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Our Thanksgiving Was Invented By "The Victorian Bible Of the Parlor" and an Ad Campaign

Updated on August 23, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish offers 25+ years successful experience in Medicine; Health- and I/O Psychology; STEM courses, and Aerospace Education (CAP).

Traditional clothing at Plimouth Plantation, Massachusetts.
Traditional clothing at Plimouth Plantation, Massachusetts. | Source

Victorian Morality Shaped Thanksgiving Remembrance

The Victorian Era of England (1837 -1901), a period of restraint, repression, restrictive corsets, and bustles, influenced New England in America.It also gave us our wonderfully huge and abundant Thanksgiving feasts that many Americans and Canadians love!

New Hampshire was the home of magazine editor Sara Hale, who molded the First Thanksgiving to reflect the qualities of purity, piety, and domesticity in women that Victorian morality required.

Many women of her time wore black or black and white and Hale decided that non-existent Pilgrims in 1621 Plymouth wore black and white. The protestants who fled religious persecution wore cheap fabrics of bright colors.

Mary Ring, died in Plymouth in 1633, and her estate included a "mingled-color" waistcoat, two violet waistcoats, three blue aprons, a red petticoat, a violet petticoat, blue stockings, and white stockings. In addition, she owned gray cloth, blue cloth and red cloth, ready to make additional clothing.

Recreation of years 1621 - 1627 at Plimouth Plantation, Massachusetts.
Recreation of years 1621 - 1627 at Plimouth Plantation, Massachusetts. | Source

The Puritan Magazine

So very Victorian in nature was Sarah Hale's magazine - Godey's Lady's Book - that it was taken over in the 1890s by The Puritan. - but not before Godey's changed Thanksgiving and helped to establish it as a popular national holiday in 1863 during the Lincoln Administration of the United States.

Various commemorations occurred in the 150th anniversary year of that coup of a holiday, leading to increasing numbers of researchers uncovering Thanksgiving facts in the months leading up to November 2013.

Digging deeper reveals interlocking tales of massacres, coups, treaties, politics, and religious fundamentalism as the framework of what could be called the secret history behind our thanksgiving myths.

— Everett Tucker at Mystic Politics

Black dresses were saved for formal portraits, funerals, etc.

French women of the Victorian Era years, dressed similarly to English Women: corsets, bustles, heavy long skirts, many petticoats.
French women of the Victorian Era years, dressed similarly to English Women: corsets, bustles, heavy long skirts, many petticoats. | Source

Forensic Document Experts

Historical documents offer an interesting way to learn more about history than we have been taught in a classroom. Government documents, church records, letters, diaries, magazines, newspapers, awards, and other materials can fill in missing pieces of timelines, events, and geneaological research.

The television show Pawn Stars on the History Channel is captivating, because historical documents often appear, requiring the help of museum curators and forensic document experts to decipher. One can learn a lot from a visit to the Gold and Silver pawn shop that is open 24/7 every day of the year in Las Vegas. Watching the show provides me with new ideas for places to look for information.

Development of the Image of the Pilgrim

Much of what has been uncovered about the 1621 gathering in Plimouth Colony, Massachusetts is interesting and some of it is surprising. Some of the history is useful - like the recipes that were used in 1621 - but other parts of the history are blood curdling.

Sarah Hale (1788 - 1879) incorrectly equated the settlers of Plimouth Plantation with Puritans, a large part of whom were Calvinists that embraced the qualities that Hale felt best: continuous hard work, piety, purity, and for women: domesticity. Hale equated Puritans with Pilgrims at Plimouth in the magazine she edited from 1837 - 1877 - Godey's Lady's Book, complete with drawings, flowery poetry, and the insistence that a woman;'s life is marked by four events and goals: Baptism, Holy Communion, Marriage, and Death.

