Thursday, July 3, 2014

Celebrating Independence Day 2014 at Sargent House

Fourth of July Celebration in Centre Square, Philadelphia, 1819, by John Lewis Krimmel
In celebration of the Fourth of July this year, we at the Sargent House Museum would like to share excerpts from Judith's description of the Independence Day celebration in Philadelphia in 1790. Judith traveled to Philadelphia with her second husband, Reverend John Murray, to attend the first national convention of Universalists.

While there, the couple were swept up in the hubbub of the first organized observance of the Fourth of July in Philadelphia, a city that truly awed and enchanted Judith. Our nation's first capital, Philadelphia was the most cosmopolitan of American cities at the time, and it offered Judith opportunities to attend the theater as well as meet some of the leading personalities of the day. We share her excitement as she pens a letter to her parents back home in Gloucester, painting a picture for them of both the artistry and the sheer ebullience of the event.

Tammany Society Celebrating the 4th of July, 1812,
William P. Chappel (1800-1880) 
Judith was particularly taken by the grand theatrical spectacle that unfolded in the gardens along the waterway of the city. Such pageantry was based upon French prototypes of political street theatre. Notably, it offered women the opportunity to assert their participation in politics and publicly voice their opinions in demonstrations of their patriotism.1 We can imagine how this exercise of female equality thrilled Judith. She colorfully describes ceremonies populated by: 

"— a number of heathen Deities rendered luminous, and distinguished by their insignia — Bridge dressed in shrubbery, and appropriate Colours for every state in the Union — The Arms of America and France entwined by Liberty — a rich display of Fire works, exhibited from the Lawn, in front of the Federal temple — Thirteen Boys, and an equal number of Girls, issuing from the Grove, habited as shepherds, and shepherdesses, and proceeding to the Federal Temple, chanting responsively, an Ode to Liberty, with a number of songs, Odes, and Choruses, in honour of the auspicious event, which the day commemorated."
Judith continues, " ...never did I behold a scene more truly enchanting than Nature then presented, upon the Banks of the Schuylkill — The river was divinely serene, and the margin was ornamented by romantic, and beautifully variegated imagery —"2

Judith also mentions a discourse delivered that Sunday at Christ Church to the fraternal Order of the Cincinnati, a military officers' organization to which her brother Winthrop belonged, as well as the troops' participation in Monday's commemorations: 
"The Cincinnati were handsomely complimented, and their virtues feelingly eulogized — [Rev. Dr. Smith] barely touched upon the apprehensions, with which the order had filled the people, and judiciously allowed our band of Heroes, the applause which they so justly merited, when instead of arming themselves with indignant pride, they evinced the benign aspect of their association, by revising, correcting, and pruning, and by attributing to a holy jealousy in their fellow Citizens, suspicions for which, had they been activated by the motives imparted to them, they would have found it easy, to have assigned a more malignant cause. Illustrious Warriors, in that moment of self government, the splendid triumphs of dignified condescension, were more glorious, than those fading, and diminished rays, which gild the Coronet or beam around the proudest Monarch who ever wore a crown — ...  On Monday every restraint being taken off, the ebullations of hilarity obtained their utmost latitude — The bells were clamorous, the colors displayed, and the Cannon discharged — The military of every description was concluded by a display of fire works from the State House, and a superb illumination of Schuylkill gardens."3  

The Fourth of July continues to be a celebration of our nation's "band of Heroes," and the Sargent House Museum would like to announce that we are now officially a “Blue Star Museum,” providing free entry to military families from Memorial Day through Labor Day.4 It is one little way of saying "thank you" to the men and women who serve. 

As the wife of an Army veteran, I’m very proud we’re participating in this initiative. We hope to see you soon at the home of one of our Founding Mothers, Judith Sargent Murray.

Happy Fourth of July!

By Kimberlee Cloutier-Blazzard, Development Associate

1. Susan Branson, These Fiery Frenchified Dames: Women and Political Culture in Early National Philadelphia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 1 and n.3.
2. Judith Sargent Murray, Letter 768 To my Father and Mother, Philadelphia, Arch Street, July 10, 1790 — Saturday. Accessed 7/3/2014.
3. Ibid.
4. Learn more at:  

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