Thanksgiving in Early America

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                         Thanksgiving in Early America
                                    By Elaine Marie Cooper

When we sit down at our Thanksgiving meal this month, we’ll be recreating a celebration
that is as old as our country: sharing food with loved ones while thanking the God Who
has provided the abundance.

While we understand that the First Thanksgiving was celebrated here by the Mayflower
survivors along with the Indians that had helped them, the first official proclamation that
was decreed to celebrate such a holiday was in 1777. It was a recommendation to the
thirteen states by the Continental Congress to set aside December 18th that year as a
“solemn thanksgiving” to celebrate the first major victory for the Continental troops in
the American Revolution: the Battle of Saratoga.

The Battle of Saratoga has significant interest for my own family since one of my
ancestors was a soldier there. But he was not on the American side—he was a British
Redcoat. After surrendering to the Americans, he escaped the line of prisoners and
somehow made his way to Massachusetts and into the life and heart of my fourth great-
grandmother. *SIGH* L’amour!

This family story was the inspiration for my Deer Run Saga that begins in 1777 with The
Road to Deer Run. There is an elaborate Thanksgiving meal scene in this novel as well
as in the sequel, The Promise of Deer Run.

Some may wonder why such detail was afforded this holiday in my novels set in
Massachusetts, while Christmas is barely mentioned. The reason is simple: Thanksgiving
was the major holiday in the northern colonies, with Christmas considered nothing more
special than a workday. According to Jack Larkin in his book, The Reshaping of
Everyday Life, “The Puritan founders of New England and the Quaker settlers of
Pennsylvania had deliberately abolished (holidays) as unscriptural.”

But Thanksgiving was begun as a way to give thanks to God for His provision. It usually
began with attending church services in the morning, followed by an elaborate feast in
the afternoon. The food for this meal was prepared for weeks in advance.

Since the individual state governors chose their own date to celebrate the holiday, it was
theoretically possible for some family members—if they lived in close proximity—to
celebrate multiple Thanksgiving meals with family and friends across state borders. The
dates chosen could be anywhere from October to December, according to Dennis Picard,
Director of the Storrowton Village Museum in West Springfield, Massachusetts.

Chicken was most commonly served, said Picard, as it was readily available in the
barnyard. And the oldest woman in the home had the honor of slicing the fowl for dinner.

Pies were made well in advance of the holiday and stored and became frozen in dresser
drawers in unheated rooms.

“I like the idea of pulling out a dresser drawer for, say, a clean pair of socks, and finding
mince pies,” said Picard, tongue in cheek.


Have a BLESSED Thanksgiving!

                          Elaine Marie Cooper grew up in Massachusetts but now lives in the
                          Midwest with her husband, her three dogs and one huge cat. She has
                          two married sons and triplet grandchildren who are now one years old.
                          The Promise of Deer Run is dedicated to the triplets and to veterans
                          who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Elaine has been a
                          magazine freelance writer for many years, and is a regular contributor
                          to a blog on the Midwest called The Barn Door (
                          and a blog on Christian living called Reflections In Hindsight
                          ( She is the author of The
                          Road to Deer Run and the sequel, The Promise of Deer Run. Prior to
                          becoming an author, Elaine worked as a registered nurse.

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