The Birthday of
Our Nation by Sarah J. Prichard
Tale of the American Revolution
Bellman Grey and Blue-Eyed Boy were hurrying up Chestnut street; the
man carried a large key, the boy a new broom.
It was a very warm morning in a very warm month of a very warm year;
in fact it may as well be stated at once that it was the Fourth day of
July, 1776, and that Bellman Grey and Blue-Eyed Boy were in haste to
make ready the State House of Pennsylvania for the birth of the United
States of America. No wonder they were in a hurry.
In fact, everybody seemed in a hurry that day; for before Bellman
Grey had whisked that new broom over the floor of Congress Hall, in
walked, arm-in-arm, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
Good morning, gentlemen, said Bellman Grey. You'll find the dust
settled in the committee-room. I'm cleaning house a little extra to-day
for the expected visitor.
For the coming heir? said Mr. Adams.
When Liberty comes, She comes to stay, said Mr. Jefferson,
half-suffocated with the dust; and the two retreated to the
Blue-Eyed Boy was polishing with his silken duster the red morocco
of a chair as the gentlemen opened the door. He heard one of them say,
If Cæsar Rodney gets here, it will be done.
If it's done, said the boy, won't you, please, Mr. Adams, won't
you, please, Mr. Jefferson, let me carry the news to General
The two gentlemen looked either at the other, and both at the lad,
in smiling wonder.
If what is done? asked Mr. Adams.
If the thing is voted and signed and made sure, (just here
Blue-Eyed Boy waved his duster of a flag and stood himself as erect as
a flagpole;) if the tree's transplanted, if the ship gets off the
ways, if we run clear away from King George, sir; so far away that
he'll never catch us.
And why do you, my lad, wish to carry the news to General
Washington? asked Mr. Jefferson.
Because, said the boy, whywouldn't you? It'll be jolly work for
the soldiers when they know they can fight for themselves.
Just here Bellman Grey shouted for Blue-Eyed Boy, bidding him come
quick and be spry with his dusting, too.
Before the hall was cleared of the accumulated dust of State-rooms
above and Congress-rooms below, in came members of the Congress,
one-by-one and two-by-two, and in groups. The doors were locked, and
the solemn deliberations began. Within that room, now known as
Independence Hall, sat, in solemn conclave, half a hundred men, each
and every one of whom knew full well that the deed about to be done
would endanger his own life.
On a table lay a paper, awaiting signatures. A silver ink-stand held
the ink that trembled and wavered to the sound and stir of John Adams's
voice, as he stated once more the why and the wherefore of the step
America was about to take.
This final statement was made for the especial enlightenment of
three gentlemen, new members of the Congress from New Jersey, and in
reply to the reasons given by Mr. Dickinson why the Declaration of
Independence should not be made.
In the meantime Bellman Grey was up in the steeple, seeing what he
could see, and Blue-Eyed Boy was answering knocks at the entrance
doors; then running up the stairs to tell the scraps of news that he
had gleaned through open door, or crack, or key-hole.
The day wore on; outside a great and greater crowd surged every
moment against the walls; but the walls of the State House were thick,
and the crowd was hushed to silence, with intense longing to hear what
was going on inside.
From his high-up place in the belfry, where he had been on watch,
Bellman Grey espied a figure on horseback, hurrying toward the scene;
the horse was white with heat and hurry; the rider's face was no
bigger than an apple, but it was a face of importance that day.
Run! shouted Bellman Grey from the belfry. Run and tell them that
Mr. Rodney comes.
The boy descended the staircase with a bound and a leap and a thump
against the door, and announced Cæsar Rodney's approach.
In he came, weary with his eighty miles in the saddle, through heat
and hunger and dust, for Delaware had sent her son in haste to the
The door closed behind him and all was as still and solemn as
Up in the belfry the old man stroked fondly the tongue of the bell,
and softly said under his breath again and again as the hours went:
They will never do it; they will never do it.
The boy sat on the lowest step of the staircase, alternately peeping
through the key-hole with eye to see and with ear to hear. At last,
came a stir within the room. He peeped again. He saw Mr. Hancock, with
white and solemn face, bend over the paper on the table, stretch forth
his hand, and dip the pen in the ink. He watched that hand and arm
curve the pen to and fro over the paper, and then he was away up the
stairs like a cat.
Breathless with haste, he cried up the belfry: He's a doing it,
he is! I saw him through the key-hole. Mr. Hancock has put his name
to that big paper on the table.
Go back! go back! you young fool, and keep watch, and tell me quick
when to ring! cried down the voice of Bellman Grey, as he wiped for
the hundredth time the damp heat from his forehead and the dust from
the iron tongue beside him.
Blue-Eyed Boy went back and peeped again just in time to see Mr.
Samuel Adams in the chair, pen in hand.
One by one, in solemn silence all, the members wrote their names,
each one knowing full well, that unless the Colonists could fight
longer and stronger than Great Britain, that signature would prove his
It was fitting that the men who wrote their names that day should
write with solemn deliberation.
Blue-Eyed Boy peeped again. I hope they're almost done, he sighed;
and I reckon they are, for Mr. Rodney has the pen now. My! how tired
and hot his face looks! I don't believe he has had any more dinner
to-day than I have, and I feel most awful empty. It's almost night by
this time, too.
