And thus they found the Lord to be with them in all their
ways, and to bless their outgoings & incomings, for which
let his holy name have the praise for ever, to all posterity.
The first officially-celebrated federal holiday was that of Thanksgiving, declared by President George Washington within a few months after his inauguration.  Thanksgiving, a long-cherished holiday celebration of rejoicing and giving thanks to God, has a long history in America from both before and after that 1789 proclamation.
Out of many historic celebrations of Thanksgiving, the most well known and closely emulated was the feast of the pilgrims as they celebrated the goodness of God in keeping them alive through a hard season, and providing them with food and shelter to face the coming winter. One of those attending what is known as the first thanksgiving was the Pilgrim’s newly chosen governor, William Bradford.
As a young orphan, William Bradford sought revelation through the Bible.  Living near Scrooby, England, he became acquainted with the Puritans and the separatist movement. Drawn by the simplicity of their services, and their commitment to both religious and political reforms, he joined the congregation, despite his family’s disapproval. 
When the English threatened permanent imprisonment for those who criticized the corrupt practices of both the state and the church, the Scrooby church fled to Amsterdam to take refuge from the growing persecution.  Following a decade of relative peace in Holland, the religious climate became volatile due to a potential looming war with Spain and the secular behavior of the Dutch,  so the Pilgrims therefore decided to start a new English colony in America. 
At 30 years of age, William Bradford and his wife Dorothy left behind their 4 year-old son to make the perilous journey, along with 100 other congregation members.  While anchored off the coast of the New World, Dorothy fell overboard and drowned. 
Over the following winter, one half of the 102 colonists died from hunger, exposure, or disease.  In 1621 following that brutal winter, William Bradford was chosen governor of the colony to replace John Carver, one of those who died. With the exception of a few years, he continued to serve in that capacity for virtually the rest of his life. 
The University of Kentucky highlights William Bradford and his account of the first years of the colony in their online course, American Literature from 1600-1865. Throughout this course the reading assignments go back to the original documents, and you can read about the early years of America in the very words of those who lived then.
You can also learn more about the Pilgrims and the history of Early America in this DVD available in our store.
Check out the others in the series as well!
Also, to help preserve the original God-centered nature of America’s traditional thanksgiving, consider reading an original thanksgiving proclamation to your family this year.