Peace; That it may please him to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People and the Labour of the Husbandman, that our Land may yet yield its Increase; To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand, and to prosper the Means of Religion for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom which consisteth in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.
And it is further recommended, that servile Labour, and such Recreation as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion."
It would not be until October 3, 1863, during the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a National Holiday, to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November. Congress later moved the Holiday to the Fourth Thursday of November.