Washington DC History Resources

Matthew B. Gilmore

District of Columbia’s first 4th of July – 1801

The July 4th holiday has not always been recognized as a national holiday (only since 1870) but observations began in the District of Columbia since its earliest days.

The National Intelligencer newspaper of July 3, 1801 devoted its entire front page to the pending observation (note: the paper was only 4 pages and published 3 times a week).


Free expression despite fiercely divided opinion was much hoped for:


The next day celebration took place in Georgetown–a separate city from the City of Washington. The Intelligencer of July 10 reported on the toasts offered at Union Tavern:


Thomas Sim Lee, former governor of Maryland was present, as was John Thompson Mason (future attorney general of Maryland), and the French chargé d’affaires  Louis-André Pichon. Union Tavern was a hot spot in Georgetown–and had played host to President Washington and one of the first public celebrations of the President’s birthday:

‘Birthnight Ball. The Ladies and Gentlemen of George Town and its vicinity are informed that there will be a Ball at the Union Tavern on Friday the 22nd instant (Feb. 22, 1799), in honor of Lieutenant-General George Washington. At request of the Managers. John Suter, Jr. A Portrait of Old George Town, by Grace Dunlop Ecker

Union Tavern, Bridge Street Georgetown (now M Street NW) -- after remodeling. M Street is to the lower right, 30th Street to the left.

Union Tavern, Bridge Street Georgetown (now M Street NW) — after remodeling. M Street is to the lower right, 30th Street to the left.

In the Capitol Reverend David Austin gave a sermon, with President Jefferson in attendance:


On Capitol Hill, Richard Charles offered supper:capitolhill

President Jefferson played host from noon until 2 p.m. to a crowd of local and foreign dignitaries and prominent local citizens with abundant refreshments and music from the Marine Corps band.



for further reading see: “A Nation’s Gratitude and Joy”: The Fourth of July in Washington, D.C. Researched by James R. Heintze.

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