New Hampshire’s Missing Holiday: Fast Day

Fast Day notice in the New Hampshire Gazette newspaper April 1, 1797

Fast Day notice in the New Hampshire Gazette newspaper April 1, 1797

Back in 1991 the New Hampshire Legislature abolished a New Hampshire holiday that had been celebrated for 310 years. In its stead was created a new holiday, Civil Rights Day (Chapter 206, Laws of 1991). This action was taken in order to avoid the expense of a new holiday for both State and private employers.

It was not until 1999 that New Hampshire approved a bill to change this holiday to “Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” with Gov. Jeanne Shaheen signing it into law. (New Hampshire was the last State to have this holiday observed in King’s name.)

—NH’s Fast Day History—
New Hampshire’s first recorded proclamation for a fast day was held early in 1680, when  the General Assembly asked God to “bless us with peace and prosperitie….” Another fast day was held in 1681 when John Cutt, President of the New Hampshire Council fell ill.

In addition an earlier sighting of a “blazing star” (comet) was considered a sign of “divine displeasure.”  (In November/December of 1680, and also possibly in January of 1681, a comet was observed in the sky). The day of March 17, 1681 was declared a “day of public fasting and prayer.”

The fasting and prayer appears to have been unsuccessful, as John Cutt died April 1, 1681. In addition a second comet (Halley’s) was observed in December of 1682. Such days of fasting and prayer continued in the American colonies.

Constitutionalist newspaper (Exeter NH) on Sept 21, 1813 showing President Madison's fast day proclamation.

Constitutionalist newspaper (Exeter NH) on Sept 21, 1813 showing President Madison’s fast day proclamation.

Massachusetts declared “Patriot’s Day” as a substitute for that state’s fast day in 1894. Other states either abolished Fast Day or substituted it with another. New Hampshire’s governor usually designated a day in April as Fast Day, and this custom was continued by the New Hampshire legislature. New Hampshire was the last state to maintain Fast Day as a legal holiday.

It was not only the individual states who proclaimed such days.  National fast days of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer” were proclaimed by Congress at least twice a year throughout the American Revolution, and later. [See example of 1779 Proclamation]


**Additional Reading**

NH Fast Day

NH’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Didn’t Happen Without A Fight

Originally written: 2008
Updated: 14 January 2016 and 26 April 2021

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