Commerical public garden owners did not confine celebrations honoring the new nation to the Fourth of July in the last decade of the 18th century. They eagerly commemorated the purchase of a new territory; the inauguration of a new administration; the passing visit of a sitting president; or the memory of a hero; especially the country's first president.
Almost religiously in the years just after his death, patrons publically honored George Washington, as they visited pleasure gardens. Washington was no longer just a hero & the nation's first president, he was a god.
VISITS FROM LIVING PRESIDENTS
When President John Adams was visiting New York City one July evening in 1797, Frenchman Joseph Delacroix offered at his public pleasure garden a "Grand Concert, in Honor of the President of the United States" including a special feature at the conclusion, a "Transparency of the President, with grand Illuminations."
John Adams by Charles Willson Peale Independence Park, Philadelphia.
A year later when President Adams stopped in New York City on his way to Massachusettes, competing French garden owner, Joseph Corré, presented a special program of patriotic songs honoring Adams at Columbia Garden. A strong Federalist and a central figure in the Constitutional Convention, President Adams tried to protect the young nation from the war raging between France and Britain.
Americans during the early national period did not limit their celebrations of democracy to just their own nation. A Baltimore newspaper advertisement in September of 1794, gave notice of Gray's Gardens having an evening of "splendid illumination" to commemorate the founding of the French republic in 1792.
Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix
Just as women did not have the vote in the new republic, women were not allowed at all public garden celebrations. Although the proprietor Richard Gray invited both ladies and gentlemen to his Baltimore gardens to celebrate the Frenchmen's "late and glorious successes over their combined enemies," Gray also announced a public dinner, for interested men only, to be served at the garden on the evening of the "festive occasion."
Ladies were not invited to the supper celebration, where gentlemen of the town gathered to eat, smoke, and toast independence under a blaze of light. America's democracy was, after all, for men only; and the distinction was apparent even in the garden.
Joseph Delacroix did not limit his commemorations to honoring General Washington, he began the 1801 garden season at Vauxhall with a special program "in the European Stile" to celebrate the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Inside the Temple of Justice Delacroix placed "two Hearts, representing Jefferson and Burr, with this inscription, Pro Patria, and Justice presiding, with a civic crown and laurel in her hand, with this inscription, There is no doubt but they will deserve it."
Thomas Jefferson by by Thaddeus Kosciuszko
Thomas Garrett, the chronicler of New York City public pleasure gardens, wrote, "Delacroix's partiotism never exceeded his urge to turn a dollar," for the owner placed at the center of the temple a pedestal containing excellent liquors for sale a 2 shillings a glass.
The fireworks that climaxed the evening included "the American Bouquet, with Jefferson above, all displayed in a flight of Rockets...the Sixteen States, represented by the same number of American lights, guided in their discharge by Jefferson and Burr," who were depicted in "Colored Fires" as the finale.
New Yorkers celebrated the inauguration with processions, bell ringing, public dinners, and interminable speeches, but some were offended by Delacroix's firey depiction of Jefferson and Burr.
LOUISIANA PURCHASE AND BAY OF TRIPOLI
In 1803, Delacroix commissioned a transparent painting of New Orleans, which he displayed with fireworks to celebrate the Louisiana Purchase. In 1805, he created one of his most elaborate salutes to the new nation, "a grand Theatric Representation of the nautical exploits of the American Squadron in the Mediteranean."
Delacroix recreated the 1803 and 1804 battles in the Bay of Tripoli led by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur and Captain Edward Preble in fireworks. As a backdrop, Delacroix commissioned panoramic paintings of the Bay of Tripoli showing Algiers with its fortifications and the surrounding hills plus several ship models including one of the captured frigate Philadelphia.
Battle at Tripoli
The entire battle was recreated in a booming five act fireworks extravaganza. Delacroix laid out the scenario, "The INTREPID, BOMB KETCH, accompanied by the SYREN Schooner, are seen entering the port of Tripoli--The Syren takes her allotted station near the entrance. The Intrepid advances to the frigate, on which flies the TRIPOLITAN FLAG. They board, the Tripolitan Flag is struck, and the Frigate is discovered on FIRE. The BATTERIES commence a BRISK FIRE upon the Ketch, who returns the fire, and displaying the AMERICAN FLAG, departs successful amidst the fire of the enemy." (Delacroix fireworks description.)
Lieutenant Stephen Decatur kills the captain of a Tripolitan gunboat in a hand-to-hand engagement at Tripoli, August 3, 1804, during the wars with the Barbary pirates. (Naval Historical Center)
The Frigate still burning, the masts and rigging give way as she is consumed; the cannon on board are discharged by the heat. GRAND EXPLOSION of the MAGAZINE; Spars, Rigging, &c. discharging in the air. (Delacroix fireworks description.)
Stephen Decatur at Tripoli, during the boarding of a Tripolitan gunboat on 3 August 1803. by William A.K. Martin (1817-1867), 1851.
The Hull drifts from her burnt cables and strikes upon a Rock at the foot of Bashaw's Castle ...A number of BOMB KETCHES advance in order to attack, and commence the BOMBARDMENT; the enemy open their fire from the Castle and Battery. (Delacroix fireworks description.)
Naval Hero Stephen Decatur by Thomas Sully 1814.
Shells are thrown into the city from the Ketches, several of which fall on the houses and set them on fire, the SPIRES and part of the BUILDINGS are consumed; the Americans depart with the tide, having accomplished their design, in setting fire to the city; the city still burning, the Timbers, &c. appear in the flames, and fall to pieces as they are consumed." (Delacroix fireworks description.)
Less than a decade later, Decatur's fame would grow. Stephen Decatur, Jr (1779–1820), born in Maryland, was an American naval officer notable for his heroism at Tripoli in the Barbary Wars & during the War of 1812. He was the youngest person ever to reach the rank of captain in the US Navy, and the first American celebrated as a military hero who had not played a role in the American Revolution.
In 1820, Commodore James Barron challenged Decatur to a duel in Maryland. Decatur had served on the court-martial that had found Barron guilty of unpreparedness in battle, which barred him from a command for the next 5 years. Decatur died 2 days after the duel from a wound to the abdomen. Barron lived.
FEDERAL TRADE EMBARGO
Delacroix presented one of his last extravaganza's, a day long celebration of the relief at the lifting of the Federal Trade Embargo, in the early summer of 1809. It began with a sunrise flag raising, continued with an exhibition of patriotic transparent paintings, a concert of patriotic music, and ended in the evening with a fireworks display.
On July 10, 1809 Delacroix offered the Vauxhall Garden for sale. The commercial garden did not sell, business dwindled, and Delacroix initiated very few original spectacles celebrating democracy at his famous garden. Over the early years of the republic, few garden public pleasure garden owners were as determined in their celebration of America as a new nation.
After the lifting of the Trade Embargo, business at New York City public pleasure gardens began to wane and even celebrations of the Fourth of July became less ambitious.