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The History of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a national holiday in America, but what do you really know about its history? After a brutal winter, the passengers on the Mayflower moved to shore, where they were met by a member of the Abenaki tribe who greeted them in English. This tribe member later introduced the Pilgrims to Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping and returning to his homeland. Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish, and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped them forge an alliance with the Wampanoag. In November 1621, the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest was a success and Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast to which he invited the Pilgrim’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag Chief Massasoit. This event is remembered today as America’s “first Thanksgiving.” However, it is important to note that there is still plenty of scholarly disagreement about this. Some scholars do not believe that the feast at Plymouth constituted the first Thanksgiving in the United States; others take issue with how the story is presented and feel that it masks the long and bloody history of conflict between Native Americans and European settlers. However, we do know that in 1789, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation, and in 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday. In 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale began to campaign to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. And in 1863, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official national holiday, which of course we still celebrate today.

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