“There is something in a village celebration of great events, that has a character peculiar to itself.” Charles George, editor of the Hunterdon Gazette, July 5, 1826.
The Fourth of July for 1826 was a major event in Hunterdon County. It was the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I took note of the occasion in these articles: The Jubilee of 1826, parts one and two.
The outpouring of patriotic fervor shown that year was remarkable and was never quite duplicated in succeeding years. Fortunately, we have the Hunterdon Gazette to provide a description of these events for the late 1820s and 1830s. (The Hunterdon Democrat did not begin publication until September 1838.)1
Perhaps in a reaction to the fervent celebrations of the year before, the events of 1827 were somewhat subdued, as reported in the Gazette on July 11th:
The Fourth of July was celebrated in this place without much parade. At 11 o’clock the procession was formed opposite the Court House, and then moved to the Presbyterian Church. Standard borne by Mr. Isaac Rounsavell. Music, by the band attached to the company of Capt. John Aller. After the Declaration of Independence was read, an able an[d] instructive sermon, was delivered by the Rev. John F. Clark, in Behalf of the American Colonization Society. At the close of the exercise, 24 rounds of artillery announced the conclusion of the celebration. It was a subject of general remark, that the proficiency of the Band of Music, was only equaled by the courtesy with which they entertained us.
The Way It Was Done
Parades, Receptions and Dinners
It would unfair to compare present day celebrations with those of the early 19th century. People relied much more on speeches and actually listened to a reading of the entire Declaration of Independence. (It’s hard not to wonder how many people will listen to the Declaration being read this year—possibly many more than last year.)
People certainly dressed differently in the 1830s. This was pre-Victorian times, which meant that ladies’ costumes were moving away from the Grecian simplicity of the Jane Austin period to more elaborate outfits with enormously puffed sleeves. And the same is true for the men whose jackets were developing enormous collars.
Also keep in mind that the roads were unpaved, even the most heavily traveled, which meant when the weather was bad, the roads were muck, and when it was good, which it usually was in July, the roads were horribly dusty. People were used to them, of course. There were no complaints in the Gazette.
Right: “Théodore Joseph Jonet and his daughters,” by Franois Joseph Navez 1832
The first order of business on the Fourth of July was always a parade. In 1827 it was described as “the Military and Civil Procession,” which in Flemington always began at the Court House. That is where people assembled before marching down Main Street to the Presbyterian Church.
The Military on July 4th
The procession was almost always led by the local military brigade, since they had the best form and could set the proper pace. These brigades were voluntary organizations. They would hold annual “encampments” to elect officers for the coming year and train the soldiers. These events were usually held on someone’s farm, usually around the Fourth of July, so the assembled brigades would be available for some parading, and for some gunfire. Salutes to the 13 original colonies and to the brave veterans of the Revolution required the firing of guns. They were also often fired during speeches, for purposes of punctuation.
The painting above was made about 15 years earlier but gives a flavor of the high spirits found at these military encampments, especially around July 4th. Here is a notice given for the encampment of 1838:
The Military Encampment under the command of Adj. Gen’rl Z. [Zachariah] Rossell, to be held near Trenton, will commence on Monday the 2d of July, and continue during the week. It has been the intention of the Committee to forward a Circular, inviting each Volunteer Corps of this State, and of the adjoining States to participate in the parade; and they therefore desire it to be understood as a general invitation. The facilities of travel to and from Trenton being such as to warrant the belief that there will be a very large assemblage of the Military, – it is earnestly desired by the committee, that those who purpose [sic] attending will notify them at the earliest period, to enable them to make suitable preparations for their reception. All necessary camp equipage will be furnished to such, and no trouble or expense attached thereto. The Committee are now enabled to say, that during the stay of the Military in the Encampment, the price of subsistence will not exceed 75 cents pr. day, each man, and will probably be something less. Every necessary arrangement can be made at any day previous to the 10th of June, by addressing this committee, who promptly and cheerfully respond to any enquiries that may be made. Signed by the Committee of Arrangement. Gazette, 1838 May 23.
