Tracing the History of Thanksgiving in North Carolina

Image: A Thanksgiving card from 1922. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

Thanksgiving Day, as we know it today, was not celebrated in North Carolina until 1849.  The previous year, Governor William A. Graham called on the legislature to make the day an annual occasion.  He said the day should be:

a season for kind, social sentiment—for the forgiveness of injuries—for acts of good neighborhood and especially for the charitable remembrance of the Poor.

The_Raleigh_Register_Sat__Nov_3__1849_

The General Assembly agreed with Graham, ratifying a joint resolution recognizing the holiday in January 1849. Governor Charles Manly then proclaimed November 15, 1849, as North Carolina’s first Thanksgiving.

Though 1849 marked the first official day of thanks for the Tar Heel State, official proclamations of the holiday were made as early as April 1758, when Governor Arthur Dobbs called for the people of the North Carolina colony to observe June 7 of that year as a day of fasting and prayer and:

to give thanks to Almighty God and our blessed Savior for having hitherto preserved this Province in peace in the midst of surrounding impending dangers.

Later that same year, Dobbs issued a proclamation for a public Thanksgiving on the first Wednesday in December.  The following year he set aside October 31 as a day for returning thanks. For some time the day continued to be observed on different days.

In November 1777, Governor Richard Caswell, first governor of the state of North Carolina, received a petition from lawmakers convening in Philadelphia to join in a “general thanksgiving to Almighty God.”  The day was celebrated in New Bern on December 18.

In 1784, George Washington and the Continental Congress, upon the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, designated a day of thanksgiving for the return of peace.  The day selected was November 26.  This was the first nationally Thanksgiving proclaimed by the national government.

Soldiers at Camp Davis (now Fort Fisher) celebrate Thanksgiving during World War II. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

Soldiers at Camp Davis (now Fort Fisher) celebrate Thanksgiving during World War II. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

Though George Washington and the Continental Congress designated November 26, 1784 as a national Thanksgiving to celebrate the peace after the Revolutionary War, the holiday wasn’t fixed at the national level until President Abraham Lincoln designated the last Thursday of November for the holiday. It has remained on that day except for a two-year interval in 1939 and 1940 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up by a week.