- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Thanksgiving in America began with a people who we might think had little for which to be thankful. A small band of religious separatists fleeing religious persecution came to New England in 1620. During that first devastating winter in the New World nearly half their number died. Without the help of a neighboring colony of Indians, the entire number might have perished.
Following the summer of 1621, the Pilgrims realized a bountiful harvest—again with the help of their native friends. Gov. William Bradford, leader of the Pilgrims, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God. He invited the neighboring Indian colony to join with the Pilgrim band in a feast of celebration that lasted three days. An American tradition was born.
Harvest celebrations of thanksgiving in America were held annually in colonial New England. Following the American Revolution the first official proclamation by President George Washington called for a day of thanksgiving and prayer in 1789, saying “it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits.”
Thereafter, harvest festivals and days of thanksgiving were held at the discretion of the individual states. Thanksgiving was seldom held on the same day in any two states.
According to “Collins Historical Sketches of Kentucky,” the first official Thanksgiving Day in Kentucky was observed on Sept. 26, 1844, ordered by official proclamation of the 15th governor of Kentucky, Robert P. Letcher. A year later, his successor, Gov. William Owsley, proclaimed a day of thanksgiving but moved the date to Nov. 20, 1845.
It was in 1863, during the War Between the States, that President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation that established the national holiday we observe today.
“It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people,” Lincoln wrote in his proclamation.
We can get but a glimpse of local Thanksgiving Day observances by studying the pages of The Carrollton Democrat and The News-Democrat from past years to see how the holiday has evolved in Carroll County.
On Saturday, Nov. 5, 1870, The Carrollton Democrat published acting Gov. Preston H. Leslie’s thanksgiving day proclamation setting aside Nov. 24, 1870, “to be observed as a day of solemn public thanksgiving within this Commonwealth, recommending that all citizens resting on that day from secular employment shall repair to their respective places of worship, and reverently give thanks, with prayer and praise to Almighty God for his blessings to us as a people.”
Three weeks later the Carrollton newspaper reported that “Thanksgiving was observed here by dismissing the schools and by religious services at the Courthouse, conducted by the Rev. T.J. Godby, of the Methodist Church.”
Two Carrollton churches elected to host separate Thanksgiving Day services 125 years ago in 1885, as noted by The Carrollton Democrat on Nov. 21.
“It seems we are to have Thanksgiving services at both the Presbyterian and Methodist churches,” the paper reported. “There should be union services held at one church as has been the custom heretofore.”
The holiday services at the Methodist church featured the first-ever use of the congregation’s new pipe organ, purchased from a Louisville concern for $60, and installed in time for Thanksgiving Day.
“Business appeared very quiet on Thanksgiving day,” The Democrat reported on Saturday, Nov. 28, 1885, “nearly everyone attending services at the several churches.”
Ten years later the community was back to a unified service with all congregations joining together at the First Baptist Church for the 11 a.m. service. The message was delivered by Rev. W.W. Evans, D.D., Presbyterian pastor.
“It was in all respects a model discourse for the occasion,” The Carrollton Democrat reported on the following Saturday. “The speaker’s thoughts were well chosen and were presented in an earnest and forcible manner, well calculated to make a person think and to inspire him to act.”
The newspaper editor noted that a collection was taken up “for the poor of the town amounting to $13.20.”
The Carrollton Christian Church, under the auspices of the Christian Endeavor Society, hosted an evening of entertainment on Thanksgiving Day in 1895. The newspaper termed the event “a grand success in every particular. There were at least 600 people present.”
Forty-five years later the United States was less than 13 months away from engaging in the Second World War. The war was well underway in Europe and in the Pacific. Anti-war feelings ran high among Americans until the Japanese bombed the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The News-Democrat, distributed on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 21, 1940, expressed this sentiment with a poem on the front page. The last lines of the verse read: “May God let peace reign o’er our land, Give us clear and steady hand; Though Europe’s nations rise or fall, We must stand upright—never crawl.”
One local business, Sandefur Tavern on Highland Ave., advertised turkey dinner would be served all day on Thanksgiving Day at 75 cents a plate. The community-wide Thanksgiving Day service was held at the First Baptist Church in 1940. “An offering of $14.15 was taken to be used for the needy children of the city,” The News-Democrat reported on Nov. 28.
Fifty years ago, The News-Democrat reported that Carrollton churches would hold a union Thanksgiving Day service at 9 a.m. at the Carrollton Pilgrim Holiness Church (now the Carrollton Wesleyan Church). Carrollton Methodist pastor, Rev. Albert Alley, delivered the message. Other pastors taking part were Rev. Paul Wilcox, Pilgrim Holiness church; Rev. Roger Amason, Christian church; Dr. R.R. Couey, First Baptist and Rev. Frank Leeper, Presbyterian church.
The years 1870, 1885, 1895, 1940 and 1960 are but five glimpses into past Thanksgiving holidays. The local newspapers of those years didn’t chronicle family rabbit or deer hunts, how many floating balloons appeared in the Macy’s parade in New York City, which NFL football teams triumphed in holiday games and many other traditional events that have become a part of our annual holiday. They did, however, have a common theme in their reporting—community worship—and that was the intent of our country’s founders in the first place.
Dave Taylor is a staff writer at The News-Democrat and the author of several books on local history.