Here is one of the resolutions passed by the Committee of Arrangements for the county event to be held at Ringoes that year:
Whereas, the Military troops having signified their determination, by vote taken at general training, to volunteer their services on that day – Therefore, resolved, that we do most cordially solicit them to equip for the occasion.
Although one expects most 4th of July parades to take place at the county seat in Flemington (how appropriate to begin at the court house), in fact, most celebrations seem to have taken place elsewhere, at least the ones reported on. As mentioned before, in 1827 the parade was in Flemington, but in 1828 one event was held at Locktown with a reception afterwards at the inn of Benjamin Hyde, and another in Lambertville, where festivities began with the firing of cannon at sunrise. In 1829, the parade returned to Flemington with dinner at Peter Smick’s hotel (formerly Bonnell’s hotel). In 1830, the only event reported on took place in Lambertville. In 1831, events were held in Lambertville and Clinton, as well as a gathering south of Flemington near Copper Hill:
THE FOURTH OF JULY was celebrated in this vicinity in a manner at once novel and interesting. Agreeably to previous arrangement, a considerable number of Sunday school children, with their teachers, parents and others, assembled on the banks of the Shannock, near Mr. Kuhl’s mill, about three miles below this place, where seats were provided for their accommodations. The day was fine, the situation shady and pleasant. About 11 o’clock the services were commenced by singing and prayer – after which several addresses were delivered, appropriate to the occasion, by ministers and others present, to a large and attentive audience. The exercises were solemn, interesting, and edifying. Between three and four o’clock in the afternoon the assembly disbursed, apparently well satisfied with the manner in which they had celebrated the anniversary of our national independence.2
The gazette had nothing to say about July 4th in 1832 and 1833, but in 1834, an event was held at the House of George Stull, innkeeper, in the township of Alexandria (Frenchtown). Stull had this notice published in the Gazette:
The officers and privates of the enterprising company of Artillery, chiefly composed of the young men of the township of Bethlehem, will assemble at an early hour of the day, at which time and place all the usual formalities of the Celebration of that ever memorable day will be performed.
In 1835, the county celebrated at Clover Hill and Mount Pleasant. In 1836, New Hope and Lambertville shared the festivities. In 1837, the only event reported on took place near Kuhl’s Mills. I mentioned above that in 1838 Ringoes was the place for the biggest celebration. In 1839 it took place at Little York, but nothing was reported for 1840.
No matter where the event was held, the destination of the parade was almost always a church. There the gathering heard a reading of the Declaration of Independence followed by a sermon given by the local minister, and then an Oration provided by an invited guest speaker. The church choir often made its own contribution to the event, as did the Sunday School students.
I will note that the churches were usually Presbyterian, being probably the most popular church at the time, but no doubt Baptists and Methodists had their share of celebrations.
Following the session at the church, the parade reassembled and marched to the local inn or, if the weather was good, to a grove where tables were set up outside and a large “repast” was served—and I mean large; in 1835 the innkeeper served 300 people.
Celebrating in 1835:
It is hard to say how consistent the festivities were from year to year. Some years seemed to have nothing going on at all, if one relies entirely on what the newspaper reported. I am certain that is not the case. On the other hand, some years got quite a lot of attention. The two ceremonies at Clover Hill and Mount Pleasant in 1835 are good examples.
In Clover Hill things started early. At dawn, thirteen rounds were shot off (for the 13 states of course—can you name them?).3 Then at 10 a.m., the “inhabitants” formed “a procession to proceed to the church.” At the church, the assembly heard a sermon, an oration, some music, etc., and afterwards the group processed to “the orchard” where they enjoyed a meal catered by Col. Abraham R. Sutphin. The Committee of Arrangements had announced the program on June 17th, observing that “they trust from the well-known character of this gentleman on similar occasions, nothing further need be said in a recommendatory point of view.”
