An American Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has long been a national American tradition, dating back to the first Protestant thanksgiving in America at Fort Caroline, Florida as observed by the French Huguenots on June 30, 1564, upon their arrival after a cross-Atlantic journey, and more especially, as observed by the Pilgrims at Plimoth Colony, Massachusetts in the autumn of 1621, after a difficult first winter and a promising first harvest.

In William Adam’s 1873 volume titled Thanksgiving: Memories of the Day, Helps to the Habit, the author speaks not only of the nostalgia for the past, but shows us the Biblical and historical basis for setting apart times of thanksgiving for the particular mercies of God. It is good to take note when God answers prayer, or when blessings are bestowed, and not to let such mercies go without giving God the glory.

In memory of the day, be sure to look over William Carlos Martyn’s The Pilgrim Fathers of New England: A History (1867).

Since we last wrote about the American Presbyterian tradition of Thanksgiving sermons a year ago, many more have been added to our inventory. Here is a sample of what we have:

George Dodd Armstrong (1813-1899) preached a July 1861 Thanksgiving sermon giving thanks for the Confederate victory at Manassas, Virginia.

Lyman Hotchkiss Atwater (1813-1883) preached an historical Thanksgiving sermon commemorating the bicentennial of Fairfield, Connecticut in 1839.

William Pratt Breed (1816-1889) spoke eloquently on the distinction between church and state, and quoted Samuel Davies powerfully, in The Lights Which God Hath Shewed Us: A Thanksgiving Discourse (1861), a sermon delivered in Philadelphia following the commencement of the War Between the States.

George Burrowes (1811-1894) preached a patriotic 1852 Thanksgiving discourse.

Samuel Davies (1723-1761) preached a Thanksgiving sermon for national blessings received in 1759 (Serm. 71 in Vol. 4 of his Sermons). 

Robert B. Davidson (1808-1876) preached The Evils of Disunion: A Discourse Delivered on Thanksgiving Day, December 12, 1850 (1850) directly in response to the Compromise of 1850.

George Duffield II (1732-1790), who had served as a chaplain to the Continental Congress, preached a 1783 Thanksgiving sermon following the conclusion of the American War of Independence.

George Duffield IV (1794-1868) preached an 1820 sermon titled Judgment and Mercy: A Sermon, Delivered...On the Day of "Humiliation, Thanksgiving, and Prayer,” in which he took note of America’s national sin in failing to acknowledge God in the U.S. Constitution or requiring religious standards for public officials, as well as God’s mercy to this nation nevertheless.

George Duffield V (1818-1888) preached The New Capitol; or, The Wilderness Rejoicing: A Thanksgiving Sermon (1878) following the completion of the construction of the state capitol building in Lansing, Michigan.

Ezra H. Gillett (1823-1875)'s November 1862 Thanksgiving sermon was meant to inspire his Northern listeners in the midst of a great civil conflict. 

Francis James Grimké (1850-1937) delivered a 1914 Thanksgiving sermon which addressed racial injustice, as well as a 1918 Thanksgiving sermon in which thanks was given for the Allied victory in Europe at the conclusion of World War I (see Vol. 1 of his Works).

Drury Lacy, Jr. (1802-1884) preached A Thanksgiving Discourse, Delivered in the Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, N.C. (1851) to give thanks for mercies received by the State of North Carolina and the United States of America.

Samuel Miller (1769-1850)'s 1799 Thanksgiving sermon was delivered after a terrible epidemic struck New York City. 

Benjamin M. Palmer (1818-1902) preached a notable 1860 Thanksgiving sermon on the eve of war, which was to provoke a strong reaction by Charles Hodge. 

Gardiner Spring Plumley (1827-1894) preached an 1866 Thanksgiving sermon titled Piety Secures the Nation’s Prosperity: A Thanksgiving Discourse.

James Renwick Wilson Sloane (1823-1886) published a sermon God's Judgments, and Thanksgiving Sermons: A Discourse (1858) in response to the international economic panic of 1857.

William B. Sprague (1795-1876) preached an annual (December) Thanksgiving sermon in 1824. He would later preach another during the War Between the States in November 1861 entitled Glorifying God in the Fires.

Gardiner Spring (1785-1873)'s November 1861 Thanksgiving sermon called attention to national sins which had provoked the "Great Rebellion," as well as blessings received.

Robert Lodowick Stanton (1810-1885) preached a sobering sermon titled Ungodly Nations Doomed: A Discourse Preached on the Occasion of the Annual Thanksgiving, November 29, 1849, Recommended by the Governor of Louisiana (1849).

Charles Wadsworth (1814-1882) was known for delivering annual Thanksgiving sermons. We have here his Thanksgiving sermons from 1852-1856, 1858-1859, and 1868.