Here's what Thanksgiving was like in Connecticut throughout history

Over the centuries the tradition has evolved, surviving wars, pandemics and supply chain issues

Photo of Joseph Tucci
Mrs. T. M. Crouch, of Ledyard. Connecticut pouring some water over her twenty-pound turkey on Thanksgiving Day

Mrs. T. M. Crouch, of Ledyard. Connecticut pouring some water over her twenty-pound turkey on Thanksgiving Day

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives / contributed

Thanksgiving in the Nutmeg State has evolved from a traditional day of prayer and fasting occurring multiple times a year, to a national holiday with feasts and celebrations that have survived catastrophes like supply chain issues, a pandemic and a world war — and none of those were even in the past 50 years.

According to the New England Historical Society, "New England’s theocratic governments called for public days of fasting or thanksgiving in response to political or natural events. They could happen several times a year. And they were often local affairs."

Thanksgiving didn't become a holiday celebration until the Civil War.

Regardless of the challenges of a changing world, Connecticut residents have been able to find reasons to be thankful for centuries, not to mention chow down on some turkey and baked goods.

Here is a look at some thanksgiving celebrations in Connecticut over the years:

Molasses shortage postpones Thanksgiving for a week in Colchester
1705

A Spoonful of Grape Molasses.

A Spoonful of Grape Molasses.

BURCU ATALAY TANKUT/Getty Images

In 1705, Colchester postponed a fall thanksgiving celebration for a week because of a molasses shortage, according to the New England Historical Society. 

During a 1705 winter storm, the Connecticut River — which was vital to importing goods like molasses from areas like Norwich and New London — froze, and Colchester was covered under three feet of snow. The town held a meeting on Oct. 29, 1705, and decided to move the day of thanks from the first Thursday of November to the second Thursday instead.  

Molasses was used by the colonists in dishes like brown bread, baked beans and pumpkin pie. It had the advantage of not costing as much as sugar, and colonists used around three quarts of molasses every year, according to the New England Historical Society. 

The crisis was written about in a poem titled, "A Late Thanksgiving,"by Rose Mills Powers, which was published in the Good Housekeeping Magazine in 1908and conflates the emerging holiday with colonial thanksgivings:

"Colchester housewives are glum and sad — Colchester housewives who should be glad — baking and brewing for Thanksgiving day. What is the trouble up Colchester way? Answer the housewives with streaming eyes, 'No molasses for pumpkin pies!' The sloop that fetches the precious freight, Thanksgiving molasses, is late, is late, and how can Colchester celebrate! Colchester housewives are gay and glad — Colchester housewives bake like mad. No feast decreed by the governor, this, But Colchester colonists shall not miss Their dinner, though late by a week and a day — The sloop’s in the harbor — Hurray! Hurray! Thanksgiving molasses for all the town, For pies of pumpkin so rich and brown; Colchester folk at last sit down."

 

A Thanksgiving proclamation in Connecticut during the era of smallpox and British control
1721

Governor Gurdon Saltonstall - Scanned 1855 Engraving

Governor Gurdon Saltonstall - Scanned 1855 Engraving

benoitb/Getty Images

On Oct. 14, 1721, Gurdon Saltonstall, who was the governor of "His Majesty's Colony of Connecticut," issued a proclamation for a public thanksgiving to be observed on Nov. 8, according to the Library of Congress. 

In another colonial thanksgiving, Saltonstall noted that his proclamation was to thank God for blessings while the world was suffering from sickness caused by the smallpox pandemic and damage caused by rain. 

"Considering also particularly, the awful tokens of God's righteous anger against us, especially, in the contagious sickness which has been in divers places of the land, and in the continued rains, by which great losses have been sustained, it becomes us to be deeply humbled before the Lord," Saltonstall wrote. "The Preservation of the British dominions from the raging pestilence, which has laid so many places waste, within their view, and neighborhood."

During his proclamation, he honored the British royal family, who controlled the colony of Connecticut.

