Monday, July 4, 2016

Celebrating Independence in New York City's Public Pleasure Gardens 1790s to 1810



Benjamin Franklin's "Albany Plan of Union" woodcut from May 9, 1754. This image was originally created by Benjamin Franklin prior to the Seven Years' War. In the face of threats from the French & the Native American Indians, Franklin encouraged the colonists to unite together for their common defense. During the 1760s & 1770s, the image was re-circulated as a symbol of colonial resistance against Great Britain.

During the last decade of the 18C, many 4th of July celebrations took place in American commercial gardens. A public pleasure garden was a privately owned (as opposed to governmentaly owned) ornamental ground or piece of land, open to the public as a resort or amusement area, and operated as a business. Shortly after the ratification of the Constitution--by the early 1790's--the 4th of July emerged as the most popular holiday celebration in America's commercial gardens. Garden owners believed that they could not survive in the new nation offering the traditional mindless, "decadent," entertainments that characterized their British prototypes.

Their gardens would now serve as stages for presenting the new nation's ideologies & symbols. Their goal was to draw a broad spectrum of citizens past their admission gates to share in the exciting inspiration of commonly recognized symbols.

Garden proprietors recognized that some garden guests were classically educated, while others could not read. They hoped the commercial garden would serve as the common denominator. If man could be clever enough to order & regulate the nature that had ruled his life for thousands of years into an artful, inspirational, & still profitable garden, surely he could be clever enough to create a government that would allow him the freedom to order & regulate his own life.

Proprietors needed to attract patrons from across the social spectrum to remain financially successful. Profits depended on the volume of the sales of admissions, food, candles, & drinks. If partons were inspired to higher levels of patriotism & morals while spending their money, all the better. But the number of public gardens was growing, & the new citizens now had their choice of a variety of commercial gardens to patronize. People were attracted to gardens that were most comfortable for them.

Conservative citizens usually patronized the sober tea & coffee gardens, while their less inhibited compatriots enjoyed the drinks & conviviality at the tavern gardens. Many traditional garden owners relied on simple symbols to stimulate their patrons' patriotism. This was particularly true in the conservative, predominately Federalist gardens.

When inclement weather caused Baltimore's John Jalland, owner of Jalland's Gardens, to reschedule his annual 4th of July ceremony in 1794, the proprietor promised his disappointed, tea-drinking patrons that the rain-delayed garden illumination would "take place with splendor, in commemoration of a day which every tyrant must abhor, but which every friend of liberty must venerate as the first dawn of Gallic freedom." Jalland also vowed to provide music "suitable to the occasion" of the anniversary of his nation's Declaration of Independence.

Symbolism was important on the 4th of July, but so was the enthusiastic commemoration of freedom, both national & personal. Because of this, the holiday was often a time of unbridled celebration during the 1790s & the early years of the 19th century; and sometimes Independence Day festivities, even at the most elegant public pleasure gardens, got out of hand.

During its regular entertainments & special celebrations, Gray's Chatsworth Garden in Baltimore was usually the scene of "politeness, delicacy, and uniform conviviality;" however, occasionally rogues & "unprincipled fellows" disrupted the civility of the town's most pretentious pleasure garden. Shortly after the annual July 4th illumination & musical celebration in 1794, at Grey's Chatsworth, a notice in a local Baltimore paper reported that "a number of Lamps were destroyed and carried off from the Garden...which rendered the illumination...incomplete." The proprietor declared that he was outraged by this "shameful conduct" and offered a generous reward to anyone who would "inform him of the depredators."

A few public garden proprietors had the luxury of not worrying about their financial success, & sometimes these owners were not interested in attracting the general public into their gardens. In 1793, when the exclusive Belvedere House and garden opened in New York City, the Sons of Liberty rented the private clubhouse & grounds to celebrate the 4th of July with an outdoor ceremony featuring 13 exploding cannon salutes followed by a long evening of dining & drinking.

Apparently the affluent gentlemen of the Belvedere Club decided that the freedom's sons & their roaring cannon bursts were a little too egalitarian & too boisterous for the regualar members' more refined tastes; and for the next several years, the pseudo-aristocratic Society of the Cincinnati discreetly toasted the 4th of July at the club's estate. No more rentals to those rowdy Sons of Liberty. But most 4th of July celebrations in commercial pleasure gardens were not limited to specific groups.

