Today in History – November 30

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, popularly known as Mark Twain, was born November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri, and spent his childhood in nearby Hannibal. Twain is best known for the novels set in his boyhood world beside the Mississippi River, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer External (1876) and his masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn External (1884).

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn From the Book by Mark Twain. Everett Henry, Illustrator. Cleveland: Harris-Intertype, 1959. Language of the Land: Journeys Into Literary America. Geography & Map Division.
Bird’s eye view of the city of Hannibal, Marion Co., Missouri 1869. Drawn by Albert Ruger, 1869. Panoramic Maps. Geography & Map Division

As a young man, Clemens worked as a typesetter for his brother Orion’s newspaper before following his dream of navigating the Mississippi on paddle wheel steamboats. He piloted boats for three years until the outbreak of the Civil War stopped river traffic in 1861.

Clemens wrote for the Virginia City, Nevada, newspaper Territorial Enterprise in 1862, adopting the pseudonym Mark Twain. Two years later he moved to San Francisco where his writing gained further popularity and he developed the humorous style now famous throughout the world. In 1866 he went to Hawaii as a reporter for the Sacramento Union.

Clemens joined his brother in Nevada where Orion had been appointed secretary of the territory. Roughing It, first published in 1872, is Clemens’ account of his journey. In the Prefatory, Clemens describes his writing style:

Yes, take it all around, there is quite a good deal of information in the book. I regret this very much; but really it could not be helped: information appears to stew out of me naturally, like the precious ottar of roses out of the otter. Sometimes it has seemed to me that I would give worlds if I could retain my facts; but it cannot be. The more I calk up the sources, and the tighter I get, the more I leak wisdom. Therefore, I can only claim indulgence at the hands of the reader, not justification.

Prefatory. In Roughing It, by Mark Twain. Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Company (1891). “California As I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

“Envious Contemplations.”[Illustration] In Roughing It, by Mark Twain. Hartford, Conn.: American Publishing Company, 1891. Chapter 1, page 20. “California As I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

While in the West, Clemens stayed briefly at the California boarding house of uprooted Missourian Mrs. Lee Summers Whipple-Haslam. In her book, Early Days in California, she recalls that her mother engaged Clemens in extended conversation:

As usual with Missourians, they imparted numerous and various details of ancient forefathers, and, after lengthy discussion, decided that according to all the rules and laws of Missouri, they were cousins.

Later, when other boarders, thinking Clemens “wonderful,” asked if there were others like him in Missouri, she replied “no” and explained that “he was a Missouri freak that had broken loose from his hitching post.”

Letter from Mark Twain to Gardiner Greene Hubbard, December 27, 1890. Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers at the Library of Congress. Manuscript Division

The Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers features a letter from Mark Twain to Gardiner G. Hubbard, “The Father-in-law of the Telephone,” dated December 27, 1890. In his familiar satirical style, Twain complains to Bell’s father-in-law of the poor telephone service at his home in Hartford, Connecticut. He objects that there is no night service and that he is regularly cut off while practicing his cursing. In fact, Twain enjoyed and made use of new inventions. For example, he was the first author to submit a typewritten manuscript to his publisher.


Today in History – November 29

Louisa May Alcott, the second daughter of Amos Bronson Alcott, teacher and transcendentalist philosopher, and Abigail May, social worker and reformer, was born in the “disagreeable month” of November, just like her literary creation Jo March, the rambunctious heroine of Little Women External.

“November is the most disagreeable month in the whole year,” said Margaret, standing at the window one dull afternoon, looking out at the frostbitten garden.

“That’s the reason I was born in it,” observed Jo pensively, quite unconscious of the blot on her nose.

“If something very pleasant should happen now, we should think it a delightful month,” said Beth, who took a hopeful view of everything, even November.

“I dare say, but nothing pleasant ever does happen in this family,” said Meg, who was out of sorts….

“My patience, how blue we are!” cried Jo…. “Oh, don’t I wish I could manage things for you as I do for my heroines!…I’d have some rich relation leave you a fortune unexpectedly….”

