Fourth of July myths debunked

Posted July 02, 2010, at 8:41 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:46 p.m.

Back away from that grill. Drop the soy dog. Put down that Old Milwaukee. You better learn all about the Fourth of July before you start celebrating for the entire weekend.

First of all, raise your glass to Francis Hopkinson. You owe it to him.

Second, you are too late. You should have celebrated the holiday on July 2. According to the History News Network at George Mason University, independence from those powdered-wigged tax-and-spend Englishmen actually was declared on July 2, not July 4. The Pennsylvania Evening Post reported, “This day, the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies free and independent states.”

But only a small percentage of the signers were actually there that date. There was no mass signing, as pictured in history books, the report argues.

Whom do you trust? How about the renowned scholar (and summer resident of Camden) David McCullough? McCullough reported in his John Adams biography, “No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia.”

When did Americans first celebrate independence? George Mason reported, “Congress waited until July 8, when Philadelphia threw a big party, including a parade and the firing of guns. The army under George Washington, then camped near New York City, heard the news on July 9, and celebrated then. Georgia got the word on August 10. And when did the British in London finally get wind of the declaration? August 30.”

You don’t trust George Mason University, even though the basketball team upset Connecticut in 2006 to reach the Final Four? How about John Adams?

Adams, writing a letter home to his wife, Abigail, the day after independence was declared (i.e. July 3), predicted that from then on “the Second of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha (celebration) in the History of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival.” According to the report, some scholar changed the date in the letter a century later, probably because the fireworks display was already scheduled.

“Actually, most delegates signed the document on August 2, when a clean copy was finally produced by Timothy Matlack, assistant to the secretary of Congress. Several did not sign until later. And their names were not released to the public until later still, January 1777. The event was so uninspiring that nobody apparently bothered to write home about it,” The George Mason report stated.

The truth about the signing was not finally established until 1884 when historian Mellon Chamberlain, researching the manuscript minutes of the journal of Congress, came upon the entry for Aug. 2 noting a signing ceremony.

While we are at it, The Liberty Bell was not cracked when it rang in independence on July 4, 1776.

It never happened. The story was made up out of whole cloth in the middle of the 19th century by writer George Lippard in a book intended for children. The book was aptly titled, “Legends of the American Revolution.” There was no pretense that the story was genuine.

If the Liberty Bell rang at all in celebration of independence, nobody took note at the time. The bell was not even named in honor of American independence. It received the “Liberty Bell” title in the early 19th century when abolitionists used it as a symbol of the antislavery movement.

Had enough?

George Mason scholars, those killjoys, also report that Betsy Ross did not sew the first American flag on the orders of George Washington. Apparently, it was a myth developed and spread by the Ross family.

So who sewed the first flag? No one knows. But we do know who designed it. It was Frances Hopkinson. Records show that in May 1780, our boy Frankie sent a bill to the Board of Admiralty for designing the “flag of the United States.” A small group of descendants works hard to keep his name alive. Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration, also is credited with designing the seal of the United States.

All right. Go back to your grill. Those soy dogs are burning. Don’t forget to toast Hopkinson.

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