The general public could attend any one of several celebrations in cities throughout the new republic during the 1790s. At Gray's Gardens in Philadelphia in 1790, concerts & fireworks filled the air. The colors of each state draped across the floating bridge which was decorated with masses of flowers & shrubbery. One of the exhibits from Philadelphia's federal procession celebration of 1789, a ship "Union" flying the flags of all nations, lay in the waters near the gardens. Here was the a symbol of the new nation taking its rightful place among the other great countries of the world.

Also in Gray's gardens, a "Federal Temple" displayed a vault representing the federal union, which held 12 stones plus a keystone representing Rhode Island. The Constitution was now ratified, & the stronger union was finally secure. Thirteen young women dressed as shepherdesses plus 13 young men attired as shepherds emerged from the grove in the garden & surrounded the "Federal Temple," where they joined to sing an ode to liberty consisting of solos, choruses, & responses. The shepherds & shepardesses emerging from the grove reminded the audience of the pure virgin land that spawned the virtuous new republic. As evening fell, the whole garden was lighted as all eyes were drawn to an illuminated portrait of Predident George Washington.

In New York, French immigrant garden owners prepared the most elaborate symbolic spectacles to present in their gardens, which usually catered to a more Democratic-Republican audience. Joseph Delacroix announced his 1st Independence Day Celebration at his public garden Vauxhall in New York City in July of 1797, "Vauxhall Garden...will be decorated and illuminated in a beautiful manner, and the ever memorable day will be celebrated with music & singing." Delacroix declared that his goal was to transform his public garden into a series of inspiring symbols "to call to mind the American Heroes who...contributed to its independence."

Delacroix chose one of the new nation's most enduring symbols for the entrance to his garden. He decorated the main entrance facade to represent that untouched forest symbolizing the pristine genesis of the virgin nation which Gray's Garden in Philadelphia had also emphasized. Most garden guests would understand the significance of this recreation on at least some level.


After Joseph Delacroix's New York garden guests paid their admission fees & passed through the symbolic virgin forest entrance, they were surrounded by a nature highly improved by man. Here was gardening as an art form, full of symbols & layers of meanings. Delacroix represented each of the now 16 states in brilliant colors designating each state's individual name & star at stopping points along the lighted paths of his garden . Delacroix "re-united" each of the separated individual state symbols with a chain of flowers. The chain of flowers represented the still new United States Constitution.

The Frenchman honored the nation's heros by placing an illuminated transparent painting of "the brave Gen. Washington" in one corner of the garden and "the venerable Franklin" in another area. Delacroix also commissioned transparencies representing the myths & legends of ancient Greece & Rome plus emblems personifying qualities & ideals.

One transparency depicted "Fortune" rising from the ocean's waters emblematic of the prosperity of the nation's commerce. A depiction of Apollo playing on a lyre presided over the celebration. One of Apollo's duties in ancient Greek myth was to act as the god of music. As the new republic began to look at Washington as a god, and to its war heros as demi-gods, it seemed natural for Apollo to entertain.

Another of Delacrois's illuminated garden transparencies represented "Presi. Washington on a pedestal, with his successor, Mr. Adams, with this inscription Omni pro Patria." Gardens guests could remain secure in their belief that the country would not fall with the passing of one leader but would continue in an unbroken chain of democracy. And to remind the revelers of the price of this democracy, an obelisk honoring Revolutionary War heros Montgomery, Warren, & Greene sat nearby in the garden.

Delacroix hired an artist to paint a Lady Columbia supporting the arts of the United States, while "reposing on a bank of flowers" underscored by the inscription, "The wisdon of her government makes her happy." In her left hand she balanced the part of the globe representing America, plus a brilliant Sun "darting on its rays on that part more than any other." In her right hand she held a scroll "in which is wrote the Federal Constitution, Bill of Rights."

The 1797 celebration at Delacroix's Vauxhall ended with a grand fireworks display climaxing a concert "of Vocal and instrumental Music." Tickets costing 6 shillings entiitled each person to a glass of ice cream, punch, or lemonade. "To obviate difficulties and confusion, no other liquors will be furnished that evening." One New York City newspaper sent a reporter to review the whole spectacle. He reported that Delacroix's patriotic extravaganza "excited the most pleasing emotions" in the city's citizenry.

