“Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations”: Celebrating Independence

Johannes Adam Simon Oertel. Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, N.Y C. ca. 1859. Oil on canvas. Artist Johannes A. S. Oertel, working in the mid-nineteenth century, provides an imagined depiction of the destruction of George III's statue in Bowling Green, the first victim of New Yorkers' reaction to hearing news of the Declaration of Independence. Oertel places women, children and Native Americans among what eyewitnesses recorded as a rowdy crowd of soldiers and civilians. No true image of the statue itself survives. However, contemporary descriptions inform us that the King was sculpted in Roman garb, not the eighteenth-century royal dress shown in the painting. More accurate is the view of the statue reconstructed by Charles M. Lefferts at right.

Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, NYC (ca. 1859) by Johannes A. S. Oertel. Painting in the mid-1800s, Oertel created a thrilling but historically inaccurate depiction of  New Yorkers destorying a statue of George III after hearing news of the Declaration of Independence.  The event did happen but much of Oretel’s painting is fanciful. Public domain. Courtesy: Wikipedia.org

Writing to wife Abigail following Congress’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams famously outlined his vision for how future generations would celebrate the historic moment. “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival,” Adams wrote in an oft quoted passage. “It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. 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.”

Adams’ prediction was borne out immediately.  News of independence spread from Philadelphia across the new American states like a circle of ripples on a great lake.  By July 10, 1776, the first word arrived in Fredericksburg, Virginia, hometown of General George Washington and where his mother Mary still lived.  Indentured servant John Harrower, who served as tutor for Colonel William Daingerfield’s family at Belvidera plantation about seven miles downstream from Fredericksburg on a bluff overlooking the Rappahannock, recorded the moment in his journal. [1]

“Wednesday 10th. At 6 pm went to Mrs. Battaile’s & teach’d until sunset and then returned home & soon after hea[r]d a great many Guns fired towards Toun. About 12 pm the Colo. Despatc[h]ed Anthy. Frazer there to see what was the cause of [it?] who returned, and informed him that there was great rejoicings in Town on Accott. of the Congress having declared the 13 United Colonys of North America Independent of the Crown of great Britain.” [2]

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Young members of the Continental Army recreate a charge during Fourth of July at Ferry Farm!

Some days later, on July 26, when the Declaration was officially read out in Williamsburg, Virginia’s capital, the proclamation was made “amidst the acclimations of the people, accompanied by firing of cannon and musketry, the several regiments of continental troops having been paraded.”

One year later, Adams prediction continued to bear fruit, as the infant nation celebrated its First Birthday.  In Charleston, South Carolina, on July 4, 1777 “ringing of bells ushered in the Day” and “At sun-rise American colours were displayed from all the forts and batteries, and vessels in the harbour.”  There was a parade of military troops and then “at one o’clock the several forts, beginning at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, discharging seventy six pieces of cannon . . . and the militia and artillery fired three general vollies.”  The new state’s leaders gave a banquet with thirteen toasts and “double the number [of guests] that ever observed the birthday of the present misguided and unfortunate King of Great Britain.”  To end the day-long celebration, “the evening was concluded with illuminations, &c. far exceeding any that had ever been exhibited before.”.

Back north, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ships were also “dressed . . . with the colours of the United States and streamers displayed.” The crews climbed into the rigging and stretched out across the yardarms to salute the day and each ship fired thirteen cannons. On land, a banquet was held for Congress during which “The Hessian band of music taken at Trenton the 26th of December last, attended and heightened the festivity with some fine performances suited to the joyous occasion, while a corps of British deserters, taken into the service of the continent by the State of Georgia, being drawn before the door, filled up the intervals with feux de joie.” A feu de joie, French for “fire of joy”, is the firing of guns into the air in quick succession. It is sometimes described as a “running fire of guns.”. The dinner also included many toasts.  The late afternoon featured a parade of military troops and the ringing of bells. “At night there was a grand exhibition of firework, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets.”

