Thank you, Sarah

Sarah Hale, whose relentless letters and 38 years of petitioning presidents, secured Thanksgiving’s status as a national holiday.

Writer Sarah Josepha Hale, was born in Newport, New Hampshire in 1788. She had no formal education, but her family encouraged her to read. Her husband died when she was 34 years old, leaving her with 5 children.  (image from www.hsp.org )

 
In Northwood (1827), a novel about slavery and its harm to every part of society, she described the abundance of a Thanksgiving dinner:

“The roasted turkey took precedence on this occasion, being placed at the head of the table; and well did it become its lordly station, sending forth the rich odor of its savory stuffing, and finely covered with the froth of the basting. At the foot of the board, a sirloin of beef, flanked on either side by a leg of pork and loin of mutton, seemed placed as a bastion to defend innumerable bowls of gravy and plates of vegetables disposed in that quarter.

“A goose and pair of ducklings occupied side stations on the table; the middle being graced, as it always is on such occasions, by that rich burgomaster of the provisions, called a chicken pie. This pie, which is wholly formed of the choicest parts of fowls, enriched and seasoned with a profusion of butter and pepper, and covered with an excellent puff paste, is, like the celebrated pumpkin pie, an indispensable part of a good and true Yankee Thanksgiving; the size of the pie usually denoting the gratitude of the party who prepares the feast. The one now displayed could never have had many peers. […]

“Plates of pickles, preserves and butter, and all the necessaries for increasing the seasoning of the viands to the demand of each palate, filled the interstices on the table, leaving hardly sufficient room for the plates of the company, a wine glass and two tumblers for each, with a slice of wheat bread lying on one of the inverted tumblers. A side table was literally loaded with the preparations for the second course, placed there to obviate the necessity of leaving the apartment during the repast. […]

“There was a huge plum pudding, custards and pies of every name and description ever known in Yankee land; yet the pumpkin pie occupied the most distinguished niche. There were also several kinds of rich cake, and a variety of sweetmeats and fruits.”
Sarah Josepha Hale was a vocal supporter of the cause to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. She wrote letters to one president after another — Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and finally Abraham Lincoln, who did, in fact, listen to her. You can read Sarah’s letter to Lincoln from the Library of Congress at http://goo.gl/UkXq5 .

On October 3, 1863, he issued a proclamation, saying, “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible.” He proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday, celebrated that year on the last Thursday of November.

We have Sarah Josepha Hale to thank for Thanksgiving, as well as for writing the nursery rhyme “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”  You can read her story in the picture book Thank you, Sarah: The Woman who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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Posted on November 19, 2010, in Primary sources and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This is one of my favorite stories to share this time of year and one that I was totally unaware of until I saw this book a few years ago. I love using this text to inspire persuasive writing with students. It demonstrates how passionate and persistent you have to be sometimes when trying to prove your point.

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