Howdy! Hope that your week is going great and that you are having a lot of fun during your summer vacation from school. However, fun, no matter how inviting or exciting, is never an excuse for not being careful and safe. Brains were not made by God to set on a shelf, they are meant to be used. You have a good one, use it.
Which brings me to the point of this week’s letter…not blowing off your fingers or toes, or blinding yourself with fireworks. Fireworks are great fun to see, hear and have during our nation’s birthday celebration on the 4th of July. However, they are dangerous and demand respect. I know its fun to shoot off a firecracker or two, but safe first!
I once knew a kid in high school that did not have respect for the power of gun powder. He became known as “Three-finger, Kenny.” And, those three fingers were just gnarled and twisted red stubs. The only good thing was that he could never again be a right-handed nose-picker.
Fireworks have been enjoyed by humans for a very long time. The first recorded fireworks rockets were made in China around 600 A.D and were used to scare away evil spirits and bring good luck and happiness. I guess if all evil was chased away, there would be only good luck and happiness.
Before fireworks were invented, there were explosives and projectiles used as weapons for war. The Chinese were the first to develop “black powder.” Black powder is the earliest known chemical explosive, and is made with sulfur, charcoal and saltpeter.
I know you know what sulfur and charcoal are, but what is saltpeter? Saltpeter is potassium nitrate. In addition, to helping make explosives, saltpeter has been used as a food preservative since the middle ages…for over 1500 years. It is interesting that saltpeter was used to preserve food, since, at that time, it was made from bat poop, or people or animal urine. In fact, during the Civil War, women collected urine to help make black powder, but that’s a different story.
The first fireworks that the Chinese made were not colored. They boomed loudly, but only produced faint golden light and orange flashes. It wasn’t until the 1830’s that Italians added trace amounts of metals and other chemicals to produce the bright colors we see in today’s fireworks. The Chinese are still the biggest producers of fireworks in the world.
Once seen, it wasn’t long before fireworks became very popular in Europe especially among kings, queens and nobility. The earliest recorded fireworks display in England was in 1486 for King Henry VII’s wedding day. French kings shot off fireworks, among other things, at their palaces. The Russian Czar, Peter the Great, celebrated the birth of his son with five hours of fireworks.
The first display of fireworks in the New World was in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1608. The American colonists took to the idea of explosives for entertainment with their usual gusto and by 1731 the colony of Rhode Island banned fireworks due to, “mischievous use.”
It was John Adams, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the second president of our country, who felt that our nation should use fireworks to celebrate independence from Great Britain. On July 3, 1776, he wrote a letter to his wife Abigail that said, ” The day will be most memorable in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, bonfire and illuminations (fireworks) from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward and forever more.”
Fireworks have been a part of 4th of July celebrations since the birth of our nation. Actually, even before the Declaration was signed, colonists used to celebrate the king’s birthday with the ringing of bells, bonfires, parades, fireworks and long public speeches. This tradition changed when the colonists declared their freedom from the English crown. In 1776 many colonists held mock funerals for the English King to symbolize and celebrate the end of the monarch’s rule in America.
The city of Philadelphia, known as the city of brotherly love, got the colonists back on the high road when they held the first official independence day celebration in 1777. There were concerts, bonfires, parades, and the firing of cannon, muskets and fireworks. Also, in Philadelphia on July 8, the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence took place. The Pennsylvania Evening Post was the first newspaper to print the Declaration of Independence.
The July 4th holiday continued to be celebrated throughout Revolutionary War years. Soldiers fighting in the war, received a double ration of rum to recognize the day. The first state to make the day an official state holiday was Massachusetts in 1781. The oldest, continuous, observance takes place Bristol, Rhode Island. This city has had a 4th of July parade every year since 1785. Thomas Jefferson hosted the first 4th of July celebration at the White House in 1801.
Folks did and do still take this patriotic holiday very seriously. In Swan, Colorado, in 1884, angry miners blew up the post office, because it hadn’t supplied fireworks for their 4th of July festivities. I guess exploding dynamite isn’t as exciting as firecrackers and rockets.
Currently, 285.3 pounds of fireworks will be needed to supply the over 14,000 public fireworks displays and numerous private celebrations. American’s will spend $6.77 billion on food and will consume 155 million hot dogs. To go with those hot dogs, $92 million will be spent on chips, $167.5 million on watermelon, and $341.4 million on beer.
But, is July 4th the real birthday of our country?
Not according to our second president John Adams. The members of the Second Continental Congress from the 13 original colonies actually voted on July 2, 1776 to declare independence. John Adams felt that July 2, should be the day for Independence Day celebrations. The final draft of the declaration was approved by congressional committee on July 4. It wasn’t until August 2 that all of the delegates finally signed the document. However, when the document was sent to the printer, the date of July 4 was printed in big letters at the top of the sheets of paper. So, July 4th it was!
The Declaration of Independence was actually designed by committee. A committee of five to be exact. The members were John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson wrote the actual document. He was only 33 years old at the time.
The signers of the Declaration all knew that the penalty for revolting against the King was death. Even knowing that they could be hung or shot for putting their names on the document, they signed it. John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, signed it first, big and bold. Fifty-six men, from the 13 original colonies of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, signed.
It is not true that the declaration was the beginning of the Revolutionary War. The first battles of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, took place in April 1775. Crispus Attucks, a fugitive African-American slave, was the first American to die when British soldiers fired upon the colonists in 1770, at the “Boston Massacre.”
The Americans were certainly out manned, gunned and financed during the Revolutionary War. At the time that the Declaration of Independence was issued the total population in the 13 original colonies was about 2.5 million people. (Our population today is over 300 million.) In 1776 the city of London, alone, had a population of almost a million.
The cost of over eight years of war was immense. Our nation spent over 151 million dollars to win independence from the king. The war was also hard on the small population of the colonies. During the height of the war there were 80,000 men serving as militia or continental Army soldiers. Over 8,000 soldiers were killed in battle, 17,000 died of disease, and 25,000 were wounded. One in 20 able-bodied white males died. England had 24,000 soldiers killed in battle.
White men were not alone in serving in the Continental Army, so did African-American Slaves. Every state north of the Potomac river offered slaves their freedom in exchange for their service in the military. While the northern colonies actively recruited black soldiers, the southern colonies were very opposed to the idea. Between 5,000 to 8,000 African-Americans became veterans of this war. Black soldiers served as wagoners, cooks, waiters, craftsmen and carried weapons and fought. Several all-black military units, commanded by white officers, saw action, fought bravely and gained a reputation as being, “the most neatly dressed, the best under arms, and the most precise in its maneuvers.”
It would be almost a century later and take an even more bloody Civil War to legally end the slavery of African-Americans. Only then was the promise of freedom expressed in the Declaration of Independence no longer reserved for a select few, but became, as God always intended…a sacred human right for all people.
Here are some other interesting 4th of July facts:
The only president to have been born on the 4th of July was Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president born in 1872.
Three of the first five presidents died on the 4th. They were John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. Oddly enough, Adams, the second president and Jefferson, the third, died on the same day in 1826, on our country’s 50th birthday. Adams final thoughts were that all would be well because Jefferson still lived, he did not know that Jefferson had died several hours before him.
Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was the only signer to recant his signature, swear allegiance, again, to King George III. Traitor!
Every Independence Day the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is tapped 13 times in honor of the original 13 colonies. It cannot be rung, because of the crack in it.
Contrary to popular legend, Betsy Ross did not design the U.S. flag. No one knows who sewed the first flag, but chances are it wasn’t Ms. Ross. Her ancestors created the story a century after the revolution. This cute legend was kept going by being included in grade school books.
The modern 50-star flag was designed in 1958 by Robert G. Heft, a high school student. This teenager, from the state of Ohio, was given a history assignment to create a new national flag that included the recent statehood of Alaska and Hawaii. His flag design only earned him a B-minus from his teacher. However, after his design was chosen by President Eisenhower to be our nation’s new flag, the lad’s teacher changed his grade to an A.
Each color in our National flag has a different meaning. Red symbolized hardiness and valor. White is for purity and innocence. Blue stands for vigilance, perseverance and justice. The 50 stars represent the 50 states and the 13 stripes are for the 13 original colonies.
The patriotic song, “Yankee Doodle” was originally sung by British military officers before the Revolutionary War to mock the disorganized American colonists.
Our national anthem the, “Star Spangled Banner” was written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812 and is set to the tune of an old British bar, or pub, song called “To Anacreon in Heaven.” It did not become the official national anthem until 1931.
Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson are responsible for the bald eagle becoming our national bird. Benjamin Franklin, on the other hand, supported the wild turkey.
1944—United States troops fired a 1,100 gun salute at German lines in Normandy
1942—The United States air offensive against nazi-German began.
1939—The New York Yankees retire the first player’s uniform…Lou Gehrig #4
1914—The first motorcycle race in the United State took place. It was 300 miles long.
1911—Ty Cobb goes 0 for 4 and ends a 40 game hit streak.
1911—Ed Walsh, White Sox, ends Ty Cobb’s 40-game hitting streak.
1895—The song “America the Beautiful” is published.
1894—Elwood Haynes successfully tests one of the first American made cars. Top speed was six mph.
1888—Prescott, Arizona holds the first organized rodeo competition.
1884—The Statute of Liberty is presented to the United States in Paris.
1828—Construction begins on the first United States passenger Railroad the B and O (Baltimore-Ohio).
1817—Work began to build the Erie Canal.
I hope you have a wonderful time, safely, celebrating the 4th of July. There really is a lot about our nation to celebrate. And, despite all of the differences that our country seems to have at this time, I still believe the words of President John F. Kennedy hold true, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”
Sending lots of love and hugs,