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After flying for a year over Washington’s boyhood home, one U.S. flag is retired replaced with a new flag during the Patriotic Flag Retirement Ceremony at Ferry Farm’s Fourth of July celebration.

Whether in Virginia in 1776 or South Carolina and Pennsylvania in 1777, all of these acts of celebration were quite traditional and had been used for decades to celebrate the monarch’s birthday each year.  In 1727, Willliamsburg marked the king’s birthday.

“The colors were displayed at the Capitol and salvos fired from the cannon at the Palace, at the forts, and on board the king’s ships in Virginia waters at the time.  In the evening the Capitol, the Palace, the College, and ‘most of the Gentlemen’s and other House of Note’ were illuminated and bonfires were sometimes set in public squares in the city.  At the governor’s dinner the drinking of all the loyal healths consumed a great deal of time, a variety of choice wines and liquors, and a large store of gunpowder. The populace was sometimes treated to ‘plenty of liquor’ and drank the same healths outside the Palace or at one of the taverns. The day’s festivities closed with the governor’s ball for all the ladies and gentlemen in town.” [3]

More than two centuries later, we still celebrate the Fourth of July with decorations of red, white, and blue, ubiquitous American flags, military parades, cannon fire, large amounts of food, the enjoyment of spirited beverages, music, and fireworks.  John Adams vision was far-reaching indeed!

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

Celebrate Independence Day where George Washington spent his boyhood years!

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See more photos from last year’s Fourth of July at Ferry Farm here.

This year’s theme, “We The People” focuses on The Declaration of Independence with a variety of activities and entertainment for young and old alike. Learn about archaeology at Ferry Farm, enjoy a patriotic flag retirement ceremony,interact with colonial and Civil War re-enactors as well as members of the Patawomeck tribe, listen to patriotic music, and participate in educational programs, crafts and games, and hands-on activities for the whole family.  Visit kenmore.org/events.html to learn more.

Cost: $1 per person
Parking: Eagles Lodge – 21 Cool Spring Road Fredericksburg, VA 22405
Shuttles will run between the Eagles Lodge and Ferry Farm.

[1] John Harrower, The Journal of John Harrower: An Indentured Servant in the Colony of Virginia, 1773-1776, edited by Edward Miles Riley, Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg, 1963: xvi.

[2] Harrower, 158.

[3] Jane Carson, Colonial Virginians at Play, Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1989: 93.

Summer Greens from the Colonial Garden

Typically, when modern Americans think of summer barbecue food, they think of meat grilled over an open flame. While that would certainly appeal to an eighteenth century audience, it is not necessarily what they considered ‘typical’ summer fare. Large livestock like pigs and cattle were usually slaughtered and butchered in the late fall/early winter when the weather was far more conducive to task. This meant that large roasts (like mentioned in our earlier blog) were not the norm in the warmer months. Instead, people of the 18th century looked to the seasonality of ingredients to inspire their summer time fare.

Eighteenth century diets were very dependent on the growing seasons. Summer was a bounty of fruits, vegetables, greens, herbs, and anything else that could not be had in the dead of winter. Much like today, there were a variety of methods, styles, and recipes used to please the numerous palates.

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The demonstration garden at George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

With today’s weekend farmers markets and roadside stands, a salad seems the ubiquitous summer option. But what would our forefathers have thought of raw vegetables tossed in oil and vinegar? They certainly had all of the elements available to them but their tastes were different than ours. After all, we still have oysters and ice cream but most of us no longer enjoy oyster ice cream.

While the oldest references to salad come from ancient Rome (usually referred to as sallet) it was not ubiquitous in English summer cuisine. While there are some references in cookbooks and menus of the time that called for ‘salad herbs’ like lettuce and spinach to be served raw, most of their English recipes called for cooking the vegetables in some way.

The modern stereotype of English cooking insists that greens be boiled until no real flavor or texture remains. And while many of 18th century recipes for vegetables include boiling (and some for quite some time) there is also this warning in Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.

