Monday, June 27, 2011

Celebrate 4th of July at Fort Meigs

Fort Meigs State Historic Site in Perrysburg, OH is holding a unique 4th of July celebration this coming weekend. Visitors can experience two of the traditional celebrations that would have been typical in 18th and 19th century America: a series of toasts, and a cannon salute.

Here's this weekend's schedule:
July 2, Saturday 9:30-5 Encampment with cannon and musket demonstrations, etc.
July 3, Sunday 9:30-4 Do.
(Sunday Evening: Perrysburg City fireworks display at the Fort)
July 4, Monday 12-5 18-Gun salute and toasts at 2, weather permitting. (Weather not permitting, we usually put it off until the rain clears!)

(see the Fort Meigs website for details)

We do this each year because General Green Clay's general orders and diarists record that the garrison of the Fort put on such a celebration on July 4th, 1813:

Camp Meigs 4th July 1813--
Genl Orders
The General announces to the troops under his command the return of this day, which gave Liberty and Independence to the United States of America & Orders that a National Salute be fired under the superintendence and direction of Captains Gratiot & Cushing, all the troops reported fit for duty shall recieve an extra Gill of Whiskey, and those in confinement, and those under sentence (attached to this Camp be forthwith released and ordered to join their respective Corps-- the Genl is induced to use this lenity alone, from the Consideration of this ever memorable day, and flatters himself that in future the soldiers under his command will better appreciate their liberty, by a steady adherance to duty and prompt compliance to the Orders of their Officers by which alone they are worthy to enjoy the blessings of that Liberty and Independence the only real legacy left us by our Fathers--
 All Courts Martial now constituted in this Camp is hereby dissolved--
There will be no fatigues this day--
Robert Butler
A.A. Adjt Genl--
Captain Daniel Cushing, commander of the artillery company at the fort, recorded in his diary that:
This morning at sunrise we fired thirteen guns in honor of the 4th of July, 1776. At 1 o'clock we fired eighteen, the National salute, they were all fired from two brass twelve pounders. After the firing was over the officers all repaired to a large bower prepared by Lieut. Hawkins near the lower magazine and partook of a fine dinner. By the report of Gen. Clay there were 86 officers commissioned and staff. There were 18 toasts drank...

Toasting and artillery salutes were both common celebrations in 19th century America, as this Niles Register article records:

Today we combine the salutes with the toasts, and fire with three guns instead of two. We have primary sources which preserve the wording of the toasts (I will post them here when I turn them up), and so each year our "dignitaries" recite the original toasts accompanied by the reports of the cannon.

Another toast was drunk to General Harrison a few years after the war ended, in the March of 1817 (click for source: the Niles Weekly Register was actually printed in type this small):