The Gazette was so enchanted with the proceedings in Mount Pleasant (or its reporter was) that it included a description of the order of the parade:
1, The Marshal and Assistant Marshal, mounted.
2, Capt. M. H. Duckworth’s 1st Independent Troop of Horse Artillery of Hunterdon Brigade, on foot.
3, Music by the Mount Pleasant Band.
4, Standard-bearer and bearer of the Cap of Liberty.
5, Revolutionary Soldiers.
6, Twenty-four Ladies.
How, one wonders, was “the cap of liberty” carried in the parade? And why 24 ladies? In 1835, there were only 24 states. No new state was admitted until 1836 (Arkansas) and 1837 (Michigan). The ladies were all dressed in white, as that was the practice. Next in the parade came:
7, The Choir.
8, Orator of the day, and Reader of the Declaration of Independence.
9, Committee of Toasts.
10, Committee of Arrangements. [And last but not least]
This particular event was an exception to the rule: the gathering did not end up at the church but instead at a grove opposite the church, where more guns were fired and “exercises” were begun, in this order:
2, Reading of the Declaration of Independence, by William A. Huff, Esq.
3, Singing by the choir.
4, Oration delivered by Isaac Johnston.
5, Ode by the choir.
This being the 1830s, and the 4th of July being a major holiday, we can assume that a lot of alcohol was consumed. That was certainly the case in New York, which we know from Diary of America written by a visiting Englishman, Frederick Maryatt, in 1839. After recovering from the day’s festivities, Maryatt reflected that
There is something grand in the idea of a national intoxication. In this world, vices on a grand scale dilate into virtues; he who murders one man, is strung up with ignominy; but he who murders twenty thousand has a statue to his memory, and is handed down to posterity as a hero. A staggering individual is a laughable and, sometimes, a disgusting spectacle; but the whole of a vast continent reeling, offering a holocaust of its brains for mercies vouchsafed, is an appropriate tribute of gratitude for the rights of equality and the levelling spirit of their institutions.
Something about that paragraph makes me think Maryatt was inclined to favor the temperance movement which was getting started at this time. I also suspect that drunkenness was not unknown in Hunterdon County, as suggested in this item concerning the 1835 celebration at Clover Hill:
It is worthy of remark, that the best feelings pervaded the assemblage, and that no accident whatever occurred to mar the festivities of the day.
‘Accident’ is a nice euphemism. At the 1836 event in Lambertville it was noted that:
The intervals between the toasts were filled up by songs suited to the occasion from several amateurs present, and at 5 P. M. the company separated, mutually gratified, and mutually resolved to hold in grateful remembrance, the celebration of the 4th of July 1836. R. [Robert] M. Foust, Sec’y.
At Clinton in 1831
. . . At 5 o’clock the company separated, well pleased with their entertainment, and with each other. – not the slightest accident occurred to diminish the innocent pleasures of the day, and so far as the notice of the writer of this article extended, not a single drunken man polluted the scene with his presence.
There were none. At least, the editor of the Gazette in the 1830s made no mention of them. This is surprising because in 1839 fireworks were a popular part of the celebrations in New York and New Jersey.4
Here is how Frederick Maryatt begins his description of the Fourth of July in New York City: “Pop—pop—bang—pop—pop—bang—bang bang! Mercy on us! how fortunate it is that anniversaries come only once a year.”
He wrote that the night before, the “municipal police” went around putting up posters warning that “all persons letting off fireworks would be taken into custody, which notice was immediately followed up by the little boys proving their independence of the authorities, by letting off squibs, crackers, and bombs.”
