Let's Learn From the Past: Pittsburgh's First Thanksgiving

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The Pilgrims celebrated what is commonly referred to as the "First Thanksgiving" in Plymouth, Mass., in 1621, but the first Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh wasn't observed for more than 130 years later.

During the French & Indian War, the area known today as the "Point" was a critical military stronghold due to its strategic location at the Forks of the Ohio.

By 1758, the French controlled Fort Duquesne after thwarting several attacks by the British.

Despite their victories, the French knew British forces would eventually return with a larger army, so they decided to strategically destroy Fort Duquesne by setting fire to it and fleeing before British Gen. John Forbes arrived to capture the site in November 1758.

Following the capture of Fort Duquesne, Forbes declared the following Sunday -- Nov. 26, 1758 -- "a day of public thanksgiving."

The Rev. Charles Beatty conducted the first Thanksgiving service in Pittsburgh. Nearly 5,000 soldiers, including Gen. George Washington, attended the sermon. Far from a turkey-filled feast, Beatty's sermon served as the highlight of Pittsburgh's first Thanksgiving due to the shortage of food at the destroyed fort.

Thirty-one years later, during his first year as president of the United States, Washington designated Nov. 26, 1789, as a day of thanksgiving and prayer.

It wasn't until Oct. 3, 1863 -- three months after the Battle of Gettysburg claimed 50,000 casualties during the Civil War -- that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday.

Visitors can learn more about the region's importance during the French & Indian War at the Fort Pitt Museum in Point State Park. Visitors to the Heinz History Center can also relive life in Pittsburgh in 1863 as part of the new exhibition, Pennsylvania's Civil War.

For more information: www.heinzhistorycenter.org.

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