Remembering the Godmother of Thanksgiving — Sarah Josepha Hale

Happy Thanksgiving for those on this side of the pond and below the 49th parallel.  (The Canadians celebrated the holiday in October.) Here is repost of a story I think is well worth retelling.  In the United States, Thanksgiving only became a national holiday in October of 1863. One of the early advocates of the holiday was the remarkable Sarah Josepha Hale, who is also remembered for a famous nursery rhyme and had a World War II Liberty ship named in her honor. An updated repost from 2014:

Thanksgiving is one of the central creation myths of the founding of the United States. The story is based on an account of a one time feast of thanksgiving in the Plymouth colony of Massachusetts in 1621 during a period of atypically good relations with local tribes. Before the celebration spread across the country, Thanksgiving was most popular in New England. On 19th century American whale ships, which sailed from New England ports, they celebrated only the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Of the three holidays, Thanksgiving may have been the most popular. On Norfolk Island in the Pacific, they also celebrate Thanksgiving, the holiday brought to the island by visiting American whaling ships.

Sarah Josepha Hale was an early booster of Thanksgiving as a national holiday.  She has been referred to as the “Godmother of Thanksgiving.”

Hale was a poet, novelist, and journal editor from New Hampshire. In 1833, Hale also founded the Seamen’s Aid Society to assist the surviving families of Boston sailors who died at sea. She may be best remembered for her nursery rhyme, “Mary’s Lamb” which begins, “Mary had a little lamb, whose fleece was white as snow…..” 

Between 1837 and 1863, Hale wrote editorials and letters arguing that Thanksgiving as a national holiday would help unite the nation.  A letter in 1863 to President Abraham Lincoln is credited with influencing Lincoln’s decision to proclaim Thanksgiving a national holiday in October 1863.

Hale died in 1879 at the age of 91.  By then there weren’t many whale ships left celebrating Thanksgiving at sea.  Nevertheless, in 1943, the Liberty ship # 1538, built by J. A. Jones Construction Company, Panama City, Florida, was named Sarah J. Hale in her honor.

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