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Celebrate July 4th with a Toast to Benjamin Van Cleve


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on July 3, 1993



Roz Young


            Dayton had a population of about 375 persons in 1809 when a few public-spirited citizens decided to hold the first Fourth of July celebration. Benjamin Van Cleve was chairman of the committee, and he and Owen Davis and William M. Smith planned the affair.

            The militia and citizens gathered at the riverbank at the head of Main Street and marched to the Courthouse. "Here they heard an oration and patriotic songs," says Robert W. Steele, an early Dayton historian, "after which they marched to the home of Henry Disbrow, where an elegant dinner was served, tickets costing 50 cents."

            The militia fired salutes, and the people drank toasts. Citizens played games in the afternoon, and attended a dance in the evening.

            By the next year the celebration was more elaborate. After the singing of an ode by a choir, Dr. James Welsh, M.D., pastor of the First Presbyterian Church and the first practicing physician in Dayton, gave a prayer. Benjamin Van Cleve read the Declaration of Independence and Joseph H. Crane gave an oration. At noon the public ate a dinner served under a bower, where 17 toasts were drunk, a salute being fired when each toast was given.

            At the 1811 celebration, Dr. Welsh opened the festivities with a sermon; Joseph H. Crane read the Declaration and Benjamin Van Cleve gave the oration. Politics appeared for the first time in the festivities; adherents of one party held a dinner at the Strain house, while the other party dinner took place at the Graham house. At both sites party members drank 17 patriotic toasts, and then an 18th. At Graham's guests drank, accompanied by small arms fire, to the "health of Thomas Jefferson, late President of the United States;" at Strain's the toast was "May our young Americans have firmness enough to defend their rights without joining any Tammany club or society." The toast was accompanied by a cannon discharge.

            In the afternoon the military companies gave a drill exhibition and paraded, and the celebration ended in the evening with a dance.

            Young women appeared for the first time in the procession in 1815. In 1816 Benjamin Van Cleve was secretary of the seven-man program committee and read Washington's Farewell Address. One hundred guests had dinner together and drank 19 patriotic toasts with, says the historian, great hilarity. In the evening a vocal concert was given at the home of William Bomberger with a ball afterwards at Col. Reid's inn.

            Church bells rang and cannons fired at dawn to begin the Fourth of July observance in 1822. The program was held at the First Presbyterian Church. Four companies of militia headed the procession. Captain Grimes's company wore yellow coats with green collars and cuffs, white pantaloons and red leggings. Captain Dodd's company wore white coats trimmed with black braid, white pantaloons and hats with red feathers. Captain Dixon's riflemen wore blue coats trimmed with white and white pantaloons. Captain Windbrenner's men dressed in gray coats and pantaloons.

            Following the militia in the parade came four Revolutionary solders with the flag - Col. Robert Patterson, Simon Broadwell, Richard Bacon and Isaac Spining. After dinner the groups drank the usual 19 patriotic toasts. Then followed volunteer toasts. Joseph H. Crane gave a toast to "DeWitt Clinton, the able and persevering supporter of internal improvements;" Robert W. Steele led a toast to "The contemplated canal from waters of the Mad River to those of the Ohio."

            Stephen Fales, one of the orators of the day, gave a toast to "The memory of General Anthony Wayne, the deliverer of Ohio," and Col. Stebbins, officer of the day, toasted "Joseph H. Crane, a descendant of a Revolutionary officer, one of the first settlers in this place, and who has borne the heat and burden of this day with us; as distinguished for his modesty as his worth, his is the popularity that follows, not that is pursued."

            Isaac Spining's toast was "May the cause that first inspired the heroes of '76 to shake off the chains of slavery be very dear and supported by all Americans." The final toast was given by the four Revolutionary soldiers and was to "The heroes of the Revolution that fell to secure the blessings of this day to us: may their children so maintain them that America may be a republic on the last day of time."

            Twenty-five toasts in all.

            The founder of the Fourth of July celebrations in Dayton was not able to attend that celebration: Benjamin Van Cleve died the year before. I am surprised that nobody thought to drink a toast to him that July 4, 1822.

            Perhaps we might want to correct this oversight with a toast tomorrow to Benjamin Van Cleve, one of Dayton's original settlers, first teacher, first postmaster, first librarian, first historian of Dayton, first Fourth of July celebration chairman.

            He liked whiskey best, but anything will do.