Maryatt’s description of the evening of the Fourth cannot be matched, and neither can his vocabulary:
Unless you are an amateur, there is no occasion to go to the various places of public amusement where the fireworks are let off, for they are sent up every where in such quantities that you hardly know which way to turn your eyes. It is, however, advisable to go into some place of safety, for the little boys and the big boys have all got their supply of rockets, which they fire off in the streets—some running horizontally up the pavement, and sticking into the back of a passenger; and others mounting slantingdicularly and Paul-Prying into the bed-room windows on the third floor or attics, just to see how things are going on there. Look in any point of the compass, and you will see a shower of rockets in the sky: turn from New York to Jersey City, from Jersey City to Brooklyn, and shower is answered by shower on either side of the water. Hoboken repeats the signal: and thus it is carried on to the east, the west, the north, and the south, from Rhode Island to the Missouri, from the Canada frontier to the Gulf of Mexico. At the various gardens the combinations were very beautiful, and exceeded anything that I had witnessed in London or Paris. What with sea-serpents, giant rockets scaling heaven, Bengal lights, Chinese fires, Italian suns, fairy bowers, crowns of Jupiter, exeranthemums, Tartar temples, Vesta’s diadems, magic circles, morning glories, stars of Colombia, and temples of liberty, all America was in a blaze; and, in addition to this mode of manifesting its joy, all America was tipsy.
What Was On Their Minds
For many of those attending the dinners, the toasts were probably the highlight of the day. As mentioned before, they were not given until the meal had ended and the cloth removed. No scandalous toasts showed up in the newspapers, but if there were any, they were certainly left out. After drinking 30 or 40 toasts, some of the attendees might have gotten a little carried away.
Most of these events were organized by “A Committee of Arrangements,” and it is easy to understand why such a group was needed. It must have taken quite a lot of work to put on one of these shows. But the committee had an additional task, and that was to designate who should give the introductory 13 toasts.
13 was certainly the magic number on July 4th, representing the 13 colonies that became States of the Union. These first toasts were on general subjects like the Tree of Liberty and the sacrifice and bravery of the Revolutionary War veterans. In many cases, these toasts were “interspersed with appropriate music, firing, patriotic songs &c.”
These were followed by toasts given by “Volunteers,” people who had not been pre-designated. Most toasts were made in good humor but also in all seriousness. An example of both is this given by Adams C. Davis at the Clover Hill celebration in 1835: “Champaign to our real friends, and real pain to our sham friends.” (Ouch.)
Every dinner included a toast to the host and his helpers for putting on a splendid feast. I liked this comment about how people expressed their appreciation to the owner of The Lambertville House in 1836:
The worthy proprietor of the Lambertville House, [Samuel] Carhart, acquitted himself in the discharge of his duties handsomely, and the very rapid disappearance of the luxuriant viands spread upon the occasion, plainly indicated the very deep sense of the gratification that was felt towards him by his guests.
A toast that was just as necessary had to be made to “the Ladies” or to the more abstract concept of “Woman.” It was as if the men recognized the behind-the-scenes labor contributed by the women and might have been just a tad uneasy about the fact that no women were giving toasts. Wouldn’t that have been interesting if they were? But it was just ‘not done.’
The toasts to ‘Woman” got pretty over the top at Mount Pleasant in 1835, suggesting a little tipsiness.
By Captain P. I. Case, Assistant Marshal: “Woman, heaven’s last best gift ever given to man.”
By John J. Eckel:
“The Fair Sex—
For man’s caress and man’s delight
Was lovely woman born;
And curs’d be he, where e’er he dwell,
Can treat her worth with scorn.”
By John H. Provost: “Woman, lovely Woman!—The Polar Star that guides us to happiness. Blistered be the tongue that would defame her, and withered be the arm that would not defend her.”
Some Compelling Subjects:
The toasts are especially interesting because they show what was on people’s minds at the time. It helps to know something about the issues of the day to understand what these men were talking about.
Slavery & Economics
We do not have copies of the sermons and orations delivered at the churches, so we cannot say what was on the preachers’ and speakers’ minds, with one exception—in 1827, the Gazette reported that Rev. John F. Clark, pastor of the Flemington Presbyterian Church, would deliver a sermon on “the American Colonization Society, after which a collection will be taken up in aid of its funds.”
