By Lynn R. Mitchell
It’s the anniversary of America’s independence and in Staunton, as in other small towns across America, our patriotism is displayed with fireworks and red, white, and blue bunting and American flags and a parade through Gypsy Hill Park as we fire up the grills and celebrate with family and friends.
At Staunton’s Frontier Culture Museum, admission is free as costumed interpreters go about the business of an old fashioned Independence Day. Meanwhile, the traditional Naturalization Ceremony will be held at nearby Monticello where visitors again visit for free.
Most importantly, the 4th of July provides an opportunity to reflect and be thankful for those who gave us the freedom we enjoy.
Virginia played a big role in America’s independence. Thomas Jefferson, who lived just over the mountain at Monticello, his mountaintop home overlooking Charlottesville, authored the Declaration of Independence. Many battles took place on our soil, and the eight-year war came to an end at Yorktown, Virginia.
Jefferson was joined by fellow Virginians George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, and Carter Braxton who signed the Declaration of Independence. They were part of an extraordinary group of 56 leaders who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in pursuit of independence from Great Britain. By doing so, they stood in direct defiance of the British government.
All 56 Signers were well educated … they knew that by putting their names to a resolution that declared war on the King, they were signing their own death warrants … but they did it anyway.
Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists, eleven were merchants, and nine were farmers and large plantation owners.
Some indeed paid with their lives and their fortunes. Virginia landowner Carter Braxton, who was one of the Commonwealth’s wealthiest men and a member of the Virginia legislature, lost all his ships, sold his home to pay his debts, and died in rags.
Of the 56 Founders who signed the Declaration of Independence, five were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes burned to the ground. Two lost sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, and two more had sons captured. Nine fought and died in the Revolutionary War.
Even Staunton played a big part in America’s independence by providing a refuge during the Revolutionary War for Virginia’s legislators who fled from Richmond to Charlottesville and then over the mountains to Staunton to escape capture from the British. For 16 days in June of 1781, our city served as the capital of Virginia.
Since that time, many more have stood up for that freedom … our military men and women who fight to preserve this great country by following in the footsteps of the original 56 Signers … and many have paid the ultimate price for that freedom. As we celebrate, we should never forget those sacrifices.
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan noted, “Let the Fourth of July always be a reminder that here in this land, for the first time, it was decided that man is born with certain God-given rights; that government is only a convenience created and managed by the people, with no powers of its own except those voluntarily granted to it by the people. We sometimes forget that great truth, and we never should.”
Happy 4th of July, America!
Reprinted from July 4, 2012
Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell