Thanksgiving in Davenport, 1857

On November 26, 1857, the Right Reverend Henry Washington Lee, Bishop of the [Protestant Episcopal] Diocese of Iowa, delivered a Thanksgiving [1] sermon [2] at the recently-constructed St. Luke’s Church on 7th and Brady Streets in Davenport.

In “The True Elements of Civil Prosperty,” Lee bemoans the fact that “the tone of piety and morals in our city is far too low” and that “…people are too sordid, too much given up to mere delving for money, too little inclined to literary pursuits, too much engrossed by business, too regardless of the world to come.”

Speaking against a background of financial hardship brought upon by the Panic of 1857, he suggests that Davenporters’ economic difficulties are the result of their failure to behave according to Christian principles: “…[N]o city can be truly prosperous without maintaining a high standard of piety among the various classes and orders of its inhabitants.”

By way of a solution, Lee proposes that “[o]ur social entertainments should be more generally characterized by moderation and intellectual enjoyments rather than made occasions of ostentatious gaiety and excessive indulgence.” More importantly, he says, ministers must “elevate the tone of piety” and serve as examples to members of their congregations and Christians of every denomination should endeavor to spread the Word of the Gospel in the community. He especially hopes that the present generation will “create a moral atmosphere” in which the next may thrive, and that the the gift of religion will be passed onto Davenport’s children by their elders.

We wonder if any of the “goodly number of young fellows” who “enjoyed a pleasant hop [dance] at Bailey’s Hall on the evening of Thanksgiving Day” attended Bishop Lee’s sermon that morning? [3]

Happy Thanksgiving from the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center of the Davenport Public Library!

Please Note: All locations of the Davenport Public Library will be closed on Thursday, November 23rd and Friday, November 24th, 2023. Special Collections reopens at Main on Monday, November 26th.

(posted by Katie)


[1] Thanksgiving was first celebrated in Iowa (the Territory of) in 1844, long before President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation establishing a national holiday. See “The First Iowa Thanksgiving” by William J. Peterson in the November 1944 (Volume 25, Number 11) issue of the State Historical Society of Iowa’s publication The Palimpsest.

[2] Lee, Henry W. The True Elements of Civil Prosperity: a Sermon Delivered in St. Luke’s Church Davenport, Iowa, on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1857. Davenport, Iowa: Publishing House of Luse, Lane & Co., 1857. Call Number: SC CLOSED STACKS 283.777 LEE

[3] The Daily Iowa State Democrat (Davenport, Iowa), November 28, 1857, page 1.

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