Sangamon County residents of the 1830s had a special closeness to the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence. Only 50 years separated them from those historic events. That is fewer years than now separate us from World War II.
A few of those 1830s citizens had fought in the Revolution, and many others had relatives who did. Henry Kelly, one of Springfield’s first settlers, was a veteran of that war. Springfield brick maker Philip Crowder actually witnessed General Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown.
Springfield’s first Fourth of July celebration was in 1823. There was a dinner with 13 formal toasts, a number honoring the 13 original colonies and states of the United States. This format followed a tradition already established by other settled areas of the United States. Springfield’s 1830s July 4th celebrations continued and expanded upon this tradition. Here is a brief review of those 1830 celebrations.
July 4th mornings began with a bang—the firing of the feu de joi (“fire of joy,” a running firing of guns originally celebrating the 1778 French alliance with the American cause) or of a cannon. Surely the clap of gunfire was heard throughout the entire village, roused the citizens and set the spirited mood for the day’s celebrations.
We know from the schedule of events published in the Journal newspaper that the day began with a spirited parade through the town’s main streets. In 1835 the newly formed Springfield Artillery in full uniform led the parade, and in 1836 the Springfield Sharp Shooters did so. In 1837 the “Springfield Band” added music to the parade.
By 1839, the Young Men’s Lyceum joined the Mechanic’s Institute, the Artillery, the Sharpshooters and the band for a full-blown parade. Marching men decked out in uniforms, fifes piercing the air, drums beating and bands playing—surely this roused Springfield’s young boys to join the parade and its dogs to add their barking approval.
After the parade, the Declaration of Independence was read, and at least one rousing patriotic speech was given to lift the crowd’s spirits and then many made their way to one of Springfield’s churches for the traditional morning prayer.
After the public celebration and prayer, about 100 of Springfield’s male citizens would adjourn to one of Springfield’s eateries – the Globe Tavern or the Springfield House – where they would enjoy what the Journal described in one year as a “sumptuous” dinner. It appears that the diners were all men, as an 1840s Journal reported that 400 women attended a separate celebration at the “Grove.”
After dinner, “the cloth was removed” and the toasts began. The regular toasts—a total of 13—were civilized and orderly. The toast maker, the subject matter and even the number of cheers following a toast were predetermined by an organizing committee (Elijah Iles was on the committee in 1838). It was custom to toast the President, the heroes of the Revolution, the Army and Navy, and George Washington, and sometimes the governor. The last or 13th of the regular toasts was always to women.
At the end of the toast to the President, there would be three cheers. The toast to Independence Day received 6 cheers. The toast to George Washington was drunk standing and in silence. Other regular toasts varied with the times and current national events, as evidenced by those of 1836:
Toast No. 9: “Texas. May she soon take a stand among the nations of the earth.”
Toast No. 10: “Santa Anna. Thus be it ever with tyrants.”
Toast No. 12: “Our fellow citizens of Florida and Alabama. May they soon be relieved of their savage foes.”
Toast No. 13. “The Fair Sex—the chef d’ouvre of the Maker of the Universe ‘His prentice hand he tried on man, And then he made the ladies, O!’”
At the conclusion of the 13 regular toasts, “volunteer” toasts were made. The Journal did not reveal the toasting beverage.
After the dinner and toasts, many adjourned to a Springfield church for the traditional evening prayer ending the day. In 1839, they “retired” to the Methodist meeting house to hear Rev. Charles Dresser speak on “Colonization.”
At least one year’s celebration, that of 1836, culminated with night-time fireworks and a ball at the Sangamon County Courthouse. Fireworks were probably a part of the celebrations in other years.
A year later, the celebration was special. In February, Springfield had been named the new state capital, and this was the day set for the laying of the cornerstone for the new statehouse. The Springfield Band played throughout the day’s activities, presided over by chairman John F. Rague, the architect of the building that we now know as the Old State Capitol.
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