Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving 1779

ThrowbackThursday_ThanksOn October 30, 1779 a proclamation was published in The Pennsylvania Packet and signed:

DONE IN CONGRESS the twentieth day of October, in the year of our Lord One thousand seven hundred and seventy-nine, and in the fourth year of the Independence of the United States of America.  – SAMUEL HUNTINGTON, President.

The proclamation read as follows:

WHEREAS it becomes us humbly to approach the throne of Almighty God, with gratitude and praise, for the wonders which his goodness has wrought in conducting our forefathers to this Western world; for his protection to them and to their posterity, amid difficulties and dangers; for raising us their children from deep distress, to be numbered among the nations of the earth; and for arming the hands of just and mighty Princes in our deliverance; and especially for that he hath been pleased to grant us the enjoyment of health, and so to order the revolving seasons, that the earth hath produced her increase in abundance, blessing the labours of the husbandman and spreading plenty through the land; that he hath prospered our arms and those of our ally, been a shield to our troops in the hour of danger, pointed their swords to victory and led them in triumph over the bulwarks of the foe; that he hath gone with those who went out into the wilderness against the savage tribes; that he hath stayed the hand of the spoiler, and turned back his meditated destruction; that he hath prospered our commerce and given success to those who fought the enemy on the face of the deep; and above all, that he hath diffused the glorious light of the Gospel, whereby, through the merits of our gracious Redeemer, we may become the heirs of his eternal glory.  Therefore,

RESOLVED, That it be recommended to the several States to appoint THURSDAY the ninth of December next, to be a day of public and solemn THANKSGIVING to Almighty God, for his mercies, and of PRAYER, for the continuance of his favour and protection to these United States; to beseech him that he would be graciously pleased to influence our public councils, and bless them with wisdom from on high, with unanimity, firmness and success; that he would go forth with our hosts and crown our arms with victory; that he would grant to his Church the plentiful effusions of divine grace, and pour out his holy spirit on all Ministers of the Gospel; that he would bless and prosper the means of education, and spread the light of christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth; that he would smile upon the labours of his people and cause the earth to bring forth her fruits in abundance, that we may with gratitude and gladness enjoy them; that he would take into his holy protection our illustrious Ally, give him victory over his enemies, and render him signally great, as the father of his people, and the protector of the rights of mankind; that he would graciously be pleased to turn the hears of our enemies, and to dispense the blessings of peace to contending nations; that he would in mercy look down upon us, pardon all our sins, and received us into his favour; and, finally, that he would establish the Independence of these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue, and support and protect them in the enjoyment of peace, liberty and safety.1

In 1900 Helen Evertson Smith published Colonial Days & Ways.  The book was said to have been comprised of family papers found “tucked away under the eaves in old baskets of Indian make, or in open pine-wood boxes, and even in barrels” at the Smith family’s old homestead in Sharon, Connecticut.  Chapter XVIII was an account provided by Juliana Smith from a letter written to her cousin Betsey in which she described the family’s 1779 Thanksgiving feast.

Even though it was Uncle Simeon’s turn to have the dinner at his house, Juliana and her family pitched in and helped with preparations.  The baking of all pies and cakes was done at Juliana’s home, “the big oven heated & filled twice each day for three days before it was all done.”  It was all good despite the lack of some things normally deemed necessary for a successful feast:

Neither Love nor (paper) Money could buy Raisins, but our good red cherries dried without the pits, did almost as well & happily Uncle Simeon still had some spices in store.  The tables were set in the Dining Hall and even that big room had no space to spare when we were all seated.  The Servants had enough ado to get around the Tables & serve us all without over-setting things.  There were our two Grandmothers side by side.  They are always handsome old Ladies, but now, many thought, they were handsomer than every, & happy they were to look around upon so many of their descendants.  Uncle & Aunt Simeon presided at one Table, & Father & Mother at the other.  Besides us five boys & girls there were two of the Gales & three Elmers, besides James Browne & Ephraim Cowles . . . Then there were six of the Livingston family next door.  They had never seen a Thanksgiving Dinner before, having been used to keep Christmas Day instead, as is the wont in New York Province.

