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Today we celebrate Independence Day. It is the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, when the Founding Fathers put their name to the document that declared a set of separate colonies joined to England as one unified nation, free from any other entanglements.
The first official, state-sponsored Fourth of July celebration came in 1781, five years after the declaration was signed. The Massachusetts legislature passed the edict calling for the event, and a dinner was held in Newport, Rhode Island, where members of the French military were honored.
However, acknowledgments of the Fourth had come prior to that. In fact, in 1777, one year after the signing of the Declaration, there were several small events, and even protests, that showed Americans united in their struggle, even though new nation was still at war and its future was very much in doubt.
At Portsmouth, N.H., Americans are invited by Captain Thompson to lunch on board a Continental frigate while in Philadelphia, windows of Quakers' homes are broken by the British because Quakers refuse to close their businesses on holidays that celebrate American military victories. There is also the first religious sermon about Independence Day given by Rev. William Gordon in Boston before the General Court of Massachusetts.
A year later, in 1778, from his headquarters in New Brunswick, N.J., General George Washington directs his army to put "green boughs" in their hats, issues them a double allowance of rum, and orders a Fourth of July artillery salute; at Princeton, N.J., an artillery salute is fired from a cannon taken from a British military unity; in Philadelphia, guns and "sky rockets" are fired, but candles are not used for illuminations due to their scarcity; at Passy, France, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin host a dinner for "the American Gentlemen and ladies, in and about Paris"; the first Independence Day oration is given by David Ramsay in Charleston, S.C. before "a Publick Assembly of the Inhabitants"; on Kaskaskia Island, Ill., George Rogers Clark rings a liberty bell as he and his Revolutionary troops occupy Kaskaskia (under British rule) without firing a shot; at Mill Prison, near Plymouth, England, Charles Herbert (of Newburyport, Mass.) and other captured American prisoners of war celebrate the Fourth of July by attaching home-made American flags to their hats which they wear the entire day.
So, America's celebration of The Fourth of July dates back to when the nation wasn't even officially one. The importance of honoring the decision to join as one against the most powerful country in the world (Britain) was recognized, even then, as a momentous occasion for history.
Now, 236 years later, we continue to celebrate that decision, which has led to the spread of democracy throughout much of the world.
Happy Fourth of July from The Cheshire Herald. Enjoy a safe and happy holiday.
(Information provided by James Heintze, American University)