Today, a typical Thanksgiving dinner includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. But at the first “Thanksgiving” meal in 1621, the Plymouth settlers and the Wampanoag ate venison and fowl, which did not necessarily include turkey. Since potatoes and cranberries were not crops that had been introduced in New England at the time, these were not on the original menu.
Turkey became a Thanksgiving staple after Sarah Jessica Hale's 17-year-long campaign to reintroduce the holiday. Hale published articles in her magazine, Godey's Lady Book, and wrote letters to governors and the presidents. President Lincoln picked up her idea in 1863, seeing it as a way to reunite the divided country during the Civil War. Hale had described a Thanksgiving dinner in her 1827 novel, Northwood: A Tale of New England, and published recipes for the same dishes, including roast turkey and stuffing, and pumpkin pie in The Good Housekeeper, Or the Way to Live Well, and to be Well While We Live (1839).