This chronology offers a glimpse at how the 4th of July was celebrated in good times and bad in 19th-century America. Some of these outdoor celebrations turned into unexpected calamities. John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “I believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival...It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.”
1801- In Boston, the frigates U.S.S. Constitution and U.S.S. Boston and the French corvette Berceau fire artillery salutes.
1804- The first Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi occurs at Independence Creek and is celebrated by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
1806- Two Revolutionary officers march in a parade in Bennington, Vt.
1807- In Washington, DC, the eagle which crowns the gate of the Navy Yard in Washington City is unveiled to the sound of a federal salute and music.
1809 In New Haven, Conn., the citizens there have a "plowing match."
1814- The Fourth is celebrated in Honolulu, Hawaii, with a dinner, and artillery salutes are fired from ships in the harbor there.
1815- In New York, officers from the French frigate Hermione sit on reviewing stands in front of City Hall in order to review parading troops
1817- Near Rome, New York, a ground breaking ceremony occurs for the construction of the Erie Canal.
1818- At Fell's Point in Baltimore, the steamboat United States is launched from the shipyard of Flannigan and Beachem.
1819- An early and rare example of an Independence Day oration presented (to a group of women) by a woman ("Mrs. Mead") occurs on July 3 at Mossy Spring in Kentucky.
1820- Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins attends ceremonies in New York and the Constellation is decorated with numerous national and foreign flags in New York harbor; Signer Charles Carroll of Carrollton attends the celebration at Howard's Park in Baltimore with his copy of the Declaration of Independence in hand.
1822- At Mount Vernon, Judge Bushrod Washington announces that he will no longer allow "Steam-boat parties" and "eating, drinking, and dancing parties" on the grounds there; in Saratoga County, New York, 5000 citizens and 52 soldiers of the Revolution assemble there to celebrate the Fourth on the field where Gen. Burgoyne surrendered (October 17, 1777).
1823- An elaborate ceremony takes place at Mount Vernon with Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins in attendance.
1824- in Poultney, Vermont, 200 men celebrate the day by repairing a road, after which the "ladies of the neighborhood" serve them a "plenteons repast"; Fort Atkinson (Nebraska) celebrates the Fourth of July with artillery salutes, a military parade, and a dinner replete with toasts and music.
1825- President John Q. Adams marches to the Capitol from the White House in a parade that includes a stage mounted on wheels, representing 24 states; in Brooklyn, New York, the cornerstone for the Apprentices' Library is laid and Lafayette is in attendance.
1826- 50th anniversary ( referred to as the "Jubilee of Freedom" event) in Providence, R.I., four men who participated in the capture of the British armed schooner Gaspeduring the Revolutionary War ride in a parade; in Arlington, Va., Washington's tent, the same which the General used at the heights of Dorchester in 1775, is erected near the banks of the Potomac and is used for a celebration.
1827- the Ohio Canal opens in Cleveland with Governor Allen Trimble arriving there on the first boat, State of Ohio.
1828- Charles Carroll, last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, participates in a Baltimore celebration and assists in the laying of the "first stone" of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; the frigate Constitution arrives at Boston returning from a cruise and fires "a salute in honor of the day"; the ground-breaking ceremony of the C & O Canal, north of Georgetown, takes place with President John Quincy Adams officiating.
1829- the embankments at the summit of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal are opened and water fills the canal, with large crowds and the Mayor of Philadelphia Benjamin W. Richards in attendance; in Cincinnati, an illuminated balloon, 15 feet in diameter, is sent aloft.
1831- in Alexandria, Va., a ground breaking ceremony for the Alexandria branch of the C&O Canal occurs, with G.W.P. Custis and town mayor John Roberts providing the speeches; in Georgetown, a " beautiful new packet boat, called the George Washington," commences her first run on the C&O Canal; in Charleston, S.C., citizens march in a parade carrying banners "on which were inscribed the names of battles fought in the Revolution, and in the late War"
1832- in Washington, Henry Clay attends the National Republican Celebration that's held on the bank of the Potomac River.
1838- In Providence, Rhode Island, 29 veterans of the revolution take part in the procession there.
1839- In Hagerstown, Md., the only 2 surviving soldiers of the Revolutionary War there ride in a carriage pulled by white horses; in the New York harbor, 1000 ships converge, "all gaily dressed in honor of the day"; at Norfolk, an elephant "attached to the menagerie" there swims across the harbor from Town Point to the Portsmouth side and back.
