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NH State House 1852 Engraving

Do You remembers Fast Day? A day of fasting and prayer was common during provincial New Hampshire. As time progressed this day lost most of its original purpose, even so Fast Day continued as a state holiday until 1985.

The first Fast Day was proclaimed by the General Assembly of the Province of New Hampshire in 1681 when our state was under the rule of the king of England and it was continued for some 300 years. We remember a holiday on the 4th Monday of April where schools and businesses were closed, state and town offices were closed, and many state newspapers did not publish. As this was not a national holiday the postal system remained open. The observance of Fast Day in NH continued until 1985 at which time it became optional. By 1991 it ceased to exist when the NH Legislature adopted Civil Rights Day in January. Later in 1999, under the governorship o f Jeanne Shaheen, that holiday was changed to Martin Luther King Day.

To most the tradition meant a day off from work or the beginning of April vacation in our schools. To some it signaled the beginning of our state’s summer tourist season. Some with longer memories may remember it as a spring Thanksgiving – signaling the end of winter and expressing hope for a good planting for the new growing season. Let’s step back in time and look at the origin of Fast Day

John Cutt along with two brothers Robert and Richard immigrated to the NH province from Wales prior to 1646. John settled at Strawberry Bank which later became Portsmouth. He was a merchant and after settling in Portsmouth he acquired a large parcel of land, became a farmer and a mill-owner. The Cutt brothers came to America in order to seek their fortunes as opposed to religious freedom; they brought capital and expertise to the area and became leading merchants and ultimately some of the wealthiest men in the New Hampshire colony. In July 1662 John married Hannah Starr and they had several children. She passed November 1674 and was laid to rest In his orchard. He married a second time about 1675 to Ursula Cutt.

In 1679 when the Province of New Hampshire was separated from Massachusetts the king appointed John Cutt as president of the council of New Hampshire which consisted of the president along with three men appointed to assist him The provincial government consisted of the council and an assembly which included representatives of each of the towns in the province. This was an earlier version of our present Governor and Executive Council. Two years later President Cutt, then in his 60’s, became seriously ill. The council proclaimed a day of public fasting and prayer for March 17, 1681 on behalf of the popular Cutt in an effort to improve his health. These efforts were unsuccessful as Cutt passed about two weeks later. Through his will he made provision for a family cemetery in his orchard where he had buried his first wife Hannah and his deceased children. He was laid to rest in this family burial ground

The council decided to continue the practice of an annual fast day and within a year they passed a proclamation making it a permanent holiday. History tells us that fasting and prayer were common in the early colonial days as a way of helping with the problems of the times.

By the late 1800’s fast day had lost most of it’s original significance was gone. The states of Maine and Massachusetts which had celebrated Fast Day discontinued the holiday in favor of Patriots Day. In 1897 then Govenor of New Hampshire Ramsdell urged the legislature to likewise discontinue the holiday. Rather than abolish they passed legislation in 1899 to make it a legal state holiday. The date was flexible but it became customary for the governor to declare Fast Day as the last Thursday of April. This continued until 1949 when legislation established the fourth Monday of April as Fast Day. This provided state employees with a long weekend. It also became the time for the April school vacation.

Today New Hampshire’s unique holiday has passed into history. Perhaps the single reminder of it’s existence is the April school vacation schedule for on the 4th week in April as opposed to neighboring states which take their vacation during the week of Patriots Day.

This photo shows the State House in Concord. This is the oldest state house in the country in which the legislative body still occupies the original chambers.

Do You remembers Fast Day? A day of fasting and prayer was common during provincial New Hampshire. As time progressed this day lost most of its original purpose, even so Fast Day continued as a state holiday until 1985. The first Fast Day was proclaimed by the General Assembly of the Province of New Hampshire…

New Hampshire’s Missing Holiday: Fast Day

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.

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.

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]

New Hampshire’s Missing Holiday: Fast Day 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