In 1798, Delacroix presented several allegorical representations of America on 4 new transparent paintings each 16 feet high. One depicted Columbus landing in America; another represented the 13 original states; a third represented the English evacuation of New York at the end of the Revolution; and the fourth was Jupiter standing amid American emblems & mottos. In Roman mythology Jupiter represented the essence of all divine power;and as Jupiter Latiaris, he presided over Rome's important holiday festivals.

The climax of Delacriox's 1798 4th of July celebration centered around a depiction of a Temple of Independence, where Lady Liberty stood on the globe of America, pointing to the tombs of Revolutionary war heros who died in defense of the rights of their country, with the inscription "Imitate Them."

Delacroix did not design his symbolism to be subtle. His Temple of Independence was surrounded by the American frigates The Contellation, Constitution, & The United States. As a climax to the evening's festivities, the owner unfurled an American flag above the temple & shot a rocket into the air above the garden from the temple, while the the frigates simultaneously fired 16 exploding stars representing each of the states, to join the rocket of independence lighting the evening air above the scene.

Delacroix planned an even more elaborate thematic allegory for his commercial garden Vauxhall in 1799. He dotted the garden squares & paths of his grounds with 16 wooden summer houses representing each state & individually decorated in the colors of each. Patrons arriving early enough could sit in the summer house of their choice to celebrate the confederation.

Garden owner Delacroix added to his previous year's flat, painted Temple of Independence a three dimensional representation of the Constitution depicted as a gold column. He also commissioned a full size bust of George Washington & a 6 foot tall companion figure of Fame holding a laurel crown in one hand & a trumpet in the other proclaiming that fame "crowns real Merit."

In another section of the garden, a Temple of Mercury "80 feet front, 40 feet high, and 130 in circumference" displayed large models of George Washington's plantation, Mt. Vernon in Virginia; the John Quincy Adam's town home in Quincy, Massachusets; and the Warren monument at Bunker Hill in Massachusettes.

To highlight the evening, Delacroix hired actors to present a living tableau depicting various aspects of George Washington's public & private life in allegory.

For the 4th of July in 1806, garden entrepeneur Delacroix offered a moving diorama nearly 1000 feet long depicting the procession held in New York in 1788 honoring the adoption of the Federal Constitution. In 1807 & 1808, Delacroix presented allegorical designs honoring liberty, peace, patriotism, battles won & lost by America's military heros, particularly George Washington.

In 1798, Delacroix gained a strong competitor. When French immigrant Joseph Corré opened Columbia Garden in New York City, he commissioned 6 giant transparent paintings the inspire the 4th of July garden revelers visiting his new pleasure grounds. Corré's transparencies stood 18 feet tall.

Corre chose to have his obligatory portrait of George Washington supported by the "Geniuses of commerce, and the God of the Sea" who were grouped on a foundation of dolphins. Sea trade had traditionally been the key to the new nation's economic well-being. Garlands of flowers ornamented the painting. A companion portrait of President John Adams was also surrounded by symbolic geniuses.

Corre's remaining 4 paintings were purely emblematic. One depicted widsom as Minerva holding an olive branch to remind the viewer that the maintainance of virtue promised peace both within the new republic & with other nations. Fidelity was painted as a woman holding a basket of flowers & ears of corn, accompanied by a faithful dog close by her feet. A veil convered another female figure representing Piety. She held a cornucopia in her right hand, while her left hand rested on the head of an innocent child.

To counterbalance the peaceful images, Hercules depicted force. He held a club in one hand & stood next to a lion which symbolized heroic virtue, reminding garden revelers that virtuous force might be needed to maintain & expand the new republic. Corré enriched the whole display "with flags & warlike trophies." The next year he added a carved "figure of Fame" to his July 4th lineup of heros & emblems.

Corré declared that "as Public Gardens are for the amusement and recreation of the public, something new should be added yearly" to the Independence Day festivities. In 1801, he imported a collection of "large Busts...the immortal Washington, Socrates, Cicero, Demonsthenes, Mercury, Juno, Flora, Niobe, Ariadne, Vestal, Amour" & Narcissus. Socrates, Cicero, & Demonsthenes added classical wisdom to the garden surroundings. Amour suggested the more intimate pleasures of the garden setting.

Corré's initial public garden was so successful, that he opened a 2nd commercial garden in New York City called Mount Vernon in honor of the nation's 1st president shortly after Washington's death. For his first Independence Day ceremony at the new garden in 1800, Corré erected a pyramid near his garden fountain featuring a classical vase "lately imported from Europe" in addition to 19 garden statues representing Socrates, Cicero, Cleopatra, Shakespeare, Milton, "the illustrious and immortal Washington," plus various figures from Greek mythology.

