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History on display: Mass. State Library showcases historical Thanksgiving proclamations
History on display: Mass. State Library showcases historical Thanksgiving proclamations
History on display: Mass. State Library showcases historical Thanksgiving proclamations

Published on: 11/20/2023


BOSTON — Beneath the golden dome of the Massachusetts Statehouse lives a plethora of Thanksgiving history, including the 1783 Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer issued by then Gov. John Hancock.

The proclamation is just one of 112 Thanksgiving-themed documents housed within the collection of the Massachusetts State Library. Issued on Nov. 8, 1783, the document was distributed across the state to inform the public of the Thanksgiving holiday, which was set for Dec. 11.

"Though this 18th-century day of Thanksgiving is different from the holiday that we celebrate today, the proclamation urges citizens to “assemble to celebrate with grateful hearts and united voices,” a sentiment that continues today, much as it did well over two hundred years ago," Elizabeth Roscio, the state preservation librarian, said.

The year 1783 was a busy one for the United States, as the Revolutionary War came to an end with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in September. It was then that Congress pushed for all 13 states to establish a day of Thanksgiving and prayer.

While each state took liberties with the language of the proclamation, Massachusetts' version reads, "that he [creator] hath been pleased to conduct us in safety through all the perils and vicissitudes of the war; that he hath given us unanimity and resolution to adhere to our just rights; that he hath raised up a powerful ally to assist us in supporting them, and hath so far crowned our united efforts with success, that in the course of the present year hostilities have ceased, and we are left in the undisputed possession of our liberties and independence.”

Several early American presidents – including George Washington, John Adams and James Madison – issued proclamations for Thanksgiving, but the holiday wasn't established as a federal holiday until 1863, during Abraham Lincoln's presidency and amid the Civil War.

Even then, it was nearly another eight decades before President Franklin D. Roosevelt solidified the holiday as the last Thursday of November.

The State Library currently has several Thanksgiving proclamations on display through Dec. 1, as well as digital versions on their website. Just a reminder, the library will be closed on Thanksgiving day.

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