Thomas Jefferson Papers

Resolution of the House of Burgesses Designating a Day of Fasting and Prayer, 24 May 1774

Resolution of the House of Burgesses Designating a Day of Fasting and Prayer

This House being deeply impressed with Apprehension of the great Dangers to be derived to British America, from the hostile Invasion of the City of Boston, in our Sister Colony of Massachusetts Bay, whose Commerce and Harbour are on the 1st Day of June next to be stopped by an armed Force, deem it highly necessary that the said first Day of June be set apart by the Members of this House as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer, devoutly to implore the divine Interposition for averting the heavy Calamity, which threatens Destruction to our civil Rights, and the Evils of civil War; to give us one Heart and one Mind firmly to oppose, by all just and proper Means, every Injury to American Rights, and that the Minds of his Majesty and his Parliament may be inspired from above with Wisdom, Moderation, and Justice, to remove from the loyal People of America all Cause of Danger from a continued Pursuit of Measures pregnant with their Ruin.

Ordered, therefore, that the Members of this House do attend in their Places at the Hour of ten in the Forenoon, on the said 1st Day of June next, in Order to proceed with the Speaker and the Mace to the Church in this City for the Purposes aforesaid; and that the Reverend Mr. Price be appointed to read Prayers, and the Reverend Mr. Gwatkin to preach a Sermon suitable to the Occasion.

Ordered, that this Order be forthwith printed and published. By the House of Burgesses.

george wythe, c. h. b.

Broadside (MHi: Washburn Papers.) Docketed at foot of text: “This Occasioned the dissolution. E. P. [Edmund Pendleton].” A copy now in NN, identical in text, was sent to Connecticut in a letter of 28 May (also NN) signed by Randolph, Nicholas, and Digges (the Committee of Correspondence). The entries for this broadside in the standard bibliographies are confusing, to say the least. Evans’ entry, No. 13746, is correct but gives no location and adds, in brackets, the imprint “Williamsburg: Printed by Clementina Rind, 1774.” There is no clear evidence that Mrs. Rind, rather than her competitors, Purdie & Dixon, printed this broadside. Clayton-Torrence description begins William Clayton-Torrence, A Trial Bibliography of Colonial Virginia (1754–1776); printed as part of Virginia State Library, Sixth Report, 1909 description ends , No. 416, copies Evans’ entry, omitting the brackets around the assigned imprint, and then subjoins another entry, No. 417, which is correct, adding the Rind imprint in brackets. Sabin, description begins Joseph Sabin and others, Bibliotheca Americana. A Dictionary of Books Relating to America description ends No. 99926, condenses Clayton-Torrence description begins William Clayton-Torrence, A Trial Bibliography of Colonial Virginia (1754–1776); printed as part of Virginia State Library, Sixth Report, 1909 description ends ’s two entries but gives the imprint without brackets. The Fast-Day Proclamation was also printed in Rind’s and in Purdie & Dixon’s Virginia Gazette in their issues dated 26 May 1774; but since there is unquestionable evidence that neither paper was printed before the 27th or 28th, there can be no doubt that Governor Dunmore referred to the broadside printing when, on 26 May, he summoned the burgesses to the council room and thus addressed them:

“I have in my hand a Paper published by Order of your House, conceived in such Terms as reflect highly upon his Majesty and the Parliament of Great Britain; which makes it necessary for me to dissolve you; and you are dissolved accordingly” (JHB description begins Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1619–1776, Richmond, 1905–1915 description ends , 1773–1776, p. 132).

The news of the passage of the Boston Port Act had reached Williamsburg before 19 May (see both Virginia Gazettes for that date). In his Autobiography, TJ tells of his part in drafting the Fast-Day Resolution:

“The lead in the house on these subjects being no longer left to the old members, Mr. Henry, R. H. Lee, Fr. L. Lee, 3. or 4. other members, whom I do not recollect, and myself, agreeing that we must boldly take an unequivocal stand in the line with Massachusetts, determined to meet and consult on the proper measures in the council chamber, for the benefit of the library in that room. We were under conviction of the necessity of arousing our people from the lethargy into which they had fallen as to passing events; and thought that the appointment of a day of general fasting and prayer would be most likely to call up and alarm their attention. No example of such a solemnity had existed since the days of our distresses in the war of 55. since which a new generation had grown up. With the help therefore of Rushworth, whom we rummaged over for the revolutionary precedents and forms of the Puritans of that day, preserved by him, we cooked up a resolution, somewhat modernizing their phrases, for appointing the 1st day of June, on which the Port bill was to commence, for a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, to implore heaven to avert from us the evils of civil war, to inspire us with firmness in support of our rights, and to turn the hearts of the King and parliament to moderation and justice. To give greater emphasis to our proposition, we agreed to wait the next morning on Mr. Nicholas, whose grave and religious character was more in unison with the tone of our resolution and to solicit him to move it. We accordingly went to him in the morning. He moved it the same day; the 1st of June was proposed and it passed without opposition” (Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, “Letterpress Edition,” N.Y., 1892–1899 description ends i, 9–11).

For the probable model of the Fast-Day Resolution “cooked up” by the radical clique, see John Rushworth, Historical Collections, London, 1659–1701, i, pt. iii, p. 494 (a proclamation by Charles I in 1642); and also p. 29. The Burgesses’ Resolution, which signified an open break with royal authority, also precipitated a battle of pamphlets in Virginia. Considerations on the Present State of Virginia, 1774, without place or publisher’s name but doubtless the work of Attorney General John Randolph, is a persuasive statement of loyalist views. It was answered in Considerations on the Present State of Virginia Examined, 1774, also without place or publisher’s name but known to be the work of the Treasurer, Robert Carter Nicholas, who had introduced the Resolution. The Fast Sermon at Bruton Church was delivered by Thomas Price, since, according to Lord Dunmore, Mr. Gwatkin “civilly but with firmness declined being employed for such a purpose” (Dunmore to Lord Dartmouth, 6 June 1774; Hansard, Parl. Hist., xviii, 137–8). Under the title of The Doctrine of a Providence Considered, it was advertised as to be published (Va. Gaz. [P & D description begins Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, 1751–1780, and Richmond, 1780–1781). Abbreviations for publishers of the several newspapers of this name, frequently published concurrently, include the following: C & D (Clarkson & Davis), D & H (Dixon & Hunter), D & N (Dixon & Nicolson), P & D (Purdie & Dixon). In all other cases the publisher’s name is not abbreviated. description ends ], 16 June 1774), but no copies are recorded. Attention should be called, finally, to a point omitted in TJ’s Autobiography. In sending a copy of the Fast-Day Resolution to George William Fairfax, 10 June 1774, George Washington said that “this Dissolution was as sudden as unexpected for there were other resolves of a much more spirited nature ready to be offered to the House wch. would have been unanimously adopted respecting the Boston Port Bill as it is calld but were withheld till the Important business of the Country could be gone through” (Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, iii, 223). R. H. Lee, in a letter of 23 June to Samuel Adams, stated that the “more spirited” resolves included a denunciation of the Port Act as “a most violent and dangerous attempt to destroy the constitutional liberty of and rights of all North America” and a proposal that deputies be appointed to meet in an intercolonial congress (Letters, i, 111; see also R. H. Lee to Arthur Lee, 26 June, same, p. 114–18). The Fast-Day Resolution of 24 May 1774 is the first in a series of closely related printed and MS documents climaxed by TJ’s Summary View and illustrating the rapid course of the Revolutionary movement in Virginia in the summer of 1774. These have never before been brought together in sequence. Somewhat fuller annotation than usual has been given them in order to show their relations and to provide a background for the Summary View.

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