June 27 can be a proud day for the citizens of Princeton. On that day in 1876, the borough, the college (then College of New Jersey, now Princeton University), and state politicos combined forces to celebrate the centennial of Princeton’s role in the American Revolution.
Thanks to the wonders of digital media, we can peruse the archival records: Rev. William C. Ulvay published an account of the celebration on June 27, 1876, and another of the re-enactment of the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1877.
Today’s event planners could learn from this; the planning was a model of public efficiency. The city fathers set up a Committee of 13 with 18 subcommittees to arrange everything from acquiring a tent, to firing the guns and ringing the bells, to appointing the keynote speaker. Princeton Borough voters cooperated by voting for a special tax, amounting to $1,500, to pay for the celebration. It’s a fascinating and instructive account of how to put together a Big Community Event.
I loved Ulvay’s statement at the end of his account of June 27: “We now look back to it with pleasure and feel no shame in transmitting its record for generations to come. Not less than six thousand patrons took part. The day was rounded up with a sense of duty performed, and an increased fervor of patriotism. It was worth all, and more, than it cost.” (p.29)
What hard work it was, and what pleasure they took in it. If only all gala events could be so successful.
In one part of the record, a history professor recounted the Battle of Princeton. Some have doubted the story of the British bullet decapitating a portrait of King George in Nassau Hall. But this account relays that story as gospel – so as far as I’m concerned, it’s true. Here’s a particularly poignant excerpt.
“Washington reckless of danger, exposed himself to the fire of both parties. Colonel Fitzgerald, his aide, expected his fall and drew his hat over his eyes so that he might not witness it.” (p. 34, an account of the Battle of Princeton delivered on January 3, 1877).
Immigration was just as hot a topic then as it is today. The orator of the day, a Reverend Duryea, challenged his listeners, comparing them unfavorably to their ancestors, saying that they were “hasting to be rich” and that they hire immigrants to do the real work so they can “live in brownstone houses, sip wine until midnight, and wake in the morning too beastly for citizenship.”
Only the ethnicities have changed.