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Thanksgiving: The Phrase Before The Holiday

Many families gather today with loved ones and friends in celebration of Thanksgiving. Festive tables filled with traditional dishes such as turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie lavishly appear in millions of homes. The celebration links to a small settlement located in Massachusetts known as the Plymouth Colony. According to tradition, in 1621, the gathering occurred to celebrate the harvesting of crops and the means of survival during the harsh winter months ahead. President Abraham Lincoln announced a national Thanksgiving in 1863 and urged the people to give thanks and praise to the Father who lives in Heaven. President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Holidays Act, proclaiming Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1870.

The phrase Thanksgiving was prominent during the 16th, 17th, and 18th-centuries. The word meant a holy celebration to give thanks to the Almighty Creator and to offer praise. In referring to the Plymouth Colony in 1621, the group comprised 1/3 Puritan faith followers who encouraged strict rules and hard work to please their Creator. We assume that all members agreed to a Thanksgiving feast that year and shared the festivities with their Native friends. The definition of the word Thanksgiving during that period meant an act of giving thanks to the Divine. A prayer or celebration of praise and thankfulness.

John Adams mentioned the phrase in his speech given in July of 1776. The Declaration of Independence has just passed, and questions were asked as the lack of supplies for military actions were scarce. Appeals are voiced in the air as Hancock presides over the arguments. Then, Adams gives the following speech:

“Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my hand and my heart to this vote. It is true, indeed, that in the beginning, we aimed not at independence. But there’s a Divinity which shapes our ends. Why, then, should we defer the Declaration? You and I, indeed, may rue it. We may not live to the time when this Declaration shall be made good. We may die; die colonists; die slaves; die, it may be, ignominiously and on the scaffold. Be it so, Be it so. If it be the pleasure of Heaven that my country shall require the poor offering of my life, the victim shall be ready. But while I do live, let me have a country or at least the hope of a country and a free country. But whatever may be our fate, be assured that this Declaration will stand. It may cost treasure, and it may cost blood; but it will stand, and it will richly compensate for both. Through the thick gloom of the present, I see the brightness of the future, as the sun in Heaven. We shall make this a glorious, an immortal day. When we are in our graves, our children will honor it. They will celebrate it with Thanksgiving, with Festivity, with Bonfires, and Illuminations.” (courtesy of The Works of Daniel Webster Volume I pp.133-134)

Note the phrase of Thanksgiving in his speech. Think of his wording here as an act of giving thanks and praise as he describes future celebrations with the Declaration of Independence. According to modern definitions, Thanksgiving means the act of giving or feeling thankfulness. Our ancestors lived in different times and expressed themselves using various phrases. Family historians may find it confusing to understand their expressions or actions. But as you become more accustom to the past traditions and vocabulary, you quickly understand. The key to success is uncovering the details of past history and combining this data with the people. Keep reaching for the answers and the facts along your journey. As for this Thanksgiving, Piedmont Trails shares special thanks for allowing us to share our passion for history and genealogy with all of you. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family and Enjoy Your Journey To The Past.

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