This broadside (a large piece of paper printed on only one side) issued by Thomas and Samuel Green of New Haven announced the Proclamation of Governor Matthew Griswold naming Thursday the 24th of November, 1785, “a Day of Publick Thanksgiving.”
A Tradition Takes Shape
Most credit the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony as being the originators of the Thanksgiving tradition—though, as historians point out, settlers in what are now Texas, Maine, and Virginia held earlier celebrations in a similar spirit. It is the Pilgrim’s 1621 gathering, however, that became the touchstone throughout the colonial period and into the 19th century for official days of feasting or fasting depending on the year’s fortunes. There was no set month or date for these observances to take place, and it was common for the colonies and later the states to issue proclamations.
Governor Griswold’s proclamation of 1785 encouraged “…Ministers and People, of all Denominations, with Reverence to present their Thank-offerings to the Father of all our Mercies, and to Praise him for all the Bounties of his Providence, and richer Blessings of his Grace.” Governor Griswold, who served not long after the formation of the new nation, also asked Connecticut’s citizens to “implore the Father of Mercies to inspire our National Council, the Congress of these United States, with Wisdom and Fidelity equal to the Trust reposed in them…” and further reminded his citizens that “all servile Labour is forbidden on said Day.”
Thanksgiving did not become an annual national observance until 1863 when, on October 3, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Proclamation declaring the last Thursday in November National Thanksgiving Day. In 1941, Congress moved that date to the fourth Thursday in November.