News - from the past & the present

Thanksgiving was a Yankee holiday and not celebrated in Alabama until 1858 – here is why [vintage pictures]

Yankee holiday

Thanksgiving was not observed as a holiday in Alabama until 1858 when the governors of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and North and South Carolina declared, Thursday, November 25th to be a day of Thanksgiving. On that day, the Daily Confederation reported that in Montgomery, Alabama that “church services were well attended, but ‘the streets were almost unusually crowded with wagons, and that business houses had to work whether ‘they would or not.’ Our country friends overlooked the day, and came to town to trade, in great numbers. Cotton is King, and everything has to give way before his pale-faced majesty.”1

“Thanksgiving was actually a Yankee holiday, birthed in New England and adorned with that region’s symbols and traditions: pilgrims, turkey, pumpkins, and cranberries.”2

Thanksgiving Curier & Ives print 1867 (Library of Congress)Thanksgiving Curier & Ives print 1867 (Library of Congress) 


No fixed date for the celebration

In the 1840s, Thanksgiving was celebrated across the Northeast and Midwest with a traditional Thanksgiving Day menu, but there was no fixed date for the celebration. Instead, each governor from individual states proclaimed the observance of the holiday. A fixed date came about for the holiday observance came about due to the book, Northwood: or Life North and South written by Sarah Josepha Hale, a widow with five children to raise. In her book that was published in 1841, she described Thanksgiving Day on a New Hampshire farm, and declared that the occasion “should be the same as the Fourth of July, a national holiday.”3

Thanksgiving in camp 1861 sketch (Library of Congress)Thanksgiving in camp sketched Thursday, November, 28th 1861 by artist Arthur Rudolph Waud (Library of Congress)

Considered an abolitionist holiday

A letter-writing campaign to the nation’s governors eventually resulted in a specific day set aside to observe the holiday. However, many supporters of Thanksgiving were also ardent abolitionists and some Southerners began to view Thanksgiving as a Yankee abolitionist holiday in 1853 and they refused to observe it.

In 1863, Sarah Josepha Hale continued her crusade to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. She wrote to Abraham Lincoln encouraging him “to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.” Lincoln agreed and proclaimed a nationwide Thanksgiving Day to occur on the last Thursday in November. Since this was in the midst of the Civil War, the Confederate States of America refused to recognize Lincoln’s authority and Thanksgiving was not celebrated nationwide until Reconstruction was over in the 1870s.

Thanksgiving - Sarah Josepha (Buell) Hale, 1788-1879, oval, half-length portrait ca. 1850 (Library of Congress)Thanksgiving – Sarah Josepha (Buell) Hale, 1788-1879, oval, half-length portrait ca. 1850 (Library of Congress)

President Roosevelt set a permanent day

Each succeeding president continued the proclamation until 1939 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt moved the holiday permanently to the fourth Thursday in November to provide retailers with more Christmas shopping days.4 On December 26, 1941, he signed a joint resolution of Congress to officially change the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday and the date of the holiday became official.

Because of shortages of food during the Reconstruction period in the South after the War Between the States, Thanksgiving was only celebrated sparsely.

Once Federal rule was over, Southerners began to observe the holiday with a menu much like those in New England, but by the 1890s, Southern families created their own Thanksgiving menus and traditions.

Alabama Footprints Confrontation is a collection of lost and forgotten stories that reveals why and how the confrontation between the Native American population and settlers developed into the Creek-Indian War as well as stories of the bravery and heroism of participants from both sides.

Some stores include:

  1. Tecumseh Causes Earthquake
  2. Terrified Settlers Abandon Farms
  3. Survivor Stories From Fort Mims Massacre
  4. Hillabee Massacre
  5. Threat of Starvation Men Turn To Mutiny
  6. Red Eagle After The War

ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Confrontation: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Paperback)
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ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Confrontation: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Paperback)

By (author):  Causey, Donna R
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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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