Look beyond the turkey and stuffing to learn more about the history of Thanksgiving at Mount Vernon! On exhibit in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, George Washington’s signed Thanksgiving Proclamation was drafted after a contentious 1789 debate in Congress calling upon the President to “recommend to the people of the United State a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed.” This historically significant document marks the first national celebration of Thanksgiving for November 26, 1789.

This item is on loan to Mount Vernon courtesy of an anonymous lender through Seth Kaller, Inc.

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Thanksgiving is a treasured holiday started—unbeknownst to most Americans—by George Washington. On October 3, 1789, Washington issued his Thanksgiving proclamation, designating for “the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving.” Washington knew the value of a thanksgiving day long before becoming our first president. During the Revolutionary War, he ordered special thanksgiving services for his troops after successful battles, and he publicly endorsed efforts by the Continental Congress to proclaim days of thanks, usually in recognition of military victories and alliances.

While subsequent presidents did not consistently follow this tradition, it was Washington’s original proclamation that guided Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation. Lincoln even issued his proclamation on the same day, October 3, and marked the same Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 26, as Washington, setting Thanksgiving as the last Thursday of November after the first president’s example.

Exhibit Dates

George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation will be on view at Mount Vernon from Thursday, October 1 through Wednesday, January 6, 2016.

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