A good example of the Puritan-Calvinist (and some Presbyterian) thinking was the US Presidential Administration of James K. Polk and First Lady Sarah Childress Polk from 1845 - 1849. This was during Hale's editorship of Godey's. Early on, the Polks insisted the dancing be stopped at the Inaugural Ball. In the White House, the usual open houses were pared down quickly. Food service was stopped first, then beverages of any kind were prohibited. People arrived for a short time and left. Afterward, the Polks worked several hours after each open house to make up for time lost (reference: The Women In the White House by Marianne Means; Signet/Random House Inc.,1963; pages 78 - 93).

Plimouth's second governor William Bradford wrote (bold print is my highlighting):

So they lefte [that] goodly & pleasante citie, which had been ther resting place, nere 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrimes, & looked not much on these things; but lift up their eyes to ye heavens, their dearest cuntrie, and quieted their spirits.

The lowercase pilgrimes was a reference to "strangers and pilgrims" in the Book of Hebrews, Old Testament. The world was capitalized to Pilgrims in 1669 and 1702 by Nathaniel Norton and Cotton Mather, respectively.

"What's a pilgrim?" ... "Search me."
"What's a pilgrim?" ... "Search me." | Source

Twelve Origins Claimed For Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving: The True Story
Thanksgiving: The True Story

Author Penny Colman analyzes 12 different claims in just 160 pages about how and where Thanksgiving originated. She includes discussions of traditions long gone - like odd parades of men in costumes. Newer related events include the National Day of Mourning begun in 1970 to honor Native Americans who have lost their lives since 1621 in their experiences with settlers and others.


"The Victorian Bible Of the Parlor" (for Pious, Pure Women)

The nickname "Victorian Bible of the Parlor" comes from Charlotte Eldridge's book "The Godey Lady Doll."
The nickname "Victorian Bible of the Parlor" comes from Charlotte Eldridge's book "The Godey Lady Doll." | Source

Godey's Lady's Book of 1864

Godey's Lady's Book March 1864
Godey's Lady's Book March 1864

in this issue, you will see some material that my ancestors saw, including suggestions for the right way to handle a house and home, and holiday festivities.



The proper noun was not much used until after 1798. It acquired a little more widespread usage. In 1827, 39-year-old Sarah Hale wrote her first letter to campaign for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday, eventually writing consistently to dozens of state governors and five US Presidents.

In 1837, she became editor of Godey's and campaigned for her cause within its popular pages. In 1840, the retail sector of America joined her in greater numbers than previously, lobbying for Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. An ad campaign with Pilgrims (dressed as Puritans), "Indians", women, turkeys, and pies took flight.

Hale was successful in her lobbying for Thanksgiving in 1863 at the age of 75, when President Abraham Lincoln acquiesced, declaring her Thanksgiving in November and holding a second Thanksgiving in memory of the Battle of Gettysburg as well.

Sarah Hale retired from editing at age 89 in 1887 and lived just two more years. At the age of 34, she had ben widowed from her attorney husband and raised five children alone, whil t4aching school and editing Godey's. Her entire life was one of work.

The Monmouth Cap

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Many male Plimouth settlers wore these woolen Welsh hats, according to the Provisons List of 1630 in the Plimouth Plantation related museum (The Pilgrim Hall). Wild turkeys in New England are thinner than domesticated farm raised birds. They look fatter than they are when dispaying their plummage in aggression or courtship.
Many male Plimouth settlers wore these woolen Welsh hats, according to the Provisons List of 1630 in the Plimouth Plantation related museum (The Pilgrim Hall).
Many male Plimouth settlers wore these woolen Welsh hats, according to the Provisons List of 1630 in the Plimouth Plantation related museum (The Pilgrim Hall). | Source
Wild turkeys in New England are thinner than domesticated farm raised birds. They look fatter than they are when dispaying their plummage in aggression or courtship.
Wild turkeys in New England are thinner than domesticated farm raised birds. They look fatter than they are when dispaying their plummage in aggression or courtship. | Source

Good Works

Aside from changing and campaigning for her notion of Thanksgiving, Sarah Hale was also active in the preservation of George Washington's Mount Vernon estate and several other historic sites.

