Days of Reflection: proclamations on view at the Old State House

Last year, we marked Thanksgiving by highlighting a special item from our archival collection - a Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, issued by Governor John Hancock in November of 1783. This year, that proclamation is temporarily on display in the Old State House. It is paired with a Proclamation for a Day of Public Fasting and Prayer, also from 1783. Both of these proclamations were issued by Governor Hancock from the Council Chamber of the Old State House, just a few feet away from where they are currently on display.

A Proclamation for a Day of Public Fast and Prayer, 1783
MS0119/Doc. 394.26 H2343

I have previously written about the Thanksgiving proclamation but it is important to point out that the "Thanksgiving" it references differs from the holiday we know today. In 1783 Thanksgiving was not yet a nationally or a federally celebrated holiday. Instead, the governors of individual colonies would declare days of thanksgiving for various reasons, such a bountiful harvest or the successful completion of a significant event. Even though the exact function of the Thanksgiving proclamation is different from what we know today, we can connect to its intention. The proclamation urged citizens to assemble together and celebrate their blessings, which is something that many of us do this time of year.

Detail of MS0119/Doc. 394.26 H2343

It can be a bit harder for us to draw a connection to a proclamation for a day of fasting and prayer, especially in November and December, when many of us are doing the opposite of fasting. But the Proclamation for a Day of Public Fasting and Prayer is displayed with the Thanksgiving proclamation because the two have similar roots. Historically, days of fasting were typically set in the spring and summer, and days of thanksgiving were set in fall. During the Revolutionary War, the colonies set days of fasting and prayer throughout the year as a means of protest against the British. While similar to days of thanksgiving, a day of fasting called for more somber reflection and set aside a day for religious worship and abstaining from labor and recreation. The proclamation called for citizens to humble themselves, confess their sins, and implore forgiveness.

If you are in the Boston area, be sure to stop by the Old State House to take a close look at these two documents. And we hope you enjoy your day of Thanksgiving, but in moderation so you don't feel like celebrating a day of fasting afterward!