Looking back in history, why do we celebrate the Fourth of July? Everyone looks forward to having a picnic and being with family and, of course, the fireworks in the evening. So how did our ancestor celebrate July 4th?
There was a tradition that a Liberty Pole would be raised — here in town it was at the corner of Main Street and Route 240, or Vaughan Street. We know there was a Liberty pole raised there in 1819. A Liberty pole is a wooden pole, or sometimes a spear or lance, surmounted by a cap of Liberty.
Officers were chosen, a procession formed, orations were delivered and a flag was raised, unfurling to the breeze. Then a canon was fired along with guns and the fife and drum were played. Of course, there was food and drink for all to have. But what were we celebrating? Why the Declaration of Independence. Let’s learn the history of that document.
On June 7th, 1776, the Continental Congress heard Richard Henry Lee of Virginia read his resolution, “….be it resolved: That these United Colonies, are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connections between them, and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
This was already beginning. King George III had not replied to the petitions of grievances that were sent by the Continental Congress. One by one, the Continental Congress continued to cut the Colonies’ ties to Britain. The Privateering Resolution passed in March of 1776, which allowed the colonists to fit out armed vessels to cruise (sic) on the enemies of these United Colonies.
Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” was published in January of 1776, and by May 15, 1776, the Virginia Convention passed a resolution that the delegates appointed to represent the colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States.
A committee of five — Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin and Roger Sherman — gathered for the purpose of creating the Declaration the Independence of the thirrteen British colonies from the Government of Britain to the whole world.
Thomas Jefferson wrote, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The Declaration is made up of five distinct parts: the introduction, which declares the causes of why these Colonies want to leave the British Government; the preamble, which sets out the principles that were already recognized to be self-evident; the body, which can be divided into two sections, and a conclusion.
The first printed copies of the Declaration of Independence were made in the shop of John Dunlap, the official printer to the Congress. We do not know for sure how many copies were made, but we do know there are 26 known copies to exist still, referred to as “the Dunlop broadside.”
Fifty-six men signed the Declaration, five of whom were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died, 12 had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.
What trade did these men do? Twenty-four were lawyers, 11 were merchants, nine were farmers and all knew full well what the penalty was if they were to be captured.
The 56 names are as followed: from New Hampshire, Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton; from Massachusetts, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry; from Road Island, Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery; from Connecticut, Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott; from New York, William Floyd Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris; from New Jersey, Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross; from Delaware, Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean; from Maryland, Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton; from Virginia, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson Jr, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton; from North Carolina, William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn; from South Carolina, Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward Jr., Thomas Lynch Jr., Arthur Middleton; and from Georgia, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall and George Walton.
So how did the British government react to the Declaration of Independence?  King George III officially declared the colonies to be in a state of rebellion. In August of 1776, the King ordered troops to the Colonies. Once the Revolutionary War began, the citizens of Great Britain became more concerned about the colonies and the fight for independence. The result of this war was the Colonies had a victory over Great Britain. In October 1781, the war came to an end when General Cornwall was surrounded and forced to surrender the British position at Yorktown, Virginia. Two years later, the Treaty of Paris made if official, and America was independent.
You are welcome to come down to the Lucy Bensley Center to see what other information regarding the town, celebration and your own family can be found amongst our shelves, filing cabinets and more. We are open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. as well as the second and fourth Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m.
You’re always welcome to stop by the Concord Mercantile/Heritage located at 17 Franklin St. on Tuesday and Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m. and listen to some great music! Call us at 592-0094 or email us at lucybensleycenter@gmail.com.