By Senator Jennifer Fielder
As we celebrate Independence Day each year, I hope you’ll read the Declaration of Independence, take a moment to reflect upon the meaning of its words, ponder the gravity of that situation, and imagine the sacrifice given for the birth of our nation.
On the Fourth of July we celebrate what was achieved – America, Freedom, and Independence! Do you ever imagine how they did it, or the terrible price they paid to gain their liberty – and ours?
This Independence Day I will join a cast of grateful, authentically-clad historians to offer a stirring public reading of the Declaration of Independence in Thompson Falls. The full day of free historic activities will begin at 8am Saturday with Atl Atl lessons on Ainsworth Field, followed by an Independence Day Parade at 10am, the Declaration of Independence at 11am and other living-history demonstrations continuing until 4pm in Power Company Park (1 block south of the Post Office). It’s all part of the annual David Thompson Days celebration sponsored by Blackfoot Telephone and Thompson Falls Chamber.
In addition to deep appreciation for what our founding fathers achieved, many students of history marvel at the accomplishments of Thompson Falls’ namesake — the British explorer, fur trader, and mapmaker David Thompson. What most folks may not realize is how much they have in common.
Thompson became a Canadian but, like many of America’s founding fathers, his origins were tied to England. He was born there and entered indentured servitude for the British government’s Hudson Bay Company (HBC) at age fourteen. It was 1784, on the heals of the American Revolution, when young Thompson began his career as a trading post clerk on the icy shores of Hudson Bay, Canada.
Just a few years earlier, English colonists to the south were contemplating what many deemed unthinkable. A series of forbidden gatherings took place in Philadelphia, where leaders from the American colonies convened a Continental Congress to debate how to deal with an increasingly oppressive English King. The result was the Declaration of Independence.
Thompson had his disagreements with English rule on another level. His ambition was to expand the HBC fur trade westward across North America. Taking the trade to inland tribes would open new markets for England and allow Thompson to explore and map uncharted western territories. It was an obvious”win-win to him, but the English lords wouldn’t hear of it. So, after fourteen years of outstanding service to HBC, Thompson parted ways with the Crown and joined up with the less formal and more adventurous Canadian fur traders of the Northwest Company.
Thompson’s ideas eventually proved very successful. He helped set up the first cross-continental network of trading posts (one near Thompson Falls), found the elusive Northwest Passage, and became the world’s foremost land geographer, mapping 1.5 million square miles of North America. He literally put Northwest Montana on the map!
In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, colonial leaders repeatedly appealed to the English King and parliament to respect their rights and ideas. They too were brave, brilliant men being held back by a heavy handed, unimaginative, distant English government. The founders’ grievances are boldly depicted in the Declaration of Independence. Thompson’s are well documented in his journals. But freedom could not be suppressed, not even by the most powerful empire on earth. After separating from English rule, Thompson succeeded and prospered — and so did America.
Eight years ago, the Thompson Falls Chamber of Commerce asked for volunteers to put together a historical event centered on our town’s amazing namesake. When they chose the first Saturday in July for the annual occasion, I wrestled with celebrating a Canadian fur trader so close to, and sometimes falling upon, Independence Day. As I learned the history I found strong lessons in how our continent was developed and how much Thompson’s story and America’s have in common – including the era in which they took place and the bold new path their ideas carved out for future generations.