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The History Surrounding Thanksgiving Day & Sarah Hale May be Different than You Think

Posted on Wednesday, November 23, 2022
by Mike Fuljenz

As we celebrate Thanksgiving with our friends and family this week, I wanted to share a couple of stories of how the traditional holiday began more from fable than fact as Pilgrims didn’t wear big hats and clunky shoes.

Still, it was Myles Standish who invited the Indian leader, at the time, to a feast in October 1621 that would later become known as Thanksgiving. Luckily, for the Pilgrims, the Indians brought most of the food because the colonists weren’t exactly the best at farming the new land of America and they tended to drink a lot of beer, so they stayed relatively intoxicated most days. Their ongoing relationship with the Indians was a tenuous one fraught with violence but in that first feast, both sides came together in peace.

The next major push in Thanksgiving lore came from a highly-determined young woman names Sarah Josepha Hale, who at the age of 18 years old, started her own private school for teaching children – something women did not do in the early 1800s. When her husband died, leaving her with five children at the age of 34, she opened another business and went back to writing – something that her late-husband had encouraged before his death and led to many of her short stories being published in local newspapers.

Hale used the money from her writing to care for herself and her children and she published a book of poetry that included the children’s nursery rhyme, “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” Her writing brought her much fame and she became the first female editor of Ladies’ Magazine. During her tenure, she would constantly write to local, state and national leaders including presidents asking that a day – the final Thursday in November – be established as a holiday to, “offer to God our tribute of joy and gratitude for the blessings of the year.”

It wasn’t until Hale wrote to President Abraham Lincoln and published her plea in a newspaper editorial that he declared on October 3, 1863, that “Thanksgiving” would be celebrated as a federal holiday on the final Thursday of November as Hale had persistently promoted for years.

On a numismatic note, the U.S. Mint created a commemorative silver half-dollar coin featuring the image of a Pilgrim in 1920 and 1921. The coin, struck to recognize the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Mass., better known as Plymouth Rock, depicts William Bradford, the second governor of Plymouth Colony, holding what is believed to be a Bible in his left arm on the obverse. The reverse is emblazoned with the image of the Mayflower sailing across the rough Atlantic Ocean.

The Tercentenary Commission could only get Congressional approval for 300,000 coins (200,000 in 1920 and 100,000 in 1921) despite requesting an original half-million mintage. That was still a large number of coins but they were not as popular as anticipated and 48,000 coins from the original mintage were melted down and reminted with a 1921 date in the left-hand area of the field of the obverse.

The second-year mintage was cut to 80,000 but only 20,000 or so, were sold and 60,000 of those coins were melted down, as well. The total distribution for the Pilgrim Commemorative was 152,112 in 1920 and 20,053 in 1921.

And those are the facts of Thanksgiving. We owe it to the Pilgrims, the Indians, to Sarah Hale and President Lincoln for helping create a day where we can all take a moment to reflect on the things that we are thankful for in our lives.

Click Here To Read President Lincoln’s Proclamation About Thanksgiving Day!

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1 year ago

Thanks for the history lesson………

1 year ago

The first service of thanksgiving was in Spanish Florida years before in St Augustine.

1 year ago

For additional information about Thanksgiving head to They have an amazing assortment of historical documents about the earliest days of the creation of our Nation and the years following. Fascinating website.

Happy Thanksgiving all. Remember who to give thanks to!!

1 year ago

Loved your article!

1 year ago

Such a wonderfully detailed reporting about Thanksgiving! ????????

Curtis Hooper
Curtis Hooper
1 year ago

Thank you for this post. It is the true story of thanksgiving most people do not know.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Stephen Russell
Stephen Russell
1 year ago

Without Hale wed not Have Thanksgiving Day today

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