As Governors’ Records Archivist, I often get unusual reference requests or uncover interesting document finds. Recently in commemoration of the Fourth of July, a patron contacted me requesting a copy of a proclamation issued by Governor Alexander Martin in 1783 declaring the Fourth of July as a day of thanksgiving. After researching Governor Martin’s letterbooks and the General Assembly Session records, a copy of the resolution made by the General Assembly on May 16, 1783 was located. It reads as follows:
North Carolina, In the House of Commons 16 May 1783
Resolved that the fourth Day of July, be and is hereby appointed a Day of General Thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God for the gratious Interposition of divine providence in behalf of this Nation: that it hath pleased him to deliver us from the Calamities of War, and Crown our wishes with the Blessings of peace; and that His Excellency the Governor notify the same by Proclamation.
Edward Starkey Sp
By order J. Hunt Cl &c
Genl. Thanksgiving, By Order
J. Haywood Cl.
In Senate 16th May 1783, Concurred with
Rd Caswell Sp
[Source: State Archives of North Carolina, General Assembly Session Records, April-May, 1783, Box 1, Folder: House Joint Resolutions, May 1-17, May 16, 1783, Fourth of July to be designated a day of general thanksgiving.]
While the resolution of the General Assembly mentions a proclamation by the Governor, the original proclamation itself issued by Governor Alexander Martin is not among the holdings of the State Archives of North Carolina. Rather, it was discovered that the original document dated June 18, 1783 is among the holdings of the Salem Archives. Fortunately, a transcription of the proclamation is published in Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, Volumes IV, 1780-1783, pp. 1919-1920 edited by Adelaide L. Fries, and published by the North Carolina Historical Commision in 1930. The proclamation reads as follows:
By his Excellency Alexander Martin Esquire Captain General and Commander in chief of the State aforesaid.
Whereas the honorable the General Assembly have by a Resolution of both Houses recommended to me to appoint Friday the Fourth of July next being the anniversary of the declaration of the American Independence, as a Day of Solemn Thanksgiving to Almighty God, for the many most gracious interpositions of his providence manifested in a great & signal manner in behalf of these United States, during their conflict with one of the first powers of Europe: – For rescuing them in the Day of Distress from Tyranny & oppression, and supporting them with the aid of great & powerful allies: – For conducting them gloriously and triumphantly through a just and necessary War, and putting an end to the calamities thereof by the restoration of Peace, after humbling the pride of our enemies and compelling them to acknowledge the Sovreignty and Independence of the American Empire, and relinquish all right & claim to the same: – For raising up a distressed and Injured People to rank among independent Nations and the sovreign powers of the world. And for all other Divine favors bestowed on the Inhabitants of the United States & this in particular.
In conformity to the pious intentions of the Legislature I have thought proper to issue this my Proclamation directing that the said 4th Day of July next be observed as above, hereby strictly commanding and enjoining all Good Citizens of this State to set apart the said Day from bodily labour, and employ the same in devout and religious exercises. And I do require all Ministers of the Gospel of every Denomination to convene their congregations at the same time, and deliver to them Discourses suitable to the important Occasion, recommending in general the Practice of Virtue & true Religion, as the great foundation of private Blessings as well as National happiness & prosperity.
Given under my Hand & the great Seal of the State at Danbury the 18th Day of June in the Year 1783 & seventh Year of the Independence of the said State.
By his Excellencys Commande, God save the State
P. Henderson Pro Sec.
This document is North Carolina’s first official commemoration of Independence day, and is thought to be the first such proclamation declared by a US Governor.