JUMONVILLE GLEN, Pa. – Between this heavily wooded ravine along an alpine summit in the Allegheny Mountains and the “great meadow” down the road, a young George Washington offered his only surrender in battle.
The date was July 4, 1754.
“It is pretty amazing standing here, knowing at this very spot the seeds of democracy were sown,” says David Harkleroad, 26, a living historian for the National Park Service.
The shots fired between Washington, then a British emissary, and the French were the first in what became the Fort Necessity campaign. That battle led to a worldwide conflict, the French and Indian (or Seven Years) War.
“In yet another twist of irony,” Harkleroad adds, “because Britain was the ultimate winner of the French and Indian War, the Brits had to pay down their war debt by taxing the colonists, ultimately leading to the rebellion and eventually our independence.
“Americans, as you see today with Tea Party protests, still rebel against taxes,” said Harkleroad, who has served two tours in Iraq as a Pennsylvania National Guardsman. “We are … willing to still fight for economic independence.”
Twenty-two summers after Washington’s defeat, the Continental Congress commissioned Thomas Jefferson to draw up a declaration for independence, says political historian Ryan Barilleaux of Miami University of Ohio. “But it was voted for on July 2nd, 1776, not the 4th.”
John Adams, an advocate of independence in that congress, wrote to his wife Abigail that he thought July 2 “will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival. … It ought to be solemnized with pomp and Parade, with games, sports, guns, bells, bonfire and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”
He was right about the celebrating, Barilleaux notes, yet wrong about the date.
On July 4, 1826, both Adams and Jefferson – the only two signers of the Declaration of Independence who became president – died on what was the nation’s 50th anniversary.
Americans love to celebrate Independence Day. For most, that has little to do with an extra day and much to do with the day’s significance.
On main streets across the country, flags begin to dangle from lamp posts and telephone poles on Memorial Day. By July 4, Pennsylvania communities such as Uniontown, 10 miles down the old National Pike from Jumonville Glen, are a maze of red, white and blue.
More than 6,000 miles away, Independence Day has extra-special meaning in a combat zone.