As we gather with our families on Thanksgiving and give thanks for our blessings. We are fortunate to have many history links to Portsmouth – giving us a window into the past. We live in a country that affords us many basic freedoms – through our U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. By celebrating Thanksgiving, we look back through history and are thankful for everything. Portsmouth has endured through the years. Due to the sturdy pioneers who passed their legacy on to us. By acclaiming Thanksgiving we honor those who came before us and the sacrifice they gave for us.
So how did Thanksgiving begin? (The following is taken from The History Channel’s – “This Day in History :”) “In 1863, expressing gratitude for a pivotal Union Army victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln announces that the nation will celebrate an official Thanksgiving holiday on November 26, 1863. The speech, which was actually written by Secretary of State William Seward, declared that the fourth Thursday of every November thereafter would be considered an official U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. This announcement harkened back to when George Washington was in his first term as the first president in 1789 and the young American nation had only a few years earlier emerged from the American Revolution. At that time, George Washington called for an official celebratory “day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” While Congress overwhelmingly agreed to Washington’s suggestion, the holiday did not yet become an annual event.”
“Thomas Jefferson, the third president, felt that public demonstrations of piety to a higher power, like that celebrated at Thanksgiving, were inappropriate in a nation based in part on the separation of church and state. Subsequent presidents agreed with him. In fact, no official Thanksgiving proclamation was issued by any president between 1815 and the day Lincoln took the opportunity to thank the Union Army and God for a shift in the country’s fortunes on this day in 1863.”
“The fourth Thursday of November remained the annual day of Thanksgiving from 1863 until 1939. Then, at the tail-end of the Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, hoping to boost the economy by providing shoppers and merchants a few extra days to conduct business between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, moved Thanksgiving to November’s third Thursday. In 1941, however, Roosevelt bowed to Congress’ insistence that the fourth Thursday of November be re-set permanently, without alteration, as the official Thanksgiving holiday.”
Portsmouth’s men and women while serving in the military sometime spent their, Thanksgiving’s far from home. The feeling is something that one cannot explain and wanting to go home is always foremost in their minds.
A true Portsmouth hero; Captain Thomas Hayes; born in Ireland in 1839 – moved to Portsmouth and worked for Phillip Kelley in contracting. After the Civil War broke out he enlisted in Co. A – 30th O.V.I., he saw action in various places, ending with his death on May 22, 1863, during the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi. He was a mere 24 years old and is buried in Greenlawn Cemetery – His epitaph reads: “Rest Soldier, rest, thy race is run, Thy welcome plaudit is well done; Peaceful sleep the true and brave, We’ll crown with flowers the Soldier’s grave.” Remember Captain Hayes, during this Thanksgiving, for his sacrifice and what he fought for.
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org