People moving to Ohio in the years after the American Revolution faced challenges galore.
Removed from the comforts of established society, frontier residents had to be self-reliant. Those who were injured or ill found few, if any, doctors or nurses to help. If wind or rain caused damage, the tasks of repair and rehabilitation fell to the pioneer and his nearby close friends and family.
It was a hard life in many ways, but it was the one freely chosen by the newcomers. The work of clearing the land, building a home and maintaining a livelihood was difficult in a place where not-so-friendly encounters were common.
But there were occasional diversions, and when they came, the new people knew how to celebrate. Remembrances of these early celebrations remind us of these people and their time.
Among them are accounts by early historians of Independence Day 200 years ago:
“Independence Day was loyally observed when possible, the first recorded celebration thereof on the Western Reserve being in 1796, when General Moses Cleaveland and his party of surveyors halted at the mouth of Conneaut Creek, flung the American flag to the breeze, partook of a banquet of baked pork and beans, fired a salute and proposed toasts that were drunk in more than one pail of grog.”
The following year, frontier surveyor Lucas Sullivant established the village of Franklinton at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers. Recollections of the earliest celebrations of the Fourth in Franklinton were not recorded.
In 1814, the Freeman’s Chronicle recorded how the Fourth was remembered amid the War of 1812:
“The anniversary of American Independence was celebrated in this town on Monday last with the customary festivity. Agreeably to previous concert, about 2 o’clock PM, Captain Vance’s company of excellent dragoons, together with many invited guests, repaired to the Lion Tavern, where they partook of a sumptuous and splendid dinner prepared by a Mr. Pratt – and the cloth being removed the following toasts were drunk, accompanied with discharges of cannon.
“1. The Fourth of July – May its next anniversary be celebrated under the shade of the olive (tree).”
The initial toast was accompanied by the following toasts:
“Our beloved Washington – the hero, statesman, great and good ... ; General Andrew Jackson ... ; The War – just though precipitate ... ; The Navy of the US ... ; The Embargo ... ; The general officers of the Army ... ; The Union of the States ... ; The three ranks of our government – executive, legislative and judicial ... ; Republicanism – that says what it thinks and does what it says; The contents of our cartouche boxes to demagogues and sycophants ... ; Our naval heroes ... ; Our major generals ... ; The days of the revolution ... ; The American Republic; Peace to a Troubled World ...; The American Fair – may they foster their offspring in the lap of plenty and peace ... ”
Each toast was accompanied by extended remarks, three cheers and the discharge of a cannon. As the toasts progressed, they become increasingly brief and somewhat redundant. Cheers, cannons and a lot of locally produced strong beverages tended to do that.
By the time this dinner took place, Columbus had been established across the river as the new state capital in 1812. The new town was considerably smaller than Franklinton, which at the time was a military mobilization center for the War of 1812. With the end of the war, Columbus began to grow in both population and influence. Its observance of the Fourth of July began to become memorable, as well. The first celebration of which we have any detailed account was that of 1821, thus described in the July 5 edition of the Gazette:
“The Fourth of July was celebrated in this town with unusual brilliancy. An oration was delivered in the Representatives’ Hall by Joseph Hines, Esq., and a Hymn and Ode performed by the Columbus Handel Society in a superior degree of elegance – after which the citizens, escorted by the Franklin Dragoons, Columbus Artillery and Columbus Light Infantry repaired to a beautiful grove at the south end of the town, and partook of a dinner prepared by Colonel Reed. After the cloth was removed, toasts were drunk, accompanied by the discharge of artillery.”
This time, there were no fewer than 22 toasts – each accompanied by cheers and that predecessor of fireworks, a discharge of artillery.
The final toast was addressed to: “The American Fair – may they prefer sense and industry to impertinence and dandyism, the sound of the spinning wheel to the charms of the lute – but O? – if they don’t may they never be married.”
An interesting sentiment for the Fourth of July, but then again, this was the 22nd toast.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.