Fourth of July Stories

Researched by James R. Heintze. All Rights Reserved.

This section of the Fourth of July Database contains true stories about events, persons, and places. Each story has been selected, based on its content, description, and unique or unusual information. Please refer back to this page occasionally for updated information.

Revolutionary War Patriot Samuel Adams Destroys Personal Letters on July 8, 1776. (For 7th to 12th grade readers, and others)

The American Revolutionary War patriots put their lives on the line once they signed the Declaration of Independence. This was, in effect, an act of treason, which could of cost them their lives. Sending private letters criticizing the British Crown, being caught with questionable letters in one's possession might also have sent one to the gallows. No one was more aware of that than Massachusetts patriot Samuel Adams.

Noted journalist Charles Kuralt tells a delightful story, on the occasion of the nation's Bicentennial on July 4, 1976, about what Sam Adams did in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776, after hearing the Declaration of Independence read in public there. That was the first public reading of the Declaration to occur.

"I like the way Sam Adams celebrated. That 20-[year] old Massachusetts architect of revolution had agitated for independence, you know, for years, back in the 1760s and 70s. He had sat through it all, the debates of the spring and the summer in Philadelphia. And finally he experienced the thrill-- for him it must really have been a thrill of signing the Declaration of Independence. Now it had been read in public for the first time. It was the 8th of July in Philadelphia and that old town exploded with the news. Bonfires were burning, church bells were ringing, and people were cheering all over town."

"Sam Adams was celebrating inside himself. He walked back to his boarding house, Mrs. Yard's in Arch Street, and took up a bundle of letters he had received from friends and patriots down the years. These were letters which might hang those friends now, if they ever fell into the hands of the British."

"Sam Adams spent a long time with a pair of scissors, snipping those letters into tiny bits. He opened his second-story window, so that he could look down on the chaos in the street below, and quite thoughtfully and quietly, he let those little bits of paper fly by the handsful and fluttered down on the celebration--confetti for a new nation. Then quite tired and quite satisfied, Sam Adams closed the window and went to sleep. Maybe we don't need fireworks. Maybe some small private act of celebration is enough." (From "Festival for the Fourth," a Bicentennial Sunday, July 4, 1976. With Douglas Edwards, narrator. CBS Radio Special, 12:30-1 P.M., EDT.)

That this story may well be true is evidenced by a statement Samuel Adams made in a letter to his friend James Warren on December 12, 1776, Philadelphia. He begins his letter with "My dear Sir, As I keep no Copies of my Letters, you must excuse me if I sometimes make Repetitions." (Reprinted in Warren-Adams Letters, vol. 1. (Massachusetts Historical Society, 1917; reprint, New York: AMS, 1972, 279-81.) Ironically, he goes on in the letter to describe enemy troop movements and to assert the cause for patriotism.

This page last updated July 2009.

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