Vintage Views: A look back at our Independence Day traditions in Concord

An early Independence Day celebration on Main Street in Concord.

An early Independence Day celebration on Main Street in Concord. James W. Spain Photo


Vintage Views

Published: 06-29-2024 6:00 AM

The young boys were full of mischief and greatly anticipated the festive events of the coming day. As Concord prepared to celebrate Independence Day back in 1841 both Enoch and William gathered with friends on Main Street to enjoy the firing of the cannons and muskets as our ancestors celebrated with a parade, cookout, patriotic storefront banners and the firing of the old war relics across the State House yard.

Prior to the Revolutionary War years there was indeed another celebration right here in our little town that was just as festive and attended as the Independence Day celebrations of the 1800s. The colonists would gather and celebrate the birthday of their king with ringing bells, bonfires, speeches and parades. This quickly changed as the relationship with the crown deteriorated and we engaged in our fight for freedom.

As the Revolutionary period commenced the gallant celebration of the kings’ birthday was replaced with animated funerals for King George III for the end of British rule was certainly near. It was on July 4, 1777 that a first celebration was held in Philadelphia in honor of our independence as the war still raged on with the British forces.

The following Independence Day in 1778 found George Washington doubling a ration of rum to all of his soldiers to celebrate once again. In 1781 we find the state of Massachusetts the first to officially make July 4 their state holiday.

As the years progressed and our young nation continued to celebrate their independence from British rule, memories were made and traditions were indeed born. As the 1700s concluded and the nation entered the 1800s the politicians of the day always held their own celebrations dictated by political parties as the Federalist, Democratic and Republican parties.

This provided a wonderful platform for the politicians to speak to many like-minded fellows as they gathered each year. It took decades for the political party celebrations to cease as we came together as Americans in celebration of our independence in harmony.

It was not until 1870 that Congress voted July 4 the official holiday that we celebrate today. Government employees did not receive a paid holiday until 1941. Our second president, John Adams, always considered July 2 to be our Independence Day, since July 2 was the actual day that our Congress declared their independence before adopting it on July 4.

As we travel back to visit with Enoch and William on Main Street in Concord during the 1841 Independence Day Celebration, we find everyone enjoying a well-deserved patriotic holiday after a long cold New England winter. The parades start on Main Street with the young boys and girls gathered under many banners depicting their denominational band of Sunday school pupils and they travel north to the Old North Cemetery.

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Once the people have arrived at the cemetery there are tales of patriotism from years gone by as well as readings of great importance. The last reading is the Declaration of Independence to the people gathered. As they conclude they walk back to Main Street and gather for the events planned at the State House. The fires are burning hot as the food is prepared over the open pits and Enoch and William locate a very competitive flour sack race.

The boys and girls are very entertained as the parents take a rare moment to enjoy some fine rum while the aroma of roasted meat surrounds them. Good spirits, good food and an abundance of patriotism is followed by the ringing of the bell in the Old North Church, the firing of the cannons followed by muskets.

As the sun begins to set the festivities are concluding, for all good things must end. The aroma of the recently fired cannons and muskets gently settles in the air as the boys walk with their parents to their homes and farms around the community.

Our forefathers knew hardship and adversity well. The inner peace found within their hearts is cherished because it was earned when freedom was obtained. Fear and oppression were no longer known as the celebrants settled at home on this evening.

As night approached and our forefathers settled into a slumber, the distant Old North Church bell echoed about the lonely valley.