Sarah Hale

A young Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879)
A young Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) | Source

Quote From a Letter

The following quotes appear in correspondence held in the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth MA.

"By Mayflower passenger Edward Winslow, published in Mourt's Relation : A relation or journal of the beginning and proceedings of the English Plantation settled at Plimothin New England, London, 1622"

"Let your cask for beer and water be iron-bound, for the first tier, if not more...Let your meal be so hard trod in your cask that you shall need an adz or hatchet to work it out with."

Note: The original settlers took kegs of beer, but no seed with which to grow crops.

Sarah Hale attempted to teach Americans "how they should be" in character, attitudes, actions, and manners.

Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, 1835

Traits of American Life
Traits of American Life

Ths book is about what the middle class American character should be, according to Sarah Hale. Campaigning for Thanksgiving, she includes a story, "The Thanksgiving of the Heart", page 209.


Hale's Thanksgiving Vision

In 1827, Hale wrote about Thanksgiving in such hyperbole that the record is astonishingly hard to believe.

Her notion of Thanksgiving included men, women, and children sitting around a table on which they had placed a huge turkey with a large amount of stuffing, a flank of sirloin, a large cut of pork, mutton, geese, ducks, a large chicken pie, many vegetables, and large bowls of gravies.

Later, in Godey's, she encouraged the addition of mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pies, and several other dishes. She provided recipes and other materials for use during Thanksgiving.

New Hampshire turkeys.
New Hampshire turkeys. | Source

The Actual Settlers and Advertising Campaigns

We have some consensus about the settlers that arrived in the New World in 1620, but we also have lingering discrepancies at his writing. The sorting of the various data is intriguing and hre are some of the results (1,2,3,4,5):

  • The public accepted the name Pilgrims for the Plimouth settlers during the late 1700s and increasingly throughout the 1800s.
  • The settlers surviving in the autumn of 1621 numbered only in the range of 47 - 53, according to different sources. They called themselves Saints and were looking to make a new life away from the Church of England, but the first Thanksgiving was not a religious occasion, but secular.
  • The settlers wore cheap materials of bright colors, but many of the women possessed small quantities of black fabric that is listed in inventories taken before their deaths and now filed at the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth MA. The rough life and hard work the settlement lived through would have prevented any white material from remaining white and the rough structures in the photo at the top of this Hub reinforce that idea. Ruffles and large collars or cuffs would have been destroyed by this lifestyle. Correspondence indicates that the men likely wore wool caps.
  • For the 1621 feast, there were at probably 31 English men and teen boys present. Robert Krulwich (2) feels that the affiliated 4 women, 5 teen girls, and 13 children were not invited. The females prepared the food.
  • The Wampanoag, Massasoit, was invited and he brought 98 additional surprise guests, all male; it was the tribal tradition to share such an invitation with the males of the village.
  • The Native Americans supplied five deer for a meal and gathering that spanned three days. The meal included waterfowl such as ducks and geese, corn, nuts, berries, and puddings of squash and pumpkin. England was a nation that made pies of many sorts, but the English in Plimouth did not have the flour for crusts, so the puddings sufficed. Mr. Krulwich (2) learned from Linda Coombs, an Aquinnah Wampanoag who directs a cultural center at today's Plimouth Plantation, that the meal likely included sobaheg, which is a stew of corn, beans, squash (the Three Sisters); and a variety of game meats. There was also an abundance of clams, lobsters, eels, onions, turnips, and greens like spinach and others.
  • Some researchers feel that turkey was not prepared in 1621. However, Governor Bradford and a settler, Edward Winslow, indicate that turkeys had been hunted and placed in the community storehouse. This information is contained in correspondence held at Plymouth's Pligrim Hall Museum ( No mention of preparing them exists. The much fatter turkeys displayed in advertising schemes today are the result of farm raising, sometimes with the administration of hormones and extremely cramped living conditions for the birds.
  • The English men had several casks of beer. A consensus is growing that the English became intoxicated and began shooting their rifles in a display of fire power.

