Melanie Kirkpatrick: The surprising origins of "We Gather Together," a Thanksgiving standardRoundup: Talking About History
Or do they? With the exception of Native Americans, we're all the descendants of those who came to the New World from somewhere else. So too, it turns out, did "We Gather Together," whose origins are Dutch and speak of religious persecution that predates the first Thanksgiving. It's appropriate that a hymn we sing to celebrate a quintessentially American holiday is, like most of us, a transplant.
The melody can be traced back to 1597 and is probably older than that. It started out as a folk song, whose secular lyrics set a decidedly nonreligious tone. "Wilder dan wilt, wie sal mij temmen," the song began, or "Wilder than wild, who will tame me?" Folk melodies have a way of wanting to be sung--think "Greensleeves," which has numerous sets of lyrics associated with it--and "Wilder dan wilt" was no exception.
Its transformation into the hymn about overcoming religious oppression began on Jan. 24, 1597. That was the date of the Battle of Turnhout, in which Prince Maurice of Orange defeated the Spanish occupiers of a town in what is now the Netherlands. It appears likely that Dutch Protestants--who were forbidden from practicing their religion under the Catholic King Philip II of Spain--celebrated the victory by borrowing the familiar folk melody and giving it new words. Hence "Wilt heden nu treden" or, loosely translated, "We gather together"--a phrase that itself connoted a heretofore forbidden act: Dutch Protestants joining together in worship. Its first appearance in print was in a 1626 collection of Dutch patriotic songs, "Nederlandtsch Gedencklanck."
So how did"We Gather Together" get from a 17th-century Dutch songbook to 20th-century American churches and schoolrooms?
One answer is Dutch settlers, who brought it with them to the New World, perhaps as early as the 1620s. The hymn stayed alive in the Dutch-American community throughout the centuries, says Emily Brink of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, Mich. In 1937, when the Christian Reformed Church in North America--a denomination that began with Dutch immigrants who sang only Psalms--made the then-controversial decision to permit hymns to be sung at church,"We Gather Together" was chosen as the opening hymn in the first hymnal.
Another answer has to do with a Viennese choirmaster by the name of Eduard Kremser, whose arrangement of"We Gather Together" was published in Leipzig, Germany, in 1877. Enter Theodore Baker, an American scholar studying in Leipzig. Baker translated the hymn into English in 1894 as a"prayer of Thanksgiving" to be sung by a choir.
From there it was an easy step to congregational singing....
comments powered by Disqus
- Why Haven't the Afghanistan Papers Gotten More Attention?
- Native people did not use fire to shape New England’s landscape
- Meet the Forgotten Chemist and His “Poison Squad,” Whose Fight Against Deadly Chemicals in Food Led to the Establishment of the FDA
- Was Martin Luther King Jr. a Republican or a Democrat? The Answer Is Complicated
- How One Man's Story Offers a New Way to Understand Slave Insurrection
- National Security Archive Releases USCYBERCOM documents which shed new light on the campaign to counter ISIS in cyberspace
- Historian Jonathan Holloway will be named as Rutgers first black president
- The Twitterstorians Trying to De-Trumpify American History
- African Americans and Africa: A New Book about Black America’s Relationship with the Continent
- AHA Sends Letter to NARA Archivist about Altered Women's March Photo