The Horrible History of 4th of July Accidents from New Hampshire Newspapers

Coloured Japanese Prints of Fireworks manufactured by Messrs Hirayama of Yokohama; From book, Pyrotechnics, the history and art of firework making, by Brock, Alan St. Hil, 1922

Coloured Japanese Prints of Fireworks manufactured by Messrs Hirayama of Yokohama; From book, Pyrotechnics, the history and art of firework making, by Brock, Alan St. Hil, 1922

As long as there has been fireworks, human beings have been injured by them. In the early days of Americas celebration of the Fourth of July, multiple injuries have occurred on or around a day that should be one of happiness. New York City seemed to have the worst of the deaths and dismemberments, but New Hampshire was not accident free.  These stories speak for themselves.

Salem, (Mass.) July 7, 1823; Afflicting Accident.–On Friday evening last, during the brilliant exhibition of fireworks on Washington Square, prepared in honor of our National Jubilee, a disastrous event occurred, which marred the pleasures inspired by the occasion,–and has spread gloom over the town.–When the exhibition was about half completed, over 300 rockets which were in a chest under the stage, were accidentally set fire to, and being in a horizontal position, many of them took a direction immediately towards the immense assembly of spectators, spreading terror, alarm and confusion among them, and melancholy to add, wounding and maiming about thirty persons,l–several of them dangerously,–and three of whom have since died.

The scene was truly awful. A large area around the stage appeared entirely enveloped in flames–a part of the rockets taking a more elevated direction, passed near the heads of the crowd, the fiery fragments of the rockets falling profusely among them–and besides the persons seriously injured, a great number had their clothes burnt, or lost their hats, shoes, &c., and several were thrown down in the confusion, and trampled upon. Yet the darkness was such, that a great proportion of the more distant spectators were unconscious that any accident had happened, supposing it to have been a part of the intended display. It was a fortunate circumstance that about 100 of the largest and most dangerous rockets exploded without doing any material injury. Had they taken a direction among the spectators, the destruction would have been immense. [From: Friday, July 18, 1823: New Hampshire Sentinel (Keene, New Hampshire) page 3].

Coloured Japanese Prints of Fireworks manufactured by Messrs Hirayama of Yokohama; From book, Pyrotechnics, the history and art of firework making, by Brock, Alan St. Hil, 1922

Coloured Japanese Prints of Fireworks manufactured by Messrs Hirayama of Yokohama; From book, Pyrotechnics, the history and art of firework making, by Brock, Alan St. Hil, 1922

Saturday, July 10, 1830, Portsmouth NH: The scenes presented on the Parade, and in the streets of this town, on the evening of the 5th inst., were of so dangerous and disgraceful a character that we trust their repetition will never be tolerated by our citizens.
-From one o’clock on Monday morning, and evening earlier, the noise of crackers and pistols and muskets at every corner, put at defiance all hope of repose, and began the tortures to which the sick were destined to be exposed for the remainder of the day. From that time until late in the evening, all parts of the town were annoyed with every method of exploding gun-powder which could be devised. But the Parade, situated in the very heart of the town, which every traveler who passes through the town must traverse, was, as usual, the principal scene of noise and tumult; and it was only at the utmost hazard of life that a carriage could pass.
-But the scene in the evening was truly terrific. Tar Barrels and Bonfires without a number, blazing in the most compact part of the town, and rolled and tossed about the street with long poles by the thoughtless multitude, rendered property as unsafe as their fury was uncontrollable.
-Must these things be so? Will it be said that the Police have no power to prevent such outrages? Is it a libel upon the inhabitants of the town to say that they will not submit to laws of their own making, and to officers of their own appointing. But laws and officers can do nothing, if the public will look on with indifference, while they are treated with contempt and abuse by a handful of rioters. And, most especially, will laws and officers be inefficient, while the children of our most respectable citizens are permitted and encouraged to mix with the more thoughtless and ignorant, and with their pockets filled with crackers, and armed with pistols and muskets, to patrol the streets, taking every method of endangering life and property.
-We wish not to suppress the proper celebration of the day. Even, as was recommended by one of its fathers, let there be bonfires and fireworks, ringing of bells and firing of cannon*, processions and orations, to heart’s content:–but let them be under proper regulations, and in proper places.
-We trust the dangers, and the painful accidents of the present year, will not pass from recollection before another anniversary comes round, and that then, such measures will be taken as will prevent the disgrace to which the police of the town has been too long exposed.
-[*But then, so long as great boys fire cannon, little boys will fire crackers, unless held in by the strong arm of the law. The day has usually been one of thoughtless, boisterous merriment–and until recently (it is be any better now) a day of licensed drunkenness, gaming, &c &c. It is not wonderful that boys have imbibed the notions, that the more noise and confusion the better. The day should be observed by men in some more manly style, than making a most discordant din with bells, and “lugging the ears” with hurras and great guns. We are pleased to have public attention directed to the subject.]–Jour. [From Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), page 2–INDEPENDENCE.]

