Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Fourth of July

Normally I don't repost a previous blog, but in honor of Saturday celebration I though this might be meaningful.  
Frank Shaw, Photographer, 1956

However, I would also like to include a message that should you engage in fireworks that you follow the Gig Harbor Fire Department's request to be extra careful during our extremely dry holiday.  For information on fireworks regulations and legal as well as illegal fireworks, please visit their site at

Frank Shaw, Photographer, 1952

What does the Fourth of July immediately bring to mind?  Fireworks, picnics, barbecues, swimming, family reunions, and on and on with summer in full swing.  Oh, occasionally, a little history facts might enter the picture but most of the time, those facts are in the background.  So today I thought it might be interesting to share a few facts and myths about the Fourth of July.

July 4, 1776 - the first Fourth?  Nope, the Continental Congress decided on July 2, 1776 “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States” as published that same day (July 2, 1776) by the Pennsylvania Evening Post.    

This was confirmed in a letter John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3rd wherein he stated or predicted “the Second of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.  I am apt to believe it will be celebrated by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”   John went on to say  the occasion should be celebrated “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one end of the Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”  However it was not until a year later  that the first fireworks were exploded.  Again, according to the Pennsylvania Evening Post  on July 4, 1777 “The evening was closed with the ring of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with thirteen rockets) on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.  Everything was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal.”  Similar fireworks were displayed in Boston.  Unfortunately a nineteenth century scholar quietly “corrected” the document to read not the second but the “fourth”.

Celebrations in honor of the Fourth of July really became more common following the War of 1812, and it wasn’t until 1870 nearly a hundred years after the Declaration was written that Congress first declared that July 4 be included as a national holiday as part of the bill recognizing several holidays including Christmas.  In 1939 and 1941 further legislation was passed regarding national holidays.

The Declaration of Independence was not signed on the 4th of July.  Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence in June, 1776.Most delegates signed the document on August 2, 1777 and several signed later, with names of all signees not released to the public until January, 1777 according to David McCullough in his biography of Adams.  It, the Declaration of Independence, was delivered to Great Britain, not on July 4th, but in November 1776.

Did the Liberty Bell ring in honor of the American Independence?  No one really knows.  The story about it happening was made up by writer George Lippard in a children’s book he wrote in the nineteenth century for children, Legends of the American Revolution.  According to the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, although it did not ring on the 2nd or the 4th, it rang for the first public readings of the Declaration of Independence on July 8.

Who sewed the first flag? There is no proof that Betsy Ross did, although she was a seamstress. However, Frances Hopkinson designed the flag and he sent a bill to the Board of Admiralty in May 1780 for designing the “flag of the United States”.  As for Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia, there is no proof that Betsy Ross herself ever lived there according to a study by the Joint State Government Commission of Pennsylvania conducted in 1949.  

Did John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both die on July 4th?  Yes, on July 4, 1826 fifty years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence both men died.
Fourth of July Parade

Fourth of July, Gig Harbor

Fourth of July, Centennial Celebration, 1947

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