Postscript on York Thanksgiving Proclamation
One reason that historical research is so intriguing is because the facts may be objective and verifiable but the interpretation is subjective, influenced by the perspective of the interpreter.
Even the “facts” themselves might not be a factual as you think. The first rule in research is to use as many primary sources as you can. A primary source is usually defined as a document or other evidence, either contemporary with what you are researching or created by someone involved in the event. The same event, however, is often recorded differently by different eyewitnesses, and an involved individual’s perceptions of events can change as time passes.
History is being rewritten all the time. Sometimes it is because new primary sources come to light. More often, it is reinterpretation of an event, which is influenced by the perceptions and biases of the writer. And that’s o.k. It doesn’t make it right or wrong, as long as verifiable facts aren’t changed. New insights may be gained, but that doesn’t make the older texts wrong either if they differ.
Whether or not the proclamation issued by Continental Congress in York on November 1, 1777 was the First National Thanksgiving Proclamation is a case in point.
I think the evidence shows that it was, as I stated in my recent blog and York Sunday News column. My friend, Jim McClure, doesn’t put as much weight on the claim, as he discusses in his recent blog. As Jim points out, there isn’t a lot of consensus on the subject.
Click here for my Thanksgiving blog and column.
Click here for Jim McClure’s Thanksgiving blog.
I found, after a lengthy internet search, that the 1777 proclamation comes up often, but not as much as the proclamation by George Washington on October 3, 1789, designating November 26, 1789 as a day of thanksgiving. That would have been the first one proclaimed under the U.S. Constitution.
On the other hand, journalist and author Ira Stoll, did a piece in last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal agreeing that the York Town 1777 proclamation was the first national one.
Click her to read Ira Stoll’s article.
Author Penny Colman emailed me that she included the 1777 proclamation in her new book on Thanksgiving, and included a link to my blog post in her blog. She didn’t mention whether she thought the 1777 event was the First National Thanksgiving, so I guess I’ll have to read her book.
Click here for Penny Colman’s blog.
What about the previous days of prayer and fasting proclaimed by Continental Congress in 1775 and 1776? Could they be construed as thanksgivings? I personally don’t think so. I see them more as a contrite plea for help from the Almighty, issued when the patriots didn’t have much for which to be thankful.
You can read the earlier proclamations yourself, and form your own opinion. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, it is so much easier now to research history because of all the original documents online. The Library of Congress American Memory site, from which I pulled the links below, is a great source.
To see the 1775 excerpt from the Journals of Congress click here.
To read the 1776 document click here.
Finally, click here to see the 1777 document proclaimed in York.
I hope these few examples inspire you to explore the vast historical resources available both in print and online. It is a fascinating experience.