The Declaration of Independence will be read aloud Saturday, July 24 at by members of the Biddeford Historical Society at the Meetinghouse, at the intersection of Pool Road and Meeting House Road. The program begins with an ice cream social at 1 p.m., to be followed by the reading at 2 p.m. Tammy Wells Photo

BIDDEFORD — Biddeford attorney James Sullivan, who later became governor of Massachusetts, had heard there would be a reading of the recently signed Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. He knew copies were to be handed out and delivered, by horse and rider, to some far-flung locations, and Biddeford was one of them.

The Declaration of Independence that laid out the case for separation from England, from King George III and from Parliament, arrived in Biddeford two to three weeks later, said Biddeford Historical Society Vice President Paul McDonough.

Citizens assembled on the steps of the Meetinghouse on July 21, 1776, to hear it read, according to Biddeford Historical Society accounts.

“It is believed it was read by Sullivan,” said McDonough, from inside the 1759 Meetinghouse on a recent day. “There was a crowd of people.”

McDonough said historical accounts show that as well as Biddeford residents, there were people from Kennebunkport and Saco in attendance.

The familiar and beloved document will be read again, aloud, on Saturday, July 24, at an event at the Meetinghouse, located at the intersection of Pool Road and Meeting House Road. There will be an Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Social beginning at 1 p.m. — with the reading of the Declaration of Independence at 2 p.m. The declaration will be read by several people in turn, each enunciating a portion of the document crafted in Philadelphia 245 years ago. It will be followed by a presentation of winning Biddeford High school essays from a contest hosted by the historical society.

A reading of the Declaration of Independence is set for Saturday at the historic meetinghouse at the intersection of Pool Road and Meeting House Road in Biddeford.

McDonough noted that unrest had begun several years before the Declaration of Independence was written and distributed. According to the National Archives, more and more people throughout the 13 colonies became worried and dismayed about Parliament’s increasing oppression.

According to Biddeford Historical Society accounts, locally, the push for freedom was led by Sullivan.

Britain began to prepare for war in early 1775, according to U.S. Archives accounts. The first fighting broke out in April in Massachusetts. In August, King George III declared the colonists to be “in a state of open and avowed rebellion.”

On July 2, the Continental Congress voted to declare independence.

Two days later, the members ratified the text of the Declaration, according to the U.S. Archives.

“John Dunlap, official printer to Congress, worked through the night to set the Declaration in type and print approximately 200 copies,” the archives state. “These copies, known as the Dunlap Broadsides, were sent to various committees, assemblies, and commanders of the Continental troops.”

Back on July 4, the Biddeford Historical Society held an open house at the Meetinghouse, with society president Dana Peck in period clothing, On Saturday, there will be a reading of the Declaration of Independence at the historic landmark, off Pool Road. Courtesy Photo

According to the book “American Population Before the Federal Census of 1790, the population of Biddeford at the time was estimated at 1,000. By 1830, that figure had grown to about 1,300 said McDonough, and to 5,200 by 1850 as the mills attracted workers from other locations.

In those days, Maine was part of Massachusetts – and meetinghouses not only served as churches, but as the location for other meetings and assemblies. At one point in its history, in 1793, the Meetinghouse served as a location for a heresy trial.

Next month, on Aug. 15 and 16, Liberty Defenders, a play presented by the Biddeford Historical Society, by special arrangement with Biddeford City Theater, will be featured at the Meetinghouse at 1 p.m.

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