In 1621 the settlers of the Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts, gathered to celebrate a harvest of food they had no cause to even dream of when they landed. Thanks to the local Native Americans, the Wampanoag Tribe, who taught the colonists how to fish and gave them seeds to plant, the 102 colonists not only had sufficient food for the winter, they had enough to have a celebration of their bounty. [Claims for the first Thanksgiving rest in two other places, one a half-century earlier in 1565 at the Spanish Colony of St. Augustine, Florida, and the other in Virginia at the Jamestown Colony in 1607. The 1619 charter that founded the Charles City County village of Berkley Hundred included in its code an annual day of Thanksgiving.] Nevertheless, it remains Plymouth that we celebrate, in large part because of the symbolic rescue from death by starvation carried out by the generosity of the Wampanoag people.
Sarah Josepha Buell Hale spent 91 years on this earth, from 1788 to 1879. And during those 91 years she produced an incredible record into the history of this nation. And she goes pretty much unrecognized today. Sarah Buell was born, raised and married in Newport, New Hampshire. She married David Hale, a local attorney in 1813 and bore him five children. Sarah became a widow in 1822 and remained in mourning the rest of her life. Nothing out of the ordinary at this point for those times. But Sarah was different. Very intelligent — much of her education was self-attained — and she wrote poetry. She published a collection of her poetry in 1823, followed soon after by a novel, Northwood: Life North and South. Northwood carried a message that slavery was not only bad for the slave it was bad for the masters, too, dehumanizing both.
In 1828 Sarah accepted a position in Boston as ‘editress’ of Reverend John Blake’s Ladies’ Magazine. In 1830 she published her second collection of poetry, Poems for Children, which included the now famous Mary’s Lamb, which we know as ”Mary Had A Little Lamb”. In 1837 she began editing the widely popular Godey’s Ladies Book, after Philadelphian Louis Godey bought the Ladies Magazine. There Sarah remained working for the next forty years.
Sarah was a thinker, and a powerful one. She went beyond many of the social thinkers of the day and did so with a quiet logic. In her capacity as editress of Godey’s, she was a major influence on women authors of the nineteenth century and on some men as well: Hawthorne, Holmes, Irving to name a few.
The year she retired, Thomas Edison spoke the first words to be recorded, on a device he invented. Those words were the first lines of Mary’s Lamb.
Sarah is buried to the right of her daughter of the same name, in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. For a span of forty years during her life, she wrote to Congress asking for a national Thanksgiving Holiday.
Her prayers were answered, but not by Congress.
Abraham Lincoln is well known for many of his speeches and historic documents: his two Inaugural Addresses, his Cooper Union Speech, his Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, among others. Here is one he seldom gets much credit for making.
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its 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 so 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 the 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 deliverances 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 Hand 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 Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
And so, Sarah Hale’s forty year effort to have Thanksgiving made into a national Holiday came to an end in 1863 at the hands of President Abraham Lincoln.
Times have been rough of late. The twenty-first century has offered little to further the cause of mankind. There is more conflict throughout the world than the world has seen for seventy years. Yet, every day, the sun rises and sets, crops grow and are harvested. We think too much and too often of what we do not have, and we forget what we do have. Thanksgiving is a reminder that we should do this, for “…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.’