According to most historical records, the first American Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 to commemorate the bountiful autumn harvest gathered by the Plymouth Colony after an extremely harsh winter ... in that same year, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving ... the colonists celebrated this day as a traditional English feast, to which they invited the local Wampanoag Indians ... days of thanksgiving were celebrated throughout the colonies after fall harvests ... all thirteen colonies did not, however, observe Thanksgiving at the same time until October 1777 ... George Washington was the first president to declare the holiday in 1789.
We are all familiar with the Thanksgiving holiday as being a time for family, friends and feasts -- but we can easily forget the meaning of this national holiday as it was first established by President George Washington on October 3, 1789, and reaffirmed as we know it today by President Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863, exactly 74 years later ... a mere glance at their Thanksgiving proclamations reminds us of the noblest purposes of government ... moreover, the simplest meaning of Thanksgiving reminds us - contrary to secularist courts and professors - that these presidents were proclaiming a holy day, a day for prayer and recognition of Almighty God's authority over man ... a day for acknowledgment of our many transgressions ... a day of praise and thanksgiving to our Creator for His gracious gifts of mercy, forgiveness and abundance of blessings toward all mankind ... please read carefully President Lincoln's following proclamation, for within this historic text lies the true essence of Thanksgiving ...
October 3, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards it's close , has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of such extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict, while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverences and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hands to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eight.
By the President Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
The above is the proclamation which set the precedent for America's national day of Thanksgiving ... during his administration, President Lincoln issued many orders such as this ... for example, on November 28, 1861, he ordered government departments closed for a local day of thanksgiving.
Sarah Josepha Hale, a prominent magazine editor, wrote a letter to Lincoln in 1863, urging him to have the "day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union festival" ... she wrote, "You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution" -- this document sets apart the last Thursday of November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise."
According to an April 1, 1864, letter from John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln's secretaries, this document was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting ... on October 3, 1863, fellow Cabinet member Gideon Welles recorded in his diary that he complimented Seward on his work ... a year later, the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.
*Proclamation text and other information taken from Abraham Lincoln Online --sja