1845—Washington’s First Thanksgiving

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What Once Was: 1845—Washington’s First Thanksgiving


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 By Matthew B. Gilmore*

In November of 1845 Washington’s newspapers, including the National Intelligencer, and The Union, reported on Mayor William Winston Seaton’s proclamation of November 27 as a “Day of Thanksgiving,” it being the city’s first observance of the holiday. Maryland’s Governor Thomas Pratt had issued a Thanksgiving proclamation earlier in October, also setting November 27 as the day for that states’ observance.

Proclamation, as published in the National Intelligencer newspaper’s November 15, 1845 edition, of “a day of general Thanksgiving and Praise to Almighty God.”

Seaton’s proclamation had sparse local precedents. [1] The Thanksgiving holiday observance had New England, “Yankee,” origins — primarily Connecticut and Massachusetts — but had recently slowly spread southward through the states. Niles’ Weekly Register, in the last quarter of 1817, noted in passing Thanksgiving proclamations in New-York, Pennsylvania, the city of Charleston, and Vermont.

In 1832 Washington had had a special (one-off) day of thanksgiving for the departure of the cholera epidemic. The epidemic was a serious one – 1,000 cases were reported, half of them fatal. Washington’s population at the time was only 24,000. [2]

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