First July Fourth celebration Old Salem NC July 4, 1783 in the Moravian village of Salem, Nation’s first official Independence Day celebration, Thanking God for peace, Governor of North Carolina proclaimed July 4 a day of public thanksgiving
“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”…Declaration of Independence
“the painful necessity of having recourse to arms in defense of our National freedom and constitutional rights, against all invasions; and at the same time do solemnly engage to take up arms and risk our lives and our fortunes in maintaining the freedom of our country whenever the wisdom and counsel of the Continental Congress or our Provincial Convention shall declare it necessary; and this engagement we will continue in for the preservation of those rights and liberties which the principals of our Constitution and the laws of God, nature and nations have made it our duty to defend.” …Tryon Resolves, NC, August 14, 1775
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”…Thomas Paine
From the Daily Beast July 4, 2014.
“Moravian settlers in NC were the first Americans to officially celebrate the 4th of July. But they weren’t partying in honor of military victory. They were thanking God for peace.
At the nation’s first official Independence Day celebration, there were no fireworks, no sparklers, and no rowdy parties. The parade was solemn, with reverent music and the call-and-response singing of two choirs. Songs were sung in German.
Those marking the nation’s hard-won independence at that first celebration had not participated in the long and bloody war, and they were not celebrating the newly free nation’s victory over the British oppressors at Yorktown. They were thanking God for peace.
That subdued celebration was on July 4, 1783, in the Moravian village of Salem, now part of the hyphenated city of Winston-Salem in Piedmont North Carolina. On January 20 of that year, a preliminary peace agreement in Paris had signaled the end of the Revolutionary War, even though the Treaty of Paris would not be signed until September.
Ecstatic over both victory and peace, Alexander Martin, the governor of the new state of North Carolina, proclaimed July 4 a day of public thanksgiving. The governor’s order was not widely heeded. Some of the more backwoods areas of the state didn’t even hear about it until the designated date had passed. But Governor Martin, on his way to somewhere else, stopped in the thriving settlement of Salem on June 30 and mentioned the proclamation.
Despite the short notice, Salem and the other Moravian villages that made up the Wachovia settlement scrambled to put together suitable observances. All the villages celebrated at least a little, by ringing bells or attending church. But the grandest, most extensive celebration was at the settlement’s main town, Salem. That, plus the Moravian fondness for documenting everything, gives Salem its claim to the first-ever Fourth of July celebration.
“Moravians kept meticulous records and wrote everything down,” said Tyler Cox, the manager of community relations for Old Salem Museums and Gardens. The Salem Diary for July 4, 1783, details the day’s events. Since no one else has produced similar proof, “We think we can pretty safely say the first celebration was here.”
Apparently, the Moravians in Salem got the jump even on their brethren who lived near Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence had been signed in 1776. The Moravians, a Protestant group in what is now the Czech Republic, had sent missionaries to establish the settlement of Bethlehem, Pa., in 1741.
A little more than a decade later, Moravians bought land in the North Carolina hills and began the Wachovia settlement. Salem was established as its center in 1766, with five outlying congregations. The Moravians were an industrious, inventive, highly organized, devout people who valued education for all. Their way of life can be observed today at a living museum.
They also had a strong pacifist tradition, dating to their founding amid the religious struggles of the 15th century as a “peace church.” Members were forbidden to serve in the military. They lived by the teachings in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.
It’s little wonder that by 1783, the Moravians in Salem were thrilled that the battles were over. During the Revolution, both British and rebels harassed them, collected fines, and even attacked them physically. Some young men hid in the forest to escape being pressed into service. A few did join with the rebels; the church forgave them later.
Too, the Moravians, despite their reluctance to bear arms, were pleased to be part of the new country, now that it was at peace. They heeded the governor’s proclamation. And eight years later, in 1791, they welcomed President George Washington for a two-day stay and tour of the settlement.
The 1783 Independence Day celebration, as documented in the Salem Diary, started with trombone music, of which Moravians were fond. At 2 p.m., there was a Love Feast, a Moravian tradition that is more a celebration of community than a sacrament. People gathered in the church for a service that included a simple meal (usually coffee heavy with cream and sugar, plus a sweet bun).
As Moravians have long made music central to their worship, the service also included the singing of a “Psalm of Joy.” That gives the Moravians at Salem some claim to having come up with the first patriotic song celebrating the nation’s freedom. (This was years before Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner.”) Johann Friedrich Peter, who was the chief scribe and keeper of the Salem Diary, also served as composer-on-call, whipping something up whenever the occasion called for a new hymn or a celebratory opus. Some accounts say he wrote the cantata “Psalm of Joy” for the occasion, but Richard Starbuck, assistant archivist at the Moravian Archives in Winston-Salem, said that the composition wasn’t entirely new. Pressed for time, Peter adapted a piece he’d written celebrating the end of the Seven Years War.
The cantata, often described as “challenging,” was sung entirely in German.”