Maine wasn’t one of the original 13 colonies with a fancy official Royal Charter to go with it, back there on July 4, 1776. But those early Down Easters were definitely around when everyone else was celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
As residents of what was then a lowly appendage to the Massachusetts Bay Colony — something we’re still in counseling for — Maine citizens in various towns did receive copies of the famous document with specific instructions that it be read in the public square so everyone would know exactly what they were up to down there in Philadelphia.
The Declaration of Independence was printed during the late afternoon of Thursday, July 4, by Philadelphia printer John Dunlap. We assume he didn’t get paid double time for the job since the Fourth wasn’t an official holiday yet.
History is silent on questions like how long Mr. Dunlap had to wait to get paid for one of our nation’s first federal contracts. But his heirs probably wish they still had a copy of the original one lying around the shop. Wouldn’t they like to bring that to “Antique Road Show?” The friendly, knowledgeable appraiser would probably tell them they could get a pretty good price for it on eBay.
Congress ordered that copies of the Declaration be sent “to the several Assemblies, Conventions, and Committees or Councils of Safety, and to the several Commanding officers of the Continental Troops” and that “it be proclaimed in each of the United States, and at the head of the Army.”
The order doesn’t mention Down East Maine specifically, but we can only assume that Congress intended to include us when they mentioned the assemblies, conventions, committees and councils.
Printer Dunlap got right to work on his first government contract and by the next morning copies of our most revered document were on their way by horseback to the 13 colonies and all those conventions, committees and councils we mentioned.
The first public reading of the Declaration took place in Trenton, New Jersey, on the afternoon of that first Fourth. It’s considered America’s first celebration of the Fourth of July.
Typically in towns and cities across the nation, the public reading of the Declaration was accompanied by loud shouts and “huzzas.” I can only speak for myself but I’ve never knowingly heard even one “huzza” in my life, so I can’t even imagine what a whole chorus of spontaneous “huzzas” must be like. Historians say the “huzza” went out of fashion about the same time most men stopped wearing silk stockings – at least in public.
Those first readings were also met with the firings of muskets and the tearing down of the British emblems.
Since boats, motors, trailers and boat ramps had yet to be fully developed (to say nothing of the Regal II gas grill by Fire Magic) Fourth of July celebrations were quite different back then.
According to the Freeport Historical Society, the Fourth of July has always been well celebrated in that town with a parade and speeches. In 1889, the holiday also marked the anniversary of Freeport’s independence from North Yarmouth, which deserves a party, I guess.
On that occasion native son Henry Koopman read a poem that opened with these couplets:
Beloved town, with gladness we discern
How fortune smiles on thee at every turn.
And trust that all its present favor brings
Is but the promise of still goodlier things.
Do you think he had any idea of all the outlets to come? History is silent about that.
John McDonald entertains with his Maine stories at banquets, conferences and conventions throughout New England. He is also the author of several bestselling books, including “The Maine Dictionary,” “A Moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar” and “Maine Trivia.” Contact him at 899-1868 or firstname.lastname@example.org.