Friday, July 5, 2013

How I spent the 4th of July 2013.

“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, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” 
From a letter John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776 right after the Continental Congress decided to proclaim the American colonies independent of England.
(from the website Journal of the American Revolution - All Things Liberty!)

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One thing that doing living history has taught me is to learn to appreciate just what it is we are celebrating in this country during our patriotic holidays.
For instance, Memorial Day and the 4th of July were always the day/weekends that we went up north to be with family and friends to swim, have barbecues, sit by the bonfires at night, and - particularly on the 4th of July - enjoy the exorbitant amount of fireworks that surround us.
Over the years, however, my thoughts about these oh so wonderfully American holidays have changed. As I have written previously over the years on Memorial Day Weekend, for instance, because I participate in a special reenactment remembering all those who fought and dies for our country, my celebration of this holiday has changed dramatically.
I wrote:
Through all of our reenacting fun, we do not forget our reason for being there on this Memorial Day Weekend, and, just as women did soon after the Civil War ended, the ladies of the different reenacting units laid wreaths and flowers upon the graves of those who had fallen. Since there are no actual graves (anymore) at Greenfield Village, they lay wreaths at the garden in front of the church. Then, men and women who served in the actual military are called out to the Village Green so honor can be paid to them. Veterans from WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, and the numerous wars after walk out to the center. Very solemn and very touching, a dry eye could not be found. Much better, say, than a parade down main street with clowns, politicians waving from convertibles, and kids decorating their bikes.
This is truly one reenactment that pays the homage and respect in the way that it should be."

I don't mean to say there shouldn't be the parades with decorated bikes, etc., as part of the remembrance/celebration (though we could do without the waving politicians). But having a moment of silence to remember - maybe even visiting the grave of a veteran ancestor (or one that is still alive!) to pay homage would help the soul.
And might even help give one a new or different appreciation for our country in general.

As for the 4th of July...believe it or not, it took a movie to bring this holiday home for me.
A movie!!
And which movie might that be, you ask?
Why, the John Adams series from HBO, believe it or not; it shows, better than any other I have yet to see, the birth of our great country. It is a 'you are there' film and, in my opinion, should be required watching in high school.
Please understand, I understood the meaning of the 4th of July before watching the John Adams movie. Being a teenager in that Bicentennial year of 1976, we were surrounded by Revolutionary War and colonial history, and I read practically everything available about it, just taking it all in.
But, for some reason, the words and actions of our Founding Fathers never really sunk in. I'm not sure why - maybe the political climate over the last 15 to 20 years or so has made me much more aware of what our forefather's had in mind rather than what our country has become.
Whatever the reason, when I saw the John Adams movie, I was moved like I had never been before.
And it made me realize how little research I have actually done of that period in time and, in its own way, forced me to dive in head first. I've since purchased numerous books on the subject of our country's founding  - beyond the basics I already had - as well as the way our colonial ancestors lived (see my book list at the bottom of this posting).
So that brings me 'round to the way I spend my 4th of July in the 21st century; I celebrated this historic holiday here in 2013 as I do most every year, by visiting the historic open-air museum of Greenfield Village with a few friends while wearing period clothing (mid-19th century era).
I do not have colonial clothing, which would have been more appropriate to wear (though I am hoping to rectify that situation sometime in the not-too-distant future, right Kristen?), but by just being back in time and experiencing 200 years of American history is, to me, the unltimate way to celebrate.
We spent time visiting the Firestones from the 1880s, inside a tavern set up to the year 1850, the Daggetts in 1760, and picnicking under a weeping willow in the shadow of a covered bridge from the 1830's.
How American is that??

Below are a few of the photos taken from this year's 4th of July time travel excursion. Unfortunately, my wife was not feeling very well on this particular day so I ended up visiting the Village on my own...with a few friends.

Here I am with my time-travel friends visiting Greenfield Village on the 4th of July

Firestone Farm

Young Miss Stephanie was kind enough to pose for me in the yard of Henry Ford... did Mr. Tennies. Quite a nice kitchen garden, eh?
The Eagle Tavern, built in 1832. This photo was taken in late May but it's shows the patriotism as if it were July 4th. I love seeing patriotic symbols like buntings and flags.
Inside the tavern, we waited in the barroom for a special order of muffins, biscuits, and corn bread. Mr. Tennies decided to have a glass of cider while we waited.
I sat near the window to watch for the stagecoach to arrive.

Although not a regular occurrence, the ladies sat in the barroom with us, since there were no other men inside at the time.
Once our baked goods were ready, it was off to sit 'neath the weeping willow tree near the covered bridge to enjoy fine food and friendship.
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It is my fervent wish, as a social historian, that my other historian friends - if they have not done so already - take the time and study - truly study - about the lives and the Revolutionary period of our Nation's colonists.
And to watch the John Adams series (available on Blue Ray and dvd HERE).

Here is the list of some of the Rev War / Colonial books (with links) that I have in my library that you may find interesting - with, for the first time, snippets of reviews!

