(1818 – 1895)
1852 July 5th Monday Orinthia & Lavinia went to Boston with
lots of others this morning Orinthia is going to Maine
on a visit Mary came to sew or to see what she
can do. I have been sewing some to day and hope
now that I shall be able to [do] more than I have
Have finished my brown muslin. Augusta
has been here in this afternoon and this evening
we have been to see the fire works at Mr Russels
The nation was 76 years old. The Fourth of July having fallen on a Sunday, however, the celebration of it was deferred to Monday. Thus Evelina and Oakes and, no doubt, their sons and daughter went to Mr. Russell’s tonight to watch some fireworks. Others traveled into Boston, perhaps to see the fireworks there.
Mr. Russell may have been Edwin Russell, a shoemaker. The Ameses knew the family, certainly, as all three sons had attended a funeral back in January for Edwin’s father, Frank. If it was Edwin who hosted the fireworks, his may not have been as elaborate as those that would be seen in Boston, but he was following a tradition established by John Adams at the very beginning of the republic.
In a letter to his wife, Abigail Adams, on July 3, 1776, John Adams described his grand vision for a commemoration of the nation’s birthday. It was to be celebrated “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of the Continent to the Other from this Time forward forever more.” His vision was realized by 1777 when both Philadelphia and Boston – and other cities or towns, perhaps – set off Fourth of July Fireworks. A tradition was born.
Not everyone celebrated the nation’s birthday, however, as Frederick Douglass, probably the country’s most prominent African-American, pointed out on this date* in a speech now famously known as “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” He said:
“I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”**
Douglass eloquently described the fissure between white lives and black, yet he did “not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery…” ** He rightly predicted its elimination, but even he could not have predicted the carnage and destruction that the end of slavery would cost.
* Frederick Douglass, “What, to the Slave, is your Fourth of July?,” various dates cited for this speech: July 5, 1852 or 1854.