With Americans about to celebrate Thanksgiving, we thought we’d delve back into the past and look at Bristol’s noteworthy connections with the USA - from famous explorers to the naming of America, Hollywood stars to religious founding fathers. Here's some great trivia we think will surprise locals and visitors alike:

  • First American Thanksgiving

Berkeley Castle has an extremely significant connection with this celebration - the first American Thanksgiving was held by Berkeley men. The Berkeley Company ship, The Margaret, departed Bristol and landed in Virginia, USA in 1619, where they gave thanks for their ship's safe arrival – the original thanksgiving. This was a year earlier than the Pilgrim Fathers’ Mayflower voyage (1620), widely considered to be the first celebration.

Berkeley Castle

Image - Berkeley Castle, credit Angharad Paull

  • Bristol, the ‘Birthplace of America’

Bristol has been described as 'the Birthplace of America'. in 1497, John Cabot and his crew set sail from Bristol aboard The Matthew, hoping to find a new route to the Orient. Instead, he landed on the coast of Newfoundland, becoming the original discoverer of North America (not Christopher Columbus as many people believe). Today a replica of his ship, The Matthew, is moored on Bristol’s Harbourside - explore for free or take your own voyage of discovery on a tour of the harbour.

Richard Amerike, former Sheriff of Bristol, funded Cabot’s voyage and it’s thought Cabot named his discovery after him as a thank you. Intriguingly, Amerike’s coat of arms features stars and stripes similar to the United States flag -  a design which pre-dates George Washington's connection with the continent by 300 years (whose family arms had a similar motif). Go and see for yourself - the coat of arms can be found in the Lord Mayor's Chapel on College Green.

The-Matthew_CREDIT_Destination-Bristol

Image - The Matthew, Bristol 

  • The discovery of America

Built in 1897 to commemorate John Cabot’s discovery of North America four hundred years prior, Cabot Tower sits atop Brandon Hill. Head here for some of the loveliest panoramic views of Bristol and its Harbourside. A second Cabot Tower exists in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, on Signal Hill. It was built in 1898 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Cabot's discovery and Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.

Cabot-Tower_CREDIT_Destination-Bristol

Image - Cabot Tower, Bristol

  • Famous American friends

Berkeley Castle has been home to the Berkeley family for over 900 years. This long-living and prolific family consequently has Berkeley connections all over the world. 'Friends' star, Courteney Cox visited the castle in an American ancestry series after 700-year old documents allowed her to trace her roots back to 1327. It turns out her 18-times great-grandfather Thomas III Lord Berkeley, third baron of Berkeley was the owner of Berkeley Castle. It was during this time that the castle was used to imprison (and allegedly kill) the deposed king Edward II.

Berkeley Castle

Image - Berkeley Castle

  • Pennsylvania’s founder

St John’s Chapel in St Mary Redcliffe Churchnow known as The American Chapel, holds the tomb and armour of Admiral Sir William Penn (father of Pennsylvania's founder) who was born in Bristol. The giant whale bone next to the chapel is a souvenir brought back to the city by Cabot following his North America discovery expedition - the story of which is depicted in the stained glass - and a brass monument in honour of Richard Amerike's daughter.

St-Mary-Redcliffe

Image - St Mary Redcliffe Church

  • Transatlantic crossings between Bristol and New York in the Victorian era

The SS Great Britain was an advanced passenger steamship designed for transatlantic service between Bristol and New York by daring Victorian engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. When she was launched in Bristol in 1843, she was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic and the largest vessel of the time. She transformed travel to America and on her maiden voyage to the United States she easily broke previous speed records. These days the magnificently-restored ship sits on Bristol's Harbourside. Visitors can get a taste of Victorian life on-board and have a go at climbing the rigging with Go Aloft!

Brunels-ss-Great-Britain

Image - Brunel's SS Great Britain

  • Methodism’s founding father

John Wesley’s Chapel 'The New Room', in the heart of Bristol Shopping Quarter, is the world’s first and oldest Methodist chapel. When John Wesley preached a sermon from Hanham Mount in 1739, he became one of the founding fathers of Methodism. A plaque near the pulpit states how Wesley ordained Thomas Coke in 1784, who then went to America and ordained Francis Asbury. Both became Bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America and spread the Methodist religion in the States. The pair sailed from Pill, near Bristol and a monument to their voyage stands in the village.

