The 235th anniversary of the signing of our Declaration of Independence, this Monday July 4th, peaked my curiosity - what did our Chatham Selectmen or Town Meeting (Chatham was then the Town that composed all the land of Portland as well as East Hampton, Cobalt and Middle Haddam) do to recognize this momentous event? The answer, simply - not much - at least immediately! Today, Town cuncil meetings are posted and regularly held. Meetings then were not held at regular dates nor were there instantaneous news updates. Selectmen, elected at the annual town meeting of land holders, would attend to town business as needed and the annual meeting appointed committees to deal with specific issues of the day. For example, there was a committee to oversee hogs. You see, hogs were allowed to roam free and it was the duty of the committee to enforce control over the swine making sure owners had properly tagged their animals. But in light of those types of actions and responsibilities, at the December 9, 1776, meeting, interesting action did occur. Created and empowered was a Committee on Observation. I'm not sure if the purpose or intent was for patriotic citizens to observe their neighbors loyalty to the American Revolution, but that information may come with further research. From those minutes I was able to decipher the archaic handwriting that recorded the events and resolution adopted, which stated:
At the same meeting was voted that this town do accept and approve of the doings of the Continental Congress held at Philadelphia in September last and agree to keep and observe the same and do our utmost that the same shall be purcisely (sp) kept and observed according to the true intent of the Congress and the following persons are appointed as a Committee of Observation according to the Eleventh Article of the Association with the powers and authorities therein mentioned. Committee on Observation - Ebenezer White, Esq., John Cooper, Capt Moses Bush, Charles Goodrich, Capt John Penfield, Enoch Smith, Jeremiah Bradford, Capt George Stocking, Capt Stephen Olmsted, Capt Abijah Hall and Capt Silas Dunham.
One can surmise from the dates that July 4th, in and of itself, was not immediately significant at the time but rather the September actions which were likely printing and dissemination of the Declaration of much greater importance. Regardless, our town stood tall as a new world unfolded whose words that came forth from the Philadelphia Hall ring as true today as then - "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."