Independence Day, 1877

July 13, 2014

William Hoyt Coleman was one of the most popular subscribers to Robert Merry’s Museum.  In a regular column devoted to letters from subscribers  (some of the highlights are online), teenager “Willie Coleman” honed his skills as a writer.  In his thirties, Coleman wrote for several periodicals, including a weekly column on agricultural matters in the Christian Union.

By 1877, Coleman was married to Maggie W. Todd and including glimpses of family life in his column.  Here, Willie tries to distract his 10-year-old son on the one day of the year when, in a tradition horrifying to 21st-century readers, 19th-century boys got to blow things up—within reason:

The night before the Fourth it was arranged with The Boy that he should explode a large Chinese cracker at six o’clock A. M.—no sooner. Next morning he was down stairs by five o’clock, in the full belief that it was after seven, and he must make up for lost time. A quick sortie saved the peace of the family. But what should be done with The Boy meantime? Peace suggested peas. We had agreed to pick a mess before breakfast. We proposed to The Boy that he should be our substitute. The face of that boy was a study for a painter. Astonishment and indignation struggled for expression. “Pick peas on the 4th of July—!!” he gasped. We quietly but firmly remarked that he had a correct impression of our plan. He said not a word, but went out with the basket. Half-an-hour later we went out to the garden. No boy was visible. In the woodshed was the basket with eleven peas in it. Further search revealed The Boy curled up over a book in his bedroom, waiting for six o’clock to strike. “But the peas?” “Oh, papa, it was so lonely out there!” Our heart relented; we picked the peas, while the big and little crackers sounded a jubilate.  [from Christian Union 16 (11 July 1877): p. 38]

What Independence Day sounded like in 1858, courtesy of William Hoyt Coleman (in Robert Merry’s Museum):

Cr-r-r-a-a-ck!—fizz!—pop!—bang!—“The day we celebrate”—bang!—“our nation’s birthday”—fiz-z-z-z!—whis-s-s-h!—“Bunker Hill, and spirit of ’76”—bang!—crack!—“the Star-Spangled Banner, and long may it wave!”—pop!—fizz!—“American eagle, and long may he wave!”—s-s-spuk!—“over the land of the free and the home of the brave!”—bang!—bang!—bang!—“Hail Columbia, happy land, with Yankee Doodle hand in hand”—boom!—“now and forever, one and inseparable”—siz-z-z-z!—boom!—“who fought, bled, and died in freedom’s cause”—E Pluribus Unum forever!—bang!—who-o-o-s-s-s-sh!—pop!—pop!—pop!—crack!—who-o-s-s-s-sh!—fiz-z-z-z-z-z!—s-s-s-spuk!—whis-s-s-sh!—bang!—crack!—whiz-z-z-z-z!—boom!—who-o-s-s-s-sh!—siz-z-z-z! fiz-z-z!—s-s-spuk!—who-o-o-o-s-s-s-sh!—BANG!!!!!!!