The history of Independence Day

Independence Day is a nationally celebrated holiday with fireworks, bbq’s, parades, concerts and picnics in today’s society. But how did all this start?

It is a commonly held belief that the signing of the Declaration of Independence was on July 4th, 1776.  Congress voted to declare independence on July 2nd but it wasn’t announced until July 4th. Some of the signers including: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams wrote in their memoirs years later that they had signed it on that day but most historians believe it was signed a month later. The date many historians believe it was signed on was August 2nd, 1776.

In Bristol, Rhode Island thirteen gunshots were fired on July 4th of 1777; once in the morning and once in the evening. The Virginia Gazette reported on a celebration reminiscent of our modern day celebrations happening in Philadelphia in 1777. The festivities included: an official dinner for the Continental congress, toasts, thirteen gun salutes, speeches, music, prayers, parades, troop reviews and fireworks! The ships in the harbor were even decorated with red, white and blue bunting for the occasion.

In 1778, General George Washington issued a double ration of rum to his soldiers and had an artillery salute as well to mark the occasion. While in France, Ambassadors John Adams and Benjamin Franklin hosted a dinner for their fellow Americans living in Paris.

It wasn’t until in 1781 that a state made July 4th an official state holiday. That state was Massachusetts, which is more than fitting as it was one of the thirteen original colonies.

The town of Salem, North Carolina claims to be the first town to celebrate the public holiday; the Moravian church carefully documented the occasion. As of 1783 there was no government records of earlier celebrations.

During the 19th century the most common way to celebrate this holiday was with a local parade, speeches and a public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Most towns did not do fireworks displays due to high costs and fire dangers.

The U.S. Congress made the 4th of July an unpaid holiday for federal employees in 1870 but it wasn’t until 1938 that congress made it a paid holiday.


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