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Column: How much do you know about Fourth of July?
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

When Jay Leno was host of “The Tonight Show” on NBC, he would often venture out to various locations around Los Angeles in a segment called “Jaywalking.” It was a man on the street interview about current issues. He would often have pictures of music stars or the winner of “American Idol.” It was amazing to watch how people could readily identify persons from pop culture but would struggle with public figures, such as the president of the United States. 

I always found it amusing when he would ask people questions about why we celebrate the Fourth of July. Some people might know it was Independence Day, but they were never quite sure from whom we were declaring our independence. Many would guess France or Germany. Some would say “the king,” but were not sure of his name or what he was king of. 

Let’s cut to the chase.  It was King George III, the king of Great Britain.  

The American Revolution actually broke out on April 19, 1775. The fighting would continue until 1783. The Americans defeated the British and established their claim to independence. 

In the middle of all of this, on July 4, 1776, the colonists signed the Declaration of Independence. 

In later wars, a girlfriend or bride would send a letter to her boyfriend or husband to tell him goodbye. These were often called “Dear John” letters. 

The declaration was kind of a “Dear George” letter. They had enough taxation without representation. The king was taxing everything from molasses to letters sent by mail to the colonies. In 1770, Parliament passed a tax on tea. I tried some British tea one time and, quite frankly, I would have balked at a tax on it. I found trying to drink it taxing enough. 

In 1776, the second Continental Congress officially declared independence and formed the United States of America. 

Some of those folks were pretty good writers. I think the declaration holds up pretty well today. 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

That’s pretty good stuff.  

John Hancock of Massachusetts was the president of the second Congress. Despite myths to the contrary, there was no signing ceremony on July 4. There is a story, albeit unsubstantiated, that Hancock, who had a large and flamboyant signature, said that he was writing it large enough that King George could see it without his glasses.  

His signature became a popular term for a signature. If someone wanted you to sign something, they might ask you to “Put your John Hancock right there.”  

Georgia had three signers, Lyman Hall, Button Gwinnett and George Walton. Hall, the namesake of our own Hall County, was a minister and a physician. He was born in Connecticut and made his way to Georgia.  

Gwinnett was killed less than a year after signing the declaration when he was challenged in a duel with Lachlan McIntosh. They were fighting over land in East Florida. He was born in England. 

Walton was born in Virginia and came to Georgia, where he would eventually become a trustee and founder of Franklin College, which later became the University of Georgia. 

If you have guests over this weekend, read this, then hide it. Your friends will be amazed at how smart you are in history. 

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns publish weekly. 

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