Bristol, Rhode Island’s Annual Fourth of July Celebration History

The Celebration officially starts on June 14th, Flag Day

The Annual Bristol 4th of July Celebration began in 1785 when Rev. Henry Wight of the First Congregational Church and a Veteran of the Revolutionary War conducted the first Patriotic Exercises.

It is not known exactly when the Parade started but it is thought that it evolved from the procession of community members walking to Patriotic Exercises. The Parade, the Military, Civic and Firemen’s Parade, is believed to have begun in the early 1800’s.

The Celebration officially starts on June 14th, Flag Day and concludes with the 2.5 mile Military, Civic and Firemen’s Parade on July 4th. Throughout the period following the Flag Day Ceremony numerous events are scheduled. They include a concert series at Independence Park, Fireworks, a Drum Corps Show, a Firefighters muster and a 4th of July Ball as well as many other events.

Past Fourth of July Diginitaries

Each Celebration there are several diginitaries that are chosen by the General Chairman, the Committee or Sub-Committee’s to participate in the Celebration at various levels. The Visiting Ship is determined by the U.S. Navy. Below are the differnet dignitaries history.

General Chairman

The General Chairman has the responsibility of overseeing all aspects of the Celebration. They conduct all general meetings, provide leadership for the Committee and conduct all business related to the Celebration. The General Chairman, as well as all officers, are elected by the General Committee. Each term of office is two years. One of their most important responsibility is that of choosing the Chief Marshal. Their hard work and dedication to the 4th of July Celebration should be commended, a tradition that has been continued since 1785.

Past General Chairmen

Patriotic Speaker

The Annual Bristol 4th of July Celebration began in 1785 when Rev. Henry Wight of the First Congregational Church and Veteran of the Revolutionary War conducted the first Patriotic Exercises.

Patriotic Exercises is the foundation for our claim as the Oldest Continuous Celebration in the United States. Each year a Patriotic Speaker or Speaker of the Day is chosen by the Committee to speak to our community to kick off July 4th. Patriotic Exercises begins each July 4th at Colt School in downtown Bristol at 8:30 a.m.

Past Patriotic Speakers

The Committee’s General Chairman has the honor of selecting the Chief Marshal for each celebration. Beginning in the early 1800’s through to the current celebration, it is considered to be one of the highest honors bestowed on a Bristolian.

The Chief Marshal leads the Annual Military, Civic and Fireman’s Parade on July 4th.

Past Chief Marshals

Miss and Little Miss Fourth of July

Each year sixteen 16-20 year old girls compete for the honor of wearing the Miss Fourth of July Crown during the celebration and on the Miss Fourth of July float in the parade. In 1997, we added the Little Miss Fourth of July as sixteen 6-12 year old girls compete for the Little Miss Fourth of July title.

Past Miss & Little Miss Fourth of July

Visiting Ship

Part of our celebration is the visiting ship. The U.S. Navy sends a ship to spend a week in Bristol during our celebration. Starting in the early 1900’s, a ship has been part of the celebration for nearly 100 continuous years.

Past Visiting Ships

Hattie Brown Award

The Hattie Brown Award is presented each year by the Fourth of July Committee to a worthy Bristolian who demonstrates the same spirit of community service that was so much the distinguishable trait of Hattie Brown. Hattie was involved with many organizations and charities throughout the State during her life. She was an active member of the Bristol Fourth of July Committee.

Past Hattie Brown Award Recipients

Interfaith Speaker

Each year, the Bristol Fourth of July Comittee holds its Interfaith Service. The service is rotated amongst the local religious organizations. Each service has a Interfath Speaker.

Past Interfaith Speakers

Past Button Contest Winners

Each year since 1992, children in Bristol have entered the Button Contest. The winner is chosen by a panel from the Souvenir Committee, presented a $100 savings bond and is given the opportunity to march in the parade The button is the Official Button of the Fourth of July Celebration.

Past Button Contest Winners