We wonder how much of the story of the first American Thanksgiving is based on fact and how much was fantasized over the years, but we do have some facts to quote.
In the 17th century, at the beginnings of the Massachusetts Bay colony, there was a state-run church and that church often declared days of fasting and prayer and days of Thanksgiving when participation was expected from those in all plantations. Even during the years before, during, and after the Revolution, the state might declare such days.
November 5, 1639: “It was ordered, that the 28th day of this present month should bee kept a day of publike thanksgiving through the churches. Those churches that have kept a day already are left to their liberty.”
In Shirley, in November of 1773, James Parker noted in his diary, “Was Thanksgiving. Wee meet in New Meeting House the first Time mr. Whitney preached from Isaiah 56:1-2 Pretty full meeting I had nobody to sup with me but Ivory Wildes”
We assume that his wife and children were there also. He notes that they all went to visit and stay overnight at his in-laws house that evening.
Almost every year, Parker mentioned a day of thanksgiving in the fall. In 1785 it was on December 15th.
On October 3, 1789, George Washington issued a proclamation creating the first Thanksgiving Day designated by the national government of the United States of America, to be celebrated on Thursday, November 26, 1789.
That year, James Parker noted, “It was Thanksgiving through the union.”
In 1797 Parker says, “It was Thanksgiving through the state.”
In most of Parker’s Thanksgiving entries, he mentions who came for dinner and also often mentions that he went to meeting on that day.
On October 3, 1863, at the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation encouraging Americans "in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens."
By then. Parker had died so we have no journal entries and we do not know how the holiday was celebrated in Shirley. For this year, we do know that many businesses will be closed for the holiday.
As for the Shirley Historical Society, we take this opportunity to express our thankfulness to all those who have supported our work through this difficult year and we wish you continued good health and happiness.
The attached illustration of a card in our collection is very old fashioned, but the sentiment is right up to date.