“The Society for the Colonization of Free People of Color of America,” commonly known as the American Colonization Society (ACS), was founded in 1816 to support the ‘voluntary’ migration of free Black Americans to the continent of Africa. It was supposed to be an answer to the question of what would happen to all the slaves once they were freed. No doubt it was prompted by good intentions, but Black Americans hated the idea, so it was a hopeless cause.
At the 1835 celebration held at Mount Pleasant, Capt. Peter I. Case made a very unusual toast. It covered a lot of ground:
May the Spangled Banner of America never lose a gem by nullification, (and gentlemen if I may coin a word) by Toryfication, Whiteification, or any other cation, but that true democratic principles may be the ruling sentiments of the land.
Nullification referred to the tariffs that were opposed by southern states because of the harm done to growers of cotton and rice (and therefore, owners of slaves). That seems to explain Case’s opposition to “Whiteification,” but “Toryfication” is a puzzle, until you see that Britain played a role in the tariff battle, which I will not get into here.
Case’s reference to “losing a gem” from the star-spangled banner referred to the threat of secession that was being offered if the tariffs were not nullified. Just as the idea of abolition of slavery was not new when it finally happened, the idea of secession was not new in 1860. In fact, it had first been considered by Federalists in the New England states back in 1814.
Political parties were still very young in the 1830s, and not at all organized the way they are now. There were basically the supporters of Andrew Jackson, president from 1828 to 1836, generally known as Democrats, and those opposed to him and his policies, generally called “the Opposition” in Hunterdon, since most Hunterdon voters supported Jackson, and his successor, Martin Van Buren.
In the 1830s and 1840s there was a certain shamefulness about being seen as being too politically active. Candidates did not campaign for office—a consideration hardly to be imagined today. The parties themselves were looked at somewhat askance, as shown by one of the toasts given in 1829 (toaster unnamed):
Political parties, When honestly formed, and consistently sustained, the salt of the body politic.
I’m not sure what ‘the salt of the body politic’ meant, but political parties were inevitable. The seeds were sown for these divisions as soon as the colonies agreed to the Articles of Confederation.
There were those who felt that the Articles had created a disaster, with individual States acting against each other’s interests. They favored a strong central government and came to be known as Federalists. Washington, Adams and Hamilton were among them.
But creating a national government required that individual states give up some of their governing rights, which is naturally hard to do. And there was the concern that a national government would be more susceptible to tyranny and corruption. Thomas Jefferson was the leader of this line of thought, and his followers called themselves Republicans.
Once the Constitution was passed and a more functional government set up, one would expect that these disagreements would fade away. Not so. They not only endured but came into sharper focus. In 1830, William Biles of Lambertville proposed a toast to the various states thus:
The United States – charming sisters, admired by all the world; they should not be jealous of each other.
Ezra Brewster at Mt. Pleasant in 1835 described his ideal society thus:
No United States Bank, no Monopolies, no union of church and state, temperance but no temperance societies, but unshackled democracy till time is no more.
In the presidential contest of 1828, supporters of John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson had their own separate conventions. Adams won in New Jersey, but lost the national vote, and lost big-time in Hunterdon County.
In 1829, the National Republicans, Adams’ party, had a majority in the Legislative Council (the predecessor of the State Senate, with one representative from each county) and in the Assembly, but the next year, after the mid-term elections, the Jacksonian Democrats took power and held it through 1837.
As mentioned before, Jefferson was considered the original leader of the Republican party, as it was in the early 19th century. He was well-remembered in the 1830s.
Thomas Thomson in Lambertville in 1836: “The memory of Thomas Jefferson: while this day is held dear, his name will be cherished with the most grateful recollections.”
Runyan Woolverton at Little York in 1839: “A good government, as defined by Jefferson—One that must and will be sustained so long as there exists a true patriot.”
And by William Bunn: “Thomas Jefferson—A patriotic statesman. May his principles be fully realized by the rising generation.”