“Jo and I are going to make fortunes for you all. Just wait ten years, and see if we don’t,” said Amy, who sat in a corner making mud pies, as Hannah called her little clay models of birds, fruit, and faces.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low, and Searle, 1872. Chapter 15External

On November 29, 1832, Amos Bronson Alcott wrote his mother of his joy in “the birth of a second daughter on my own birth-day.” Convinced of the importance of early childhood, Bronson Alcott continued to keep a regular journal of each of his four daughters’ growth and activities. Shortly before her second birthday, Louisa’s father wrote of her:

Louisa…manifests uncommon activity and force of mind at present…by force of will and practical talent, [she] realizes all that she conceives.…

Bronson Alcott, November 5, 1834. The Journals of Bronson Alcott. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1938), page 47.

During Louisa’s early years, her father’s innovative Temple School External in Boston failed, as did the family’s experiment with communal living with a group of transcendentalist mystics at Fruitlands, an early eighteenth-century farmhouse.

A happier time began after the family settled at Hillside House, later Nathaniel Hawthorne’s residence, which he renamed the Wayside, in Concord, Massachusetts. There, the Alcotts found a sympathetic community and like-minded friends. Louisa and her sisters were always welcome to participate in the conversations of the poets, philosophers, and reformers that made up their parents’ circle.

The Old Bridge, Concord. c1900. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

The Alcott girls enjoyed the natural beauty of Concord, boating on the river, ice skating on Walden Pond, and running free in the surrounding fields and woods. Henry David Thoreau was one of Louisa’s instructors when she was a young girl. In one of his fanciful lessons, he taught her that a cobweb was a “handkerchief dropped by a fairy.” As a teenager, Louisa enjoyed borrowing books from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s collection and delighted in conversing with the “sage of Concord.”

For the most part, the Alcotts taught their daughters at home. Daily journal-keeping formed a significant part of the home curriculum. Louisa and her sisters each wrote a weekly journal in which they recorded family events and published their literary and artistic endeavors. The girls and their neighbors formed a dramatic society, and the Hillside barn became the local theater where they performed Louisa’s melodramatic plays.

Although their home and community life was rich, the family remained financially impoverished. Of necessity, all family members pitched in to support the family, with the daughters working as teachers, companions, and domestics. Besides their paid labors, they contributed their time and talents to the abolition movement, the women’s suffrage movement, and to the relief of those poorer than themselves.

Louisa resolved early on to earn money to relieve the hardship of her mother’s life. Gradually, she began earning a reliable income from stories and sketches published in The Atlantic Monthly External and from dime-novel thrillers, including Behind a Mask External, published under the pseudonym “A. M. Barnard.” Her first book of stories, Flower Fables External, was published in 1855.

[Washington, D.C. Patients in Ward K of Armory Square Hospital]. August, 1865. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Prints & Photographs Division

During the Civil War, Louisa served as a nurse at a Union Army hospital in Washington, D.C. There, she kept careful journals which she published later as Hospital Sketches External. A severe bout of typhoid fever brought her home to Concord an invalid. It is thought that she was treated with mercury for her fever, as were many others who became ill during this period. Mercury poisoning was apparently the cause of the slow debilitation that led to her death twenty years later.

In 1868, at the suggestion of her publisher, Louisa wrote a “story for girls” based on the experiences of her own family. Little Women or Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy External was an immediate success and brought her lasting fame. It was followed the next year by a second volume with the same title, subtitled, “Part Second,” and in subsequent years, by two sequels, Little Men and Jo’s Boys.

During the 1870s, Alcott and her mother were deeply involved in the women’s suffrage movement, canvassing door-to-door encouraging women to register to vote. In 1879, Louisa registered as the first woman to vote in the Concord school committee election.

Help Us to Win the Vote. 1914. Bain Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

Louisa’s later years were financially secure and her family was able to live comfortably and pursue their many intellectual and artistic interests at their second home in Concord, Orchard House External. Her last years, however, were shadowed by the deaths of two of her sisters and her brother-in-law. As the sole support of her parents, sisters, and her nephews and niece, she became overburdened with work and ill health. Louisa May Alcott died, two days after her father, on March 6, 1888, at the age of fifty-six.

Orchard House, Concord, home of the Alcotts. c1900. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division


New 7 Wonders of the World, #5

Statue of Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro
Statue of Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro

5.  Statue of Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro.  In 1921 the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro proposed that a statue of Christ be built on the 2,310-foot summit, which, because of its commanding height, would make it visible from anywhere in Rio. Citizens petitioned Pres. Epitácio Pessoa to allow the construction of the statue on Mount Corcovado.

