SOMERVILLE, NJ - The historic Wallace House, which served as General George Washington's winter headquarters in 1778-79 was the backdrop for a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence on Saturday, July 4th.
Because of COVID-19 social distancing considerations and limits placed on public gatherings, the event was not open to the public, but will be televised at a later date on 'Ville TV.
The document, signed by the founding fathers in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, escalated the colonies' struggle for independence from England. The American Revolution would last until 1781 when British troops surrendered to Washington and his Continental Army in Yorktown, Va. Washington would become the nation's first president.
Town Crier David Lang performed the reading, as well as the National Anthem and Gold Bless America. Paul Soltis also offered his reflections.
Following are the remarks of Mayor Dennis Sullivan:
"We gather today on the very ground where General George Washington and his underdog army of citizen-soldiers struggled for freedom 242 years ago.
"On a hot July afternoon such as this, it is difficult to envision the sufferings and privations they endured in the countryside while their British counterparts enjoyed the relative comforts of New Brunswick and New York City, but standing here I can feel their presence as we reflect on the importance of the day.
"The cornerstone of today’s holiday is the Declaration of Independence, that 1.337- word document that took Thomas Jefferson 17 days to write. Despite his painstaking effort to get the wording exactly right, the Continental Congress still found it necessary to make 86 changes to the text before adopting it on July 2, 1776.
"Once distributed throughout the land, Jefferson’s words galvanized the colonists in a unified effort that led to the creation of the United States of America 7 years later.
"As our Founding Fathers shaped and reshaped the Declaration so many years ago, it remains for us today to fine-tune our democracy to meet the needs of a changing society. While the underlying principles of freedom remain the same, economic, social, and political forces continue to shape our country every day. We must remember that the Declaration of Independence is more than just fading parchment in a museum display case.
"It is a living expression of our hopes and dreams as a unified people, and a roadmap to guide us forward as we work together as a community, as a nation, and as a world. Thank you."
Washington used the Wallace House as his headquarters from Dec. 11, 1778, to June 3, 1779, during the Middlebrook Encampment, leaving from Dec. 22 until Feb. 5, to meet with the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. General William Alexander (Lord Stirling) was left in command of the Middlebrook Encampment in Washington's absence.
When Washington returned from Philadelphia to the Wallace House, he was accompanied by his wife Martha, who remained with him at the Wallace House for the rest of the encampment.
The house was owned by John Wallace, a retired Philadelphia merchant. It was built in 1776, just two years before the encampment. Wallace called his property "Hope Farm." Washington and his staff occupied four rooms of the house; the Wallace family continued to live in the rest of the house.