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Thanksgiving: 1621-1941

After the first harvest has been gathered in Plymouth, the governor of the tiny colony, William Bradford, sends four men out to shoot wild fowl (including wild turkey) for a celebration. In a day they are able to kill enough birds to feed the colony for a week.

The festivities last three days, spent in feasting, games and prayer. Ninety members of the nearest Indian tribe, the Wampanoag, are honoured guests. They have shown the pilgrims how to cultivate maize, of which twenty acres have been sown and harvested. The Indians bring five deer to the feast.

The pilgrims and the Indians agree to celebrate together in this fashion each year. But half a century later the Wamponoag are almost wiped out by the colonists in King Philip's War.

A harvest festival of thanksgiving becomes a tradition in several of the New England colonies, and gradually spreads through America after independence. During the Civil War President Lincoln proclaims a national harvest festival on 26 November 1863. Thanksgiving has been held annually since then, almost invariably on the fourth Thursday of November - a day declared a national holiday by Congress in 1941.

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