Politics and Military

Giving Thanks for the Battle of Saratoga

The Continental Army’s victory at Saratoga prompted the young country to celebrate its first national Thanksgiving on Dec. 18, 1777.

Gen. Burgoyne's surrender.

Gen. Burgoyne’s surrender.

The Continental Congress, meeting in York, Pa., issued a proclamation written by Sam Adams. According to an obscure historical marker on York’s East Market Street, Adams advocated for the first time ‘one day of public Thanksgiving’ for all of the states after the Battle of Saratoga, ‘that with one heart and with one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts.’

There had actually been two battles of Saratoga – one on Sept. 19 and one on Oct. 7, 1777.  British General John Burgoyne had marched his troops from Quebec in an effort to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies. His army had gotten bogged down, and in August he lost 1,000 men at the Battle of Bennington to militia from New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

As Burgoyne’s army lost strength on the march south, the American military was gaining. More men were joining the militia because of the victory at Bennington and outrage over the alleged murder of a woman named Jane McCrea by Indians loyal to Burgoyne. Gen. George Washington had also sent reinforcements from New York and from his own army.  On September 7, Gen. Horatio Gates ordered his troops to march north toward Saratoga.

The first encounter on Sept. 19 was a victory of sorts for Burgoyne, as he gained the field of battle. But the victory had been costly. Nearly 600 British soldiers had been killed or injured, double the number of American casualties.

Meanwhile, Gen. Benjamin Lincoln and Col. John Brown had successfully attacked the British at Fort Ticonderoga. They freed prisoners of war and marched with them to the American position at Saratoga.

Gen. John Burgoyne

Gen. John Burgoyne

Burgoyne hoped for help from British troops in New York City, but they never arrived. Though some of his officers urged retreat, he insisted on attacking the Americans on Oct. 7. It didn’t go well for the British. They had lost 1,000 men in the two battles and were outnumbered 3-to-1. Burgoyne retreated to fortified positions north of the battlefield; within a week he was surrounded by Americans and on Oct. 17 he surrendered his army. Burgoyne returned to England and never again given command in the British Army. He did, however, write successful plays for the British stage.

The victory was a turning point in the war, as it persuaded France to enter the conflict as America’s ally.

Typically, colonies celebrated Thanksgiving on different days to celebrate a military victory or a bountiful harvest. If Dec. 18 seems awfully close to Christmas to be celebrating Thanksgiving, remember, they wouldn’t have celebrated Christmas, at least in New England.



  1. Molly Landrigan

    December 18, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    But was it President Lincoln that set the date?o

  2. Ken Bartlett

    December 18, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    Lincoln changed the date. It was originally in early fall, in line with the the harvest.

  3. Dana McPhee

    December 18, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    At the Battle of Saratoga Battle Site, there is a monument to a boot, with no name attached, honoring the American hero of Saratoga, who was wounded in the foot. No name was attached because the hero , one of the Patriot’s greatest, was Benedict Arnold, and who, after being treated unfairly, became the Patriot’s greatest traitor. I visited the site of his later home in London; he was hated by Americans but distrusted and ignored by the British in his later years…

  4. Pingback: How the Great Colchester Molasses Shortage Nearly Ruined Thanksgiving - New England Historical Society

  5. Pingback: Jane Macrae, Murdered on the Way to Her Loyalist Lover - New England Historical Society

  6. Pingback: Rhode Island’s Nathanael Greene – the Limping Quaker Who Won the Revolution - New England Historical Society

  7. Pingback: Black Kings and Governors of Early New England - New England Historical Society

  8. Pingback: The Strange Case of the Robert Schuyler Fraud of 1853 - New England Historical Society

  9. Pingback: A Black King of New England Wins His Freedom - New England Historical Society

  10. Pingback: Wentworth Cheswell, the Black Man Who Rode With Revere - New England Historical Society

  11. Pingback: At Half His Age, Sybil Ludington Rode Twice as Far as Paul Revere (But for the Same Reason) - New England Historical Society

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

To Top