Friday, July 10, 1840:Accident At Portsmouth (NH).–The friends of the Administration of Rockingham county, N.H., celebrated the Fourth of July at Portsmouth, and had a large pavilion erected in the form of an amphitheater, with seats rising above each other. There not being so many guests as were expected the doors were opened, and the seats at the side were crowded with spectators, principally women and children; when at the commencement of the proceedings, a large portion of the seats gave way and came to the ground with a horrible crash, carrying with them nearly a thousand persons–and the consternation, the screams of affright, and the groans of pain incident to such an occurrence, may be more easily conceived than described. It fortunately happened that no person was killed–but several had their limbs broken, and others were considerably bruised. Among those injured was Mrs. Dearborn, the wife of Stephen Dearborn of Exeter, whose leg was badly fractured near the ancle (sic)–Journal. [from Farmer’s Cabinet (Amherst, New Hampshire) Page 3]

Illustration of 1747 Rocket Manufacture. From book, Pyrotechnics, the history and art of firework making, by Brock, Alan St. Hil, 1922

Illustration of 1747 Rocket Manufacture. From book, Pyrotechnics, the history and art of firework making, by Brock, Alan St. Hil, 1922

Thursday, July 11, 1844 (Haverhill NH): Fourth of July Accidents–The accounts of fires and accidents i New York city alone on the 4th instant, from carelessness, occupy above half a column; and from other parts in great numbers. He have room only to mention the following:– A dreadful accident occurred in Haverhill, N.H., says the Democratic Republican, on the evening of the 4th inst., by which one person, a daughter of Simon Robinson, was killed and about thirty persons injured–some of them severely. The accident was occasioned by the breaking down of the piazzas of the Columbian Hotel, on which a great number of persons were assembled, to witness a display of fireworks, prepared by the Whig party. The accident occurred at about half-past 8 o’clock in the evening. [Farmer’s Cabinet (Amherst, New Hampshire) page 3]

Thursday, July 17, 1845, Washington D.C.:  A Dreadful Accident occurred near the President’s House in Washington. The U.S. Journal of Saturday thus describes it:In the evening, a great concourse of people gathered upon the wall, in the rear of the President’s mansion, and the adjoining grounds, to witness the contemplated display of fireworks, for which such preparation had been made the day previous. After a number of rockets and dazzling wheels had been ignited, a half dozen rockets, supposed to be too heavy, or disarranged on the fame, went off together, taking a horizontal inclination, in various directions like so many fiery arrows. One passing the heads of horses attached to a carriage, when the animals affrighted, ran at full speed, separating the dense throng standing in the street at the imminent peril of life. A black woman we were told his morning, was struck by a rocket, the stick penetrating below the shoulder joint, and in consequences of the wound has since died. Mr. Sutton Magee had his wrist dreadfully wounded, and his children scorched. But there was an occurrence at the same time, which filled us with feelings the most painful. Mr. James Knowles, of Georgetown, who had been married but a short time, was sitting with his wife on the wall, far, as they supposed, from danger. The distance between them and the pyrotechnics being about a fourth of a mile–but one of the rockets, after skimming along the heads of the crowd below, struck him on the left breast directly over the heart. His wife, it is related, discovered the calamity as she saw him falling from her side, and in a moment drew out the stick. He died instantly, without a struggle. The most piteous and harrowing lamentations filled the air, from one thus in the twinkling of an eye, reduced to widowhood. [From: Farmer’s Cabinet (Amherst, New Hampshire) page 3]

