To celebrate the end
of the Revolutionary War and the Treaty of Paris a Thanksgiving
was proclaimed for November 28, 1782. A few years later Representatives
from states outside of New England began to feel uncomfortable
about imposing a northern holiday on their constituents. Jeffersonian
Democratic-Republican representatives were worried about crossing
the line separating church and state, one of the principals upon
which the young country was founded, because the holiday was still
thought of as a predominately religious one. The Federalists,
who thought churches were bulwarks of the social order that would
support a strong central government, continued to support annual
Thanksgivings. Presidents Washington, Adams and Madison all declared
national days of Thanksgiving. Jefferson did not since, as he
said, "civil powers alone have given to the President of the United
States, and no authority to direct the religious exercises of
his constituents." New Englanders continued to celebrate Thanksgiving
regardless of whether the President declared the day or not.
The Thanksgiving preparations
were begun weeks in advance. By the 1820's, the turkey, which
had been domesticated, had secured the place of honor at the table
but chicken pies, geese and ducks were still served. All these
birds would have been suspended from a hook and roasted over the
fire in such a way that the drippings fell into a pan and could
be ladled back over the bird. The chicken pie was a major component
of a New England dinner. Mutton, beef, venison and pork were served
after being roasted in a pot with a tight lid and set in the fire
with embers on top. Some families served shellfish, abundant along
the coasts, but they were not considered special enough for Thanksgiving
since they were so readily available. Cranberry sauce, apple butter,
and currant and gooseberry jellies were always prepared. All fruits
were stewed since the early Americans rarely ate raw foods. Apple
cider was the typical drink in New England, while Germans chose
beer and French, wine. Thanksgiving vegetables were cabbage, potatoes,
turnips, squash and of course, the pumpkin. These vegetables would
keep all winter in the cellar.
The pie, an English
institution, was a major part of the meal. The mincemeat pie was
begun well in advance because the beef had to be minced, the nuts
shelled, the apples peeled, the raisins seeded and then everything
minced and basted in molasses and brandy, after which 10 days
were required for the for the pie to ripen. Trade had been well
established making it easier to have molasses and tea. More pies
were baked closer to the day, fruit pies, pumpkin and custard
pies were among them.
Citizens of the 13
new states who wanted to own land of their own spurred westward
expansion. As New Englanders left their hometowns in pursuit of
the West, they brought their customs with them, including Thanksgiving.
By the end of the 18th Century, Thanksgiving was celebrated all
over the northwest part of the nation, from Pennsylvania to Ohio,
Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and California. The recently
transplanted New Englanders did not feel the need to wait for
a gubernatorial proclamation of Thanksgiving, so they created
their own celebrations and introduced it to neighbors who were
not aware of the Yankee tradition.
In 1845, Methodist
missionaries in Kansas invited a group of Quaker missionaries
to a Thanksgiving because they had never celebrated such a day.
"The Quakers were surprised; they had never heard of the turkey
as a bird of Thanksgiving."
Josepha Hale is the single most important person to solidify
Thanksgiving as a national holiday that would be fully woven into
the fabric of American culture. She was a true Yankee, born in
New Hampshire. In 1788 during the Revolution, she was left a widow
with a family to support. She wrote a novel, Northwood,
or Life North and South, in which she included an entire
chapter on Thanksgiving Day, concluding that the day should be
a national holiday just like Independence Day. She eventually
became the first female editor of Lady's Book and Magazine
published by L. A. Godey.
Godey's Lady's Book, as it was referred to, was the
widely distributed ladies journal from the 1840's -1860's
and had a readership that stretched from the southern plantations,
to the rolling hills of Vermont, to the western frontier.