Photo: Denise Civiletti

The Fourth of July was formally celebrated yesterday in Jamesport, where the Greater Jamesport Civic Association held a brief ceremony on the lawn of the George Young Community Center.

About 40 people turned out in stifling morning heat to mark American Independence with prayer, a salute to the flag, patriotic music and speeches. The Riverhead Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2476 provided a color guard and the Jamesport Meeting House Chorus sang the National Anthem and performed “America the Beautiful, “You’re a Grand Old Flag, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” and “God Bless America.”

The event, attended by Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, Councilwoman Catherine Kent and town historian Georgette Case, was the first July 4 celebration hosted by the Greater Jamesport Civic Association and organized by its vice president John Newman.

The Rev. Anton DeWet of Old Steeple Community Church in Aquebogue, who gave the invocation and closing prayer, said he became a U.S. citizen on July 4, 2006. DeWet, who was raised in colonial Rhodesia, moved to South Africa and then immigrated to the U.S. in 1993.

“So I stand before you today speaking with an accent but I am an American,” DeWet said.

Riverhead Town has not regularly held Fourth of July ceremonies in many years. The town historian reminded those in attendance that Fourth of July celebrations in the Riverhead of a bygone era were once elaborate events that drew the entire community out for parades, parties, bicycle and horse races and baseball games.

On July 4, 1866, church bells pealed and residents rang bells at sunrise. “Anyone with a bell was up at sunrise creating a cacophony of sound,” Case said.

“Residents joined in a parade with the Riverhead Fire Department and the National Guard. Prayers, poems and music filled the day with the highlight of the day, the reading of the Declaration of Independence by Judge Timothy M. Griffing,” Case said.

To celebrate America’s 100th birthday, Riverhead pulled out all the stops, she said. “Church bells rang, cannons fired, whistles blew, drums beat, bugles tooted. From morn ‘til late, happenings included everyone.”

Greater Jamesport Civic Association president William Van Helmond spoke of the nation’s beginnings and the people who fought in the Revolutionary War to secure American independence and in subsequent wars to preserve it.

“The 13 colonies fought and stood up for their beliefs and they became our forefathers,” Van Helmond said. “The United States did not exist yet before the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776,” he said.

“You see, 243 years ago, many men and women put their lives in danger for the freedoms we have today. We are forever in debt and grateful for their vision and purpose,” Van Helmond said. “We would not be here assembled if they did not assemble first.”

Van Helmond spoke of the community’s honor roll sign, erected on July 4, 1943 on the corner of Main Road and South Jamesport Avenue, which initially contained the names of the 79 people who had been killed during World War II. In 1946, the list was updated and the names of the war dead expanded to 104 names, Van Helmond said.

A memorial has been established where the honor roll sign once stood “to remind us that freedom does not come free and at times Americans from our area gave their lives so that we can continue to assemble here today,” he said. “They died for their beliefs of each and every one of us and we should never forget that we should remember them and honor them and honor all of our veterans and current military personnel. We thank them all for the freedoms they protect for each and every one of us every day.”

Jens-Smith said America’s founders risked everything to secure independence from the English crown.

“Those who declared America’s independence on July 4, 1776 knew that they could lose everything — their families, their honor and their lives were at stake. But these patriots decided that it was better to fight for the values of freedom, liberty and opportunity than to live under a tyrant monarch who oppressed those he saw as beneath him,” Jens-Smith said.

“America is truly unique in this way, because our origins are not from a shared ethnicity or a religious background, but from a unified truth in a simple belief that we are all created equal, that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights… and we owe it to those who have fought to protect it abroad and continue to fight for it at home — generations of Americans who have died to make our union more perfect — to make sure the rights our founders detailed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution extend to each and every one of us,” Jens-Smith said.

Democracy is not “something we have as much as something that we do,” the supervisor said. “As Thomas Jefferson once said the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

Jens-Smith urged residents to “recommit ourselves to the project that our Founding Fathers started on this day 243 years ago.

“Let’s nurture our democracy. Let’s fight for our democracy,” Jens-Smith said. “Let us never forget what so many have given to save our democracy and let’s make sure that we truly honor our Founding Fathers and their dedication of independence by using our freedom to vote and have our voices heard.”

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.