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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Monday, November 27, 2017

The Governor’s Thanksgiving Proclamation as a “solemn mockery”

By law, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s Thanksgiving proclamation for 1771 was supposed to be read out by the ministers of all the meetinghouses in Massachusetts.

That’s why the colony commissioned Richard Draper to print the proclamation in broadside. Those sheets were distributed across the province. The four weeks between the proclamation and the holiday left time for the announcement to reach the far corners of British settlement.

Those weeks also gave the Whigs time to organize resistance. As I noted last week, the first sign of opposition was Boston’s most radical newspapers not printing the governor’s proclamation. But the real battleground would be in the province’s pulpits.

On 7 November, Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy carried the Whigs’ message to congregations inside Boston and out:
We are informed that the ensuing Thanksgiving affords matter of more serious thought, and general conversation than any thing of the king that has yet happened in New-England. Is it not amazing indeed, that the Governor should recommend it to the ministers and their congregations to return thanks to Almighty God, that he has been pleased to continue to them their civil and religious privileges?

It is said some of the clergy have already come to a resolution to leave out that extraordinary clause, as they cannot in conscience carry on such a solemn mockery before their people; and many gentlemen of character have declared, that in case their ministers should read it as it stands in the proclamation, they will immediately depart the meeting.

It is full time to put off that false and dangerous compliance, which can only encourage our enemies to make farther experiments of what we will bear.

We can assure the public, that a number of the members of one of the Worshiping Assemblies in this town, waited upon their Reverend Pastor yesterday,…and that their minister expressed his hearty concurrence with them in sentiment, and declared that he should omit reading the Proclamation.

A second reverend clergyman has declared, that it is against his conscience to offer up such an insult to the Deity, and shall therefore read no part of the proclamation.

We have authority to say that a number of the Rev. Pastors of the CHURCHES in this town, are determined, not to offer up on the day of our Thanksgiving, the solemn mockery recommended to them by Mr. Hutchinson in his proclamation, “for continuing to us our civil and religious privileges” which he well knows are RAVISHED from us.

It is hoped the Clergy in the country will follow the laudable example. The favours of providence are innumerable, and it is among the first of them that we unanimously agree, to resist TYRANNY. Let us be unfeignedly thankfull for them all, and in sincerity express it on that day.
The Boston Whigs of course had the most influence in Boston and nearby, and the merchants in Massachusetts’s smaller ports shared many interests with the Bostonians. But most of the province still consisted of country farming towns, and they had never been as militant about London’s new measures.

TOMORROW: How well did that campaign work?

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