Permission was granted, and the foundation stone of the base was ceremonially laid on April 4, 1922—to commemorate the centennial on that day of Brazil’s independence from Portugal—although the monument’s final design had not yet been chosen. That same year a competition was held to find a designer, and the Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa was chosen. Funds were raised privately, principally by the church. Under Silva Costa’s supervision, construction began in 1926 and continued for five years. During that time materials and workers were transported to the summit via railway.

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World #3 — Statue of Zeus at Olympia

Statue of Zeus at Olympia
Statue of Zeus at Olympia

3. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was created by Greek sculptor Phidias. The statue depicted the god Zeus seated on his throne, his skin of ivory and robes of hammered gold, and was 40 feet tall, designed to inspire awe in the worshipers who came to the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.  The Temple at Olympia fell into ruin after the rise of Christianity. The statue was carried off to Constantinople where it was later destroyed, sometime in either the 5th or 6th centuries CE, by an earthquake.

Presidential Beard

Fun fact:  The last US president to have a beard was 1

Benjamin Harrison

23rd President Benjamin Harrison, 1889-1893

23rd President of the United States

(March 4, 1889 to March 3, 1893)

In other words, it has been 131 years  since the USA has had a president who wore a beard!

Benjamin Harrison
Benjamin Harrison

Full Name: Benjamin Harrison
Nicknames: “Kid Gloves Harrison”; “Little Ben”

Born: August 20, 1833, in North Bend, Ohio
Died: March 13, 1901, in Indianapolis, Indiana

Religion: Presbyterian
Education: Graduated from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio (1852)
Occupation: Lawyer
Political Party: Republican
Other Government Positions:

  • United States Senator, 1881-87

  1. SOURCE:  PONTUS website[]

Today in History – November 28

At 8:55 a.m. on November 28, 1895, six “motocycles” left Chicago’s Jackson Park for a 54-mile race to Evanston, Illinois, and back—through the snow. Number 5, piloted by inventor J. Frank Duryea, won the race in just over 10 hours at an average speed of about 7.3 miles per hour! The winner earned $2,000; the enthusiast who named the horseless vehicles “motocycles” won $500; and the Chicago Times-Herald, sponsor of the race, declared:

Persons who are inclined…to decry the development of the horseless carriage…will be forced…to recognize it as an admitted mechanical achievement, highly adapted to some of the most urgent needs of our civilization.

“The Future of the Motocycle.” The Chicago Times-Herald, November 29, 1895, 6.

Jackson Park. [ Chicago, IL]. Horace Hull, c1908. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

Only two years earlier in Springfield, Massachusetts, brothers Charles and J. Frank Duryea had built and driven what they claimed was the first American gasoline-powered automobile. Yet, as if by spontaneous combustion, over 70 entries were filed for the race, a response so overwhelming that President Cleveland asked the War Department to oversee the event. Following their victory in the race, the Duryeas manufactured 13 copies of the Chicago car, and J. Frank Duryea developed the “Stevens-Duryea,” an expensive limousine that remained in production into the 1920s.

There were American antecedents to the Duryea’s winning vehicle. As early as 1826, Samuel Morey filed a patent, bearing the signatures of John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, for an internal combustion engine. George Brayton, Sephaniah Reese, Henry Nadig, and William T. Harris all produced self-propelled machines.

Charles Black developed an 18-horsepower “chug buggy” in 1891—the same year that John Lambert developed a three-wheel motor buggy. After seeing the 1895 Chicago Times-Herald race, Lambert went on to produce four-wheel vehicles at his Buckeye Manufacturing Company.

The Stanley twins, Francis Edgar (F. E.) and Freelan Oscar (F. O.), built a steam-powered vehicle in 1897. The “Stanley Steamer” achieved fame when F. E. Stanley did a mile in 2:11 on a dirt track with a 30-degree incline.

George Eastman bought the rights to the Stanley’s earlier photographic dry-plate patents, supplying the brothers with capital to manufacture 200 standing orders for the Steamer, which eventually became the “Locomobile.” By the time that Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company in 1903, the Stanley’s plant already employed 140 workers.

In the interview “Transportation,” Arthur Botsford of Thomaston, Connecticut, recalled his “first and fastest auto ride” and the earliest automobile makes:

I was hikin’ along over towards Terryville to get the trolley and Jack come along and I flagged him. I was late. I says, “Jack, can we make the trolley,” and he says, “‘Sure,” and how we did fly. We made it all right.

