Thanksgiving Day is often considered the most “genealogical” of holidays. Generations of family members gather together, remembering stories and enjoying treasured food traditions. Those of us with Pilgrim ancestors often like to remember their connections to Plymouth Colony on this day. Indeed, Thanksgiving remained a most New England holiday well into the mid-nineteenth century, and it only took hold slowly and cautiously elsewhere in the United States.
     The first Thanksgiving was observed in Indiana on December 7, 1837, when Governor Noah Noble issued a proclamation for its observance. Fort Wayne was still a frontier town, and while some of its New England settlers remembered the way the holiday was observed in their former home, they found the experience to be very different here.
     A glimpse of the difference can be seen in the letters of Hugh McCulloch, a native of Maine who headed the Fort Wayne Branch of the Indiana State Bank, and his fiancée, Susan Man. The two had gotten engaged earlier that year, and Susan, a school teacher, had returned to her home at Plattsburgh, New York, to make plans for their wedding and to visit with her family. That year, Susan enjoyed a huge gathering with extended relatives, while Hugh attended a church service without mentioning any special meal or celebration. Susan wrote of her feast, “Genl. Moore, the aged Father & Uncle sat at the head of the table, and between 40 & 50 relatives were seated at the same table.” (Susan Man to Hugh McCulloch, 2 December 1837, McCulloch Papers, Lilly Library, Indiana University). She made no mention of the menu, but she added, “After we had dined, his grandchildren gathered around his chair and while one played on the accordeon [sic], the other sang Thanksgiving hymns & anthems.” 
    Hugh, in his reply weeks later, appreciated the spirit of Susan’s celebration. “There is something in that day observed as it is in New England & some parts of N. York, which excites in my mind peculiar interest. The uniting of families & friends who have long been separated, the good feeling & liberality which seems to fill every breast have ever made me regard it as the best day of the year.” (Hugh McCulloch to Susan Man, 31 December 1837). Not until 1863 did Indiana join other northern states in a coordinated observance of the holiday, and it was only after the Civil War that families regularly feasted on that day.
     May your Thanksgiving be a genealogical one.