During the early summer of 1776, a document was signed declaring the birth of a new nation. The date, July 4th, 1776, has been known as the beginning of the United States of America, one nation under GOD, with liberty and justice for all. John Adams would state that the true date of birth was July 2nd, but the signers of the Declaration of Independence completed the signatures on July 4th and so declared this date as the official birth of our country. The citizens of this new country watched as volunteered soldiers marched to war during that first summer. Many would not see their loved ones again. The first celebrations of independence consisted of many different formats. A popular theme was conducting a funeral for King George complete with procession, hymns and funeral service. Other themes gathered the citizens for a social party complete with music and food. Fort settlements left from the French and Indian war, were now equipped with continental solders. Cannons would be fired along with muskets to celebrate the new country’s birthday.
As the years went by, the customs would vary and new ideas would surface such as parades, fireworks and barbecues. But the reason for celebration would remain the same. Massachusetts was the first state to proclaim July 4th as a holiday and by 1870, the famous date was proclaimed a federal holiday. Banners would fly on store fronts, festivities would be planned for months in advance for the birth date. By the early 20th century, small American flags would be flying in children’s hands eagerly awaiting the start of the town’s parade. Fireworks could be seen for miles against the dark night sky. The boom of the firecrackers would literally make the ground shake. The rumble of long ago remembered and embraced with unity.
During the 18th century, many church bells would announce the 4th of July. Gatherings filled with rejoicing, praise and admiration of the new country. Pride would be driven into the stories passed down from one generation to the next. So that all who listen would forever know how important liberty was, is and will be. As a small child, I was able to witness the bicentennial celebration of 1976 in my hometown. My mother purchased dress patterns for me and my little sister reflecting the 18th century and made our dresses for the town celebration. The mayor dressed as George Washington and the entire town participated in the events. A time capsule was placed at the town library to be opened in 2026. Fifers practiced for weeks in preparation of the parade march. It was a time in my childhood that I will always remember. Years later, while researching my family genealogy, I discovered a picture of my great grandfather dressed as Uncle Sam during a 4th of July parade during the 1940’s. The newspaper was filled with details on the day’s events and a new story was added to my research. For our ancestors who were living during those turbulent early years, the country was young. It was a time of awakening filled with the ability to change the world and make it a better place for everyone. The 4th of July stood for a new way of life, a new beginning and better opportunities for the children, the grandchildren and the generations to come. The voices of long ago can still be heard. Their stories are filled with details as we all search the worn pages of documents. But, don’t forget to write your own stories as well. So your voice will join the pages of the researchers yet to be born.
I wish you all a Happy 4th of July as we honor 242 years of our country’s birth. I’ll end with a few words from our forefather, Benjamin Franklin, “Where Liberty is, There is My Country.”