The 50 remaining Pilgrims and almost 100 Native Americans gathered for the feast. Captain Miles Standish, the leader of the Pilgrims, and Squanto attended this feast. Venison, wild turkey and other wild fowl were probably served, along with fish, plums, pumpkins, squash, corn, sweet potatoes, and cranberries from nearby bogs. Today's traditional Thanksgiving menu hasn't changed much from this original harvest feast.
Fall harvest celebrations became traditional for the settlers in New England. When things were going well, it was a common occurrence for New Englanders to proclaim a day of thanksgiving. People would gather at the meetinghouse to give thanks, and then share a meal with family, friends and neighbors. From this time of giving thanks, the holiday we now know as Thanksgiving evolved - a time to celebrate the year's blessings. But, it wasn't until 1676, when the town council of Charlestown, Massachusetts, declared a day of Thanksgiving, that the day was first formally recognized.
In October 1777, the Continental Congress declared the first national Thanksgiving celebration. All 13 colonies joined in the celebration. The last official celebration of Thanksgiving under the Continental Congress was in 1783. It was not until November 26, 1789, that President George Washington proclaimed that date as a day of Thanksgiving and prayer. However, no national Thanksgiving celebrations were declared from 1815 until the Civil War.
Thanksgiving became a symbolic holiday that focused on family values and the importance of home life. Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor and leader of the Domesticity Movement, spent much of her life working to make Thanksgiving a nationally recognized holiday. Her efforts were rewarded in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving.