Social Commentary

Independence Day

Memorial Day Flags 2012We hear a lot about the founders today, and the truth is who they were, as people, is clouded in the river of time. One admires the portrait of John Adams written by David McCullough, and particularly the personal risk to which Adams put himself on his trip to France in the winter of 1777. In Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia one can find a guide to living that serves in the 21st Century, with the notable exception that labor to maintain a lifestyle, once provided by slaves, must now be sought elsewhere through mechanization or wage laborers.

The more we study the opening of the Old Northwest Territory, and the land speculation related to it, we realize that Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and other founders who participated in this could easily have fit in with the gang on Wall Street that nearly brought down our global economic structure in 2008. But as was said, seeing who they were as people is a murky endeavor at best, so on Independence Day were can refrain from making judgments and be thankful for what we have as a nation.

What can be said is we often neglect to recall the dispossession of the natives in Iowa and further east, which amid today’s flag waving is equally important. Would Black Hawk and Poweshiek have ceded the land of the Black Hawk Purchase if they had fully understood what their signatures meant? We don’t know that either.

So what we are left with is history and documents from the times, all of which have their ideological outlook or viewpoint, or as Howard Zinn might have called it, “their politics.” Of interest is the following account of an Independence Day celebration in Jones County, Iowa shortly after settlement. Members of our family settled in Jones County shortly after the Black Hawk War, so this is a personal history as well. Happy Independence Day from On Our Own.

An Excerpt from The History of Jones County, Iowa, published Chicago, Western Historical Company in 1879.

“A grand county celebration of the Fourth of July, took place in pursuance of the resolutions and suggestions of the Board of Supervisors, made at their June meeting in 1861. The celebration was on Thursday, the 4th of July. 1861.

The perilous condition of the country brought men of all parties together to observe the anniversary of our national birth, and to repeat anew their vows to freedom. Early in the morning, teams, singly and in companies, began to throng from all parts of the county toward the point which had been designated by the Board of Supervisors, near the center of the county. At 10 o’clock, A. M., the scene was the strangest of the kind ever encountered in the West. The road ran along a high ridge, and on both sides of it and on each of the wide and gently sloping spurs, shooting out every few rods, were horses, wagons, buggies, carriages, men, women, children and babies by the thousands; and, in every direction, the American flag floated in the light and refreshing breeze, which, with the shade of the sufficiently abundant oaks, tempered the heat of a warm summer day. Such an assembly in a city is common enough, but this was an assembly in the wilderness. Not a house, not a sign that man had touched nature here was visible, save in the few brief days’ labor of the Committee of Preparation. It was a fitting place wherein to assemble on such a day and for such a purpose, when the nation was in its life and death struggle for existence.

The Committee of Arrangements had done as well as could be hoped for in the short time allowed them, and better than could have been expected. On the rather steep slope of a spur, north of the road, a staging had been erected facing up the slope, and, in front of this, seats sufficient to accommodate, perhaps, one thousand persons. Back of the stage, and at the bottom of the ravine, a well had been dug some ten or more feet deep, and, at the bottom, a barrel fixed. It was a comical sort of a well, but it served the purpose, in a measure, for some hours.

On another ridge and back of the wall, stood the six-pounder, manned by the Wyoming Artillery Company, in gray shirts, under Capt. Walker. The other military companies were the Canton Company, Capt. Hanna; they wore red military coats, were armed with rifles and were fine looking; the Rough and Ready?, of Rome, Capt. L. A. Roberts, with blue military coats, white pants and glazed caps, sixty-five men, also fine looking; Carpenter’s Company, Rome. Capt. Carpenter, eighty men, with gray coats, likewise made a fine appearance; the Greenfield Company, mounting eighty men, John Secrist, Commander: these were in frock coats and wore white plumes; they, too, showed well, and still more in drill and fitness for the most desperate fighting; the Scotch Grove Guards, from Scotch Grove. Capt. Magee, formed a large company; these wore no uniforms, but their appearance indicated they were the right men for fighting. There were six companies of young men, all formed and drilled, in the space of three months. It appears that all these entered the army in due time and did good service.

The proceedings at the stand were patriotic and entertaining. During the reading of the Declaration of Independence, the general attention was close, and the responsibilities of the hour seemed to impress all minds. The singing with the Marshal waving the star-spangled banner to the words, was very effective. The address was by a Mr. Utley— a good Union speech, and was very generally approved. Music by the various military bands was abundant and lively. The picnic that followed was much enjoyed by all who partook of the dainties provided for the occasion. The military went through with some of their exercises and then the proceedings of the afternoon began, which consisted of speeches from different persons, when, owing to a want of an abundant supply of water, the vast assembly was dispersed at a much earlier hour than it otherwise would have been.

It was evident that the loyalty of Jones County could be relied upon, and that her citizens were ready to do their full duty in crushing out treason.”