Chadds Ford Historical Society

Revisiting History

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Mythbuster Friday: “The First Thanksgiving was in 1621 in Plymouth”

Myth: The First Thanksgiving in America was celebrated in Plymouth in 1621. It was a day of thanksgiving, celebrated by a feast between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims. It is because of this we have the national holiday of Thanksgiving.

Truth: We all know the story behind the first Thanksgiving, right? The pilgrims were starving because they did not know how to plant crops or build shelter when they arrived. Thanksgiving-BrownscombeThe Indians, led by Squanto, saved the pilgrims by teaching them how to survive and how to successfully grow crops. By the fall of 1621, the pilgrims held a harvest feast, invited the Wampanoag Indians, and declared it a day of Thanksgiving.

This is a nice story, and one that has inspired the national holiday Thanksgiving, but it is not very accurate. For the pilgrims, a day of thanksgiving equaled a day of solemn prayer, not a feast with “non-believers.” The feast most likely did take place in 1621, but the first official day of thanksgiving declared by the pilgrims wasn’t until 1623.

Thanksgiving itself was only made a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln many years later in the mid 19th century. Although there are some disputes about the accuracy of the reports of the 1621 feast, most people agree that the feast did happen and that it was the first Thanksgiving in America.

However, the first actual “Thanksgiving” feast was held in 1565. And it wasn’t the English pilgrims; instead it was the Spanish Catholic missionaries in St. Augustine, Florida. They celebrated a day of thanksgiving on September 8, 1565, the day they came ashore. Their head priest, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, offered a Catholic Mass, followed by a feast celebration shared between the Spanish settlers and the Timucua Indians. For Catholics, Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist, a word that literally means “thanksgiving.” Years later, another group of Spanish settlers in Texas declared their own day of Thanksgiving on April 30, 1598. Therefore, the Spanish preceded the English pilgrims of Plymouth, Massachusetts in declaring the first official Thanksgiving feast in America by over twenty years.


The Thanksgiving we all know in Plymouth is what we think of when we celebrate this holiday. But this feast barely resembled our well-established traditions, if at all. These traditions have been born over the years and did not originate from either the Pilgrims or the Spanish. For example, if we did get our traditions from the Spanish, we’d all be eating bean soup instead of turkey. Regardless of its origins, the “giving of thanks” has remained an integral symbol of the founding of this country, which is why we commemorate Thanksgiving Day as a national federal holiday each year.


Photo Credit:

“The First Thanksgiving” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe

“A picture of the first mass said in St. Augustine, Florida,” unknown artist

Post by Anne Ciskanik

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Announcing the 50th Annual Chadds Ford Days!

Welcome to the 50th Annual Chadds Ford Days!
September 12-13, 2015

Originally founded as a commemoration of the  Revolutionary War Battle of the Brandywine fought on September 11, 1777, Chadds Ford Days has become a community institution that brings together past and present to celebrate our local heritage. Every year, it draws thousands of visitors to spend the weekend learning about history, shopping for crafts, enjoying live music, food and drink, and supporting local businesses.

To countdown this year’s event, we will be featuring a Spotlights Series on the participants, the historical precedents and other interesting facts about Chadds Ford Days. We will highlight the restaurants, the musical bands, the antique dealers, the crafters and the colonial demonstrators who will make the event a success. We will also talk about dispelling myths about colonial life and the American Revolution with Mythbuster Fridays.

Chadds Ford Days is a great family event as well, with an obstacle course, a moon bounce and other fun games to entertain the kids. You can even bring your dogs to participate in the canine demonstration course!

Tickets will be $10 for adults 18 and over. Kids, pets and parking will all be free.

So, stay tuned for all of the exciting updates on this year’s lineup and we hope to see you there!

Kids and Crafter

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The Other September 11: the Battle of Brandywine

On September 11, 2001, the world witnessed the tragic events that unfolded in New York City’s skyline. However, 224 years ago, a different scene was playing out in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. 

British general William Howe came down with his army from New York and met General George Washington’s at Chadds Ford. However, before contact was made, Howe sent a strong portion of his men to sneak up on the colonists from the side.  That division took a roundabout route, crossed the Brandywine Creek, and then came down from the north.  One scout ran to warn Washington about the other attack, but he was ignored.  Two more scouts came, and Washington readjusted his plans to suit the two side force.  However, the redcoats won out. Washington’s forces retreated under the direction of Lafayette, one of the most famous generals to come out of the Revolutionary War and after which Lafayette College was named.  

Soon after the battle, the British marched to and occupied Philadelphia, which had recently been deserted by the Continental Congress.  Washington’s forces proceeded to winter at Valley Forge.  

The Battle of Brandywine claims three big names:  Howe, Washington, and Lafayette.  It also claims two well known Revolutionary War events:  the occupation of Philadelphia and the wintering at Valley Forge. 

However, for those of us at the Chadds Ford Historical Society, we have a more personal connection with the Battle of Brandywine. 

For example, Jacob Ritter, a Bucks County resident, was one of the soldiers who stood in that battle.  He heard Washington’s order to retreat and hid, but was captured by the Hessian soldiers under Howe’s command the next day.  He was then taken to be a prisoner in Philadelphia. Eventually, he became a Quaker minister, partially due to his traumatic experiences during the war.  

Along the same strain, the Battle of Brandywine was fought near a Quaker meeting house, which was in use that day.  Their records mark that they could hear the sounds of battle from outside, but “all was quiet and peaceful within”.  

Elizabeth Chadds, of our John Chadds House, could also hear the din of war.  The sixty seven year old widow hid her silver spoons in her pocket as a precaution.  She never filed a property damage claim with the Continental Congress.  In fact, in Chadds Ford, only forty seven claims, less than nine percent of the population, were filed.  However, that could have arisen from her Quaker beliefs rather than lack of damage.  Quakers, as pacifists, would’ve hesitated to try to gain money from the war. We do know, however, that no civilians were killed during the battle. 

Happy fourth of July, everyone!