Most of us learned all about early America in our history classes, but there’s far more to this holiday than we learned in school. That history includes misinterpreted dates, food legends, old and new traditions, and highly coincidental deaths. Click through to find out more about the Fourth of July.
We have all heard the phrase “as American as apple pie,” but the fact is that apple pie is not all that American. The dessert had roots in other cultures before America even existed. Only one breed of apple is indigenous to North America, but early European settlers brought many kinds of apples to the colonies, along with the original recipe for the pie.
Summertime backyard barbecues are nothing without hot dogs. But the Fourth of July is the biggest hot dog holiday of the year, when more than 155 million hot dogs are consumed. Even though they are an American staple, no one really knows where the hot dog even came from — though it is likely that the hot dog is derived from common European sausages brought over by butchers.
Most people drink beer on the Fourth of July, but the Revolutionary War fighters celebrated with another classic libation — rum. On the second Independence Day in 1778, George Washington ordered a double ration of rum for American soldiers to celebrate with. So this July 4, pour yourself a strong rum cocktail. It’s what the Founding Fathers would have wanted.
That story we all know and love about Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross and the American flag might be just that — a story. Historians have found no evidence of her involvement with the design of the nation’s flag. While she did make flags for Pennsylvania state ships, there is no record of her meeting with George Washington or other colonial leaders to come up with the flag. In fact, the tale was formulated 94 years later when one of Ross’ grandsons told the story to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1870, just before the country’s centennial in 1876. The idea of a humble seamstress designing the flag was impossible to resist.
Today, we eat burgers and hot dogs by the dozen on Independence Day. Our Founding Fathers, however, feasted on completely different foods to celebrate the nation’s birthday. John Adams and his wife indulged in turtle soup, New England poached salmon with egg sauce, green peas, and boiled new potatoes in jackets for their July 4 meal in 1776, followed by Indian pudding or apple pandowdy for dessert.
United States Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons
The Second of July may truly be the appropriate date to mark Independence Day. It was on July 2, 1776, that Congress actually ruled in favor of independence from Great Britain. Only two Founding Fathers signed on July 4. John Adams was in favor of celebrating America’s independence on July 2.
The Fourth of July is not only a day for celebration, but also a time to commemorate the lives of three U.S. presidents. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson passed away within hours of each other on July 4, 1826. In 1831, James Monroe also died on Independence Day.
The night before the Fourth was once the focal point of festivities. New England towns competed to build towering pyramids using hogsheads, barrels, and casks every July 3. At nightfall, these pyres were lit to ring in the celebration. The tallest bonfires recorded were made up of as many as 40 tiers and were found in Salem, Massachusetts. This custom flourished in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and is practiced to this day in some New England towns.
The U.S. was founded in 1776, so you think it would be an official, paid national holiday starting in 1777. But that is not the case. Congress didn’t approve a bill to make Independence Day an official holiday until 1870, 94 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.
In July 1776, when the United States was founded, it was a small country of 13 colonies and 2.5 million people, according to the Census Bureau. Needless to say, the nation has grown in the years since. The estimated American population on July 4, 2016, was upwards of 323 million people.
Red, white, and blue have become the colors associated with America, but it hasn’t always been that way. Paper was hard to come by and red, white, and blue weren't easily available colors either, so early Americans used greenery as celebratory decorations. This all started with George Washington and soldiers wearing greenery in their hats.
Sometimes the smallest towns throw the biggest parties. This is most definitely true of Seward, Nebraska. Since 1868, Seward has held an Independence Day celebration in the same town square. In 1979, Congress designated Seward as “America's Official Fourth of July City — Small Town USA.” The small town of 6,000 swells to over 40,000 revelers during the holiday celebrations. Love not just small towns, but old towns? Check out our list of the towns with the most old homes in every state!
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