LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Thanksgiving in Arkansas started thanks to a woman’s efforts to uphold George Washington’s wishes.
The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, in a 1945 edition, states that in 1846 American author and first magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale continued a letter-writing campaign pointing out that President George Washington believed there should be an American holiday to give thanks. Hales’s letters were sent to, among others, the young nation’s governors.
Arkansas Gov. Thomas Stevenson Drew received one of Hale’s letters and agreed to make a proclamation. On Oct. 12, 1847, Drew declared that Arkansas would celebrate Thanksgiving on Dec. 9 of that year “in every county and town in the state as a fit day and proper time to acquit ourselves, each and every one, of a high and praiseworthy duty to the Bountiful and Merciful Providence.”
As the proclamation implied, it was as much a religious holiday as a family event, and a portion of the day was spent in church service for a Thanksgiving sermon and prayer.
Turkey was popular in Arkansas and familiar as it was so plentiful. The Division of Arkansas Heritage points out that for this first Thanksgiving, the meal would have various options on the table, such as roast chicken or duck alongside turkey.
If one did not wish to hunt for a turkey, the Historical Quarterly tells us that the market price for live turkeys was 50 cents and 30 cents for a killed turkey. Beef was 4 cents a pound and green apples were $1 a bushel.
The fast-growing Arkansas population in 1847 was 141,332 persons, with 1,665 living in Little Rock.
Later, Abraham Lincoln declared a Thanksgiving holiday on the last Thursday of November in 1863. This led to some confusion as, in some years, November would have five Thursdays. In 1941 both houses of Congress passed a joint resolution and the fourth Thursday became federal law.