Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Early Thanksgiving Days in New York State

            The earliest Thanksgiving Days in the Empire State had a military raison d’etre. They were called to celebrate specific military events—usually a victory or a peace treaty.
           
Dutch traders in New Netherland. Library of Congress. 1893 lithograph.
           One of the state’s first public thanksgivings can be traced back to 1644 when the territory that became New York State was ruled by the Dutch and called New Netherland. In that year, Willem Kieft, the Dutch director-general of New Netherland, ordered the observance of a day of thanksgiving following the massacre of an estimated 500 to 700 American Indian men, women and children near present day Pound Ridge in Westchester County. The butchery took place during one of the battles in what is known as Kieft’s War. Historians say war had broken out between the Dutch and the Indians in 1640 after the Dutch began grazing livestock on Indian agricultural land and Kieft ordered taxes be collected from local Indians.
           
Willem Kieft, Library of Congress, 1904.
           Near Pound Ridge in 1644, 130 armed Dutch settlers and English mercenaries under the command of the well-known English Indian fighter John Underhill, surrounded and burned an Indian village killing almost all of its inhabitants. When news of the slaughter reached Kieft, he ordered a day of public thanksgiving.
            The Dutch and the Indians subsequently concluded a peace treaty a year later, in 1645, and Kieft ordered another thanksgiving.

Print of Sir William Johnson by Charles Spooner, Library of Congress.


            The outcome on battlefields also prompted English governors to proclaim thanksgivings after the English wrested control of New Netherland from the Dutch in 1664. The announcement of the defeat of French and Indian forces by provincial troops led by Sir William Johnson at the Battle of Lake George in 1755, prompted the English governor of New York to proclaim a day of public thanksgiving. When the English captured Montreal from the French and completed the conquest of Canada in 1760, Cadwallader Colden, the acting governor of New York, celebrated by proclaiming “a day of Public Thanksgiving to Almighty God” on October 3. In his proclamation, Colden commanded New Yorkers to observe the day “with the utmost decency and reverence, abstaining from all servile labor and devoutly attending divine service” which he also directed be performed in all public places of worship.

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