. . . Of course we could have no Roast Beef.  None of us have tasted Beef this three years back as it all must go to the Army, & too little they get, poor fellows.  But, Nayquittymaw’s Hunters were able to get us a fine red Deer, so that we had a good haunch of Venisson on each Table.  These were balanced by huge Chines of Roast Port at the other ends of the Tables.  Then there was on one a big Roast Turkey & on the other a Goose, & two big Pigeon Pasties.  There was an abundance of good Vegetables of all the old Sorts & one which I do not believe you have yet seen.  Uncle Simeon had imported the Seede from England just before the War began & only this Year was there enough for Table use.  It is called Selery & you eat it without cooking.  It is very good served with meats.  Next year Uncle Simeon says he will be able to raise enough to give us all some.  It has to be taken up, roots & all & buried in earth in the cellar through the winter & only pulling up some when you want it to use.

Our Mince Pies were good although we had to use dried Cherries as I told you, & the meat was shoulder of Venisson, instead of Beef.  The Pumpkin Pies, Apple Tarts & big Indian Puddings lacked for nothing save Appetite by the time we had got round to them.  Of course we had no Wine.  Uncle Simeon has still a cask or two, but it must all be saved for the sick, & indeed, for those who are well, good Cider is a sufficient Substitute.  There was no Plumb Pudding, but a boiled Suet Pudding, stirred thick with dried Plumbs & Cherries, was called by the old Name & answered the purpose.  All the other spice had been used in the Mince Pies, so for this Pudding we used a jar of West India preserved Ginger which chanced to be left of the last shipment which Uncle Simeon had from there, we chopped the Ginger small and stirred it through with the Plumbs & Cherries.  It was extraordinary good.

. . . Uncle Simeon was in his best mood, and you know how good that is!  He kept both Tables in a roar of laughter with his droll stories of the days when he was studying medicine in Edinborough, & afterwards he & Father & Uncle Paul joined in singing Hymns & Ballads.  You know how fine their voices go together.  Then we all sang a Hymn & afterwards my dear Father led us in prayer, remembering all Absent Friends before the Throne of Grace, & much I wished that my dear Betsey was here as one of us, as she has been of yore. We did not rise from the Table until it was quite dark, & then when the dishes had been cleared away we all got round the fire as close as we could, & cracked nuts, & sang songs & told stories. . . My Father says it is a goodly custom to hand down all worthy deeds & traditions from Father to Son, as the Israelites were commanded to do about the Passover & as the Indians here have always done, because the Word that is spoken is remembered longer than the one that is written.2

Something to think about this year, a lesson from Thanksgiving 1779:  Be thankful to God for His great blessings (I dare you to pray Congress’ 1779 prayer today — heaven knows we need it!), eat well (even if you have to substitute!), laugh much and tell lots of family stories around the Thanksgiving table.

I’m thankful for all those who stop by and read the articles I post here at Digging History.  In case you missed some of my past Thanksgiving (or related) articles, and in the spirit of Throwback Thursday, here are the links for those – enjoy and have a blessed day!

What Thanksgiving is Really All About: Part I – Puritan Persecution and the Pilgrim Journey

What Thanksgiving is Really All About: Part II – Hardships, Blessings and Lessons Learned

Thanksgiving Day Parades

It’s M-M-Monday: What Did They Eat in 1621?

FFF (Facts, Fallacies and Fascetiousness) Friday: Frozen TV Dinners (the first ever TV dinner produced was what?)

Soapbox Saturday: Black Friday and “Nate the Great” (something to think about as you head off to shop later this week)

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2015.



  1. The Pennsylvania Packet, 30 Oct 1779, p. 3
  2. Colonial Days and Ways, Helen Evertson Smith, 1900, pp. 292-297

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