Friday, November 19, 2010

A Thanksgiving Proclamation by William Dummer

While Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor, William Dummer issued three Thanksgiving Proclamations--the first in 1723--which is arguably the oldest proclamation to set the holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. Various sources indicate that Thanksgiving Proclamations had been issued prior to this date. Perhaps the most commonly cited example is that of the proclamation issued by the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts on June 20, 1676. This Thanksgiving proclamation identified June 29, 1676 as a day of "Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God's Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lod may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being perswaded [sic] by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and soulds [sic] as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ."

Such proclamations, extoling the virtues of being thankful and praising God, were not uncommon through the 17th and 18th centuries, but the date of the first official proclamation to set the date as the last Thursday in November may in fact be the 1723 Thanksgiving Proclamation by William Dummer. The December 1939 issue of The Archon includes an image of this proclamation with the note that, "To ascertain the authenticity of the proclamation considerable research was done. With the aid of Mr. Charles Taylor, Jr., one of the Trustees of the Academy, the document was checked upon by the Archives Division of the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth and by the Massachusetts Historical Society. It was finally established that, not only is the document authentic, but that [Acting] Governor Dummer issued three others between 1723 and 1726."

The text of this proclamation can be read above, but the original document is housed in the Pilgrim Hall Museum at Plymouth, Massachusetts.