Presenting the Past: Celebrate the Fourth, 19th-century style | June 27, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - June 27, 2008

Presenting the Past: Celebrate the Fourth, 19th-century style

by Beverly Lane

Fourth of July celebrations have served to remind people of their American heritage for over 200 years. The 19th century San Ramon Valley pioneers went all out for these parties with barbeques, patriotic lectures, races and music.

Fortunately we have excellent accounts of the celebrations in early San Ramon Valley history because of Prof. James D. Smith's memory and writing in 1925. He lived here as a child, stayed in the area and became President of Livermore College.


The first July Fourth that Professor Smith remembered took place around 1852 just east of George Van Gordon's house in Danville. Here is Smith:

"A barbecue of beef and mutton was prepared by a negro we knew only as Mack, an expert cook, who had come from the southern slave states with Boyd and Field. Mack was free and was the first shoemaker in all that section. The families prepared bread and pies, and I have a pleasant memory of the blackberry pies of those days when the berries were so plentiful.

"A band of music and a detail of soldiers had been arranged ... After patriotic addresses by the chairman, Major Thompson, and John M Jones, Major Mitchell and Daniel Inman, the band played selections after each speech ... and the feast began, and I remember I got an orange."

"After the feasting, there were running and jumping matches, and a wild horse had been brought to give the visitors an exhibition of riding. A young man, 6 feet 4 inches, named Jesse Bowles did the bronco riding, and satisfied everyone who saw the performance that he could keep his seat regardless of the mustang's efforts to unseat him."

For July 4, 1854, people came to a picnic at Doc Huff's store on Ignacio Valley. Smith wrote:

"Neighbors assembled from San Ramon, Lafayette and the Clayton districts ... Many Spaniards came: the Pachecos; Galindo; Silvario Soto and his brother, Walloupi; and the Herandas and Garcias from San Ramon. There were several speakers. I recall Daniel Inman of San Ramon, John M. Jones of Alamo and Nathaniel Jones from Lafayette, and to conclude a boy of nine years old named Jimmy Smith recited Patrick Henry's 'Address before the Virginia Convention.' I have the memory of that speech in my old gray head yet and am prepared at any time to repeat it, though it was committed to memory 71 years ago."


Early in the 1860s July Fourth celebrations in Green Valley were covered by the Contra Costa Gazette. The party in 1862 took place at Uriel Huntington's "beautifully shaded place" (today's Diablo Country Club area). There was a huge picnic, social games and swimming. The Declaration of Independence was read and a patriotic address was given. Young Smith recited his Patrick Henry speech.

For two hours that night there were rockets, Roman candles, serpents, wheels, blue and red fires, etc. Quite a display!

James Smith's articles have been compiled by G.B. Drummond and his remembrances bring those times alive.

Sources: "Recollections, Early Life in the San Ramon Valley as related by Prof. James Dale Smith," ed. G.B. Drummond., Contra Costa Gazette, July 12, 1862

Beverly Lane, a longtime Danville resident, is curator of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and co-author of "San Ramon Valley: Alamo, Danville, and San Ramon" and "Vintage Danville."


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