18th Century Celebrations: July 4
Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring our independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. Although Independence Day is now commonly associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, picnics, and concerts it was much different in the 18th century. In the late 1700s the day was marked with orders to have the firing of the canons and the army to receive “an extra gill of Rum per man on the Joyful Occasion.”1 On July 4, 1778 Washington gave orders to the Army that at the conclusion of firing their canons a signal would be given to give three cheers: “Perpetual and undisturbed Independence to the United States of America.“2
Today at Mount Vernon the Fourth of July is celebrated with the firing of canons, daytime fireworks, the reading of the Declaration of Independence and 18th century ice cream making demonstrations. There are no records stating the Washingtons ate ice cream on July 4 specifically, but we do know this was a summer time favorite. George Washington’s accounts include several purchases of utensils for preparing and serving ice cream, including a “Cream Machine for Ice” in May 1784 (the first reference to the dessert at Mount Vernon), as well as ice cream molds and an ice cream spoon (purchased in Philadelphia in June 1796).
When you visit Mount Vernon this summer you will see that the kitchen has once again become the spot for making a favorite treat of the Washingtons: ice cream. On the floor in front of the table, a wooden bucket holds a tin ice cream freezer packed in ice and salt. Cream, sugar, and flavorings (here, fresh strawberries) were added to the freezer, which was then turned by hand using the handle built into its lid. Sugar nippers, a mortar and pestle, a sifter, and an earthenware pitcher are displayed nearby to teach our guests about the ingredients (and the hard work) required to make this special indulgence.
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