GardenThings2

Hannah Glasse cautions her readers not to “over-boil” fresh garden greens.

There was a clear appreciation for fresh vegetables even if they were prepared in some manner.  An appreciation that extended into George Washington’s own household. One recipe included in Martha Washington’s cookbook was for a ‘Lettis Tart’ which called for ‘cabbage lettis’ and prunes to be put in a crust with cinnamon and ginger and then baked like a pie.

In addition to recipes calling for fresh fruits and vegetables, early Americans were very familiar with numerous preservation methods in order to enjoy vegetables and fruit out of season. In the summer they would pickle vegetables, dry herbs, and make preserves with fruits so they could enjoy them all year long.

In September 1784, George Washington traveled west of the Allegany Mountains. He recorded some of his supplies in his diary and includeed a canteen filled with ‘Chery Bounce’. This was a drink made from cherries preserved in brandy and was a way for Washington to take the taste of Virginia summer with him on his travels.

Cherries on the cherry trees in the Demonstration Garden.

Cherries on the cherry trees in the Ferry Farm’s demonstration garden.

This summer when you are contemplating your patriotic picnic options for your July Fourth festivities, don’t pass up the greener options. They have far more in common with the summer options of our founding fathers than you may have originally believed.

Joe Ziarko
Manager of Interpretation & Visitor Services

Photos: “Hamlet” at Kenmore’s Shakespeare on the Lawn

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Shakespeare on the Lawn at Historic Kenmore returns this weekend with two more performances of Hamlet.  Catch the one of the final shows at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 18 or Sunday, June  19.  Arrive early to tour the mansion and view the refurnishing. Bring folding chairs or a blanket and a picnic! Thank you to sponsor Lewis Insurance Associates! Learn more at http://www.kenmore.org/events.html.  In the meantime, enjoy these scenes from last weekend’s performances!

 

Fredericksburg’s June Fair

Ask someone to list traditional summertime activities and they will probably mention picnics, family reunions, beach vacations, mountain getaways, and baseball games. Their list is likely to include going to the fair as well.  The fair as a summer pastime is a long tradition and like many American traditions can be traced back to the age of Washington.

In 1738, Augustine Washington moved his wife Mary and their five children, including six-year-old George, to Ferry Farm on the Rappahannock River opposite Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Coincidentally, in the same year, the colony’s General Assembly authorized two fairs to be held each year in Fredericksburg (pg. 35). This act built on an earlier ordinance passed in 1705 allowing for ‘markets and fairs’ as a necessary and civilizing element of early Virginian society.

Although other cities held fairs, Fredericksburg was one of the few that held a fair in June.  Sometimes called June Fair, it was one of the oldest and largest in the colony.  June Fair and other fairs were “first and foremost a market ‘for the sale and vending of all manner of cattle, victuals, provisions, goods, wares, and merchandizes.’ Prizes, ‘or bounties,’ were sometimes offered for the best stock and poultry” (pg. 18).

Pieter Angillis, 1685–1734, Flemish, active in Britain (from ca. 1715), Covent Garden, ca. 1726, Oil on copper. Pubic domain. Credit: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Although this painting depicts a busy London agricultural market in the early 1700s, a similar hustle and bustle likely filled Fredericksburg during June Fair.  Covent Garden (1726) by Pieter Angillis, 1685–1734, Flemish, active in Britain (from ca. 1715), Oil on copper. Pubic domain. Credit: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Fairs were about more than agriculture, however. The importance of a summer fair was its ability to gather people from all over the surrounding counties to a single central location to conduct business and government and to offer social interactions and entertainments.  In an agricultural colony such as Virginia, homes and plantations were very distant from one another and, for much of the year, people hardly saw anyone besides their immediate neighbors and family members.  Most colonial Virginians traveled no more than fifty miles from home in their lifetimes. This made for an isolated existence focused on the constant attendance of crops. During natural seasonal breaks, however, farmers traveled to a town to sell those crops at the fair.