Some Jackson Toasts
As one might expect, there were many toasts to President Jackson. Here is a sample:
1830 July 14, Lambertville, by William M. Cade: “Jackson in the chair, all opposition at rest; Under such a rule, our country will be blest.”
By B. [Benjamin] W. Dennis, Esq.: “President Jackson – may his latter days be as happy, as his former have been useful and honorable.”
And by J. M’Neely: “The President of the U. States – may he retire from the duties of his office, crowned with the same laurels that crowned the immortal Washington.”
During the 1830s, early settlers in Texas were organizing themselves politically. They had to, since it was not clear which country they were located in. They were aiming to become an independent republic and had won recognition from Andrew Jackson, but certainly not from Mexico. Many volunteers from the east coast, including from Hunterdon County, went to join the Texans in defending their territory from Mexican armies.
The Committee for the Lambertville dinner of 1836 had invited Capt. Thomas Crabbe, of the U. S. Navy to be their guest, but . . .
being prevented by indisposition from joining in the festivities of the day, politely offered for acceptance the following toast, which was drank with loud acclamations:
By Capt. Thomas Crabbe, U. S. Navy. Texas: Her cause is just – may the horrid butchery of her chivalrous sons at the Alamo and Goliad, induce an offended God to grant her abundant retribution, and a speedy independence.
At the dinner in Little York in 1839, the twelfth of the thirteen original toasts seemed to contemplate adding another State to the Union:
The States of the Union, thirteen in family in ’76, and in ’39, twenty-six—May increase of numbers serve as a bond, more closely to unite them as sisters of one family, and nothing ever induce them to dissolve the ties of our confederacy, holding in remembrance that “united we stand, divided we fall.” 3 Guns. 13 Cheers
Internal Improvements—roads, bridges, railroads, etc.—were dear to the hearts of New Jersey’s businessmen, who were generally not fans of Jackson’s party, but in the late 1820s, very little was happening. At the dinner held in Flemington in 1829, Charles Bonnell gave this toast:
The seed of internal improvement has been equally sown throughout our land; but while other states are reaping an abundant harvest, “some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred fold,” the state of N. Jersey seems to be wanting in depth of soil.
There was also frustration over the slowness of the state legislature to approve construction of the D&R Canal. A toast given at the same dinner:
The Delaware and Raritan Canal, – Its legislative history, a good moral to the fable of the dog in the manger.5
The completion of the D&R Canal in 1834 was a cause of joy but internal improvements were still much on people’s minds. Peter Alpaugh, at the dinner at Little York in 1839 offered this:
Internal improvements—Canals, Railroads, Steam-boats &c.—The ligament that binds the east to the west, the north to the south, the cradle of agriculture, the nurse of domestic manufactures, incites to enterprise, brings the interior near the Seaboard cities, and a strong fortress to the country in case of invasion. Much has been effected, much more is to be accomplished. May the names of Fitch, Fulton, Clinton and others, be held in grateful remembrance by their country-men.
As you can see from this sampling, people had strong feelings about how their country was being run and what its future might be. Not so different from the way we are now. This year we will not be attending dinners, I hope, and listening to toasts will have to be done online. However, we can still enjoy the fireworks.
Happy 244th Anniversary everyone!!
- The Hunterdon Republican did not start publishing until October 1856, so the first July 4th for them was in 1857, when the country was approaching its fatal division. However, the abstracts of the Republican only focus on vital records and leave out the politics. Scrolling through the file, one would never know that war was on the horizon. ↩
- Hunterdon Gazette, July 6, 1831. ↩
- Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island, listed in order of ratification. ↩
- Photograph of fireworks from the Smithsonian Magazine website, photo by Alek Zotoff. ↩
- Aesop’s Fables: a dog, tired from its field work, fell asleep in a manger filled with hay for the cows, who could not eat their hay while the dog, who did not eat hay, was lying there. This toast would require a lengthy description of the canal’s legislative obstacles, which will not be included here. ↩