This painting of the "First Thanksgiving" depicts a rich, peaceful meal shared by 17th-century Pilgrims and Native Americans. The first thanksgiving feasts in North America were actually celebrated by Spanish conquistadores more than 50 years earlier.

Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, courtesy Library of Congress

Download this file

  • Audience versions of this page: Family

    On November 26, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday. Eighty-six years earlier, on November 26, 1777, General George Washington declared a Thanksgiving feast to celebrate victory over the British in the Battle of Saratoga, New York, during the Revolutionary War. Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated every fourth Thursday of November.
    Thanksgiving is often associated with a feast the “Pilgrims” at Plimouth Plantation, Massachusetts, shared with their Wampanoag neighbors in 1621. In fact, similar feasts of thanksgiving actually date as far back as the first Christian explorers in North America. Spanish conquistadores celebrated days of thanksgiving as early as 1541 in what is today Texas. French settlers in what is today Florida celebrated in 1564. One of the first thanksgivings celebrated between English settlers and Native Americans (the Abnaki) happened on the banks of the Kennebec River in what is today Maine, in 1607.
    Nearly 250 years later, Lincoln’s proclamation, actually written by Secretary of State William Seward, hoped for divine intervention in the ongoing Civil War, “to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    associate Verb

    to connect.

    bank Noun

    a slope of land adjoining a body of water, or a large elevated area of the sea floor.

    celebrate Verb

    to observe or mark an important event with public and private ceremonies or festivities.

    Civil War Noun

    (1860-1865) American conflict between the Union (north) and Confederacy (south).

    conquistador Noun

    Spanish explorer or conqueror of Latin America in the 16th century.

    consistent Adjective

    maintaining a steady, reliable quality.

    declare Verb

    to state clearly, in formal terms.

    diet Noun

    foods eaten by a specific group of people or other organisms.

    Encyclopedic Entry: diet
    divine Adjective

    having to do with a god.

    explorer Noun

    person who studies unknown areas.

    feast Verb

    to eat large amounts of food, usually to celebrate or honor something.

    holiday Noun

    period of celebration or honor.

    implore Verb

    to plead or beg.

    intervene Verb

    to mediate or modify the outcome of an event.

    luxury Noun

    expensive item.

    Native American Noun

    person whose ancestors were native inhabitants of North or South America. Native American usually does not include Eskimo or Hawaiian people.

    neighbor Verb

    to live or be situated next to.

    Pilgrim Noun

    early settler of Plimouth Colony, Massachusetts.

    proclamation Noun

    public announcement.

    restore Verb

    to renew or bring back to an earlier position or state of health.

    Revolutionary War Noun

    (1775-1783) conflict between Great Britain and the colonies that became the United States. Also called the American War of Independence.

    seafood Noun

    fish and shellfish consumed by humans.

    settler Noun

    person who migrates and establishes a residence in a largely unpopulated area.

    tranquil Adjective

    peaceful and calm.

    Union Adjective

    having to do with states supporting the United States (north) during the U.S. Civil War.

    venison Noun

    meat of a deer, eaten as food.

    victory Noun

    success or triumph.

    Wampanoag Noun

    people and culture native to what are now the U.S. states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

    wound Noun

    injury usually resulting in the breaking of skin.