Thanks in large part to the efforts of William Henry Drayton, born here in 1742, the United States celebrates their independence from Britain with the use of fireworks. After spending much of his youth studying in England, William Henry returned to South Carolina in 1763. A fierce supporter of America’s independence, William Henry served as a delegate and later president of the provincial South Carolina Congress. His speeches in favor of breaking from Great Britain inspired a movement and are considered to be among the best in American history. Once America declared independence, he was appointed a member of the Continental Congress.
The delegates in Philadelphia debated how Americans should observe their newfound independence. Two ideas characterized the discussion which arose in 1778. William Henry argued persuasively for the day to be one of celebration with “certain grand fireworks,” rather than one of “fasting and mourning” as another South Carolinian, Henry Laurens, proposed. In the end, William Henry’s more popular idea won. So, on Independence Day, 1778, Congress joined with other Philadelphians at the City Tavern for a “very elegant dinner” followed by a “brilliant exhibition of fireworks.”
By 1794, the Draytons celebrated July fourth in another way that’s popular today. William Henry’s brother Charles, the second owner of Drayton Hall, observed July 4 with a beef barbeque! Charles notes: “Killed an ox. to be cured in the barbecue manner. It is said the meat so cured will keep perfectly, & be more juicy and fresh, than salted or pickled.” The great feast produced more leftovers than today’s celebrations likely will. For, almost two months later, on August 30, Charles recorded: “the ox killed July 4. was all eaten 2 or 3 days ago. that is 7 lb daily for 56 days or 8 Weeks.”
Fireworks, barbecue, and national independence. Drayton Hall. American History.
Learn more about William Henry Drayton by visiting our website. http://www.draytonhall.org/research/people/drayton.html