A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections at the RIHS

Object Thursday: Julia Bowen’s diary

Sampler by Sarah Sweet, 1815-1825. RIHS 1968.6.13

Sampler by Sarah Sweet, 1815-1825. RIHS 1968.6.13

On this Thursday, July 4, 2013, how are you celebrating? Some of us are watching parades, and some of us are marching in parades. 214 years ago, July 4th also fell on a Thursday. At the Library, we have the diary kept that year by Julia Bowen (1778-1805), oldest daughter of Colonel Ephraim Bowen (1753-1841), one of the Gaspee conspirators.

Providence of 1799 was a noisy place, where cannons and drums marked Independence Day, as well as formal ceremonies.

Thursday July 4th
Was awoke about 3 by the drum going thro the street. Soon the canon began to fire. I counted 40. Half past 4 I went in & asked Mary & Rebecca to go in the shower bath, but they refused & I did not choose to go alone. Made a bow for my shoe, my bed &c. Meeting begins at 1/2 past 11. Dressed myself in our Uniform, Thus equipped I set off for up Town. Stopped at Smith’s, Sarah & myself walked up to Halsey’s, returned again for a hat band (which we all had on our left wrists–white mits) to Sarah Smith’s. Sophia returned with us & past 11 we all proceeded up to the Presbyterian Meeting House. After going up Gallery & all around the Meeting House we succeeded in getting two pews together which we soon filled. Soon the procession arrived. A flag, presented by Miss Martha to the Cadets was displayed by Capt. Rice. After the Music (not the best I have ever heard) the Oration was delivered by Mr. Jonathan Maxy–and a Capitol one it was too, the best I ever heard. After which we went thru the lot to Dr. Jere Howell’s, from there we all went to Major Hoppin’s office & saw the procession. We went into Uncle Billy’s & got some wine & cake. The girls went home agreeing to meet early at Major Halsey’s to go all together from thence to the Theatre. After Diner Betsey dressed my hair.

Independence Day, 1799

Independence Day, 1799

Dr. Jonathan Maxcy was the pastor at the First Baptist Church and President of the College of Rhode Island.

John Carter of Providence printed the oration Maxcy delivered that day at the First Congregational Meeting House, and the newspaper gives the location as the 1st Congregational Meeting House, so it is unclear why Julia refers to this as the “Presbyterian” Meeting House.

Julia had a sense of humor (the uniform she refers to consists of cockades she and her friends made, and not an official outfit). At 20, she was still unmarried, living at home with her father’s second wife, and busy with the social activities of the East Side.

The Providence Journal and Town and Country Advertiser reported on the city’s celebrations (at left), so an official report parallels Julia’s personal account.  We can imagine young women in the light weight cotton gowns of the period, wearing  red, white, and blue cockades on their bonnets or sashes, enjoying the procession of light dragoons in well-fitted deerskin or nankeen breeches and polished boots, and the excitement following the artillery salutes. The Cincinnati here are the former officers of the Continental Army, who would have participated much as veterans do today.

Order of the Cincinnati medals

Order of the Cincinnati medals

However you are celebrating, Happy Fourth of July!

~Kirsten Hammerstrom, Director of Collections


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This entry was posted on 4 July 2013 by in Collection Notes.

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