LINCOLN’S NEW SALEM STATE HISTORIC SITE WILL BE OPEN ON JULY 4, 2016!
Ever wonder how the folks of New Salem celebrated Independence Day? The 4th of July was a major holiday for our 19th century ancestors! While this account from Domestic Manners of the Americans by Mrs. Frances Trollope(1832) tells us how the holiday was celebrated in a larger city than New Salem, it does offer insight into the American habits of the day. Mrs. Trollope arrived in America from England in 1827 and remained here for three years. Returning to England, she recorded her experiences in two volumes which now offer us a glimpse of our own history. Here she comments on two summer staples of American life, then and now.
Many wagon-loads of enormous water-melons were brought to market every day [in Cincinnati], and I was sure to see groups of men, women, and children seated on the pavement round the spot where they were sold, sucking in prodigious quantities of the watery fruit. Their manner of devouring them is extremely unpleasant; the huge fruit is cut in half a dozen sections, of about a foot long, and then dripping as it is with water, applied to the mouth, from either side of which pour copious streams of the fluid, while, ever and anon, a mouthful of the hard black seeds are shot out in all directions to the great annoyance of all within reach. When I first tasted this fruit I thought it very vile stuff, indeed, but before the end of the season we all learned to like it. When taken with claret and sugar, it makes delicious wine and water. . . .
And now arrived the 4th of July, the greatest of all American festivals. On the 4th of July, 1776, the declaration of their independence was signed at the State-house in Philadelphia.
To me, the dreary coldness and want of enthusiasm in American manner is one of their greatest defects, and I therefore hailed the demonstrations of general feeling which this day elicits, with real pleasure. On the 4th of July the hearts of the people seem to awaken from a three hundred and sixty-four days’ sleep’ they appear high-spirited, gay, animated, social, generous, or at least, liberal in expense; and would they but refrain from spitting on that hallowed day, I should say, that on the 4th of July, at least, they appeared to be an amiable people. It is true that the women have but little to do with the pageantry, the splendour, or the gaiety of the day; but setting this defect aside, it was indeed a glorious sight to behold a jubilee so heartfelt as this; and had they not the bad taste and bad feeling to utter an annual oration, with unvarying abuse of the mother country to say nothing of the warlike manifest called the Declaration of Independence, our gracious king himself might look upon the scene and say that it was good; nay, even rejoice, that twelve millions of bustling bodies at four thousand miles’ distance from his throne and his altars, should make their own laws, and drink their own tea, after the fashion that pleased them best.