1840- in Providence, R.I., a "Clam Bake" is held and 220 bushes of clams are eaten; Oshkosh, Wisconsin, celebrates its first Fourth of July
1841- In New York, the steamship Fulton is anchored off the Battery and displays fireworks and "glittering lamps" in honor of the day.
1842- In New York harbor, the U.S. North Carolina, the frigate Columbia, and the English frigate Warspite exchange artillery salutes, and in the harbor as well, Sam Colt's "sub-marine experiment" for blowing up enemy ships is tested successfully; in Washington, D.C., the "Grand Total Abstinence Celebration," made up of several temperance societies, takes place there;
1843- The beginning of the annual tradition of lighting the Spring Park with candles in the Moravian community of Lititz, Pa.
1844- In Charleston, S.C., the faculty and trustees of Charleston College march in a city-wide "Festival of the Teachers and Scholars" parade; "Liberty Pole Raisings" and flag raisings in support of the Whigs political party take place in Louisville, Ky., Wheeling and Harper's Ferry, W.V., and Montrose, Pa.
1845- in Nashville, Tennessee, the corner-stone of the State House is laid.
1848- In Washington, the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument takes place with the President of the United States, Dolley Madison, and other persons of distinction in attendance;
1850- The laying of a block of marble by the "Corporation" in the Washington Monument in the District of Columbia takes place.
1851- In Washington, President Fillmore assists in the laying of the "cornerstone of the new Capitol edifice" while Daniel Webster gives his last Fourth of July oration there; Greenville, S.C., holds an anti- secession celebration with 4,000 persons in attendance.
1853- Williamsburg, Va., fires off a national salute of 32 guns by Captain Taft's Company of Light Artillery; in Providence, R.I., the original carriage used by George Washington when he was in Providence is used in a parade there; In Cowlitz, Washington, a liberty pole is raised and the crowd there is addressed in French by "Dr. Pasquirer" who reminds them to thank "Lafayette for aid in our struggle for independence."
1854- Henry David Thoreau gives a "Slavery in Massachusetts" oration at Framingham Grove, near Boston; in Farmingham, Mass., 600 abolitionists meet and watch William Lloyd Garrison burn printings of the Constitution of the U.S. and Fugitive Slave Law, "amid applause and cries of shame";
1855- Lawrence, Kansas, holds one of the largest outdoor celebrations in that part of the country, with a crowd of over 1,500 persons.
1856- The "inauguration" of an equestrian statue (29 feet high) made by Henry K. Brown of George Washington is dedicated in New York;
1857- near Lexington, Kentucky, a corner stone of a national monument to the memory of Henry Clay is laid.
1858- Illinois Central Railroad workers attempt to launch a "monster balloon" called the "Spirit of '76" in Chicago; in Brooklyn, N.Y., the corner-stone of the Armory is laid; Jefferson Davis gives a 4th of July speech on board a steamer bound from Baltimore to Boston and declares "this great country will continue united."
1859- Denver celebrates its First Fourth of July at a grove near the mouth of Cherry Creek. Dr. Fox read the Declaration of Independence, Jas. R. Shaffer delivered the orations, and music was provided by the Council Bluffs Band.
1861- An artillery salute of 15 guns is fired at Camp Jackson near Pigs Point, Va., in honor of the Southern States that have declared and are declaring their independence; in Baltimore, the citizens there present a "splendid silk national flag, regimental size," to the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment; in Washington, D.C., 29 New York regiments are reviewed by the President at the White House; Gov. John A. Andrew of Massachusetts celebrates the 4th with the 1st Massachusetts Regiment at Camp Banks near Georgetown, D.C.
1862- A pyrotechnic depiction of the battle between the Monitor and Merrimac takes place in New York.
1863- In Concord, N.H., former president Franklin Pierce addresses 25,000 persons at the "Democratic Mass Meeting" held there; in Buffalo, N.Y., 17 veterans of the War of 1812 march in a parade there; at Annapolis, a "flag of truce" boat filled with Secessionist women from Philadelphia and elsewhere leaves on July 3rd and travels south.
1865- One of the first "Freedmen" celebrations occurs, in Raleigh, N.C.; Lincoln's "Emanicipation Proclamation" is publicly read in Warren, Ohio, and Belpassi, Oregon; the National Monument Association lays the cornerstone of the Soldier's Monument in Gettysburg; in Boston, a statue of Horace Mann is "inaugurated"; the celebration by the Colored People's Educational Monument Association in memory of Abraham Lincoln occurs in Washington, D.C.in Albany, N.Y., 100 "tattered" Civil War battle flags are presented to the state and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant is in attendance; Union General William Tecumseh Sherman participates in a 4th of July civic celebration in Louisville, Ky., and witnesses a balloon ascension there; in Hopewell, New Jersey, a monument to the memory of John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, is dedicated and New Jersey Governor Joel Parker delivers an oration; Helena, Montana celebrates its first Fourth of July, at Owyece Park, with an oration by George M. Pinney.
