Celebrating the 4th of July — how it began

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■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter

We celebrate our freedom from England on July 4, but it was on July 2, 1776 that representatives of the 13 original British colonies gathered in Philadelphia and signed a document we now celebrate as The Declaration of Independence. It has sometimes been confused with the U.S. Constitution. The complete signing did not take place until August 19, when we were in the second year of our war with England to secure us an independent nation.
Actually the American Revolution began on April 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord and hostilities did not end until the British defeat at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. The war did not officially end, however, until the Treaty of Paris on November 30, 1782.
It never ceases to amaze me how many Americans know little or nothing about the wonderful country we live in.
Did you know that Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star Spangled Banner” as a poem on Sept. 14, 1814 and was originally titled “The Defence of Fort McHenry?” Key was a prisoner aboard a British ship in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812. After a night of bombardments by the British on Fort McHenry, at daybreak Key spied the American Flag still flying over the fort. Thus the birth of his poem and many years later, in the 20th century, President Herbert Hoover signed the declaration that made it our national anthem.
On July 4, 1777, while we were still in the midst of our war for independence, the following article, dated July 5, 1777, appeared in America’s oldest existing newspaper, The Virginia Gazette:
“Yesterday the 4th of July, being the Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America, was celebrated in this city with demonstration of joy and festivity. About noon all the armed ships and gallies in the river were drawn up before the city, dressed in the gayest manner, with the colours of the United States and streamers displayed. At one o’clock the yards being properly manned, they began the celebration of day by a discharge of thirteen cannon from each of the ships, and one from each of the thirteen galleys, in honour of the Thirteen United States.”
And then there was what has become known as “The Fiasco of July 4, 1777.” The Continental Army regiment stationed at Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York was “drunk with freedom,” swilling rum and celebrating their liberty, totally unaware that the British Army had marched down from Canada and had them surrounded from the nearby hills.
The following morning, American soldiers with hangovers awoke to a British barrage against their position. The commanding general ordered an evacuation with the coming of night.
And, like yours truly, perhaps you learned a little more here as to how and why we have and celebrate a Fourth of July. The facts of life often belie the recollections.

Just sayin’.
rustystrait@gmail.com

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