Corre climaxed the event in his new garden with an evening fireworks display. In 1801, Corré's program at his Mount Vernon garden revolved around Washington including full length portraits of Washington, Warren, Mercer, Greene, Montgomery, Putnam, DeKalb, & Franklin. Illuminated paintings of national allegorical figures & scenes as well as a fireworks "battle between 26 ships of the line, being a representation of the battle fought between the British and French fleets in the Bay of Albankiv" concluded the spectacular.

In 1802, Corré climaxed his 4th of July celebration with fireworks depicting the coat of arms of the United States; the Cross of the Society of the Cincinnati with an eagle in the center; and a profile of President Jefferson in fire. Each of Corre's Independence Day celebrations during these years revolved around George Washington. Most commercial pleasure garden 4th of July celebrations for the ten years after George Washington's death in 1799, centered around the hero's life.

Even before Washington's death in 1799, Joseph Delacroix offered a fireworks in June of 1798, especially in his honor which ended with "a nosegay of fire...(leaving) a golden column standing, on which is placed the goddess 'Fame' 8 feet high, holding a wreath of Laurel in one hand & Washington with the other." Within 4 years of his death, the garden owner added a permanent tribute to Washington to his garden ornamentation. One visitor described the scene, "The illuminated walks on every side were irresistably inviting, and the lofty statue of Washington standing elegantly conspicuous in a brilliant area drew the general gaze."

After Washington's death, displays in New York City's French-owned public pleasure gardens began to deify him, especially those of competitors Joseph Corré & Joseph Delacroix. In his 1802 Independence Day commemoration, Delacroix presented a personification of Washington arriving on the scene at Vauxhall Garden in a triumphal carriage pulled by six horses driven by the figure of America and then being placed by America's heroes (Warren, Otis, Putnam, Greene, etc) on a military trophy in the Middle of the Temple of Immortality. After a proper musical & rifle salute, two geniuses descended from above bearing a civic crown placed on Washington's head by the Figure of Gratitude.

In 1803, Delacroix unveiled his bronzed life-size equestrian statue of President George Washington standing on a pedestal composed of 16 columns, representing the 16 states, surrounding a large center shaft. Washington, in full military attire, pointed "his sword towards the Narrows, the passage through which the British retired at the final evacuation of the United States."

Delacroix redecorated the area of his garden where he set the statue--which he named "the field of Mars" -- with gilt military trophies, garlands of white roses, & drawings illustrating Washington's military career. Washington was the American Mars. Mars represented the ancient Roman god of war who the Romans worshiped in three capacities: as Mars Gradivus, the warrior god; as Mars Silvanus, a rustic divinity who presided over agriculture; and as Mars Quirinus, the protector of the state. As Ultor, the avenger, the Roman Mars punished the enemies of Rome just as the military Washington vanquished the British ememies of America. Washington was the Mars of the new republic.

Of his 1801 Independence Day celebration at his new garden Corre advertised that "The tomb in which Gen. Washington was buried at the foot of Mount Vernon will be exactly represented. While Mr. Fox delivers a monody at the door of the vault...the ghost of Washington will arise! and (be) borne to heaven by cherubs amidst a flourish of trumpets, in the presence of the audience."

Here Washington was more than the American Mars, Washington was a new national savior figure rising to heaven to sit somewhere near the right hand of the Father and Son. After dispatching Washington to heaven in 1801, Corre could hardly bring him back the for the next year's 4th of July celebration, so he had Fame descend from heaven in 1802 "in a cloud surrounded by the sun" carrying a portrait of Washington, that she placed in the Temple of Independence which Corré had erected in his garden.

By the end of the 1st decade of the 19C, commercial pleasure gardens had pushed the celebration of the 4th of July about as far as they could. Attendence dwindled; and in 1809, French entrepeneur Joseph Delecouix placed his New York City garden for sale.

Amazingly, on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1826, two of the most famous signers of the document, Presidents John Adams & Thomas Jefferson, died. And ironically on that same day, in Maryland, the Frederick-Town Herald decided to no longer publish 4th of July celebrations & toasts, which they declared to be "generally dull, insipid affairs, about which few feel any interest."


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