J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

“A Day of Publick Thanksgiving” in 1771

By tradition, the royal governor of Massachusetts proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving in the province every autumn, usually in late November or early December.

(Governors sometimes also proclaimed Thanksgivings in response to military challenges or triumphs, but those special days didn’t replace the late-autumn holiday.)

On 23 Oct 1771, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson followed that ritual, announcing that 21 November would be a Thanksgiving. This was the first year he could issue that proclamation as governor rather than as lieutenant governor acting in the absence of a governor.

Hutchinson’s proclamation stated:
FORASMUCH as the frequent Religious Observance of Days of Publick Thanksgiving tends to excite and preserve in our Minds a due Sense of our Obligations to GOD, our daily Benefactor, the Mercies of whose common Providence are altogether unmerited by us.:

I HAVE therefore thought fit to appoint, and I do, with the Advice of His Majesty’s Council, appoint Thursday the Twenty-first day of November next, to be observed as a Day of Publick Thanksgiving throughout the Province, recommending to Ministers and People to assemble on that Day in the several Churches or Places for Religious Worship, and to offer up their humble and hearty Thanks to Almighty GOD, for all the Instances of his Goodness and Loving-kindness to us in the Course of the Year past; more especially for that He has been pleased to continue the Life and Health of our Sovereign Lord the KING—to increase His Illustrious Family by the Birth of a Prince—to succeed His Endeavours for preserving the Blessing of Peace to His Dominions, when threatned with the Judgment of War—to afford a good Measure of Health to the People of this Province----to continue to them their civil and religious Privileges—to enlarge and increase their Commerce----and to favour them with a remarkably plentiful Harvest.

AND I further recommend to the several Religious Assemblies aforesaid, to accompany their Thanksgivings with devout and fervent Prayers to the Giver of every good and perfect Gift, that we may be enabled to shew forth his Praise not only with our Lips, but in our Lives, by giving ourselves to his Service, and by walking before Him in Holiness and Righteousness all our Days.

AND all servile Labour is forbidden on the said Day.
That proclamation sparked a province-wide controversy with committees of protest, newspaper essays, ministers refusing to read the proclamation from their pulpits as written or being criticized by their congregations if they did.

Can you tell what was so controversial about Gov. Hutchinson’s wording?

TOMORROW: The offending phrase.

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