The Neville Public Museum

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A Fort Howard Christmas

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

 

192 years ago a cheerful holiday feast was held just across the street from the museum near Leicht Park at Fort Howard. 

Once a fort officer, Col. McNeil (later commander of Fort Howard 1824-1825), found out how important it was to the French residents of the area to celebrate Christmas, he planned an elaborate party.  The officers invited the French, the Americans and native people living in the area.  The 4’ o’clock dinner is said to have fed a hundred people.  The evening included a feast of fish, bear, and porcupine along with a dance that lasted late into the night.  

A local land surveyor who attended the fort’s Christmas dinner/dance in 1823 describes the evening...   
    The hall was well filled… men and women, were attired in all the grades of dress, from the highest partisan down to the buck-skin coats, pants, petticoat, and moccasins of the aboriginals.  Yet as no one of the elite thought himself over-dressed, so, on the other hand, none of the citizens, French or half-breeds reproached themselves with least want or etiquette, or of intended disrespect of their host, on account of costume.
    -Albert G. Ellis

The fort hosted several gatherings like this one during its existence.  Maj. Zachary Taylor (Commander of Fort Howard 1816-1818 and later President of the United States) has been known for hosting social events but the truth is several officers enjoyed throwing hosting parties, including Col. McNeil.  

An Invitation addressed to Mrs. Lawe for a ball at Fort Howard in 1820 (NPM #1989.26.48) 

These gatherings led to some interesting stories including one murder and dangerous trip across the river during a violent storm.  These stories will be featured in our upcoming exhibit, Life and Death at Fort Howard opening in April 2016.  

Lisa Zimmerman, Curator
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