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Short Posts of Historic Facts and Events in Illinois

Published on Thursday, June 28, 2018

Fourth of July for Naperville’s Founders

Joseph Naper and the first group of settlers didn’t arrive on the banks of the DuPage River until mid-July. Most likely, Naper’s family and friends marked Independence Day during their journey, perhaps even on board Naper’s schooner, the Telegraph, but mark it they surely did.

In the 1830’s people celebrated Independence Day with more enthusiasm than Christmas. Puritan reaction to wanton revelry at Christmas – so extreme they even outlawed mincemeat pie! – passed through successive generations of New Englanders, not be relieved until the middle of the nineteenth century. But the young United States of America began celebrating July 4 by 1777, years before the War for Independence actually ended.

Even the earliest celebrations featured firecrackers, as well as the firing of guns and the ringing of bells to punctuate a spirited reading of the Declaration of Independence. After the war, festivities grew ever more extravagant, following President John Adams conviction that “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.”

Naper built, owned or captained several ships before the Telegraph, several of them sailing regularly out of Buffalo, New York. A Buffalo Historical Society publication recounts the city’s celebrations on July 4, 1828, which Naper may have attended with his family.

The day started at the Eagle Tavern, where “the uniformed companies of the village were ordered out” to escort the mayor and city officials to the Brick Church, accompanied by “the Buffalo Village Band playing patriotic airs.” At the church, the Declaration was read aloud and an oration was given by a local reverend. Then the parade continued to the Mansion House, another tavern, where dinner was served.

But the Mansion House didn’t host the only party. Villagers also celebrated at other public houses, cruised on a lake steamboat, attended one of two concerts, danced at a ball, and marveled at the fireworks display in Mr. Basker’s public garden. And all of this was “less elaborate” than the originally planned celebrations, abandoned, according to the local newspaper, because of “the indifference that was manifested to the proposed arrangements.”

One reason Independence Day celebrations became so grand was to overshadow commemorations of George Washington’s birthday. While he was much beloved as a war hero and our first President, celebrating his birthday smacked of “monarchical” traditions and was unacceptable to Democratic Republicans. The Fourth of July served the celebratory purpose in a more politically correct way.

No party is complete without a feast and Independence Day celebrations often included “much drinking of spirits, and eating of unwholesome food,” as an 1836 publication for the edification of juveniles put it. Toasts were drunk to each of the original thirteen states, then the newer states, then the President, then the Congress, then – well, once they got going, they kept it up until the whiskey ran out.

Orations provided entertainment, a political forum and food for thought. Chief Black Hawk’s final public appearance was on a Fourth of July in 1838 at Fort Madison, Iowa. Over 180 years ago, Black Hawk attempted to regain control of tribal land in northern Illinois. Defeated, his people were forcibly relocated across the Mississippi River and were not even considered U.S. citizens until the next century. The words he spoke that day, however, are eloquent reminders to us in northern Illinois as we celebrate this year’s Fourth of July:

“[It} was beautiful country. I loved my towns, my cornfields, and the home of my people. It is yours now. Keep it as we did." 

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, "Had a Declaration..." [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.

Juvenile Celebration of Independence. Parley's Magazine, August 1836, pp. 250-251

Fourth of July speech at Fort Madison, Iowa. Alexandria Gazette, 7 August 1838, 2

Bingham, Robert W.  The cradle of the queen city : a history of Buffalo to the incorporation of the city Buffalo, N.Y.: Buffalo Historical Society, 1931, 535 pgs.

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Author: Kate Gingold Host

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