The different cars they used to be. I used to keep a list of ’em. There was the Pope Hartford, and the Stevens Duryea, and the Locomobile, and the Peerless and the National, and the Saxon, and the Metz—I can’t remember them all.

Billy Gilbert, that used to live next to me here, he had a Stanley Steamer. He was an engineer. He’s out in Californy now. Spent all his life on the railroads and he swore by steam. Wouldn’t have a gasoline engine.

After he moved to Californy he wrote me a letter. Said there was a big hill out there beyond San Francisco nine miles long. Said ten tow cars was kept busy on that hill all the time. But that steamer of his just ate it up.

Transportation.” Francis Donovan, interviewer; Art Botsford interviewee; Thomaston, CT., January 5, 1939. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division

Riemer’s Loco Winning Five-Miles Event in 10:51 4-5, Grosse Pointe Track, Detroit. c1902. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Like its predecessor horse racing, automobile racing provided the stiff competition that helped to “refine the breed.” When the Stanleys brought their 50-horsepower “Rocket” to the 1906 winter races at Ormond Beach, Florida, driver Fred Marriott clocked 127.66 mph, becoming the first driver to move faster than 2 miles per minute.

The Indianapolis 500 was born in 1911. This famous race fostered the development of innovations such as the rear-view mirror. By the time that Berna Eli “Barney” Oldfield sped to the top of Pike’s Peak in 1915, motor car production was booming and automobile racing was a well-established sport.

In a January 1926 issue of the American Automobile Association’s magazine, The American Motorist, Walter Carver explained the influence of racing on innovations in motorcar construction:

Probably but few readers will associate this trend of reduction in engine size with the racing game, for to most people, racing is a game or a mighty dangerous sport which draws its actors from the sons of millionaires or “nut” garage hands…Racing is and has been more than a game. Men have given their lives to prove some point of better motor car operation…speed, acceleration, braking which must be attendant upon high speed, all have been bettered as the result of somebody’s efforts at designing something better which went out and won on some perilous track.

What the Show Will Show,” by Walter Carver. The American Motorist. January, 1926, p 11. Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

Corona Speedway, Start of the Medium & Heavyweight Auto Race. Geo. Prince, c1913. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division


Today in History – November 27

James De Lancey, lawyer, jurist and eventual acting governor of New York, was born in New York City on November 27, 1703. As Chief Justice of New York, De Lancey presided over the landmark 1733 libel suit brought by Royal Governor William Cosby against printer John Peter Zenger. Cosby accused Zenger of printing stories critical of Cosby in his newspaper. Although De Lancey served at the pleasure of Cosby, and was himself biased against Zenger’s cause, the jury at Zenger’s trial still ruled in favor of the printer’s right to publish. The Zenger case is viewed as a milestone in establishing freedom of the press in America.

Manatvs gelegen op de Noot [sic] Riuier. Joan Vinckeboons, 1639. Cities and Towns. Geography & Map Division

The eldest son of a French Huguenot merchant and a New York Dutch heiress, James De Lancey was sent to England at age twenty to receive his legal education. In 1728 he married Anne Heathcote of Scarsdale Manor (later Scarsdale, West Chester County) with whom he had six children. The following year he was admitted to the New York bar. With his superior training and family connections, De Lancey rose rapidly in political circles. Prior to his appointment as Chief Justice of New York by Cosby in August, 1733, De Lancey also served on the Governor’s Council and as second justice of the colony’s Supreme Court of Judicature.

Statue Force, Appellate Court Building, New York. Between 1900 and 1906. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

The basis of the conflict surrounding Zenger’s newspaper lay in partisan politics, stemming from Cosby’s 1732 arrival as the new Royal Governor. Cosby demanded a pay raise, but also placed a claim on half the money previously paid to the colony’s interim governor, Rip Van Dam, as salary. New York’s provincial council granted the pay increase but opposed the surrender of Van Dam’s earnings. Cosby brought suit through New York’s Supreme Court. When Chief Justice Lewis Morris refused to hear the case, Cosby responded by removing Morris from the court—the reason for De Lancey’s quick appointment. The politically powerful Morris and his allies next looked for ways to discredit Cosby and his supporters. Led by lawyer James Alexander, the Morris faction soon started the New York Weekly Journal as an opposition newspaper specifically to criticize Cosby, employing printer John Peter Zenger to represent their cause. As printer, Zenger, a German immigrant, was the public face of the anti-Cosby paper, but he was neither the author nor the editor of its largely anonymous content.

