A Fourth of July without a barbecue is like Thanksgiving without a turkey. For more than two centuries, the advertisement of a barbecue, especially a free one, has been used to attract customers, visitors, voters and most especially friends, who come to taste the scrumptious swine, savory chicken, and grilled hamburgers, not to mention the potato salad, pork-n-beans, potato chips, slaw, and the decadent desserts which we cram into our mouths on America's birthday, all in the celebration of the Declaration of Independence.
In the spring of 1794, Augustus Elholm, Georgia's Adjutant General, called for a remonstrance to the House and Senate of Georgia to establish a jubilee throughout the state, annually on the 4th of July, consisting of a barbecue and home distilled spirits, furnished by the government to each battalion and every citizen within its limits, with an arrangement for shooting matches. Let's hope the men shot before they imbibed the spirits.
One of the state's first political barbecues was held in Macon on August 15, 1827, when the Republicans of Macon, Georgia held a free barbecue to honor their candidate for governor of Georgia, Matthew Talbot.
Someone played a mean trick on Mr. John Snellgrove at an 1881 Laurens County barbecue. It seems that Snellgrove prided himself on his ability to eat enormous amounts of food. To prevent eating too much, the big eater placed eight belt holes, each an inch a part. He kept on eating everything in sight until his belt grew too tight. One day he began to eat tripe and other things until the last notch on his belt was reached. He had swelled to the last notch hundreds of times before. But on this occasion a devilish trickster cut another hole. His intestines ruptured and the poor glutton died.
The Boys in Gray gathered for a reunion in July 1887 in a grove of trees near the Burney residence in Dublin. Some say there was 3000 to 4000 people consuming the best food Dublin cooks could prepare. During their three years in the Confederate army, these aging veterans scarcely saw so much fine food for an entire army. Beside food, there were orations, baseball, and dancing. All went home happy, but stuffed, tired and hot.
Perhaps the largest barbecue ever held in Dublin took place in July 1891. The occasion was the arrival of the first train from Macon along the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad. Thousands of persons rambled through ten acres of oak groves eating chicken, pig, mutton, pies, cakes, and peaches and cream.
Turns out that one of the biggest ballyhooed barbecues came exactly one century ago on the nation's birthday in 1911. It was billed as a day of feasting, good music, and rallying for good roads. It was just that and more.
The big celebration was held in the newest amusement park in Dublin. It's owners, the Tindol Brothers, F.C. and W.P., opened the park they called East Lake along the cool waters of Hunger and Hardship Creek. The Tindols established the entrance to East Lake at the point near where North Franklin Street crossed the creek at the new steel bridge, a place therefore only crossed by fording. It was also the place where the Baptists and Methodists gathered to dunk or sprinkle their true believers in the spirit of the Lord.
The whole hullabaloo was sponsored by the newly formed Dublin Chamber of Commerce. It was the chamber's first big function. And, it was a big success. The greatest measure of any barbecue was obviously, the meat on the grill. And, as usual, Major T.D. Smith, a celebrated Confederate veteran and barbeque master, did an outstanding job. In the haste to put on the event, planners forgot to plan for enough help to serve the pork and chicken. By one o'clock when the dinner bells rang, enough volunteers stepped forward and the feast went off without too many hitches.
The Dublin Band didn't disappoint either. The band, fresh off their rave performance at the National United Confederate Veterans Reunion in Little Rock, Arkansas, filled the air with streams of patriotic tunes and toe-tapping melodies.
And, there was a lot of talk about good roads. Why else would Dublin's businessmen donate the food and all the trappings and close their business for several hours in the middle of the day? Good roads were essential to the growth of Dublin and Laurens County. Better road surfaces and more direct routes to other commerce centers were a necessity if the local community was to continue its meteoric growth.
Captain L.Q. Stubbs, a four-time and popular mayor of Dublin, served as the master of ceremonies. Stubbs introduced one of his predecessors, the eloquent orator Thomas B. Felder, Jr. . Felder, then an Atlanta attorney, commented on the growth of Dublin since he had left nearly two decades before. He told the crowd that if had been unconsciously placed in Dublin, he would have not known where he was. In his homecoming address, Col. Felder complimented his fellow Dubliners by saying, "By your energy, industry and enterprise, you have built this city from a village into a metropolis, rivaling its beauty, its population, its culture, refinement, and commercial importance as other older cities of the state."
Felder, a consummate politician and prohibitionist, could not resist launching into a tirade against Gov. Cole Blease of South Carolina.
Perhaps the most famous barbecue to involve Laurens Countians took place not in the county but on the lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C. in 1980. Three hundred Laurens Countians, headed by Cecil Passmore and Bennie Mullis, gathered to support President Jimmy Carter in his reelection campaign against Ronald Reagan. But, that's another story for another column in the future.
So, on this 5th day of July when your bellies are filled with barbecue, let us take time to rejoice in the freedoms we were given two hundred and thirty five years ago by a group of fifty-six men, who thankfully didn't gather together to pick the meat off a barbecued pig, but boldly subscribed their names to a declaration of which many of us know the beginning words. I ask you when you think of barbecue and the 4th of July, take a look at their concluding words, "And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
In memory of H. Dale Thompson, (April 14, 1923-July 5, 2001).