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Bristol Fourth of July Parade facts for kids

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The Military, Civic and Fireman’s Fourth of July Parade
Bristol Fourth of July Parade 2017.jpg
The 232nd parade in 2017
Genre Parade
Date(s) Independence Day
Frequency Annual
Location(s) Bristol, Rhode Island, United States
Years active 234
Inaugurated 1785
Most recent July 4, 2020
Attendance 50,000
Patron(s) Bristol Fourth of July General Committee
Bristol 4th of July

Bristol Fourth of July Parade, or Bristol Fourth of July Celebration (officially known as the Military, Civic and Firemen's Parade), founded in 1785, is a nationally known Fourth of July parade in Bristol, Rhode Island. The parade is part of the oldest Fourth of July celebration in the United States of America.


The annual official and historic celebrations (Patriotic Exercises) were established in 1785 by Rev. Henry Wight of the First Congregational Church and veteran of the Revolutionary War, and later by Rev. Wight as the Parade, and continue today, organized by the Bristol Fourth of July Committee. The festivities officially start on June 14, Flag Day, beginning a period of outdoor concerts, soap-box races and a firefighters' muster at Independence Park. The celebration climaxes on July 4 with the oldest annual parade in the United States, "The Military, Civic and Firemen's Parade", an event that draws over 200,000 people from Rhode Island and around the world. These elaborate celebrations give Bristol its nickname, "America's most patriotic town". In 1785 the Bristol Fourth of July Celebration (beginning as the Patriotic Exercises) was founded and the Fourth of July has been celebrated every year in Bristol since that date, although the parade itself was canceled several times.

Buddy Cianci and the parade

Buddy Cianci 4 July 2009 Bristol RI
Buddy Cianci returned after serving his jail sentence to march again in the 2009 parade

Buddy Cianci, Providence's longest-serving mayor, had a long and controversial history with the Bristol parade. In the 1970s, parade rules stipulated that only elected federal, state, and Bristol town officials were invited to participate; mayors of Providence were not invited. In spite of this, Providence mayor Buddy Cianci marched in the parade every year after his 1975 election, in violation of the rules, until parade organizers sent a letter censuring him after the 1979 parade. The Bristol Town Council explicitly voted to ban Cianci from the 1980 parade, a year in which Cianci was running for governor against J. Joseph Garrahy, who, as sitting governor, was welcome to march. The Bristol police chief vowed to arrest anyone who caused a disturbance. A record 300,000 spectators showed up for the 1980 parade, waiting to see what would happen. In the end, when Cianci's helicopter touched down at Colt High School, officials backed down in the face of overwhelming crowd support for Cianci; he received bigger cheers than any other guest that day.

In 1984, after pleading "no contest" to a charge of assault, Cianci skipped the parade; a clown dressed in a prison uniform, carrying a ball and chain, mocked him in his absence. In 1991, Cianci caused some controversy by marching in front of the parade marshal, which prompted the parade chairman to comment, "Cianci is rude and he doesn't deserve to be invited back." In 1997 and 1998, Cianci marched with a "small army" of police, including police rescue boats on trailers, a bicycle patrol, and police officers squirting spectators with water rifles. This proved too much for the parade subcommittee, who unanimously dis-invited Cianci from the 1999 parade. Cianci skipped 1999, but returned in 2000 to shouting and cheers, despite having been indicted this time on federal corruption charges. Cianci's last appearance as sitting mayor was in 2002, after his conviction. Instead of riding his usual horse, Cianci walked this time, and he was frequently stopped by fans along the route to take photos and to shake his hand.

In 2003, new Providence Mayor David Cicilline marched in the parade, accompanied by a more modest contingent than his predecessor.

2009 parade

The Rhode Island Tea-Party Association applied to enter the parade with a float featuring a representation of the British ship Beaver, which was ransacked by colonists dressed as Native Americans in 1773 at the Boston Tea Party. Staffing the float was Helen Glover, a radio personality from Providence, RI–based WHJJ 920 AM.

The Bristol Fourth of July Committee ejected the Rhode Island Tea-Party Association float from the 2009 parade and permanently banned them from all future parades for distributing pocket copies of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights along the parade route. Such handouts are prohibited at the Parade on the grounds that people (especially children) running up to floats to get them pose a danger.

2014 parade

Attendance at the 2014 parade was reportedly "much lighter than usual" due to bad weather from Tropical Storm Arthur. The parade was ended abruptly at 1 p.m. with a sudden thunderstorm. Marchers included Rhode Island's congressional delegation at the front of the line, including Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Reps. Jim Langevin and David Cicilline. Former Providence mayor Buddy Cianci and Gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo also attended.

231st Bristol RI 4th of July Parade
The head of the 2016 parade.

2015 parade

An estimated 50,000 people attended the parade in 2015.

Michael Rielly becomes Bristol's official Town Crier after Gerry MacNeill retires from the position after 23 years.

2020 parade

The 2020 parade was held in a reduced format due to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Parade marchers wore masks and mostly rode automobiles, instead of waking on foot. Spectators consisted of small groups of dozens, rather than the usual throngs of thousands. The "Longest Traveled Award" was not given, as organizers wanted to keep the celebration local in scale.

Celebration traditions

Crowded street scene prior to the parade in 2007. The town's unique red, white, and blue center line is also visible.
  • Patriotic Exercises Speaker: the oldest tradition and given to a notable person chosen to speak (starting in 1785)
  • Chief Marshal: a high honor given to a Bristol resident (starting in 1826)
  • Hattie Brown Award: an award presented annually to a worthy Bristolian who demonstrates the same spirit of community service that was exhibited by the late Hattie Brown (starting in 1987)
  • Visiting ship: a U.S. Navy ship is present at the celebration (starting in 1876)
  • Drum and Bugle Corps from around the country
  • Fourth of July Ball: a formal affair complete with cocktails, a grand march, dinner, and dancing
  • Button Contest: Children in Bristol compete to design an official button for the parade. The winner is given a $100 bond and can march in the parade.
  • Longest Traveled Award: given to the person who has traveled the longest distance to return to Bristol
  • Pageants for Miss Fourth of July and Little Miss Fourth of July. By official parade rules, these are the only pageant winners allowed to participate in the parade; other pageant winners such as Miss Rhode Island are excluded. The rule is intended to "minimize any commercialization of the parade."

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