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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Friday, November 24, 2017

Publishing the 1771 Thanksgiving Proclamation

I’ve been considering Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s Thanksgiving proclamation in 1771, one of the many bones of contention in Revolutionary Boston. Hutchinson’s own account may have been accurate in the basics but it wasn’t in all details, so I’m doubling back into other sources, starting with the newspapers.

On 17 October the Boston News-Letter, the paper closest to the royal government, reported that Hutchinson would name 21 November as the holiday. The Monday papers, most in opposition to the governor or neutral, repeated that news. People wanted early notice to plan for the holiday.

Gov. Hutchinson didn’t issue his official proclamation until 23 October. He might well have been working on its text. Some people later said “ONE of the council” had proposed reinstating language from before 1761 about the province’s “civil and religious Rights and Liberties.” Harbottle Dorr wrote in his newspaper collection that this Councilor was “supposed to be Colo. [William] Brattle.”

In 1765 Brattle (shown above) had marched with Ebenezer Mackintosh against the Stamp Act. He was one of Gov. Francis Bernard’s biggest thorns on the Council. In the 1770s he moved closer to the royal prerogative party, eventually sealing his fate as a Loyalist by setting off the “Powder Alarm” of 1774. But in 1771 Brattle might have sincerely still felt he was a Whig and that his colleagues should be pleased by the new governor acknowledging traditional liberties in traditional phrasing. Hutchinson probably liked the idea of reestablishing normalcy.

The governor’s final text went to Richard Draper, the printer with the contract from the province and Council to issue such official announcements as broadsides. Draper also published the News-Letter, and the proclamation appeared in that newspaper on 24 October. The Boston Evening-Post, Boston Post-Boy, and Essex Gazette of Salem ran the text on their front pages the following week.

Notably, Gov. Hutchinson’s proclamation didn’t appear in Edes and Gill’s 28 October Boston Gazette or in either 24 October or 31 October issues of Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy. Those were the most radical newspapers in Boston. Their printers appear to have made a choice not to give any space to the governor’s proclamation.

Those newspapers ran another item of Council business instead—Hutchinson’s complaint about the Gazette publishing an essay by “Junius Americanus” (the Virginia-born London lobbyist Arthur Lee) that called province secretary Andrew Oliver a “perjured traitor.” The Spy also published another in a series of essays signed “Mucius Scaevola,” this one complaining about the governor, the Customs Commissioners, and Secretary of State Hillsborough all at once.

TOMORROW: The Whig objections to Gov. Hutchinson’s language.

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