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Flashback to the first Fourth of July


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By John Breneman

Had to dash down to the Library of Congress this week because I realized I had an overdue book ("Curious George Plays With Fireworks"). While I was there, I began snooping around and stumbled across a document that sheds startling new light on our nation's very first July 4th celebration.

The year was 1776. (1777 Really) Thomas Jefferson threw a barbecue at his house and all the founding fathers were there, along with everybody who was anybody during those heady days before the Revolution.

The Washingtons -- George, Martha and little Denzel -- stopped by with some of Martha's famous lo-carb cherry pie, considered to be the tastiest in the Colonies.

John and Abigail Adams brought a crate of lobsters and their 9-year-old son John Quincy, who did nothing but complain that little Andy Jackson, also 9, kept knocking his glasses off.

Adams' older brother Samuel, wearing a stylish puffy shirt and brown vest, hauled along plenty of his famous "hand-crafted" beer and kept urging people to try his Bunker Hill Pale Ale.

Young Aaron Burr brought some pistols in case anyone wanted to duel and Benjamin Franklin had a box full of kites festooned with an array of stripes and stars.

Once most of the guests had arrived at Jefferson's Monticello estate, Paul Revere galloped up on his horse, Tea Biscuit, screaming, "The British are coming! The British are coming!"

"Just kidding," said the patriotic prankster, who then wandered off to ask Sam Adams for a Valley Forge Lager.

Meanwhile, Jefferson was playing the consummate host. He had set up a dunking booth with an unfortunate Tory dressed up like the King of England and the children hollered "Taxation without representation!" as they hurled stones to knock the hapless "king" into the water.

Garbed in a chef's hat and an apron embroidered with the words, "All menus are NOT created equal," Jefferson flipped burgers and hot dogs at the grill and ladled tankards of East India Company iced tea out of a barrel.

"Hey Jefferson," shouted fellow Virginian Patrick Henry, "Give me another corndog or give me death!"

Spirits were high because there was a growing sense that the Colonies were sick and tired of being bossed around by King George III, who little Andrew Jackson kept calling "King Georgie Porgie Fatty."

After everyone was stuffed, Jefferson gathered the whole group and pulled out a rolled-up piece of paper with some fancy writing on it. He cleared his throat and began reading. "When in the course of human events," he began, "yada, yada, yada... We hold these truths to be, um..."

"Self-evident?" suggested Ben Franklin.

"Yeah that's it, self-evident ... that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of …"

"Beer!" shouted Sam Adams.

"Naked chicks!!" exclaimed Paul Revere.

"No, Happiness," said Jefferson, who droned on for about 20 more minutes until Revere said Jefferson's "Declaration of Impudence" was right on the money.

John Hancock grabbed a pen and Adams spilled a little of his beer onto the edges of the document, saying it would help give it that "parchment" feel.

Then the celebration really started to get lively. Thomas Paine implored the revelers to use common sense, but Hancock and Franklin began lighting off crude rockets packed with gun powder and various minerals that produced colorful streaks when ignited.

As Hancock lit the fuse of a Red Glare Whistling Aerial Repeater, he was distracted for a moment by an attractive young slave and the charge detonated, blowing off both his right hand and his favorite powdered wig.

Fortunately, a young seamstress named Betsy Ross dropped what she was working on, grabbed Hancock's hand and began sewing it back onto his arm.

Despite the accident, John Adams suggested -- for real -- that henceforth we should celebrate our independence each Fourth of July with "pomp and parade ... guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore."

So that's the story of our nation's first Independence Day. I still can't believe that I found it where I did -- scrawled on the back of a 229-year-old, corndog-encrusted cocktail napkin in the shaky but unmistakable hand of John Hancock.


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"A tribute to those who signed the Declaration of Independence. And

the consequences of their signature on the Document. The signers of

the Declaration represented the new States as follows:

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat

Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams,

Oliver Wolcott

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis


New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson,

John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania: Francis Lewis, Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin

Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George

Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll

of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson,

Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter


North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch,

Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

What happened to these men?

5 of the signers were captured out right, by the British, branded as

TRAITORS, and TORTURED before they died.

12 saw their homes ransacked and burned, and their families


2 lost their sons in the Revolutionary Army. Another had 2 sons


9 of the 56 actually fought and died from wounds or the hardships of

the WAR itself.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw all

his ships swept from the sea by the British Navy. He sold his home

and his properties to pay his debts. Carter Braxton died in rags.

Thomas McKean of Delaware, was so hounded by the British, he was

forced to moved his family almost constantly. He served in the

Continental Congress during the WAR without pay. And his family was

kept in hiding. All of his possessions were taken from him. Poverty

was his reward.

Vandals or British soldiers, or perhaps both, looted the homes and

properties of William Ellery of Rhode Island, George Clymer of

Pennsylvania, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton of Georgia,

and Thomas Heyward, Jr., Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton of South


At the Battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr. of Virginia found that

the British General Cornwallis had taken over Mr. Nelson's personal

home to use as his Headquarters. Mr. Nelson sent a quiet message to

General Washington, The General had been reluctant to begin a battle

around the home of his old friend. But Nelson's message urged

General Washington to fight, to open fire, and WIN the BATTLE. And

the General did. Mr. Nelson's home was destroyed; Nelson never

recovered his fortune, and died in bankruptcy.

Francis Lewis of New York, saw his home and all properties

destroyed. The British jailed his wife in a damp dark prison cell,

and she died within a few months.

John Hart of New Jersey, was driven from his wife's bedside, as she

lay dying, their 13 children were forced to flee for their very

lives. His fields and mills were laid waste by the British Army. For

more than a year he lived in forests and caves. Returning home after

the WAR he found his wife dead, and his children, forever vanished.

A few weeks later, he too, died.

Robert Morris of Pennsylvania and Philip Livingston of New York,

suffered similar fates.

Such were the stories and sacrifices of the men who signed the

Document. The Declaration of Independence"

Freedom has never and will never be free...

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