For centuries Americans have celebrated Independence Day on July 4, as well they should. That was the day in 1776 when the Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence to free America from British rule.

Illustration: originally entitled “Yankee Doodle,” this is one of several versions of a scene painted by Archibald Willard that came to be known as “The Spirit of '76.”
Illustration: originally entitled “Yankee Doodle,” this is one of several versions of a scene painted by Archibald Willard that came to be known as “The Spirit of ’76.” Often imitated or parodied, it is a familiar symbol of American patriotism. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

However, old newspaper articles report that Virginians first celebrated independence on 16 May 1776, through a parade, picnic, toasts to America’s independent states, and even fireworks. How was this possible?

On May 15, the day before, 112 men attended a convention in Williamsburg, Virginia. Their goal was to give instructions to the Virginia delegates of the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia.

An article about a convention of independence-minded delegates in Virginia, Pennsylvania Evening Post newspaper article 28 May 1776
Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 28 May 1776, page 266

As this article reported, the convention evaluated their current circumstances and recalled their past endeavors to reconcile with Great Britain:

“For as much as all the endeavors of the United Colonies, by the most decent representations and petitions to the King and Parliament of Great Britain, to restore peace and security to America under the British government, and a reunion with that people under just and liberal terms, instead of a redress of grievances, have produced, from an imperious and vindictive Administration, increased insult, oppression, and a vigorous attempt to effect our total destruction.”

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