1866- General George G. Meade watches 10,000 war veterans parade in Philadelphia;
1867- The cornerstone of the new Tammany Hall is laid in New York while the cornerstone for a monument to George Washington is laid at Washington's Rock, N.J.; the Illinois State Association celebrates on the grounds of the Civil War battle field at Bull Run in Virginia;
1868- in Richmond, some black "societies" parade, "but there is no public celebration by the whites."
1869- A monument dedicated to George Washington is unveiled in Philadelphia; in New York, 350 Cuban "patriot" residents parade "to evoke sympathy for the Cuban revolutionary cause"; blacks celebrate the Fourth on July 3rd in Columbia, S.C.; the Declaration of Independence is read in English and German at a public celebration at Diamond Square in Pittsburgh.
1870- President Ulysses S. Grant participates in Fourth of July opening exercises in Woodstock, Conn.
1871- The New Saenger Hall is dedicated in Toledo, Ohio; the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence on the grounds of Mount Vernon takes place, the reader is John Carroll Brent, a member of D.C.'s Oldest Inhabitants Association.
1872- A monument representing an infantry soldier of the Civil War is unveiled in White Plains, N.Y.; Richmond, Va., publicly celebrates the Fourth, the first time in 12 years.
1873- In Philadelphia, the transfer of Fairmount Park for use by the Centennial Commission in preparation for the International Exhibition and Centennial Celebration in 1876 takes place; in Buffalo, N.Y., a "large delegation" of native Americans and Canadians attend a ceremony there.
1874- In Saybrook, Conn., the Thomas C. Acton Library is dedicated; in Lancaster, Pa., the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Penn Square is dedicated; Modesto, California, holds its first Fourth of July celebration and music was provided by the Modesto Brass Band.
1875- In Augusta, Georgia, the white military celebrates the Fourth, the first time in that town since the Civil War; on the Centennial Grounds in Philadelphia, the Order of B'nai B'rith hold "exercises" incident to the breaking of the ground for their proposed statue to religious liberty; at Atoka, "Indian Territory," a celebration of the Fourth by Native Americans takes place with 3,000 persons participating.
1876- Centennial celebrations (many are three-day celebrations, 3-5 July) occur throughout the United States and abroad; in Philadelphia at Fairmount Park, two separate celebrations include the German societies unveiling a statue of Baron Alexander von Humboldt; in Philadelphia as well, General Sherman reviews the troops as they parade; the long-standing tradition of Navy vessels participating in July 4th celebrations in Bristol, R.I., begins with the presence there of the U.S. sloop Juniata; in Washington, 300 artillery blasts are fired, 100 at sunrise, 100 at noon, 100 at sunset; in Richmond, Va., the U.S. and Virginia flags are raised on the Capitol for the first time on the Fourth in 16 years; in New Orleans, Louisiana, the monitor Canonicus fires a salute from the Mississippi River; in Joliet, in Quincy, Illinois, the cornerstone of the new Court House is laid; in San Francisco, a mock engagement with the iron-clad Monitor occurs and there is a parade there that is over 4 miles long, with 10,000 participants; in Savannah, Georgia, a centennial tree is planted, accompanied by appropriate speeches; in Utica, New York, 30 veterans of the War of 1812 join in a parade along with two of Napoleon's soldiers.
1877- In Woodstock, Conn., Roseland Park is dedicated and Oliver Wendell Homes reads his poem, "The ship of state, above her skies are blue."
1879- at Sunbury, Pa., Gov. Hoyt unveils a statue of Col. Cameron; in Charleston, S.C., the Lafayette Artillery, "a white militia company," fires an artillery salute, the first since 1860.
1880- Gen. James A. Garfield, is guest speaker at the dedication of the Soldiers' Monument in Painesville, Ohio; in Boston, a statue of Revolutionary War patriot Samuel Adams is unveiled; in San Francisco the first daytime fireworks ever exhibited in the country takes place at Woodward's Gardens;
1882- Buffalo, N.Y., celebrates its 50th anniversary as the laying of a cornerstone for a soldiers' monument takes place there; the chapel of Dutch Neck Church in Princeton Junction, N.J. is dedicated.
