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The First Fourth (or Fifth) Out West

Published by Steve Campion. Category: History

Happy Independence Day!

Although we have no list for you today, we do have a bit of Northwest history to relate in connection with the holiday.  That’s because it was here, in 1841, that a group of Americans celebrated Independence Day for the first time west of the Mississippi.  The celebrations actually took place on July Fifth that year, as was the custom at the time, when the Fourth fell on a Sunday.

The sailors, explorers, and naturalists of the U.S. Exploring Expedition — destined to become the first Americans to circumnavigate the world — were anchored near present-day DuPont, WA.  They had arrived in the area two months earlier to explore and map the Puget Sound region.  At the time, the British operated Fort Nisqually (a rebuilt version of which stands today in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park but was originally on land shown here on Center Street in DuPont).  The British granted permission to the Americans, under the command of Lt. Charles Wilkes, to celebrate on nearby Mission Prairie.  They spent the day parading with flags, playing games, racing horses hired by local Indians, firing a howitzer, and barbecuing an ox for dinner. The day-long festivities, which started on board the ship before 9 a.m. and lasted until sunset, was long-remembered by the more permanent residents in the vicinity as evidenced by the name of nearby American Lake.

There have been many Independence Days out west in the last 170 years, but the first was right here.  Have a safe and happy Fourth, everyone!

SOURCES:  Primarily W.P. Bonney’s History of Pierce County Washington, Volume I (Chicago: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1927).

PHOTO © Steve Campion

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