Big Bangs and a Gigantic Plum Pudding

Big Bangs and a Gigantic Plum Pudding 4

Today, St. Augustine typically celebrates July Fourth annually with “Fireworks over the Matanzas”, as seen from the bayfront. For the 50th Anniversary, in 1826, people gathered at the St. Francis Barracks, parading with the troops to the Cathedral Basilica where public toasts were given to the authors of the Declaration of Independence, the President, the Military, to Florida, and more. Afterward, cannons were fired in celebration and patriotic music was played throughout the day’s festivities. July 4, 1905 was celebrated on the beach with the first mention of local use of fireworks. In 2001, similar festivities were given including a big band playing music from the swing era. Guns were replaced by a fireworks show of 3,450 shells launching over Matanzas Bay for the 225th Anniversary.

Occasionally, though, the show has been pushed back for safety precautions. One such instance occurred in 1998, the fireworks were postponed due to extreme drought and wild fires crossing St. Johns County. Then City Mayor, Len Weeks, decided it was safer to wait for the show to continue in September when citizens got a visual feast for Founder’s Day instead.

However, the people of St. Augustine did not always publicly celebrate the “Day of Freedom.” In 1776, both East and West Florida colonies had refused to attend the Constitutional Congress. They did not resonate with the rebels of the original thirteen colonies. St. Augustinians stood firm behind The King of England, George III, and burned effigies of John Hancock and John Adams in protest. They had established a relationship with England including economic ties and protections from local Native Americans. Governor Patrick Tonyn welcomed Tories (monarchists) into Florida, through the years of the revolution, which brought in economic prosperity and a boom of settlers.

Though St. Augustine was not taken, Spain assisted the Rebels by capturing Pensacola in 1781. One British victory included the capture of Charleston, South Carolina and several dozen prisoners including three signers of the Declaration of Independence who were imprisoned in St. Augustine. Those men were: Arthur Middleton, Edward Rutledge, and Thomas Heyward. The prisoners were elite members of the revolution, some even had their servants with them. They were held in the British period State House, kitty corner to the Government House, where Trinity Episcopal Church stands today.

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According to a paper written by a Mrs. Lawson read at a D. A. R. meeting in 1946; on July 4th, 1780 these three men, along with other patriotic prisoners, celebrated the Day of Freedom under the nose of Governor Tonyn with a “gigantic English plum pudding topped with a tiny flag with thirteen stars and stripes…However they managed that ‘gigantic plum pudding’ described by all writers will probably remain an everlasting secret.” Since they were wealthy, it is likely they purchased it. Heyward also wrote his own patriotic hymn for the day, which was sung to the tune of “God Save the King” which deceived British soldiers, and Governor Tonyn, and left them wondering why the sudden support of the king. “God Save the Thirteen States. Thirteen States. God Save them all.” After ten months of captivity, the men were released on July 30, 1781 in exchange for British prisoners.

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A few years later, in 1783, Britain relinquished Florida to Spain with the Treaty of Versailles, as their reward for assisting the Rebels during the American Revolution. Thirty-eight years later, on July 10, 1821, Florida became part of the United States of America. In 1822, the people of St. Augustine celebrated July 4th with bonfires, rather than burning effigies.

Written by Nicole Diehm







Bandell, Brian. “Rockets to glare Sunday” St. Augustine Record, 7/3/99.

“Celebrating Independence Day.” St. Augustine Record, 7/4/2005.

Crankshaw, Joe. “July 4 was no day for celebration in 1776 Florida.” Miami Herald, 7/4/1994.

East Florida Herald June 6, 1826.

East Florida Herald July 11, 1826.

“Fireworks changes.” St. Johns County Chronicle, July 2001.

Lawson, Mrs. Revolutionary Period of British St. Augustine. Paper read at D. A. R., Nov. 13, 1946.

Pope, Margo C. “Fireworks plans fizzle: Fourth of July show canceled, display may be rescheduled.” St. Augustine Record, 7/2/98.

Priddy, Ralph D. Image “Bombs Burst” St. Augustine Record, 7/3/99.

Programme. 4th July Celebration, 1893, at St. Augustine, Florida.

Tingley, Charles. “St. Augustine at the Beach: From the Civil War to 1914.” East Florida Gazette. Vol. 36, No. 2 St. Augustine: St. Augustine Historical Society, 2021.


Dean, Daron, photographer. Fourth of July events start. St. Augustine Record 7/2/2009, pg. 1.

“Try Atmore’s mince meat and genuine English plum pudding [front]” by Boston Public Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

“Christmas Plum Pudding” by Daily Bungalow is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit