The ringing of church bells celebrated the July 4, 1776, announcement to the Philadelphia citizens that the Declaration of Independence had been approved by the Continental Congress.
Concerts, parades, and the firing of cannons and muskets accompanied the reading of this historic document in other locations. Philadelphia held the first annual celebration of Independence Day the following year, and with it the tradition of setting off fireworks.
The Pennsylvania Evening Post reported “at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with 13 rockets) on the Commons and the city was beautifully illuminated.”
While the area was not part of the United States during the American Revolution, 60 men from Ste. Genevieve participated in the May 26, 1780, battle in St. Louis. Approximately 900 Native Americans led by the British attacked St. Louis. Local militia men, Spanish soldiers, and the contingent from Ste. Genevieve successfully defended the town, but not without the loss of life.
This area was under Spanish and later French control until 1804. With the signing of the Louisiana Purchase, immigration of Americans from across the Mississippi increased and with them came the tradition of celebrating Independence Day on the 4th of July.
In 1811, the area now known as St. Francois County was part of the District of Ste. Genevieve which extended from Apple Creek on the south to the Meramec River on the north. This district along with St. Charles, St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, and New Madrid made up the Territory of Louisiana.
In 1811, a group of men from Ste. Genevieve went across the Mississippi to the abandoned Fort de Chartres, dug up a cannon, and brought it back to Ste. Genevieve for use at an Independence Day celebration. On July 4th, they held this celebration on a hill overlooking the town. The July 25th, 1811, Louisiana Gazette, the first newspaper in Missouri, recounted the day.
“Pursuant to previous arrangement, a large number of mechanics and respectable citizens of the town of Ste. Genevieve, met at 12 o’clock on a high eminence back of Dr. Elliot's, where an arbor had been prepared for their accommodations. At 2 o’clock, the company set down to an elegant repast provided for the occasion, after which, the following toasts were drunk, accompanied by the firing of a nine powder, one gun to each toast."
"1st. To the day we celebrate, from the earliest period of history, certain days of festivities and celebration have been observed, but none so glorious and beneficial to mankind as the 4th of July.
2nd. The Heroes of ’76. May their descendants imitate their spirit in resisting the arm of oppression, and may they be not less profuse in the use of blood and treasure in the support of liberty, than their father, were in obtaining it.
3rd. George Washington. The man whose fame stands unsullied by any selfish motive, whose arm was equally adapted to the destruction of tyranny and licentious liberty, the brightest example political honesty, military enterprise, and private virtue. May the voice of liberty and independence, wasted on the zephyrs of the evening, salute the urn of our departed Hero.
4th. The United States, a nation brave, yet springing of human blood; doing justly, though suffering injustice. But there is a point beyond which they will not suffer, and the blood of her citizens will be freely spilt. Let France and England look to their colonies; “the time is at hand.”
5th. Thomas Jefferson, whose maxim is “the greatest good to the greatest number.” The first fruits of his Presidential labours corresponded with this maxim; and his public conduct generally is worthy of imitation.
6th. James Madison, President of the U.S. His past life is the peoples best security, that he will guard their rights with a jealous eye.
7th. George Clinton, Vice President of U.S. The revolutionary patriot and the honest politician.
8th. Commerce, the hand maid of agriculture and manufactures, “the servant is not greater than his lor,” yet, he is equally entitled to be supported in his rights.
9th. Domestic Manufactures. The best source of National Independence. It is better to have a pound to sell, than to be under the necessity of buying an ounce.
10th. The Arts and Sciences, necessity is their parent, the knowledge of our rights, the best means to guard them, and our independence of other nations, are their offspring. A Republic cannot long exist without their promotion.
11th. The Militia of the U.S. Whilst other nations lavish unnumbered million upon standing armies to fight their battles abroad and oppress their people at home. The United States pursing a wiser policy, relies upon the great body of her citizens, who in times of peace enrich, and in times of war defends her.
After this toast was drunk, the company rose, and formed a chain around the table by uniting their hands: in which position they sung the 1st verse of "Hail Columbia."
12th. The American Eagle. While her wings are expanded to receive beneath her shadow, the opposite shores of a mighty continent; let her eye speak terror into the hearts of those who insidiously oppose her. Her embrace is life and peace, but her indignation, once roused, will not be kept unsatisfied.
13th. The Navy of the U.S., though small, yet respectable, may it increase with our increasing necessities.
14th. The Territory of Louisiana, its increasing population, and the republican spirit of its citizens, bid fair to place it at not distant period, amongst the most respectable of the United States.
15th. The Governor of Louisiana. The virtues which recommended him to the office, will insure a satisfactory administration.
16th. Our Sister Territories. Children of the same parent, may we with them be dutiful and respectful; yet like children whose parent, is just; let us ask in confidence what our necessities require — May our Land Titles be speedily and fairly adjusted.
17th. Spanish America. May the shade of Washington hover about their armies, inspiring them with the spirit of perseverance, and may all who oppose them in their struggle for liberty, fall beneath the thunder of their arms.
18th. The fair sex. The last and best production of their species.”
In addition to firing a salute after each toast, poems such as “Ode to 4th of July” and “Ode to Science” were read; and songs including Yankee Doodle Dandy, Washington March, Speed the Plow, and Blue Bird were sung. For the other toasts, two to four cheers were given.
Even though our country had been celebrating Independence Day for over 90 years, it wasn't until 1870 that the U. S. Congress established it as a federal holiday.
As we enjoy our 4th of July holiday with fireworks, picnics, barbecues, or other gatherings, take a moment to celebrate the reason for the day and thank all who have contributed to insuring our freedoms.