First Prayer of the First Continental Congress
On September 1, 1774, British soldiers removed gunpowder and other military supplies in a surprise raid on a powder magazine near Boston. The First Continental Congress met Tuesday September 6, 1774 and the news that Boston was under attack had reached those in attendance. Congress, after some discussion, resolved to open the next day’s session with prayer.
Tuesday, September 6, 1774-Resolves, That the Rev. Mr. Duche be desired to open Congress tomorrow morning with prayer, at Carpenter’s Hall, at nine o’clock.
Wednesday, September 7, 1774, Agreeable to the resolve of yesterday, the meeting was opened with prayer by the Rev. Mr. Duche.
The Reverend Duche read Psalm 35 and then according to John Adams, broke into “extemporaneous” prayer:
“O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!
Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.
Reverend Jacob Duché
Rector of Christ Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
September 7, 1774, 9 o’clock a.m.”
John Adams in a letter to his wife described the scene:
“When the Congress first met, Mr. Cushing first made a motion that it should be opened with prayer. It was opposed by one or two, because we were so divided in religious sentiments-some were Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Ana-baptists, some Presbyterians, and some Congregationalists-that we could not agree in the same act of worship. Mr. Samuel Adams rose and said, `he was no bigot, and could hear a prayer from a gentleman of piety and virtue, who was at the same time a friend to his country. He was a stranger in Philadelphia, but had heard that Mr. Duche deserved that character, and therefore he moved that Mr. Duche, an Episcopalian clergy-man, might be desired to read prayers to the Congress to-morrow morning.' The motion was seconded, and passed in the affirmative. Mr. Randolph, our President, waited on Mr. Duche, and received for answer that if his health would permit he certainly would. Accordingly, next morning he appeared, with his clerk and in his pontificals, and read the collect for the seventh day of September, which was the thirty-first Psalm. You must re-member that this was the first morning after we heard the horrible rumor of the cannonade of Boston. I never saw a greater effect produced upon an audience. It seemed as if Heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that morning. It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here. I must beg you to read that Psalm.”
“After this," says Adams, "Mr. Duche, unexpectedly to every-body, struck out into an extemporaneous prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present. I must confess I never heard a better prayer, or one so well pronounced. Episcopalian as he is, Dr. Cooper himself never prayed with such fervor, such ardor, such earnestness and pathos, and in language so elegant and sublime, for America, for the Province of Massachusetts, and especially for the town of Boston."
Sources: Office of the Chaplain of th U.S. House of Representatives
Contributed by Kathryn Currier
posted May 5, 2010