  • Under the ministrations of Sarah Hale and American retailers, Thanksgiving was imbued with strict religious overtones that suggested the holiday as solemn and prayerful, instituted by women who, life herself, wore the purity and piety of black and white. Most US States had their own Thanksgivings by 1840 and gladly picked up elements of celebration with food (recipes provided by Sarah Hale) and drink as the campaign for a national holiday proceeded through the 1800s. This movement added shopping as one of the relevant activities related to Thanksgiving and when the US Congress declared the legal national holiday in 1941, Black Friday was not far behind.

America and Canada largely accept Sarah Hale's version of Thanksgiving, although increasing numbers of citizens want to know about the true events. A National Day of Mourning for Native Americans and their plight in 1621 and thereafter was instituted in 1970, although it is not widely known.


  1. Cooking the History Books: The Thanksgiving Massacre. Republic of Lakotah: Retrieved October 29, 2013.
  2. First Thanksgiving Dinner: No Turkeys. No Ladies. No Pies by Robert Krulwich. National Public Radio: Retrieved October 29, 2013.
  3. Godey's Lady's Book and Sarah Josepha Hale: Making Female Education Fashionable, by Amy Condra Peters. Retrieved October 30, 2013.
  4. Puritan/Godey's Lady Book. University of Pennsylvania Library; scans of most issues. Retrieved October 30, 2013.
  5. Pilgrim Propaganda: The Secret History of Thanksgiving by Everett Tucker. Mystic Politics: Retrieved October 30, 2013.

Interesting Film Treatment

During November 2013, the animated Free Birds 3D was released and proved quite entertaining. Governor Bradford of Plimouth Plantation was portayed as a fat, greedy slob who kept all of the community's supplies and food inside his own house.

Myles Standish looked like a thin Wild West bounty hunter dressed all in black and riding a black horse. He face was scarred and hollow-cheeked. The children in the audiences likely are unaware of his attacks upon Native Americans after the 1621 feast, but his appearance riminds anyone who knows the history.

The wild turkeys of Plimouth are Standish's prey and wear war paint and Native American feathers, while some speak with a Native American "accent". For adult viewers, the turkeys stand in for the Native Americans of the 1600s.

Plimouth Plantation Living History Museum

A markerPlimouth Plantation, Massachusetts -
Plimoth Plantation, 137 Warren Avenue, Plymouth, MA 02360, USA
get directions

© 2013 Patty Inglish


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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Marvelous, simply marvelous. We celebrate in so many ways. Sometimes we are poor and just have what we have. And there is great thanksgiving for that.

      My wife and I have decided that it is a day of abundance no matter what we got.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      A wonderful attitude, Ericdierker! Thank you for your visit and comments.

    • Joy At Home profile image

      Joy At Home 3 years ago from United States

      This article turned out to be just the thing I wanted! I've been researching Thanksgiving for the past two to three years, and was looking for new source material. Thank you, as it is important to me to lead my children aright.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 3 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      I feel like I have just had the best Thanksgiving ever! You have presented a history that I think deserves an award. Never, have I learned so much about this national holiday. I'm a bit embarrassed that I didn't even know, until reading your hub, that Sarah Hale was responsible for campaigning for Thanksgiving to be a National Holiday.

      With your permission, I would like to present this hub to my family at our Thanksgiving celebration. It is nothing short of spectacular in detail, drawings and photos.

      Thanks Patty for all the time you have donated to writing this history. I am so thankful. Sharing on FB, Twitter, Pinterest and more.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Very interesting information. I'd like to read "Thanksgiving: The True Story" I know that is really easy to convince people and for people to believe what they read. Hale's version is outstanding.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      Joy at Home _ I am really happy to be able to put this all together, because there are so many bits and pieces scattered over the Internet that we can't see the whole picture.

      vocalcoach - I hope your family enjoys the article! Let me know what they say in response. I think that because 2013 is the 50th Anniversary of the 1863 Thanksgiving, that all this Sarah Hale information is being found more easily than before. More attention is focused on it.

