New Hampshire Tidbits: Not On The Fourth of July

Many Americans accept the Fourth of July as the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. However it was not signed on that day.

The Trenton (New Jersey) Evening Times of 26 March 1885 credits the research of Judge Millen Chamberlain, chief librarian of the Boston public library for proving this. In his notable document, “The Authentication of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776,” after a thorough study of the original records and of all the available evidence, he proved that the signing did not take place upon the Fourth of July.

Declaration of Independence, from the National Archives.

He [Judge Chamberlain] suggests that the Declaration should have been preceded by some such recital as the following: ‘The foregoing Declaration having been agreed to on July 4th by the delegates of the thirteen united Colonies, and the same having been engrossed, is now subscribed, agreeably to a Resolution passed July 19th, by the Members of Congress present this 2nd day of August, 1776.” [from Memoir of Mellen Chamberlain, 1906]

The Trenton Evening Times newspaper goes on to say “The true history of this memorable document Mr. Chamberlain has found to be that on the 2nd of July, 1776, the Continental congress at Philadelphia passed the resolution declaring that the United Colonies were and of right out to be free and independent states; and in a letter of his wife dated July 3, 1776, John Adams said: “This day will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.” On July 4 the declaration was read and agreed to, but was not signed. According to direction of congress, it was ordered to be authenticated and printed, During the same afternoon and evening, and on the following day copies were sent throughout the colonies. On July 19 it was resolved that the declaration passed on the 4th be fairly engrossed on parchment and signed by every member On August 2, the declaration was signed by nearly all the members. The Hon Matthew Thornton, of New Hampshire did not affix his name until Nov 4 of the same year, nor did the Hon. Thomas McKean until some time in 1781. Moreover, the New York members who, according to The Printed Journal, signed on the Fourth of July, were not authorized to do so until the 9th, and the authorization was not laid before congress until the 15th. [Samuel] Chase of Maryland and [Charles] Carroll of Carrollton, were not present on the Fourth of July, and [Benjamin] Rush, [George] Clymer, [George] Taylor and [George] Ross, of Pennsylvania, whose names appear in The Journal, were not chosen as delegates until July 20. Notwithstanding the great paper was not signed on the Fourth of July, that day still deserves to be commemorated above any of the others, for it was then that the sentiments and determination of the American people were proclaimed to the world.”

Photograph of Mellen Chamberlain from “A brief description of the Chamberlain collection of autographs now deposited in the Public library of the City of Boston. 1897. Internet Archive

Interestingly Judge Mellen Chamberlain who performed this research has a New Hampshire connection.  He was born ‘Moses’ Chamberlain on 4 June 1821 in Pembroke NH [other later documents show his name as Mellen], the second of five children of Moses and Mary “Polly” (Foster) Chamberlain. He was a graduate of Pembroke Academy. In 1844 he graduated from Dartmouth College, and in the same year he is listed as a student at Brown University in Rhode Island. He taught school for several years in Brattleboro Vermont. In 1836 he moved to Concord NH with his family, and came to be acquainted with John Farmer, the archivist and historian of the State of New Hampshire, assisting him “in some of his historical and genealogical investigations.” He was perhaps the youngest member of the New Hampshire Historical Society, and also he was elected into the Massachusetts Historical Society. He was famed for his collection of historical autographs. For twelve years he was Librarian of the Boston Public Library.

In 1846 he entered Harvard Law School, and became librarian in that department of the University. In 1849 he was admitted to the Massachusetts bar, became a resident of Chelsea MA. On 6 June 1849 he married Martha Ann Putnam, daughter of Col. Jesse Putnam of Danvers MA. She died 25 April 1887 leaving no children. In his later years “Mr. Chamberlain was in the habit of passing a portion of every summer at Boar’s Head, Hampton Beach….”  He died on 25 June 1900 in Chelsea, Massachusetts and is buried in Putnam Cemetery, Danvers MA. [SEE Additional details of his life].


Celebration silhouette from Building and Engineering News by Contractors’ and Dealers’ Association of California, 1914. Internet Archive

Even though the Declaration of Independence was not signed on the 4th of July, the document was proclaimed awaiting signatures.  Many other national and international events of importance also occurred on that date, whether by chance or opportunity.

The Evening Times (Grand Forks SD) of 3 July 1912 published this interesting story.
Fourth of July in History. “The fourth day of July has had a significant place in the history of all ages and nation–more so probably than any other date in the calendar. but the crowning achievement of this day of days was reserved for this hemisphere when on July 4, 1776, the trumpet blast proclaiming liberty and equality to all men was sent re-echoing throughout the world.

