A Fort Howard Christmas

200 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. 

An Invitation addressed to Mrs. Lawe for a ball at Fort Howard in 1820.

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) had been known for hosting social events but the truth is several officers enjoyed throwing parties, including Col. McNeil.  These gatherings led to some interesting stories including one murder and dangerous trip across the river during a violent storm.  You can experience these stories in the Generations Gallery.   

Lisa Kain, Curator

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