First Fourth: Fireworks were dynamite in 1840 survey expedition

It can be difficult to think of Independence Day without parades, hotdogs and burgers on the grill, fireworks or beer. And yet, none of those things were available to Dr. Douglass Houghton and his scientific party on July 4, 1840, as they conducted field surveys of the Upper Peninsula for the state of Michigan in that year.

Two members of that party, Bela Hubbard and Charles Penny, kept journals of that 1840 expedition, and their two journal entries, when combined, offer a detailed account of that celebration.

The party had arrived in Copper Harbor on July 3 to conduct geological surveys of the area to determine if the presence of copper warranted deeper exploration. On the Fourth, the day was celebrated by the members of the party forming a procession and marching to music through their camp. The procession began with the member singing “Hail Columbia” and the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

During the work that day, their fireworks consisted of several blasts of rock to study for copper content.

Finishing their day’s tasks at 5 p.m., they did not grill hot dogs, brats or burgers. Rather, it is recorded, they ate fried and stewed pigeons, bean soup, corn, hard bread, pork, short cake and a “can of fine oysters preserved for the occasion.”

Twenty-three years later, at the village of Clifton near the Cliff mine, five miles from Eagle River, Henry Hobart recorded another Independence Day celebration. In his journal entry for July 4, 1863, he wrote that the Cornish miners did not celebrate the American holiday as he felt they should.

“On an occasion of this kind in a new country,” he wrote, “a celebration is attended by many sad and disgusting scenes especially where ‘Paddy’s eye water’ is plenty and beer by the half barrel or as a Cornishmen would prefer by the quart or bloody drop.”

Not everyone celebrated the holiday in such a manner, however. Hobart, Clifton’s school teacher, went on to record that his students formed a long procession, complete with banners waving, and marched to military music to the Methodist church, where seats and a platform had been built.

Prayers and singing were then enjoyed, with a speech by the Rev. Baughman, followed by “lemonade, candy, nuts (and) provisions to the satisfaction of all.”

In both documented cases, processions of some type are listed. Such processions later evolved into parades.

Picnics were another common way to celebrate such holidays as Independence Day, also, but seldom was food cooked during the celebration. Usually, it had been prepared the evening before.

It was not until after World War II that grilling become a popular holiday pastime.

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