Thursday, July 9, 1846: Claremont NH. ACCIDENT ON THE FOURTH.–A man by the name of Fales was killed at Claremont, in this State, on Saturday last. Some boys put about three pounds of powder into an old rusty cannon and rammed in sods, but did not ram them down upon the powder. Upon the discharge of the cannon it burst, and Mr. Fales was killed instantly. Although a number were standing about, no other person was seriously injured. Mr. Fales was about 27 years of age. He leaves a wife, to whom he had been married about a year. The fireworks and other tokens of rejoicing were dispensed with on account of the accident. [From: New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord, New Hampshire) page 2]

Saturday, July 17, 1847: ACCIDENT AT HAVERHILL (NH).–The Haverhill people had an exhibition of fireworks on the Common last Monday evening. The Gazette says that the wife of Mr. Oliver H. Roberts met with a serious accident. A sky rocket, having been discharged, she was in the set of watching its movements, when the stick attached to it fell and struck her immediately over the eye, severing a cord or artery. She will probably lose her sight. [From: Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), page 2]

1764 example of pyrotechnics. From book, Pyrotechnics, the history and art of firework making, by Brock, Alan St. Hil, 1922

1764 example of pyrotechnics. From book, Pyrotechnics, the history and art of firework making, by Alan St. Hill Brock, 1922

Thursday, Juy 12, 1849: Wilmot NH. FOURTH OF JULY ACCIDENTS. Mr. John Bell, at Wilmot Fat, had his hand so injured in the bursting of a musket which he was firing on the morning of the 4th, that it had to be amputated. [From New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord, New Hampshire) page 2]

Wednesday, July 13, 1853: Pittsfield NH. FOURTH OF JULY ACCIDENTS.–A young man named Herbert Dow, aged 19 years, was instantly killed in Pittsfield, on the 4th, by the bursting of a cannon which he was engaged in firing. A portion of the canon struck him in the stomach. [From: New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord NH) page 2]

Wednesday, July 6, 1859: Pittsfield NH.  TERRIBLE ACCIDENT.–We regret to learn that a very serious accident occurred at the celebration on the 4th in Pittsfield, resulting in the serious injury to two men and two boys. During the exhibition of Fireworks, three or four rockets lying upon the ground were accidentally ignited, and exploded in the crowd. Mr. Benjamin F. Leavitt of Chichester was horribly mutilated in the face and head, and his recovery is doubtful. Mr. Cavin Garand of Barnstead received serious injuries in his breast, but the physicians this (Tuesday) morning report that there is a prospect that both may survive. A boy named Willey was badly hurt, but not fatally; and another named Joy was less seriously injured. [From New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord, New Hampshire) page 2]

Tuesday, July 12, 1864: Manchester, NH. SAD ACCIDENT.– Yesterday morning at about 5 o’clock, Albert Cargil, 18 years of age, who resides at No. 17 Manchester corporation, met with a terrible accident. He was standing on the steps of the door, with a pistol in his hand, which he had been firing. While the muzzle was pointed towards his body, by some means the pistol was discharged, and the wadding was driven into his abdomen just below the ribs. A large hold was made, and the wound bed profusely. Drs. Tebbetts and Crosby were called, and at once pronounced the wound fatal. He suffered greatly yesterday, but is easier, to-day. He is not expected to survive but a short time. His father [Samuel Cargil] was one of the men who was so terribly mangled and killed a few years since in the gearing of the great wheel on the Manchester corporation. It is said that his brother had one of his thumbs blown off by the premature discharge of a gun last 4th of July. [From Weekly Union (Manchester, New Hampshire)]

*ADDITIONAL READING*

When Windham NH Toasted the Fourth of July

A New Hampshire Song for the Fourth of July – 1826

A New Hampshire Fourth of July — 200 Years Ago

New Hampshire’s 4th of July: Freedom to those who have virtue to defend it

New Hampshire: Facts and Myths of July 4th

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2 Responses to The Horrible History of 4th of July Accidents from New Hampshire Newspapers

  1. Amy says:

    These are awful! I think I will keep away from Fourth of July celebrations in NH!

  2. John M Poltrack says:

    Amazing accounts and so detailed. Thanks for posting this.

Leave a Reply to Amy Cancel reply