Fairs were not just for farmers to sell. Court sessions, also known as ‘Public Times’, often coincided with fairs. Soon merchants and entertainers saw opportunity in the large numbers of people gathered together at the fair. Many people got paid or, more likely, an increase in credit and ready money made the fair a natural time to celebrate, entertain, gamble, and socialize.

Among the amusements common to colonial-era fairs,

“contests for prizes . . . in cudgeling, wrestling, manual-exercises, foot-racing, dancing, singing, violin-playing, greased-pig-chasing, etc. Prizes were offered to the most beautiful maid.  In towns large enough to warrant their attention, companies of actors sometimes arranged to give plays during fairs. Such plays, however, were held at the local play-house or theatre, and not on the market-square, where the fair usually took place” (pg. 19).

For example, in 1752, an acting troupe known as “THE Company of COMEDIANS, from the new Theatre at Williamsburg, propose[d] … to proceed to Fredericksburg, to play during the Continuance of June Fair.” The troupe hoped “That all Gentlemen and Ladies, who are Lovers of Theatrical Entertainments, will favour us with their Company.”

Company of Comedians - Va Gazette

Advertisement in The Virginia Gazette announcing the appearance of the Company of Comedians at June Fair in 1752.

The fair brought people together to conduct more than agricultural business.  Indeed, “the fair was also a place where men met to make and pay debts. Land, houses, storehouses, and personal property were offered for sale at fairs — privately and by public auction” (pg. 18).

During June Fair in 1751, 19-year-old George Washington auctioned off two of his lots in Fredericksburg.  His announcement of the sale in The Virginia Gazette offered the lots, “where Mr. Doncastle and Mr. Black lately kept Tavern, next June Fair, to the highest Bidder, for Cash or Bills. Eight Months Credit will be allow’d on giving Security, as usual” and was signed “George Washington.”

Washington Virginia Gazette Ad

Announcement placed in The Virginia Gazette by George Washington announcing his intention to auction off two lots of his land in Fredericksburg at June Fair in 1751.

A decade later at June Fair in 1760, George’s account ledger shows him paying Fielding Lewis £40.  Furthermore, just few days before paying his debt to brother-in-law Fielding, George also bought tickets to a ball and lost money on a horse race, both popular fair activities.

Indeed, “the most popular attractions of the fairs in Virginia and Maryland were the horse-races . . . held at race-tracks near the town. Purses were subscribed, and many gentlemen, who had no interest in the other activities, would attend the races” (pg. 19).

Gambling at the fair, mainly in the form of lotteries, even supported more noble pursuits.  At June Fair in 1769, a lottery was undertaken to raise £450 for building a new church and for purchasing an organ for that church.  The drawing was to take place on “the 7th day of JUNE next (being the first day of the Fredericksburg fair) at the town-house” and was supervised and supported by a host of the town’s luminaries including Charles Dick, Hugh Mercer, Charles Washington (George’s brother), George Weedon, and Fielding Lewis.

June Fair was a community event attended by Virginians from across the colony and brought George Washington back to his boyhood home on more than one occasion.  At the fair, Virginians sold farm goods and land, settled debts and tried court cases, enjoyed a play and gambled on the horses.  June Fair, much like today’s summer pastimes, was a moment in the year to enjoy the summer weather and the company of neighbors, friends, and family before returning to isolated plantations and farms and the unending work of plowing, planting, and harvest.

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

Joe Ziarko
Manager of Interpretation & Visitor Services

“Dined at the Barbicue”: Washington Goes Picnicking

In the summer of 1770, George Washington came to Fredericksburg for an extended stay. His time here would seem familiar to anyone who has gone back to their childhood hometown. While in town he visited his mother, went to the tavern to play cards with old friends, and stayed with his sister and brother-in-law. But the most interesting moment of his stay was on August 4, 1770 when he records…

“Dined at the Barbicue with a great deal of other Company and stay’d there till Sunset.”

