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The Thanksgiving Address, 1861

Wed, 11/27/2019 - 12:18

Item of the Week From the East Hampton’s Library Long Island Collection

In April 1861, upon the Confederacy’s firing on Fort Sumter, S.C., East Hampton and its young men immediately rallied. A month later, a large liberty pole was set in the middle of the street, during the raising of which the Rev. Stephen L. Mershon of the Presbyterian church here was one of the fervent speakers.

On Nov. 28, 1861, the first Thanksgiving of what was expected to be a short-lived rebellion, Reverend Mershon delivered a powerful, patriotic sermon, invoking the nation’s Anglo-Saxon heritage of zeal and fortitude against all enemies, proudly recalling how “Old England has passed through her great revolutions, crushed her internal rebellions, and now as an industrious nation rests upon the surest of the foundations.”

The rebellion was not short-lived. The reverend’s son, Stephen Mershon Jr., later recalled: “The leaving of the volunteer soldiers for the front, the almost unbearable anxieties in the homes in the absence of news . . . intense sorrow of fallen heroes . . . my father and mother immediately gathered their children about them and placed us in the custody of our Grandma Mershon . . . both father and mother thereupon hastened, with her brother, Reverend T. DeWitt Talmage, to the battlefields of Virginia . . . they did what they could to minister to the needs and relieve the suffering soldiers of both the blue and the gray. They especially sought out with their best ability and greatest energy . . . the boys of East Hampton. . . .”

In 1866, after 12 years of service to East Hampton, Reverend Mershon accepted a pastorate in Connecticut. He died in 1874. One can’t help but wonder about the timing of his departure. Despite the victorious outcome for the Union, with its expected celebrations, there were costs, and surely unspoken burdens of conscience.

The Mershons’ intense personal involvement included the reverend’s spirited charge as a powerful leader of the community and their hands-on experience on the battlefields. The tragic aftermath of the war, reflected in the faces of the families of those who didn’t return and in the permanently altered bodies and minds of the veterans — was perhaps too much to bear.

Steve Boerner is a librarian and archivist in the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection.

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