Thanksgiving at Stratford?


Last week I began thinking about Thanksgiving and wondered how the Lees must have celebrated it at Stratford. After finding no documentation in our research files, I consulted on-line references and came to the conclusion that the Stratford Lees, like most Virginians during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, did not hold annual Thanksgiving observances.

The Internet provided much enlightenment. Even though there exists a controversy about who had the first Thanksgiving—the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts or the colonists landing at Berkeley Plantation in Virginia—these celebrations were short-lived. In 1789, George Washington proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday to remember the hardships endured in the war for independence, but the colonies were unwilling to compromise on the date, which conflicted with some local and state observances.

Sarah Hale, editor of Godey’s Ladies’ Book, began earnestly in 1847 to push for Thanksgiving as a nationally celebrated holiday. At her urging, by 1859 Virginia had joined 29 other states and two territories in celebrating Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday of November. With the approach of Civil War, Sarah Hale continued her efforts to unite the states and have Thanksgiving declared a national holiday.

During the Civil War, there were various days of thanksgiving declared by Presidents Lincoln and Davis to celebrate victories of both armies. On October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November as a day of national Thanksgiving. Lincoln’s proclamation, however, was not upheld in the Confederate states and it wasn’t until the war ended that a national Thanksgiving Day was established.