For a holiday as significant as the July 4th, it sure does have some bizarre history.
You know how it works today. We hang out on a blazing hot day, cook more hot food over a hot grill, then watch fire explode in the sky. (I’m just now putting together all the “heat” aspects of the holiday; wonder what it means?)
But as usual, there is far more behind our hot dogs and hamburgers. There are centuries of history holding up our modern-day celebrations of freedom and independence.
Some of that history is uncanny. Some is hilarious. And some of it is just downright weird. Seriously, turtle soup? More on that in a minute.
Regardless, the origin is of course the independence of our nation following a growing swell of discontent and revolutionary ideals. It is the birth of everything we now have and see.
But you know all about that, don’t you? Let’s get to the interesting stuff.
1) Wrong Date?
It might sound like treason, but we kind of maybe picked the wrong date to celebrate each July—depending on what part of our history you value most. We were all this close to celebrating the 2nd of July as Independence Day each year.
On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence for the colonies, which was, as you can imagine, a significant moment. If you were living at the time, you would have no reason to believe that particular day would not be remembered for a very long time. In fact, John Adams had this to say in a letter to his wife:
“[July 2] will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary festivals.”
Prophetically, he suggested that celebrations should include such staples as games, sports, bonfires, and parades. But apparently, he turned down party invitations to later July 4th celebrations, believing it was the wrong date to hold such parties.
But two days later, that same Continental Congress adopted a piece of paper called the Declaration of Independence,” and later somebody thought it was important or something.
2) The Most Patriotic Coincidence Ever
In one of those crazy, near-conspiracy type of historical facts, both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams (two former presidents who had signed the Declaration) died within hours of each other on a certain day in 1826—the Fourth of July. That day was exactly 50 years from what we now know as America’s Independence Day.
President James Monroe died on July 4th, too, in 1831. But he was just a wee lad of 18 when the Declaration was signed (not by him), so his death isn’t quite so spooky.
In 2012, most U.S. flags ($3.6 million worth) were imported, having been made in China…
4) The Star-Spangled Banner (A.K.A. Your Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather’s Drinking Song)
That great ode to independence written by Francis Scott Key is neither an ode to independence nor written by Francis Scott Key—kind of.
Key definitely wrote the words, in a poem (with three other verses!). But the melody was written during the War of 1812, not the American Revolution.
More interestingly, the melody later applied to his first verse to create “The Star-Spangled Banner” came from an English drinking song called “To Anachreon in Heaven.” It’s got Venus and Bacchus in there, so yeah. Somehow, though, our national anthem avoided any mention of wine.
5) Right Back at Ya
The Philippines was governed by the United States for some time and was later a commonwealth of the United States. But on July 4, 1946, the U.S. granted full independence to the Philippines, whose residents now celebrate the day as “Republic Day.”
Rwandans also celebrate July 4th, calling it “Liberation Day,” the day when the Rwandan Genocide ended and a new government was born in its wake.
6) Other Interesting July 4th Events in History
Unsurprisingly, other interesting things have happened throughout human history on July 4th—events that weren’t the adoption of the Declaration of Independence or the deaths of U.S. presidents.
Here are a few:
- 1997 – NASA’s Pathfinder lands on Mars. The rover it sent out took more than 10,000 photos of the planet’s landscape.
- 1855 – The first edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was published. “O Captain! My Captain!” didn’t appear in the collection until the fourth edition, in 1867.
- 1987 – A rock concert organized by American promoters and the Soviet government is given in Moscow, for the purpose of peace. The event had its tensions, though. Interestingly, performers like Santana, Bonnie Raitt, and the Doobie Brothers played, but some observers said Russians in the crowd were bored until a Russian folk troupe hit the stage.
7) Turtle Soup
There’s a legend that says John Adams and his wife, Abigail, ate not hot dogs but turtle soup on July 4, 1776. While this is almost certainly false (they were in separate cities that day), turtle soup was in fact a New England delicacy at the time, so that part isn’t strange.
There’s this great line from a Delish.com article:
“The same way we excitedly fire up our grills at the first sign of warm weather, early Americans got their turtle-catching nets ready and headed down to the turtle pond.”
8) Famous Birthdays
Celebrities born on the Fourth of July do not include Tom Cruise, but they do include Calvin Coolidge, George Steinbrenner, Chef Andrew Zimmern, and TV Show Host Geraldo Rivera.
I’ll bet you didn’t expect to read about Russian peace concerts in a post about Independence Day, did you?
Like I said, the Fourth of July is weird. It’s awesome, it’s inspiring, it’s full of historical significance—but it definitely has it’s strange side, too.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading some of the unusual events and stories surrounding America’s core holiday (and its date) as much as I’ve enjoyed researching them. Enjoy all the summer barbecue, wherever you are, and as always, stay safe.
Also, maybe think about jumping in the pool to get away from all that hot stuff.
By: Ryan Drawdy
June 30, 2017