York (WHTM) — It’s hard to tell where and when our modern Thanksgiving Day got its start. We have the pilgrims and their harvest festival in 1621, and we have Abraham Lincoln designating the Last Friday in November as a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1863.

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But perhaps the story of The National Thanksgiving gets its real start at the Battle of Brandywine. On September 11, 1777, George Washington and his Continental Army tried to stop a British Army under General Sir William Howe from capturing Philadelphia. Long story short, Washington lost, the British advanced, and the Continental Congress, which had been meeting in Philadelphia, decided they’d be better off somewhere else.

“Somewhere else” ended up being York, which conveniently put the Susquehanna River between them and the British. They set up shop in the county courthouse and got back to the business of running a country which wasn’t really a country yet, because there was no official, written down, agreed-on central government.

Then word arrived that another British Army, under General John Burgoyne, was moving south through New York, threatening to cut New England off from the rest of the Colonies. American General Horatio Gates prepared to meet him. if Gates lost the battle, there was a good chance the Americans would lose the war.

The Continental Congress could do little else but wait.

Then on October 31, 1777, word reached York. Gates had beaten the British, and Burgoyne had surrendered on October 17th, near the town of Saratoga.

In response Congressman Samuel Adams of Massachusetts wrote the following proclamation, which the Continental Congress passed on November 1st, for a day of thanksgiving, to be celebrated on December 18th:

“Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such farther blessings as they stand in need of; and it having pleased him in his abundant mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable bounties of his common providence, but also smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war, for the defense and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a measure to prosper the means used for the support of our troops and to crown our arms with most signal success:”

“It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the 18th day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor;
and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please him graciously to afford his blessings on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all blessings, independence and peace; that it may please him to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people and the labor of the husbandman, that our land may yield its increase; to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under his nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.”

“And it is further recommended, that servile labor, and such recreation as, though at other times innocent, may be unbecoming the purpose of this appointment, be omitted on so solemn an occasion.”

On November 15, 1777, the Articles of Confederation were adopted by Congress and sent on to the states for ratification. So the city of York has a claim to not only be where the first National Thanksgiving was declared, but the first true capital of the United States.