1883- The Declaration of Independence is read in Swedish at a celebration at Bergquist Park in Moorhead, Minn.; 700 Yankton and Sautee Sioux participate in a Fourth celebration in Yankton, S.D.; a monument to George Cleaves and Richard Tucker, "the first settlers of Portland," is unveiled in Portland, Maine; in Woodstock, Conn., John Greenleaf Whittier's poem, "Our Country," is read at the public celebration there; Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show opens at North Platte, Neb.; former President Rutherford B. Hayes is in Woodstock, Conn., attending the ceremony and giving a speech; in Plainfield, N.J., a Revolutionary cannon (dating to 1780), known as the "one-horn cannon," is fired.
1884- The formal presentation of the Statue of Liberty takes place in the Gauthier workshop in Paris; in Swan City, Colorado, miners blow up the town's Post Office because they are not supplied with fireworks.
1885- Gen. Abraham Dally, 89-year old veteran of the War of 1812 raises the flag at the Battery in New York while the French man-of-war La Flore, decorated with flags and bunting, holds a public reception on board in New York harbor; in Jamestown, N.Y., a mock Civil War battle is fought.
1887- First Fourth of July celebration in Yellowstone National Park takes place; in Providence, R.I., a statue of Union Army General Ambrose Burnside is unveiled.
1888- A commemoration of Francis Scott Key and dedication of the first monument of him in the West is unveiled in San Francisco; in Amesbury, Mass., a statue of Josiah Bartlett, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence, is unveiled.
1890- In Chattanooga, Tenn., 2,000 Confederate veterans march in a parade, without Confederate flags, while four generals (Gen. George B. Gordon, La.; Gen. W.S. Cabell, Tex.; Gen. E. Kirby Smith, Tenn.; Gen. "Tige" Anderson, Georgia) give speeches there; in Portland, Maine, General Sherman and other generals attend the Army of the Potomac celebration there.
1891- A Tioga County, N.Y., soldier's monument is unveiled in Owego, N.Y.; in Plainfield, N.J., a cannon used in the War of 1812 is fired; in Newark, N.J., at Caledonian Park, 5,000 German Saengerbunders, accompanied by an orchestra of 200 pieces, sing the "Star-Spangled Banner"; on this day, Cheraw, S.C., is the first town in that state to celebrate the Fourth in over 30 years; the Seventy-Second Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers from Philadelphia dedicates a bronze monument in Gettysburg; in Buffalo, N.Y., the Society of Veterans parade in honor of the Army of the Potomac.
1892- in New York, ground is broken for the statue of Columbus, a gift from Italy to the city; in New York harbor, the Brazilian cruiser Almirante Barroso is gayly decorated with a 40-foot American flag.
1893- a bronze statue made by Thomas Ball of P.T. Barnum is unveiled in Bridgeport, Conn.
1894- In Huntington, N.Y., a memorial to Captain Nathan Hale is unveiled; Vice President Stevenson gives a speech on the historic battlefield of Guilford Court House in Greensboro, N.C.; in Cleveland, the dedication of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument takes place and Gov. William McKinley gives a speech at the ceremony; at the state fair of Illinois, the corner stone of the exposition building is laid; in Montevideo, Minnesota, the Camp Release Monument, commemorating the Dakota Conflict of 1862, is dedicated.
1884- in Laconia NH merchants agreed to close their businesses at 12 noon on the 4th, so all could attend the Ancient Order of the Hibernian picnic at Lake Shore Park, where $200 worth of fireworks would top off a day anticipated to bring “a monster crowd of four or five thousand people, largely from Concord and Manchester and low rates have been obtained on the railroads.”
1896- In Brooklyn, N.Y., a bronze statue of Maj. Gen. Gouverneur Kemble Warren, commander of the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac, is unveiled.
1897- in Avondale, Ohio, Thomas C. McGrath unveils a statue of Thomas Jefferson "on the lawn in front of his beautiful residence on Rockdale and Wilson Avenues."
1898- At Washington Grove, Md., a few miles outside of Washington, D.C., Mrs. J. Ellen Foster is the orator of the day and gives a traditional Fourth of July address; in Auburn, Calif., the Placer County Courthouse is dedicated; in Waynesburg, Pa., the cornerstone for the Soldier's and Sailor's Monument for Civil War veterans of Greene County is laid.
1899- "Horseless-carriages" take part in a Fourth celebration in Dyersville, Iowa; in Helena, Montana, the cornerstone of the new State Capitol is laid.
For much, much more on July 4th celebrations, see
The Fourth of July Encyclopedia by James R. Heintze (2007)