At length the long list was complete. Every man then present had
signed the Declaration of Independence, except Mr. Dickinson of
And now came the moment wherein the news should begin its journey
around the world. The Speaker, Mr. Thompson, arose and made the
announcement to the very men who already knew it.
Blue-Eyed Boy peeped with his ear and heard the words through the
With a shout and a cry of Ring! ring! and a clapping of hands, he
rushed upward to the belfry. The words, springing from his lips like
arrows, sped their way into the ears and hands of Bellman Grey.
Grasping the iron tongue of the old bell, backward and forward he
hurled it a hundred times, its loud voice proclaiming to all the people
that down in Independence Hall a new nation was born to the earth that
When the members heard its tones swinging out the joyous notes they
marvelled, because no one had authorized the announcement. When the key
was turned from within, and the door opened, there stood the mystery
facing them, in the person of Blue-Eyed Boy.
I told him to ring; I heard the news! he shouted, and opened the
State House doors to let the Congress out and all the world in.
You know the rest; the acclamation of the multitude, the common
peals (they forgot to be careful of powder that night in the staid old
city), the big bonfires, and the illuminations that rang and roared and
boomed and burned from Delaware to Schuylkill.
In the waning light of the latest bonfire, up from the city of Penn,
rode our Blue-Eyed Boytrue to his purpose to be the first to carry
the glad news to General Washington.
It will be like meeting an old friend, he thought; for had he not
seen the commander-in-chief every day going in and out of the Congress
Hall during his visit to Philadelphia only a month ago?
The self-appointed courier never deemed other evidence of the truth
of his news needful than his own word of mouth. He rode a strong
young horse, which, early in the year, had been left in his care by a
southern officer when on his way to the camp at Cambridge; and that no
one might worry about him, he had taken the precaution to intrust his
secret to a neighbor lad to tell at the home-door in the light of early
The journey was long, too long to write of here. Suffice it to say,
that on Sunday morning Blue-Eyed Boy reached the ferry at the Hudson
river. The old ferryman hesitated to cross with the lad.
Wait at my house until the cool of the evening, he urged.
But Blue-Eyed Boy said, No, I must cross this morning, and my pony:
I'll pay for two if you'll take me.
The ferryman crossed the river with the boy, who, on the other side,
inquired his way to the headquarters of the general.
Warm, tired, hungry, and dusty, he urged his pony forward to the
place, only to find that he whom he sought had gone to divine service
at St. Paul's church.
Blue-Eyed Boy rode to St. Paul's. In the Fields (now City Hall Park)
he tied his faithful horse, and went his way to the church.
Gently and with reverent mien, he entered the open door, and
listened to the closing words of the sermon. At length the service was
over and the congregation turned toward the entrance where stood the
young traveler, his heart beating with exultant pride at the glorious
news he had to tell to the glorious commander.
How grand the General looked to the boy, as, with stately step, he
trod slowly the church aisle accompanied by his officers.
Now he was come to the vestibule. It was Blue-Eyed Boy's chance at
last. The great, dancing, gleeful eyes, that have outlived in fame the
very name of the lad, were fixed on Washington, as he stepped forward
to accost him.
Out of the way! exclaimed a guard, and thrust him aside.
I will speak! General Washington! screamed Blue-Eyed Boy,
in sudden excitement. The idea of anybody who had seen, even through a
key-hole, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, being thrust
General Washington stayed his steps and ordered, Let the lad come
I've good news for you, said the youth.
Officers stood aroundeven the congregation paused, having heard
It's for you alone, General Washington.
The lad's eyes were ablaze now. All the light of Philadelphia's late
illuminations burned in them. General Washington bade the youth follow
But my pony is tied yonder, said he, and he's hungry and tired
too. I can't leave him.
Come hither, then, and the Commander-in-chief withdrew with the
lad within the sacred edifice.
General Washington, said Blue-Eyed Boy, on Thursday Congress
declared us free and independent.
Where are your dispatches? leaped from the General's lips, his
Whywhy, I haven't any, but it's all true, sir, faltered the boy.
How did you find it out?
I was right there, sir. Don't you remember me? I help Bellman Grey
take care of the State House at Philadelphia, and I run on errands for
the Congress folks, too, sometimes.
Did Congress send you on this errand?
No, General Washington; I can't tell a lie, I came myself.
How did you know me?
Blue-Eyed Boy was ready to cry now. To be sure he was sturdy and
strong, and nearly fourteen, too; but to be doubted, after all his
long, tiresome journey, was hard. However, he winked once or twice
violently, and then he looked his very soul into the General's face,
and said: Why, I saw you every day you went to Congress, only a month
ago, I did.
I believe you, my lad. Get your horse and follow me.
Blue-Eyed Boy followed on, and waited in camp until the tardy
despatches came in on Tuesday morning, confirming every word that he
The same evening all the brigades in and around New York were
ordered to their respective parade-grounds.
Blue-Eyed Boy was admitted within the hollow square formed by the
brigades on the spot where stands the City Hall. Within the same square
was General Washington, sitting on horseback, and the great Declaration
was read by one of his aids.
It is needless to tell how it was received by the eager men who
listened to the mighty truths with reverent, uncovered heads.
Henceforth every man felt that he had a banner under which to fight, as
broad as the sky above him, as sheltering as the homely roof of home.