Late in June of 1783, Governor Alexander Martin of the newly elected state of North Carolina, at the urging of the legislature, issued a proclamation stating that July 4 should be celebrated as a “Day of Thanksgiving and Peace.”
The proclamation read, “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.”
The Moravians were an industrious, inventive, highly organized, devout people who valued education for all. Their way of life can be observed today at a living museum called Old Salem.
They also had a strong pacifist tradition, dating to their founding amid the religious struggles of the 15th century as a “peace church.” Members were forbidden to serve in the military. They lived by the teachings in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.
The Moravians kept detailed records and diaries of each day in their community, and these words commemorate that day in 1783.
“According to the order of the government of this State we celebrated a day of thanksgiving for the restoration of peace. The congregation was awakened by the trombonists.
At the beginning of the preaching service the Te Deum was sung, with trombone accompaniment.
The Watch-Word for January 20th, the day on which the Peace Preliminaries were signed, was: The God of Jacob is our refuge, which was preached by Br. Benzien. The service closed with the singing of: Glory to God in the highest.
At two o’clock there was a happy love feast, during which a Psalm of Joy was sung with thankful hearts.
In the evening at eight o’clock the congregation again assembled in the Saal, and the choir sang: Praise be to Thee, Who sittest above the cherubim.
Then the congregation formed a circle in from the Gemeinhaus, and from there passed in procession through the main street of the town,with music and the antiphonal song of two choirs. The street was illuminated. Returning to the Gemein Haus the congregation again formed a circle, and with the blessing of the Lord was dismissed to rest.
Hearts were filled with the peace of God, evident during the entire day and especially during the procession, and all around there was silence, even the wind being still.” (from Records of the Moravians in North Carolina)
The Love Feast, a Moravian tradition that is more a celebration of community than a sacrament, was a regular part of this community. The simple meal included coffee heavy with cream and sugar, plus a sweet bun.
The log Gemenhaus, built in 1756, burned and was rebuilt in 1788.
The church, call the “Gemeinhaus” even in the earliest records of the community of Bethabara, served as a residence for the minister and other church workers and had a “Saal” – a “meeting hall” – for the congregation; the most accepted translation of “Gemeinhaus” being “congregation house.”
Moravians believe in the clear word of God;“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.” Lamentations 3:22,23 The first printed edition of the Daily Texts (Losungen) was published in Herrnhut, Saxony, in 1731. The title page of that edition quoted this passage from Lamentations and promised a daily message from God that would be new every morning.
For each of the 365 days in the year, they read from the Daily Texts that give them a specific Word/watchword for the day and a doctrinal response.
During the crucial days of the Revolution, the German-language edition was printed in Philadelphia by Heinrich Miller, who had worked for Benjamin Franklin when he first came to America. The daily text for July 4, 1776, was from Isaiah 55:5-“Behold, you shall call nations that you know not, and nations that knew you not shall run to you” (RSV).
This all-day celebration is the first one documented in our country, and this is still reenacted today in Old Salem.
Several years ago, John and I participated in the walk around the square on July 4. Just like in the year of 1783, there was singing thankfully of the day we celebrated. As I look forward to July 4, 2016, I am truly grateful to be an American. Learning about the lives of those that fought for our country during the Revolutionary War, I am amazed at their courage and perseverance to battle against England; they were fearless.
Happy Fourth of July!