Noah Noble, Calvin Fletcher, and Indiana’s First Official Thanksgiving

Days of Thanksgiving, often celebrated at the time of harvest, have been a tradition across many religions as far back as history records. Regular Days of Thanksgiving were practiced in England long before the event that Americans commonly call the “first Thanksgiving” was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in October 1621. This feast lasted three days and was attended by 90 Native American Wampanoag people and 53 survivors of the Mayflower (Pilgrims).

As President, George Washington proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving for November 26, 1789, and by the 1820s, several states had declared a statewide Thanksgiving Day. Efforts began in 1827 to make it a regular national holiday, efforts that took decades to become a reality even after President Lincoln proclaimed a National Day of Thanksgiving during the Civil War in 1863.

It was on November 1, 1837, that Governor Noah Noble issued a proclamation to mark Indiana’s first official Thanksgiving Day. “Whereas, it has been represented that it is the desire of the religious community to set apart a day during the present year, to be observed as a day of General Thanksgiving, Therefore know ye, that in obedience to the said request, I, Noah Noble; Governor of the State of Indiana, do hereby appoint the first Thursday in December next, as a day of public thanksgiving to ALMIGHTY GOD for his special blessing on the fruits of the earth, and the measure of health enjoyed throughout our State; and do respectfully request the members of the several churches, and all others to join in its observance.”

Calvin Fletcher notes in his diary on Thursday, December 7, 1837, that he and his wife Sarah hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for 17 friends and family (Vol. 1, pp. 466-467). He also records that, “At night a large and respectable meeting was held at Methodist Episcopal Church for the benefit of the poor in which all the churches joined. This I view as a happy day. All the stores were shut & Indianapolis was in great harmony.”

The great harmony around Thanksgiving Day that made Calvin Fletcher so happy in 1837 continues today, perhaps most notably in the Mozel Sanders Thanksgiving Dinners. What Reverend Sanders started in 1974 in the basement of the Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church he pastored, serving Thanksgiving dinners to 20 people, has grown into a community-wide effort that now serves thousands of meals across Marion County, prepared and distributed by 2,000 volunteers.

Biographical Notes:
Noah Noble (1794 –1844) was Indiana’s fifth governor, serving two terms from 1831-1837. Born in Virginia, one of 14 children, and growing up in Kentucky, he followed his older brother James to Brookville, Indiana, around 1811. (James Noble became Indiana’s first U.S. Senator and is the namesake of Noblesville.) After a series of political posts in the 1820s, Noah Noble was elected governor in 1831. It was during Noble’s administration that a state bank was created, and an internal improvements program was begun. Noble, who longed to succeed his brother in the Senate, was a candidate in 1836 and 1838 but was defeated in both elections. He continued in public office, however, as a member of the State Board of Internal Improvement from 1839 to 1841 and as a fund commissioner from 1841 until 1842.

Noble and his wife were well known for their lavish hospitality, entertaining public figures frequently. Oliver H. Smith, his opponent in the senatorial race, described Noble as “tall and slim, his constitution delicate, his smile winning, his voice feeble, the squeeze of his hand irresistible.”

Noble died in 1844 at the age of 50 in Indianapolis and was buried in Greenlawn Cemetery just outside the southwest corner of the city. His remains were moved to Crown Hill on July 14, 1874, and were buried next to his wife Catharine, who died on July 12, 1874.

Location: Section 1, Lot 13; GPS (39.8197808,-86.1736682)

Calvin Fletcher (1798 – 1866) was one of the city’s leading citizens for its first 40 years. His extensive diary is one of the best sources of the early history of Indianapolis.

Location: Section 7, Lot 4; GPS (39.8207577,-86.1748920)

Reverend Mozel Sanders (1924 – 1988) was a pastor and founder of the Mozel Sanders Thanksgiving Dinner.

Location: Community Mausoleum, Aisle 2-A, Crypt D-13; GPS (39.8275719,-86.1730510)