Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fourth of July Fun Facts and Contest!

It’s Independence week here on History’s Mistress. So to get the festivities into full gear let’s play what I like to call Fourth of July Myths debunked. Come on, you know you want to play! I can tell.  

There are five major myths about the Fourth of July that most people have embraced over the years, decades, and centuries. I’ve rarely seen them corrected in history class or in casual conversation (of course who other than freaky History geeks like myself would bring this stuff up in casual conversation. Imagine sitting at the bar, fruity clichéd drink grasped firmly in your hand as you gaze at the hot tamale next you and say…”Hey, baby, let me tell you about John Adams and the Continental Congress.” The sheer sexiness in the statement would inflame their lust and you’d have to do it against a wall…It could happen)

Number 1, and possibly the biggest myth or misconception surrounding the Fourth of July is that Independence was declared on the Fourth of July. It wasn’t.  America actually declared independence from those tea drinking Nancy boys on July 2nd,  1776 (The first vote occurred today – July 1st)  In the Pennsylvania Evening Post, on the night of the second, was published a statement that read “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.” Cool, huh? On July 3rd, John Adams – a major player in the fight for independence and our second president – sent a letter to his wife Abigail about the signing. “But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.” (If you’re so inclined the letters that passed between Abby and John can be found collected in any number of books. They make great reading for two reasons; you get a bird’s-eye view of the struggle for independence and a glimpse into an amazing love affair.)

On to myth number 2. The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th.  Nope, wrong again. The Declaration, which you can view when you travel to the National Archives in Washington D.C (which I did and when I saw it and the Constitution, I got a little misty eyed. Do not judge me or there will be no presents at the end of the week) was signed by August 2nd when a clean copy was finally produced by the assistant to the secretary of the congress, Timothy Matlack.  Most delegates signed it that day, some waited for months later to finally add their names. The names of the delegates who signed weren’t even released to the public until January 1777.

Number 3 and one of my personal favorites is that the Liberty Bell rang for American Independence. We’ve all seen the movies where the adorable moppet of a boy runs into Independence Hall and rings the bell for freedom, truth, justice and the American way…oh wait that last part was Superman. It’s a cute story and a great marketing ploy for Philly, but it likely never happened that way. The Bell may have been rung, but no one took note of it. In fact the Liberty Bell isn’t even named for the Revolutionary War. The name Liberty Bell didn’t even occur until around 1830 when abolitionists used the bell as a symbol of their cause. Personally, I think the Liberty Bell did in fact ring on July 2nd but it was most likely one of many. And the crack, not from ringing in freedom. No one really knows how the bell cracked but we do know that it happened somewhere between 1817 and 1846.

“Hey Oh Mistress of History, Betsy Ross sewed the first flag didn’t she?” I’m so glad you asked imaginary blog reader who lives in my head from time to time. No she didn’t and now we have myth number 4.  The story goes that General Washington came to Betsy and asked her to sew the very first symbol of our freedom, requesting six stars. Betsy told Wooden Teeth that five were easier to cut out and stitch. He relented. All bunk. Seriously there is no historical evidence to support any of this, but don’t tell the nice folks who work at the Betsy Ross House in Philly…you might get hurt. Just saying.  We don’t know who sewed the first flag but we do know who designed it. Frances Hopkinson. (Betcha never heard that name before. Google it…go ahead…I’ll give you a minute…done? Cool) Still makes a good story right?

Ok so this one is not a myth but it is still a cool piece of America trivia. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – the idea man and the writer – both died on July 4th, 1826. Story goes that Adams on his deathbed uttered the words "Jefferson survives" which would have been especially moving since Jefferson had died a few hours earlier. Most likely he never said this.

So there you have it, some fun misconceptions about the Fourth of July. Keep stopping by during the week for all sorts of Revolutionary War fun and facts. Plus, one random commenter over the course of the week will receive an E-book copy of Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell or Drift by Rachel Maddow. It will be winner’s choice. Make sure you leave your email for me in the comments and which book you’d prefer if you win. Winner will be chosen on July 8th, the one year anniversary of History’s Mistress Blog.

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