      MsDora - I'm happy not to have been at the first Thanksgiving, with barrels of beer and druken men shooting rifles while the women and children lugged pots of food back and forth and probably ate leftovers if there were any! I'm part Mohawk, so I REALLY wonder what the Native Americans thought. I'm glad to HAVE a Thanksgiving holiday, though; we can thank Hale for that.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

      Thank you Sara Hale! LOL I am so glad she instituted what we now celebrate as Thanksgiving. I love the meal with turkey, although I did know that turkey was not served at that first thanksgiving but venison and seafood as you mention. Great hub full of many interesting and informative facts. Thanks for sharing.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      A great read and voted up for sure.


    • WannaB Writer profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 3 years ago from Templeton, CA

      Very well researched, but what I remember of Bradford's history did indicate Thanksgiving to God. I'll take another look.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      Eddy - Thanks a million for your comment!

      WannaB Writer -- That's part of the ongoing melee about the holiday and I do not trust what is published as Bradford's book as completely authentic, because it does not match his other records. I'm Christian, but can't say there was prayer where there was none, as Sarah Hale did for years.

      The hard-copy records I read of 1620 through 1622 do show otherwise, with no prayer performed in 1621, but rather, a beer party, to be crude. Bradford may or may not have prayed in 1623, however:

      Preserved records and diaries of the colony held at Pilgrim Hall Museum and Plimouth Plantation show that Bradford made a declaration of Thanks to God in 1623. That's great. However historians question whether this is a real document, because of terms used that did not originate until some years into the future! It may have been something whipped up by the lady's magazine. See one explanation at

      web DOT ccsd DOT k12 DOT wy DOT us/techcurr/social%20studies/05/0101th-bradp.html

      This is like the Kennedy Assassination - we will never know all the facts.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      Quote from research class at Plimouth Plantation, Massacusetts site listed in previous comment:

      "The 1623 event celebrated two events - the end of a drought, and the news that a ship carrying new colonists, feared sunk, was safe and in transit. It had nothing to do with the harvest, activities of Native Americans, pestilence or the establishment of the church."

      However, all of this may be moot, since the Spanish celebrated Thanskgivings in their North American settlements in the 1500s and the Native Americans celebrated Thanksgivings for hundreds of years before them. The folks at Plimouth or any earlier English settlement were not the first, no matter what. But I still like Thaksgiving and the modern faith-based traditions we have for it.

      Happy Thanksgiving!

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      I've always been fascinated by history, but I view it with a skeptical eye because much of "history" is more myth than truth. I love articles like this that try to set the record straight and I have no problem changing my own articles if I find out I've bought into something that was... embellished. If that makes me a revisionist, that's fine. I have no problem revising history if it gets us closer to the truth. Oh yeah... congratulations on TWO THOUSAND FEATURED HUBS, Patty.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      @UnnamedHarald - Thanks for your comment and congratulations! Keeping all the Hubs fresh is like juggling dinner plates on the tops of sticks in a circus act sometimes. :)

      Sarah Hale helped retailers sell more "stuff" for a holiday, but in the end, also helped them gain extra shopping days between official holidays -- She didn't think of Black Friday, but it is far out of hand, since people have been injured and one killed during the last few of them. Since some people are going shopping instead of having a Thanksgiving meal and many stores are open this year, even Hale's newer "old" traditions are beginning to disappear. I wonder what the holiday will be like in 10 years and how many people will know about the real Plimouth Colony then?

      Have a great weekend away from retail mobs!

    • Sara Copley profile image

      Sara Copley 19 months ago

      Great Hub! Lots of information. And thanks for including the link to her magazine. I will have to check that out!

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