That’s right! First Congregational Church Founded America’s Oldest Fourth of July Celebration! How did this happen?
Rev. Henry Wight was our 6th Senior Pastor and came to serve in 1785. This was a time of tremendous hope and promise. A new church building had just been completed where the Andrew’s school now stands. Our new nation was free and Bristol was a center for spiritual and patriotic energy. Rev. Wight was also a Harvard graduate and a veteran of the Revolutionary War. You can see his name on the Revolutionary War Monument in Independence Park in Bristol. In fact, most of the people named on that wonderful monument were members of First Congregational Church, which was the Patriot church in town.
Because Rev. Wight was a veteran of the Revolutionary War, he led the way in establishing what are now known as “Patriotic Exercises” – way back in 1785! These Patriotic Exercises focused on remembering, honoring and celebrating all the Revolutionary War veterans had done in establishing our then new nation. Each year after 1785, on the 4th of July, Patriotic Exercises were held to honor the work of those who founded our nation. Rev. Wight himself was the Patriotic Speaker at the Patriotic Exercises for over 40 years! Each year, Bristol begins their famous parade with the Patriotic Exercises, which is why Bristol can claim the oldest 4th of July Celebration in America. Along the way the now famous Parade developed as a further celebration of what Rev. Wight envisioned.
So, we honor Rev. Henry Wight. He was a committed and passionate man who’s energy and vision last to this day. His ministry in Bristol lasted for well over 40 years and his devotion to this Town is legendary. That is why First Congregational Church is Founder of America’s Oldest Fourth of July Celebration!™
FCC’s connection to the Bristol 4th of July Celebration is deep and lasting to this day. In addition to housing historic artifacts that describe and depict the beginning of the celebration, FCC stays involved in current activities from year to year.
Many times FCC will build a float to celebrate our connection to the parade. This is always a fun way of reminding the community we are the Founders of America’s Oldest Fourth of July Celebration!™
The famous red, white and blue stripe on the parade route has also been extended to go in front of our church campus (even though the parade ends a block before) to honor our history. We thank the Town of Bristol and the Fourth of July Committee for this honor! Rev. Wight’s home still stands on the northwest corner of High and Bradford Streets, diagonally from the church sanctuary!
In 2010, Pastor Dan was selected to be the Patriotic Speaker at the Patriotic Exercises. This was a direct connection to Rev. Henry Wight, who began the 4th of July Celebration in Bristol with a Patriotic Speech at each 4th of July for over 40 years! Along the way the parade also began in the 1800’s. Pastor Dan was extremely humbled by this great honor.
In the speech he thanked Rev. Wight for his vision and he also thanked his family, who had been re-located during Operation Enduring/Iraqi Freedom to support his military service when he was called to Active Duty. Most of all, Pastor Dan connects with the fact that both he and Rev. Henry Wight are both military chaplains and veterans serving at FCC.
If only Rev. Wight had gone to Yale, instead of Harvard!