On July 4, 1097, [actually 1 July] in the battle of Dorylaeum, in Phyrgia, the Moslems under Soliman were defeated by the crusaders. This battle ended the fighting in Asia Minor.

It was on July 4, 1215 [actually 15 June] that King John of England was compelled by his barons to sign the Magna Charta, the English prototype of our own Declaration of Independence. The American continent, just north of Florida, in the year 1584 was discovered on July 4 by Amidias and Barlow [Amadas and Barlowe], English explorers and navigators who sailed along the Atlantic coast under orders from Sir Walter Raleigh. Formal possession was taken for the British queen, and the land was delivered over to the use of Sir Walter Raleigh.

Sixty-nine years thereafter, on July 4 [1653] the Barbone’s parliament assembled at Whithall, and Cromwell delegated chairs to them for fifteen years.

At the instance of the lords the trade commissioners from the colonies of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland met at Albany on June 19, 1754 to arrange a treaty with the Six Nations. They also proceeded to consider a plan of colonial union proposed by Franklin and adopted in the same year on July 4.

Here is a list of the epoch making events that have taken place on the Fourth of July since the signing of the Declaration of Independence:
1778 — Clark took Kaskaskia.
1778 — The Wyoming massacre [July 3rd see comment and link]
1780 — British evacuated Williamsburg
1788 — Great celebration in Philadelphia apropos of the ratification of the constitution.
1802 – J.Q. Adams delivered his first address to the United States Senate.
1804 — Pioneer weekly mail stage made its trip from Philadelphia to Pittsburg
1807 — Garibaldi, the Italian patriot was born
1817 — Work began on the Erie canal.
1826 — Death of John Adams
1826 — Death of Thomas Jefferson
1828 — First spike driven for the Baltimore and Ohio railroad
1831 — Death of James Monroe
1845 — United States annexed Texas
1848 — Peace proclaimed between the United States and Mexico
1848 — Cornerstone of the Washington monument laid in Washington [D.C.]
1851 — Cornerstone for the capitol extension was laid
1856 — Washington equestrian statue in New York dedicated
1863 — Vicksburg surrendered to General Grant
1868 — Burlingame treaty between United States and China was signed
1884 — Francis Scott Key monument dedicated in San Francisco
1894 — Hawaii declared a republic
1898 — Schley sank Cervera’s fleet in battle of Santiago bay.


Image from page 91 of “Intensive farming and use of dynamite” (1911). Flickr/Internet Archive.

I end this story with a bit of New Hampshire trivia, by presenting an almost forgotten story of the Fourth of July in 1909.

The Boston [MA] Journal of 7 July 1909 published this headline: BOYS TOSS DYNAMITE ABOUT  STREETS IN NEW HAMPSHIRE CELEBRATION OF THE FOURTH

Ashland, N.H., Jul 6.–The most dangerous Fourth of July stunt that ever occurred in this section of New Hampshire happened when three small boys were arrested at Meredith on a charge of stealing dynamite. The boys broke into a dynamite factory and took a large number of sticks of the stuff and then went around the streets of the town tossing the explosives, half of which would have been enough to blow the town into atoms, into the air and making vain efforts to touch them off with slow matches. The owner of the stolen goods came along and had them arrested on a charge of larceny. Now the father of one of the boys, W. T. Lance, proprietor of the Meredith News, has engaged counsel and is going to bring action against the owner of the dynamite sticks for having the dangerous stuff around.


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5 Responses to New Hampshire Tidbits: Not On The Fourth of July

  1. Pat_H says:

    Great entry, but the Wyoming Massacre took place on July 3, 1778, not July 4.

  2. Amy says:

    Interesting! I never knew that the actual signing did not take place til several weeks later. But as your bolded quoted language stated, what mattered was when they made the decision, not the actual signatures.

    I always marveled at the fact that three of our presidents died on July 4th—Thomas Jefferson, John Adams (on the same day in 1826, as you noted), and James Monroe, five years later. How eerie is that!

    One other note—my great-uncle adopted July 4th as his US birthday after immigrating in honor of his new homeland. (Jews in Eastern Europe often did not know their actual birthdays as birthdays were not considered culturally significant in that culture.)

  3. Michael says:

    I marvel at how you discover these neat New Hampshire connections. How did you learn about Mellen Chamberlain’s NH link?

    • Janice Brown says:

      Michael, as I was writing the story I decided to do a quick check of Mellen and discovered of course that he was a New Hampshire man. When I research I frequently get pulled down rabbit holes and when I find a connection to New Hampshire I am always excited! 😀 Thank you for reading and commenting!

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