Craddock: Recalling early ‘American’ Thanksgivings

Here it is late November. Thanksgiving is Thursday, and we’re already celebrating Christmas. The stores are stocked with holiday gifts and Santa is making public appearances.

Time was, not too long ago, Thanksgiving could hold its own as a special day. But that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Americans are just too impatient. Now we go directly from Halloween to Christmas. And that’s sad.

Faith. Family. Friends. Food to nourish. Shelter to protect. Those were the same things the Pilgrims gave thanks for after surviving that first harsh 1621 winter at Plymouth Colony. I’m grateful for those things and so much more, including being a Texan and living in the greatest nation on earth.

Yes, these are troubled times, but we’re still mightily blessed. Life is good in 2019.

Texas was first

While the Pilgrims got credit for that first Thanksgiving at Plymouth, it was Texas’ Palo Duro Canyon that actually hosted the initial Thanksgiving celebration on the American continent. It had been declared in May 1541 by Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado.

Receiving little press, too, was the first true “American” Thanksgiving. That celebration came about in 1774, and it would set the tone for future U.S. Thanksgiving proclamations.

In retrospect, it seemed a strange time to give thanks. The American colonies were occupied by British troops and overtaxed by the British government. “The Boston Massacre” was a recent event. So was the “Boston Tea Party,” where angry colonists dressed as Native Americans had dumped English tea into Boston Harbor.

The cry for independence was becoming louder. Clearly, the upstart American colonists and King George’s army were about to go to war.

In 1774, the colonists petitioned British Gen. Thomas Gage to declare a day of prayer and fasting. Many thought a “Day of Thanksgiving” would help soothe the hard feelings between Americans and the British.

But Gage refused the request. This naturally angered the colonists, who then organized a “Provincial Congress” that met in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

John Hancock, who just two years later would sign the U.S. Declaration of Independence, was elected president of the new American Congress.

On Oct. 22, 1774, the Provincial Congress delegates (most of whom despised Gen. Gage) decided they’d declare their own day of Thanksgiving. Three delegates — John Winthrop, Solomon Lombard and Joseph Wheeler — quickly penned a Thanksgiving resolution.

Divine intervention

“It is resolved … that it is high proper that a Day of PUBLIC THANKSGIVING should be observed throughout this Province,” the proclamation said. The special day would be observed on Dec. 15, 1774, “to render Thanks to Almighty God for all the Blessings we enjoy.”

The 1774 resolution also asked for divine intervention, “Harmony and Union” in the “present Controversy between Great Britain and the Colonies.”

The resolution was published in the Boston Gazette with copies carried to towns and villages throughout the province. Sure enough, on Dec. 15 (only two weeks before Christmas), practically every business in Boston closed — much to Gen. Gage’s chagrin — as colonists gave thanks.

Other Thanksgiving proclamations would be declared by Congress — June 1775, May 1776, December 1777, November 1782.

The 1774 proclamation was the first such declaration made by an independent legislative body. It also was the first that didn’t end with the phrase “God Save the King.”

Less than a year later, the American Revolution had begun and the 13 colonies were on their way to becoming the United States of America.

So this Thanksgiving, as we give thanks for faith, family and friends, let’s also tip a tri-cornered hat to those long-ago patriots who thumbed their collective noses at Ol’ King George. For that, we can give thanks.

— Van “Colonial” Craddock’s newest book is “East Texas Tales, Book 2,” available at Barron’s and the Gregg County Historical Museum. His column runs Sunday. Email vancraddock@sbcglobal.net

Today's Bible verse

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

— John 1:1-3

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