“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” — John Adams, in a letter to Abigail Adams.
Now, you might notice that Adams refers to July 2nd instead of July 4th. He’s talking about that day’s vote by the Second Continental Congress to formally split from Great Britain. The next two days were spent editing Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence, and independence was formally declared on July 4, 1776.
Even though we ended up going with a different date, we did at least take the rest of Adams’ advice to heart. As early as the day after the Declaration was passed, cannons were fired in major cities throughout the colonies. As the years went by, particularly after beating back the British yet again in the War of 1812, the celebrations just got bigger. Today, I don’t know of any town that doesn’t have a July 4th parade. Most places have a public picnic with games and competitions, some have live music, it’s not July 4th unless there’s fireworks. Celebrations of the past were just as large, and they lasted literally all day. Take, for example, Point Pleasant’s events in 1876 on the 100th anniversary of the Declaration’s passing.
The day began at 5 a.m. with the firing of artillery. Of course, these cannons were locally made at the Point Pleasant Machine Shop. After dragging themselves out of bed, everyone made their way to their churches and societies to prepare for the parade. According to the Weekly Register, it was certainly a grand affair. The entire town was covered in American flags and red, white, and blue bunting. The parade was led by Colonel J.P.R.B. Smith, a veteran of the Civil War and extremely active member of the community. He was followed by the flag-bearer, the Cornstalk Cornet Band, the town’s Sunday School classes, every pastor with their congregation, the Odd Fellows, and the Foresters. Between those various groups, pretty much the entire town was in the parade. They marched around town before returning to the courthouse lawn, where they listened to prayers, a reading of the Declaration, music, speeches, and a history of the county. There’s no mention of it in the newspaper, but I figure there was plenty of food, drink, and sport as well.
The celebrations throughout the rest of the county, while not described in such detail, were just as grand. Hartford and New Haven usually held a joint town picnic on top of Hartford Hill, along with music and speeches. Mason held their celebration in nearly the same spot that it is held today, above the levee. Leon, Gallipolis Ferry, and Glenwood no doubt held their own patriotic gatherings as well.
So, while you’re out celebrating on July 4th, remember that it’s what the Founding Fathers would have wanted.
The cleanup at Capehart Cemetery will begin on July 5, barring bad weather. We will work there until it is finished, and we appreciate any help.
The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 16, at Roseberry Plantation in Point Pleasant. We will be discussing ongoing projects, potential upcoming projects, and our future location before ending with a tour of the historic home.
Information from the National Park Service and the Weekly Register.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society.