After several legal attempts to stifle the paper and a full year of public attacks against him, Cosby had had enough of the New York Weekly Journal. In November, 1734, he ordered that four of the most offensive issues be publicly burned. Ten days later, Cosby had Zenger arrested on charges of seditious libel. Unable to afford an excessively high bail, Zenger spent more than eight months in prison awaiting trial, while the Weekly Journal continued to appear with the help of Zenger’s wife Anna. Though a grand jury refused to indict him, Zenger was finally brought to trial on August 4, 1735.

Statue Wisdom, Appellate Court Building, New York. Between 1900 and 1906. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

A hostile Chief Justice De Lancey presided over the case. De Lancey had disbarred Zenger’s original defense attorneys and replaced them with a pro-Cosby lawyer. On the day of the trial, however, Zenger was defended by the prominent Philadelphia lawyer Andrew Hamilton, by surprise arrangement of the Weekly Journal’s supporters. Hamilton directed his defense to the jury rather than the judge, conceding that Zenger had published articles critical of Cosby but eloquently arguing that because the articles contained truths in the form of verifiable facts, they could not be libelous—an argument that defied the accepted understanding of libel law at that time.

The Zenger jury’s “not guilty” verdict came quickly and was widely celebrated. Zenger soon published a transcript of the trialExternal, while Hamilton was awarded the “Freedom of the City” and an inscribed gold box by the Common Council of New York. Though scholars may disagree about the long-term effects of the Zenger case in law or legislation, it fully captured the public’s attention. The case set an important political precedent for colonial America, fortifying emerging concepts of freedom of the press while earning the trial of John Peter Zenger an enduring place in America’s historical imagination.

For De Lancey, the Zenger affair was only a minor setback in his own rise to power. With Cosby’s death in 1736, De Lancey joined the governor’s council, now exerting great influence on all three branches of New York government. By 1744, he had earned the role of chief justice “in good behavior,” which effectively meant he could hold the position for life. Three years later he became Lieutenant Governor. During the 1750s James De Lancey served twice as acting governor of New York, convening the Albany Congress of 1754 and signing the charter for King’s College (now Columbia University) the following year. He died suddenly of a heart attack in July of 1760.


Today in History – November 26

In his first presidential proclamation, George Washington designated November 26, 1789 as a Day of National Thanksgiving. The next president to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation was Abraham Lincoln, who in 1863, also designated November 26. In October of his third year in office, Lincoln invited Americans to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise.”

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th. day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.

George Washington, October 3, 1789, Thanksgiving. Series 8, Miscellaneous Papers ca. 1775-99, Subseries 8A, Correspondence and Miscellaneous Notes. George Washington Papers. Manuscript Division

Thanksgiving was practiced in America by early British colonists. In a letter dated September 4, 1619, Sir William Throckmorton, Richard Bearkley, George Thorpe, and John Smyth gave Captain John Woodlief various orders, including one for an annual religious observance of thanksgiving at the newly established Berkeley Hundred plantation in Virginia.

Impr[imatur] wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrivall at the place assigned for planta[tion] in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetualy keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty god.

Sir William Throckmorton, Richard Berkeley, et al. Ordinances Direccons and Instructions to Captaine John Woodlefe. September 4, 1619. In The Records of the Virginia Company of London. Volume III, p. 207. Series 8: Virginia Records Manuscripts. Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827 . Manuscript Division

The origin of the American Thanksgiving tradition of feasting, though, is generally credited to the Pilgrims. As early as 1621, the puritan colonists of Plymouth, Massachusetts set aside a day of thanks for a bountiful harvest. Throughout the colonial period and into the nineteenth century, official days of feasting and fasting commemorated periods of good and poor fortune.

By the honourable Gurdon Saltonstall, Esq; Governour of His Majesty’s Colony of Connecticut in New-England, a proclamation for a publick thanksgiving… New-London: Printed by Timothy Green, printer to his honour the governour and company, 1721. Printed Ephemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

When Boston Harbor was closed in retribution for the Boston Tea Party, for example, Massachusetts authorities declared a fast day. The Virginia House of Burgesses ordered fasting in support of the Bay Colony. Complying with the proclamation, on June 1, 1774, George Washington noted in his diary, “Went to Church and fasted all day.”

