Thanksgiving celebrations go back further than anyone knows for sure.
The popular idea is that the tradition sprang from the feast of 1621 between Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians in Massachusetts.
There were celebrations of Thanksgiving during the earliest days of the United States but it wasn’t until 1863 that it became a national holiday. President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation scheduling Thanksgiving on the final Thursday of November.
Later, after tinkering with tradition and moving it up a week in 1939 to get people to start spending Christmas money earlier, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a bill in 1941 that placed the holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. His changing of the date was unpopular, and was referred to as Franksgiving.
But long before these presidents jumped on the Thanksgiving bandwagon, Arkansas had started celebrating Thanksgiving in 1847.
The mother of Thanksgiving, who is credited with inspiring Lincoln to proclaim the national holiday, was responsible for Arkansas being the first Southern state to do so as well.
Her name was Sarah Josepha Hale, a writer and magazine editor from New Hampshire, who is probably best known as being the author of the poem “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”
According to www.womenshistory.org, in 1846 Hale began lobbying the president and all United States governors to celebrate a national Thanksgiving holiday as was already being done in some Northeastern states.
Arkansas’ third governor, Thomas Stevenson Drew, jumped at the chance.
In 1847 Arkansas observed Thanksgiving on Dec. 9. In 1848 it was celebrated on Dec. 14, and subsequent Govs. John Seldes Roane and Elias Conway also proclaimed Thanksgiving dates in December.
Drew’s first proclamation doesn’t sound too far off from the ones proclaimed today:
Whereas, an all wise and merciful Providence has dispensed blessings of the most bountiful and diversified character among the people of this state, in the abundance of the various agricultural crops, the universal prosperity of our people and their unexampled good health, it is deemed worthy of a greatful [sic] people to make public manifestation of their sense of the renewed obligations under which we have been placed, by the appointment of a day of general THANKSGIVING throughout the state.
Be it known, therefore, that I, Thomas S. Drew, Governor of the State of Arkansas, have appointed Thursday, the 9th day of December next as a day of THANKSGIVING, which is hereby proclaimed and recommended to the good of people in every county and town in the state as a fit day and proper time to acquit ourselves, each and every one, of a high and praiseworthy duty to the Bountiful and Merciful Providence.
Drew was born in Tennessee in 1802. He then lived in Louisiana with his family and moved to Arkansas in 1818. He served as governor of Arkansas from 1844-1849. He resigned because the job didn’t pay enough. He and his wife, Cinderella (maiden name Bettis) had been married in what is now Pocahontas in 1827. Drew moved to Texas apparently sometime around the Civil War, and died there in 1879. In 1923 his body was moved from Texas back to Pocahontas.
Mrs. Hale, who was born in 1788, also passed away in 1879. She was 92 years old. She died one year after Thomas Edison made his first phonograph recording, which included a recitation of “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”
Steve Gillespie is editor of The Daily Press. Email him at email@example.com.