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While it is difficult to understand what exactly he meant by ‘Barbicue’. It is safe to assume that it was a communal meal similar to a modern day cook-out. Going to a cookout, a barbecue or a picnic, in today’s parlance, all mean pretty much the same thing – eating well-known foods while outdoors, probably seated on the ground, in a casual atmosphere.  Above all, it is a highly social gathering.  We use these kinds of meals to celebrate national holidays, family occasions or just a beautiful day – it’s what Americans do.  But where did this past-time come from?

In England, the idea of consuming light fare outdoors in the form of a picnic had been around since as early as 1748, when the word “picnic” first shows up in writing.  The word was probably a corruption of the French “pique nique” which basically means “to pick at small foods,” but for the English a picnic meant a fully mobile meal and all the accoutrements necessary to eat it.  Baskets of food were packed, equipment for entertainment (games of cricket or maybe some hunting or fishing) was gathered, and wagons were loaded (usually one for guests, and one or more for the provisions).  Then, the party set off to a pre-determined picturesque location, where it was all unpacked and set up by servants.  Although we might be amazed at the sheer volume of stuff these picnics required (everything from chairs and tables to cutlery and glassware), an 18th century English picnic was still considered a very informal affair by that time’s standards.  Guests might even be asked to contribute dishes to the meal (a forerunner of our potlucks), making recipes for picnic food were all the rage by the late 18th century.

This painting shows chairs being provided for the ladies to use during lunch on a fishing trip. The Anglers' Repast (1789) by George Morland, 1763–1804, British, Oil on canvas. Public domain. Credit: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

This painting shows chairs being provided for the ladies to use during lunch on a fishing trip. The Anglers’ Repast (1789) by George Morland, 1763–1804, British, Oil on canvas. Public domain. Credit: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

While picnic’s etymology is relatively easy to trace, ‘Barbecue’ is far more difficult to pin down in the 17th and 18th centuries. Even the term itself is nearly impossible to decipher. The earliest known recording comes from a Spanish explorer in 1526, who used it as a verb meaning to roast meat. In 1672, the first reference in English came from the writings of John Lederer, a German explorer of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Originally written in Latin, Lederer’s expedition reports were translated into English by Maryland’s Governor Sir William Talbot and published.

Many scholars believe the word “barbecue” most likely derives from the West Indian word “barbacoa” in the 16th century.  Believed to be a Taino word (although this is still up to scholarly debate), it is a term for slow-roasting meat over hot coals, usually using plenty of green saplings that would have created a lot of smoke. The meat originally roasted in this style was probably not the ubiquitous pork barbecue. While Christopher Columbus did bring some pigs on his voyage, it is Hernando de Soto who is credited with introducing the pig into Central America and Florida in 1539.

The word, and the meat, was probably encountered by ships’ crews during the colonial period and eventually made its way to the American colonies.  Slow-roasting meat and spicing it with various rubs and marinades was a familiar concept in a many parts of the world, and especially on the African continent, so enslaved Africans living in the colonies also helped to proliferate the cooking method.  As happened with many traditions from around the globe that found their way to the New World, a true “barbecue” as George would know it quickly became a uniquely American concept, combining the English love of a good outdoor meal and the exotic foods and cooking methods of the West Indies and Africa.

While the first American barbecues were practical affairs, held among enslaved communities or farming populations during the slaughtering season so as to quickly cook and preserve as much meat as possible, they very quickly took on a much more social aspect.  An entire town might gather for a barbecue, which might last for several days, perhaps to coincide with court days or a market.

Between 1769 and 1774, George Washington recorded his attendance at six such affairs in his diary, including one barbecue that he hosted himself, another that was probably held at Fielding Lewis’s house in Fredericksburg, and a third in Alexandria at which he stayed all night.

Meghan Budinger
Aldrich Director of Curatorial Operations

Joe Ziarko
Manager of Interpretation & Visitor Services