Most early Thanksgiving days were spontaneous celebrations. However, by the mid-nineteenth century, an annual fall Thanksgiving meal was customary throughout much of the United States and its Territories. During the gold rush, miners far from home observed a day of thanks. On December 1, 1850, Alfred T. Jackson of Litchfield County, Connecticut described his California Thanksgiving.

Although there was nothing to show it, we observed Thursday as Thanksgiving, as that was the legal day in the States. All we did was to lay off and eat quail stew and dried apple pie. I thought a lot about the old folks and would like to have been home with them, and I guess I will be next year…

The Diary of a Forty-Niner, ed. by Chauncey L. Canfield. Boston, New York, Houghton Mifflin company, 1920. “California As I Saw It”: First Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900. General Collections

For more than a decade, writer and editor Sarah Josepha Hale pushed for an annual day of national Thanksgiving. From the helm of several prominent women’s magazines, Hale editorialized about the importance of a national Thanksgiving celebration. She also wrote to President Lincoln directly. On October 3, 1863, in the wake of Union victory at the Civil War battle at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln decided to issue his first Thanksgiving Proclamation; his second followed in 1864. The President’s Hymn, composed in honor of the new holiday, rang out across the nation.

Give thanks, all ye people, give thanks to the Lord,
Alleluias of freedom with joyful accord:
Let the East and the West, North and South roll along,
Sea, mountain and prairie, One thanksgiving song.

The President’s Hymn. William Augustus Muhlenberg, words; J.W. Turner, music; Boston, Mass: Oliver Ditson & co., c1863. The Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana. Rare Book & Special Collections Division

A Butcher Shop Window At Thanksgiving Time, Norwich, Connecticut. Jack Delano photographer, Nov. 1940. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division

Since Lincoln in 1863, every President of the United States has issued an annual Thanksgiving Proclamation, each citing a specific date. While most proclaimed Thanksgiving for the fourth or last Thursday of November, Franklin D. Roosevelt chose the third Thursdays of November 1939 through 1941, for economic reasons. Late in 1941, Congress passed Thanksgiving legislation that Roosevelt signed into law on December 26, 1941. Public Law 77-379 set Thanksgiving Days from 1942 onward to the fourth Thursday in November. The Law also made Thanksgiving Day an annual Federal Holiday.


Today in History – November 25

“I have not come 20,000 miles,” Yankee trader Franklin A. Buck wrote to his sister Mary on November 25, 1849, “to turn around and go right back again like some persons who have been here and gotten homesick.” Just twenty years old, Buck had left his job in New York and set sail for California the previous January. The young man was one of 40,000 people who traveled to California by sea during the gold rush of 1849. He arrived in the boom town of Sacramento City in October, and along with his partners, Buck opened a supply store. Business was brisk.

J Street, Sacramento on New Year’s Day, 1853. In A Yankee Trader in the Gold Rush; the letters of Franklin A. Buck, compiled by Katherine A White. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin company, 1930. “California as I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900

“…week before last,” Buck boasted to his sister, “we sold out of our little store $1500 worth of goods. All cash trade in one day. Tell Joseph to beat that…. The flour that I bought in San Francisco for $18 per sack (200 lbs) we sold for $44 and are all out.” As 1849 drew to a close, Buck noted Sacramento consisted of “…over 800 framed buildings, besides the tents.”

Broadcasting his good fortune, Franklin Buck extolled California’s temperate climate. “Today is Sunday,” he wrote. “Gloomy November, probably, with you, but here the weather is splendid, not cold enough to need a fire. Although this is the winter or rainy season it has rained about 15 days out of this month so far.” Despite enthusiasm for his new life, Buck could not conceal his homesickness, and nostalgia for the past crept into his letter:

I should like to be at home on Thanksgiving Day. I suppose you have had or will have one about this time. (Bake me a turnover!) Be sure and write me all about it. I look forward with great pleasure to spending a Thanksgiving with all the family once more in my life…. We were blest, Mary, with the best of parents and a happy home. Probably they were the happiest years of our lives—those that we spent at home.

Franklin A. Buck to Mary Sewall Bradley, November 25, 1849. In A Yankee Trader in the Gold Rush; the letters of Franklin A. Buck, compiled by Katherine A. White. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin company, 1930. “California as I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900