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Before our country’s Independence Day celebrations included the pomp and circumstance commonly found today, the Moravians were among the first to formally commemorate the nation’s freedom.
On July 4, 1783, Moravians gathered at a meetinghouse in Salem, North Carolina, to thank God for the independence of our nation. This is one of the first documented celebrations of Independence Day, and possibly the first following the Revolutionary War’s conclusion.
During the gathering, Johann Frederick Peter, a Moravian musician with Pennsylvania ties – he previously lived in Lititz, outside of Lancaster – selected, assembled and organized music for a daylong celebration. This work was titled “The Psalm of Joy.” To this day, the Moravians continue this celebration of Independence Day with a “Psalm of Joy” Concert and Lovefeast.
In the seven years after the Thirteen Colonies declared their legal separation from Great Britain, Independence Day celebrations, widely known as the Fourth of July, were modest at best. With the Revolutionary War dragging on, and the nation suffering from heavy casualties and financial expenses, the date’s early anniversaries were smaller and less formal.
One of the country’s first celebrations was hosted by the city of Philadelphia, which marked the first anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by adjourning Congress and celebrating with bonfires, bells and fireworks. Four years later, the Massachusetts General Court became the first state legislature to recognize July 4th as a state celebration.
The Moravians’ celebration in North Carolina followed two years later, but still nearly a century before Congress officially established Independence Day as a holiday.