Philadelphia, July 3, 1776. In a letter from John Adams to his wife, Abigail, he wrote these words: “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” And thus, became the grounds for our 4th of July celebrations to honor our independence. John went on to congratulate Abigail and their children about their independence.
I first became enamored with John and Abigail Adams when I was 13. We were spending the summer in an old house on Lake Michigan and, with my library card in my pocket, we made a run for the library before we bought groceries! It was on that date that I did meander into the adult section and pick up the book, “Those Who Love,” by Irving Stone. It was my first grown-up book, and I read it within a few days. I fell in love with Abigail at that point in my life. Remember, I was 13! I could not read enough books written about her, or John! My John and Abigail personal library fills two bookshelves in my studio including books by David McCullough, historian and Pulitzer Prize winner.
They became for me the epitome of our country’s early history. Later on, in my life, I studied at their private library in Braintree, produced and performed a one-woman show on Abigail (complete with spinning wheel and costumes), and continued to study any new books which came out.
Now let’s go back to that day of July 4th, 1776. It was Thomas Jefferson who drafted the declaration between June 11 and 28, and submitted drafts to John Adams and Benjamin Franklin who made some changes, and then presented the draft to the Congress following the July 2nd adoption. The congressional revision process took all of July 3rd and most of July 4th. Finally, in the afternoon of July 4th, the Declaration was adopted.
What was the weather like on that day in 1776? Luckily for us, Thomas Jefferson was quite a weather enthusiast. He kept records of temperatures and precipitation so we do know for sure the weather on July 4, 1776. According to the American Museum of Natural History, Jefferson recorded in his weather journal for July 4, 1776, that he woke up to find that the temperature at 6 a.m. was 68 degrees. Later on, the weather was in the high 70’s. Keep in mind this was in Philadelphia. Keep in mind the men wore heavy clothing and wigs. It must have been very hot for them up in that room.
And what was for dinner on that day? There is a legend that John and Abigail sat down to celebrate with turtle soup, New England poached salmon, green peas and boiled new potatoes. Of course, this is just a legend because we know they were in separate cities. He was in Philadelphia at the Continental Congress and she was back home in Braintree, Massachusetts running the family farm and raising their children. It was, however, a typical summer meal for New Englanders. Dessert was Apple Pandowdy. Traditionally, Apple Pandowdy is a mixture of sweet and spicy apples topped with a dough and baked.
At the close of John’s letter to Abigail on that day, he wrote, “You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”
The 4th of July holiday belongs to us. We boat. We swim. We watch or participate in parades. We eat corn on the cob. We light fire crackers. We laugh. We sing. I think most importantly we remember we are in this together. No matter what we do on this day, we need to take a few moments to remember our history.
Happy birthday to us!