1) The original Puritans that left England in the early 1600’s—some of them later referred to as Pilgrims—were a reformed movement seeking to rid Anglicanism of its Catholic influence. But the Puritans had every intention of setting up a more rigid religious society in the New World, excluding other religious faiths and even other Christian groups from their settlements (get help distinguishing between Puritans and Pilgrims).
2) America’s early Pilgrims likely ate duck and geese, not turkey, which was more difficult to hunt. The turkey only later became a symbol of bounty. Alexander Hamilton once quipped, “No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day,” and Benjamin Franklin declared the turkey to be a more “respectable bird” than the bald eagle, and “though a little vain & silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red coat on.” (source)
3) The first documented day of Thanksgiving observed throughout New England was in 1637, when both church and civil authorities celebrated the defeat of the Pequots Native Americans. Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. The famous meeting between the Plymouth Pilgrims and the Native American tribe the Pokanokets in 1621 was facilitated by the Pokanokets teaching the settlers how to plant corn, fish, and hunt beaver.
4) While it had early links to feasting, many religious leaders in New England initially called on the church to fast instead of feast on the day of Thanksgiving (source). Read more about the holiday’s original solemnity here.
5) Thanksgiving later became identified with romanticized ideals of returning home to visit extended family on the rural farm due to the country’s rapid industrialization in the 19th century.
6) Following the American Civil War, much of the South refused to observe Thanksgiving until after the Reconstruction era because the celebration was associated with a unified country. Many ministers also used the occasion to preach the abolition of slavery.
7) Football first became associated with Thanksgiving in 1876, when the Intercollegiate Football Association scheduled its first championship game on that day, with Yale and Princeton competing against one another. (source)
Read The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History by Robert Tracy McKenzie.