1976: 'Pilgrim-style' Thanksgiving Day service

Members of the First Congregational Church in Dubuque dress as Plymouth Colony settlers during a “Pilgrim-style” Thanksgiving Day service on Nov. 24, 1976, at the church.

One of Dubuque’s oldest churches celebrated Thanksgiving in a unique way 45 years ago.

Parishioners of Dubuque’s First Congregational Church dressed as Pilgrims during a Thanksgiving service in November 1976.

Congregational churches founded by the Pilgrims and other spiritual reformers in the 1600s spread rapidly through New England and then westward. The Rev. James A. Clark, hired by the Congregational Home Mission Society, organized the first Congregational church in 1839 for Dubuque settlers. The cornerstone for the present church on 10th Street was laid in 1856, and the church was dedicated in 1860.

Here is how the Telegraph Herald reported on the special service in its Nov. 24, 1976, edition.


Parishioners dressed like Pilgrims for the Thanksgiving service at Dubuque’s First Congregational Church.

Men with blunderbusses stood sentry outside the church on 10th Street. And inside, men, women and children wore clothing reminiscent of the Pilgrims’ attire in 1620.

The Rev. Elmer Baker, the church’s pastor, said about 40 members of the congregation, including the choir, dressed like Plymouth Colony settlers for the second annual Pilgrim-style Thanksgiving service.

“We are celebrating our heritage — our Congregational Church heritage — which extends to the Pilgrims,” Baker said.

Dubuque’s First Congregational Church, which was formed in 1839, is a direct descendant of the church founded by the Pilgrims, Baker said.

The austere customs of the Pilgrims — who were among the first to follow the Protestant Ethic — weren’t apparent at the Dubuque church service.

But an old pair of cloth pouches on sticks, once used to collect the offering, were put into use again. And the Rev. Hatty Duncan read the congregation a portion of the first Thanksgiving proclamation made by George Washington in 1789.

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