Celebrations of American Independence in Boston and Watertown, Massachusetts

How were organized events that demonstrated support for the Continental Congress’s decision to declare independence different from seemingly spontaneous ones? How did these different demonstrations work together to reassure Patriots that independence was the right decision? How did they encourage people opposed to or unsure about independence to change their minds?
Examine this newspaper account alongside the Pennsylvania Packet’s 1774 coverage of the convening of the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia. How can you tell that these newspapers both supported American resistance to Great Britain?

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News of the Continental Congress’s July 2 approval of Richard Henry Lee’s resolution to separate from Great Britain—together with its July 4 passage of the Declaration of Independence—traveled by sail and on horseback. As a result, it took about two weeks for people in and around Boston to learn that the crisis within the British empire had been transformed (at least in the eyes of American Patriots) into a war between Great Britain and the sovereign United States. This newspaper account of their reactions highlights events organized by elected officials to celebrate independence as well as more spontaneous displays of the people’s support for Congress’s decisions.

—Robert M.S. McDonald

Source: The American Gazette, or the Constitutional Journal (Salem, Mass.), July 23, 1776.


Thursday last,[1] pursuant to the orders of the honorable council, was proclaimed, from the balcony of the State House in Boston, the DECLARATION of the AMERICAN CONGRESS, absolving the United Colonies from their allegiance to the British crown, and declaring them FREE and INDEPENDENT STATES. There were present on the occasion, in the council chamber, the committee of council, a number of the honorable House of Representatives, the magistrates, ministers, selectmen, and other gentlemen of Boston and the neighboring towns; also the committee of officers of the Continental regiments stationed in Boston, and other officers. Two of those regiments were under arms in King Street, formed into three lines on the north side of the street, and in thirteen divisions; and a detachment from the Massachusetts Regiment of Artillery, with two pieces of cannon, was on their right wing. At one o’clock the Declaration was proclaimed by the sheriff of the county of Suffolk,[2] which was received with great joy expressed by three huzzahs from the concourse of people assembled on the occasion. After which, on a signal given, thirteen pieces of cannon were fired at the fort on Fort Hill, the forts at Dorchester Neck, the Castle, the Nantasket, and Point Alderton, likewise discharged their cannon. Then the detachment of artillery fired their cannon thirteen times, which was followed by the two regiments giving their fire from the thirteen divisions in succession. These firings corresponded to the number of the American states united. The ceremony was closed with a proper collation[3] to the gentlemen in the council chamber; during which the following toasts were given by the president of the council,[4] and heartily pledged by the company:

  1. Prosperity and perpetuity to the United States of America.
  2. The American Congress.
  3. The general court of the state of Massachusetts Bay.
  4. General WASHINGTON, and success to the army of the United States.
  5. The downfall of tyrants and tyranny.
  6. The universal prevalence of civil and religious liberty.
  7. The friends of the United States in all quarters of the globe.

The bells of the town were rung on the occasion; and undissembled[5] festivity cheered and brightened every face.

On the same day a number of the members of the council (who were prevented attending the ceremony at Boston, on account of the small pox being there), together with those of the hon[orable] House of Representatives who were in town, and a number of other gentlemen, assembled at the council chamber in this town, where the said Declaration was also proclaimed by the secretary, from one of the windows; after which, the gentlemen present partook of a decent collation prepared on the occasion, and drank a number of constitutional toasts, and then retired.

We hear that on Thursday last every king’s arms[6] in Boston, and every sign with any resemblance of it, whether lion and crown, pestle and mortar and crown, heart and crown, etc., together with every sign that belonged to a Tory was taken down, and made a general conflagration of in King Street.

The king’s arms, in this town, was on Saturday last,[7] also defaced.

  1. 1. July 18, 1776.
  2. 2. William Greenleaf (1725–1803) served as sheriff of Suffolk County, which included Boston, from 1775 to 1780.
  3. 3. A light meal.
  4. 4. James Warren (1726–1808), husband of writer Mercy Otis Warren (1728–1814), served as president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress (and its executive council) from 1776 to 1780.
  5. 5. Genuine, undisguised.
  6. 6. These symbols of royal authority often inspired the names of—and appeared on the signs of—colonial taverns.
  7. 7. July 20, 1776.
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