"The smiles of Providence on the British Empire, and particularly, on our sovereign Lord the King, in the prosperity of his life and reign: On their royal highnesles the prince and princess of Wales, and and on all the branches of the Royal Family, not only, in their happy increase, by the birth of the royal Prince William Augustus, but, also, in the lives of others of them when in Hazard by Sickness, have been mercifully spared," Saltonstall wrote. 

Thanksgiving in CT amidst the Revolutionary War, food shortages and the introduction of celery
1779

Engraved portrait of Samuel Huntington, signer of the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation who served as the 7th President of the Continental Congress, 1868. From the New York Public Library. Note: Image has been digitally colorized using a modern process. Colors may not be period-accurate. (Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).

Engraved portrait of Samuel Huntington, signer of the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation who served as the 7th President of the Continental Congress, 1868. From the New York Public Library. Note: Image has been digitally colorized using a modern process. Colors may not be period-accurate. (Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress proclaimed Dec. 9, 1779, as a day of thanksgiving, according to the New England Historical Society. At the time, the president of Congress who made the proclamation was Samuel Huntington, who was born in Windham. Three years earlier, Huntington signed his name on the Declaration of Independence. 

The Dr. Simeon Smith family, who is related to Connecticut's 23rd governor John Cotton Smith, apparently celebrated Thanksgiving in Sharon during that year, according to the New England Historical Society.

Juliana Smith reportedly wrote a letter to her cousin, Betsey, detailing the event. Betsey allegedly copied the letter into a diary which was found by Helen Evertson Smith, who published it in "Colonial Days and Ways" in 1901. The New York Historical Society questioned the authenticity of the letter because the language seemed from the "20th century," but ultimately concluded that “we should probably give Smith the benefit of the doubt.”

The letter noted the lack of availability of some food, like cattle products, that had been sent to soldiers fighting in the war.

“Of course, we could have no roast beef,” the letter read. “None of us have tasted beef this three years back as it all must go to the army, and too little they get, poor fellows.”

However, the letter said that the family did have other meat to eat, including a deer  —  which was given to them by Nayquittymaw, a Native American  — a turkey, pork, a goose and two pigeon pasties, which is a stuffed crust filled with pigeon meat. The family enjoyed a variety of vegetables, including celery, which was considered new to the colonies at the time.

“Uncle Simeon imported the seed from England just before the war and this year there was enough for table use,” the letter read. “It is called [celery] and you eat it without cooking. It is very good served with meats.”

There was some dessert served, including boiled suet pudding, which was filled with dried plums and cherries. Guests were also given cider since wine had to be saved for the sick, according to the letter.

Photos show Thanksgiving in CT during World War II
1940

Mrs. T. M. Crouch, of Ledyard. Connecticut pouring some water over her twenty-pound turkey on Thanksgiving Day

Mrs. T. M. Crouch, of Ledyard. Connecticut pouring some water over her twenty-pound turkey on Thanksgiving Day

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives / contributed

The outbreak of World War II didn't stop Nutmeggers from celebrating Thanksgiving. The Crouch family was photographed gathering around a house in Ledyard in classic cars and enjoying their Thanksgiving feast by Works Progress Administration photographer Jack Delano in 1940.

Cars of various members of the Crouch family who have come together for the Thanksgiving dinner. 

Cars of various members of the Crouch family who have come together for the Thanksgiving dinner. 

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. / contributed

Mrs. T. M. Crouch was photographed preparing a 20-pound turkey and the family was also seen enjoying pumpkin pies.

Pumpkin pies.at the Crouch family Thanksgiving Day dinner in 1940. 

Pumpkin pies.at the Crouch family Thanksgiving Day dinner in 1940. 

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. / contributed

Food shortages became a problem in the United States during the war, since food was used to aid soldiers and the country's allies. Ultimately, in 1942, the government implemented a rationing system where Americans had to use government-issued coupons (along with money) to purchase items like meat and sugar, according to History.com. The coupons were meant to prevent hoarding and price gouging. 

Editor's note: This story was updated to differentiate between colonial days of thanks and the Thanksgiving holiday.