Liberty! by Thomas Fleming
"Fleming's admiration for the founding Americans, their bravery and their intelligence, is very apparent. Fleming's concern to present the British in a fair and balanced light is also apparent, and often portrayed as trying to be reasonable and responsive to many of the colonial concerns, if not always pleasant and courteous to the colonial leaders themselves. The writing is interesting and thoughtful, and done in a popular tone that gives personality to the people who figure in the events."

Reporting the Revolutionary War by Todd Andrlik
"For the colonists of the new world, the years of the American Revolution were a time of upheaval and rebellion. History boils it down to a few key events and has embodied it with a handful of legendary personalities. But the reality of the time was that everyday people witnessed thousands of little moments blaze into an epic conflict-for more than twenty years. Now, for the first time, experience the sparks of revolution the way the colonists did—in their very own town newspapers and broadsheets. Reporting the Revolutionary War is a stunning collection of primary sources, sprinkled with modern analysis from 37 historians. Featuring Patriot and Loyalist eyewitness accounts from newspapers printed on both sides of the Atlantic, readers will experience the revolution as it happened with the same immediacy and uncertainty of the colonists."

The Declaration of Independence - A Museum in a Book
"What our fore-fathers did was something that one would never see today - people willing to give one's life, to possibly suffer in a torturous prison - by signing a document to ensure a free and independent country where one would not have to be controlled by a tyrant; where a peanut farmer, an actor, or a backwoods lawyer could become the President. And this book gives not only wonderful written descriptions on how that all came about, but allows the reader to experience, through replicas of original documents that one can actually hold and read as if grasping the original (including a draft of the Declaration) writings that made the formation of our great United States.

The Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution by Benson Lossing (first published in 1852!
"Benson Lossing's history of the Revolution is a classic. A little tough to get through because of the archaic language and its lack of a chronological order but it is an in-depth look at the war for Independence.Lossing used the unique perspective of writing about the war by traveling through the states in the 1840s and visiting the various sites associated with the war. In some cases he was able to interview actual participants who were there during the historical events. He adds to his narrative by making drawings of the places he visits as well as reproducing paintings and depictions of the people and events of the Revolution."

1776 by David McCullough
"Both a distinctive art book and a collectible archive, 1776: The Illustrated Edition combines a treasury of 18th century paintings, sketches, documents, and maps with storytelling by our nation's preeminent historian to tell the story of 1776 as never before.

Signing Their Lives Away  by
"In the summer of 1776, fifty-six men risked their lives and livelihood to defy King George III and sign the Declaration of Independence--yet how many of them do we actually remember?
Signing Their Lives Away introduces readers to the eclectic group of statesmen, soldiers, slaveholders, and scoundrels who signed this historic document--and the many strange fates that awaited them. Some prospered and rose to the highest levels of United States government, while others had their homes and farms seized by British soldiers.
Signer George Wythe was poisoned by his nephew; Button Gwinnett was killed in a duel; Robert Morris went to prison; Thomas Lynch was lost at sea; and of course Sam Adams achieved fame as a patriot/brewer.
Complete with portraits of the signers as well as a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence,Signing Their Lives Away provides an entertaining and enlightening narrative for history buffs of all ages."

Wives of the Signers: The Women Behind the Declaration of Independence by Harry Clinton Green
"Originally penned in 1912, this historical reprint showcases individual portraits of the fiercely courageous women who endured tremendous hardship as their husbands fought to build an independent nation. Women such as Abigail Adams, Dorothy Quincy Hancock, and Julia Stockton Rush contributed their wisdom, strength, and loyalty to the cause of the Revolution, shaping history as a result."

Home Life in the Colonial Days by Alice Morse Earl
"Though first published over a hundred years ago, "Home Life in Colonial Days" is filled with usefulness and vitality. In her wonderfully readable narrative, Alice Morse Earle provides a fascinating description of everyday life --- the chores, the tools, the dwelling places, the foods, the sights and sounds --- that Colonial Americans knew. Tough not a history of Colonial America, "Home Life in Colonial Days" contains many interesting tidbits about our country's earliest days. It also provides an excellent description of everyday life in America, with special emphasis on New England and Virginia during the 1600-1800's. As such, "Home Life in Colonial Days" would be useful not just to historians and antique collectors, but to writers, museum curators, and anyone who wants to understand Colonial America."

This list has concentrated more on the Revolutionary War itself rather than the everyday lives of the people (aside from the last one listed). I have at least a dozen other books with a wealth of information of what life was like for the colonists of the 18th century. Please contact me if you would like information about these books.

Here are a few links to my postings associated with this week's post:
With Liberty and Justice For All
In the Good Old Colony Days
and how we celebrated the 4th of July in 2012:
The Glorious Fourth



Crystal said...


Have you ever been to the Salute to America that Greenfield Village has in the evening during the week of the 4th of July? Do you know if the houses are open during this event?

Historical Ken said...

Hi Crystal -
No, the buildings are closed during Salute to America, through you can walk around the Village to enjoy it at dusk.