According to Virginia’s Mount Vernon history archives, it was President George Washington who designated the first national day of public thanksgiving, to be held on Thursday, the 26th day of November, 1789 — not President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The Proclamation was printed in newspapers, including the October 9, 1789, issue of the Pennsylvania Packet and the Daily Advertiser.
Washington, however, long knew of the value of a day set aside for thanksgiving before he was our first president of the new United States. Periodically, during the American Revolutionary War, he ordered special thanksgiving services for his troops after successful battles.
“The Prayer at Valley Forge” by Arnold Friberg, whether painted from the artist’s memory or his imagination, is an especially poignant reminder of Washington’s deep, abiding faith in Divine Providence, as described in Washington’s God by father/daughter writing team Michael and Jana Novak (2006).
Below is Mount Vernon standing in the afterglow of a Thanksgiving Day sunset.