BETHEL — Nearly 200 people gathered at the side lawn of the Dr. Moses Mason House for the annual community picnic and Portland Brass Quintet concert Thursday afternoon.

Prior to the two-hour concert, William Andrews, president of the Board of Trustees of the Bethel Historical Society, told the audience that the tradition of the community picnic stretched back to the 1800s, when Dr. Moses Mason “still lived in this house.”

“The tradition included lengthy orations that went on and on and on throughout the afternoon about the Fourth of July,” Andrews said. “Today, we’re going to break that tradition by having some brief remarks.”

Guest speaker Matt Ruby, head of students for Gould Academy in Bethel, gave a brief speech on what the Fourth of July means to him.

“Many don’t realize this, but the Continental Congress actually voted on independence on July 2, not on the fourth,” Ruby said. “They made the decision on July 2, and July 4 was when they finalized the Declaration of Independence. In other words, July 4 was the paperwork day.”

He read a passage from a letter written by former President John Adams that said, “’the Second of July will be the most memorable in the day of America. I’m apt to believe it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.’

“You see, he was convinced that the second of July would be celebrated,” Ruby said. “There’s also some argument on whether Aug. 2 should be the day we celebrated. That was the day that the Declaration came back from the printers, and all the John Hancocks were put on the document.”

Ruby said that regardless of which day it is celebrated, he gets choked up on Independence Day.

“I don’t know if it was my time in the Navy, my time as a history teacher or my many great role models,” Ruby said, “but whenever I see our flag or hear our national anthem, I respond with great emotion. Our nation and our history don’t feel abstract to me. I feel a great connection and purpose.”

After Ruby’s speech, four members of the Bethel American Legion presented the colors by walking in the U.S. and state flags.

The Portland Brass Quintet followed with a two-hour concert of American songs, ranging from folk to ragtime.

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