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Bristol 4th of July parade is back for 2021 in Rhode Island

Organizers are planning a “full celebration” this year, including the iconic parade, a 14-day concert series, a carnival, and a half marathon.

The Annual Bristol Fourth of July Celebration began in 1785 when Rev. Henry Wight of the First Congregational Church and a Veteran of the Revolutionary War conducted the first Patriotic Exercises, and is the oldest Fourth of July Parade in the nation.
The Annual Bristol Fourth of July Celebration began in 1785 when Rev. Henry Wight of the First Congregational Church and a Veteran of the Revolutionary War conducted the first Patriotic Exercises, and is the oldest Fourth of July Parade in the nation.CJ GUNTHER

BRISTOL, R.I. — One of Rhode Island’s most iconic Patriotic celebrations is making a full return this year.

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic forced organizers of Bristol’s annual Fourth of July parade to scale back the event, which typically draws thousands to the town’s historic streets. Instead of the usual spectacle — with US Navy sailors, floats, marching bands from around the country, and state politicians walking — they substituted a subdued, vehicle-only procession.

Michelle Martins, chairwoman of the Bristol Fourth of July Committee, promised that the nation’s oldest Independence Day parade will be a “full celebration” this year.

Spectators watched as a Fourth of July parade passed on July 4, 2020, in Bristol, R.I. The town, which lays claim to the nation's oldest Independence Day celebration in the country, held a vehicle-only, scaled-down version of its annual parade in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Spectators watched as a Fourth of July parade passed on July 4, 2020, in Bristol, R.I. The town, which lays claim to the nation's oldest Independence Day celebration in the country, held a vehicle-only, scaled-down version of its annual parade in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.David Goldman/Associated Press

Fireworks will take place on July 4 at 9:30 p.m. at the Bristol Harbor. The following morning — Monday, July 5 — the annual ringing of the bells will take place in all town churches at 6 a.m., followed by patriotic exercises starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Colt Memorial School.

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The 2.5 mile Military, Civic, and Fireman’s Parade will begin at 10:30 a.m., at the corner of High and Hope Streets.

Preliminary events leading up the parade have already began, said Martins, starting with a spring breakfast at Bristol’s VFW Post on May 26. Several other events have already been planned, including a 14-day concert series, a carnival, and a half marathon.

Events will run through Sept. 23.

The town’s annual Fourth of July celebration began in 1785 when Rev. Henry Wight, a veteran of the Revolutionary War and of the First Congressional Church, conducted the new country’s first Patriotic exercises.

The official Military, Civic, and Fireman’s Parade was first held in the early 1800s, according to the planning committee, though no one knows the exact year. Local lore says that it evolved from the procession of community members walking to Patriotic exercises.


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.