In 1863, New Hampshire-born Sarah Josepha Hale, the influential and outspoken editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, finally realized a long-standing dream. After decades of trying to convince a succession of American Presidents that the nation would benefit from adopting the New England custom of honoring a day of thanksgiving, she succeeded with Abraham Lincoln (who began his political ascent in New Hampshire). In October 1863 he declared that the last Thursday in November should be set aside as a national day for remembering and giving thanks.
Some say the creation of Thanksgiving was a nearly-incidental affair. But the events of November 1863 – the dedication of the burying ground at Gettysburg on November 19th – would start some on the long path of blending a Puritan past and “the better angels” of the American nature into a holiday that anchors a sobering reflection on need amidst the start of seasonal indulgence.
Thanksgiving in New Hampshire is now associated with turkey dinners at Hart’s Turkey Farm in Meredith, the opening of the ski season in the White Mountains and a variety of football games and feasts. On the Seacoast, visitors can tour four historic houses and learn about 300 years of harvest traditions at Strawbery Banke Museum. A brisk walk nearby at Odiorne Point in Rye will lead visitors to the monument to first settler David Thompson who answered Miles Standish’s dolorous plea for some dried cod to get the Pilgrims at Plimouth through another winter. (Thompson was the object of a Second Thanksgiving in Plimouth, in 1623.
In the year commemorating the 300th anniversary of a Treaty between colonial English and the First Nations David Thompson and the New Hampshire settlers knew, New Hampshire is an excellent place, on the Thankgiving holiday, to stop to contemplate the dichotomy of the American myth of who we are through the many lenses of who we actually were.