The impiety of many of our country's present leaders makes it easy to forget that the United States was once governed by devout men who acknowledged the one true God and their debt to Him in everything. These statesmen were courageously unafraid to give public thanks to God. It is refreshingly edifying to review the role our founders played in establishing Thanksgiving Day.
The holiday we celebrate now has its roots in Massachusetts Governor William Bradford's proclamation of the first Thanksgiving Day on November 29, 1623. He ordered a public ceremony to "render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings." However, that was not the first thanksgiving on our nation's soil. Long before, on September 8, 1565, Spanish explorers celebrated Mass in gratitude for their safe arrival at what is now St. Augustine, Florida. Another Mass of thanksgiving was celebrated by Spanish explorers in present-day Texas on April 30, 1598. The first official Thanksgiving ceremony in the American colonies was December 4, 1619, when English settlers arrived at the Berkeley Hundred settlement in Virginia. So Bradford was only following honorable suit.
The infant nation continued the practice. Thomas Jefferson introduced a resolution in the Virginia Assembly in 1774 calling for a Day of Fasting and Prayer, as did Richard Henry Lee in 1777. The governor of New Hampshire, John Langdon, proclaimed official days of thanksgiving, fasting, and prayer in 1785 and 1786. Massachusetts Governor John Hancock issued A Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving on November 8, 1783, to celebrate victory of the colonies in the Revolutionary War because, "the Interposition of Divine Providence in our Favor hath been most abundantly and most graciously manifested, and the Citizens of these United States have every Reason for Praise and Gratitude to the God of their salvation."
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