John Wesley's chapel

Image - John Wesley's Chapel 'The New Room', credit Huntley Hedworth

  • Bristol, the American Colonies and the Translatlantic Slave Trade

Bristol played a significant role in England's maritime trade in tobacco, wine, cotton and other goods and there were very strong trade links between Bristol and the USA and its colonies. From the late 1600s to the early 1800s, many slave-related voyages sailed out of Bristol and there are nods to this past around the city - Pero’s Bridge on Bristol's Harbourside, is named after Pero Jones, the African servant of a plantation owner. Incidentally you can visit his master's house, now The Georgian House Museum, to see how an 18th century plantation owner would have lived. Visitors to Bristol can also discover more about the city's slave trade history at M Shed or the slave trade walking trail.

Today the Harbourside buzzes with an entirely different energy. Restaurants, bars and galleries line the water’s edge, boats ferry people up and down the river and some of Bristol’s best tourist attractions – We The Curious, Bristol Aquarium, Brunel's SS Great Britain, Arnolfini, M Shed, Underfall Yard and The Matthew - lie within easy reach.

Peros-Bridge

Image - Pero's bridge

  • Blackbeard the Pirate

According to legend, The Llandoger Trow - Bristol's oldest pub - was Pirate Captain, Blackbeard's drinking hole. Previously known as Edward Teach, the infamous Bristol-born buccaneer terrorised the West Indies and eastern coast of the US before meeting his demise in America in 1718, when he was captured and killed by the Governor of Virginia and his soldiers.  An anchor from Blackbeard's ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, was recently discovered off the coast of North Carolina.

Blackbeard once had a hideaway cave under St Mary Redcliffe church and his birthplace and childhood home still stands on Bristol's Harbourside. Take a Bristol Pirate Walk for more facts about the city’s pirating history.

Llandoger-Trow

Image - The Llandoger Trow

  • Bristolian Hollywood film star

Archibald Leach, otherwise known as Cary Grant, was born and raised in Bristol. A blue plaque recognises the house he lived in on Hughenden Road in Horfield before he left for the USA and gained US citizenship there in 1942. Grab theatre tickets from Bristol Hippodrome and see where Grant began his career as a backstage boy, visit a statue honouring the actor in Millennium Square and look out for the biannual Cary Grant Festival (the next one is in 2018), celebrating this remarkable actor's journey from Bristol to Hollywood.

Cary-Grant-Statue

Image - Cary Grant on College Green, Bristol, credit Bristol Evening Post

  • Only museum of Americana outside the USA

The American Museum in Britain near Bristol is the only museum of Americana outside the United States. Visitors are taken on a journey through the history of America, from its early settlers to the twentieth century and its remarkable collection of folk and decorative arts show the diverse nature of American traditions. Based at the beautiful Claverton Manor, there are also extensive grounds, which include an arboretum of American trees. The museum is currently undergoing a restoration project on its replica of George Washington’s Upper Garden, Mount Vernon, Virginia so that it represents the Upper Garden as it would have appeared in 1799, the year Washington died.

American museum in Britain

Image - The American Museum in Britain

  • First American Embassy

Pay a visit to green, leafy Queen Square and stroll by number 37 to see where the first American Embassy was established in 1792 after the American Revolution. A plaque on the wall states Elias Vanderhorst of South Carolina was appointed by George Washington as the first US Consul. 

Queen Square

Image - Queen Square

  • Bits of Bristol in New York

During World War Two, American supply ships needed ballast to make the return trip to the USA. There was plenty of rubble for them to fill their ships with in Bristol as much of the city had been destroyed by bombing. On arrival in New York, they dumped these bits of Bristol in East River, now known as the ‘Bristol Basin’ and built on top of it, so essentially, New York is constucted on fragments of Bristol. A plaque in each city commemorates the unusual connection, you can find their locations here.

  • Ancestor of the first President of the USA

Colonel Henry Washington, one of George Washington’s ancestors, fought on the Royalist side in the English Civil War (1642-51) and was involved in the capture of the city of Bristol in 1643. There is a plaque marking this at the top of Park Street.

  • Bristols around the globe

 The first other 'Bristol' was founded in Massachusetts in 1632 by Bristolian, Robert Aldworth. There are 35 populated places in the world called Bristol, of which 29 are in the United States. Come and visit the original in the UK!

USA flag

  • Bristol politician turned New York Senator

Henry Cruger (whose portrait hangs in the Lord Mayor’s Mansion House, Clifton) was MP for Bristol in 1774, Mayor of Bristol in 1781 and subsequently became a Senator for the State of New York.

  • The annual Bristol Renaissance Faire, Wisconsin

Queen Elizabeth I came to Bristol in 1574, an event not often thought about here, but celebrated in style in the Wisconsin city of Kenosha every summer since the late 1980s. A rollicking romp through Elizabethan England, visitors can expect 16th century games, rides, arts, crafts, food, music, and pub crawls, plus one-of-a-kind encounters with a spectacular cast of characters. Read more about it here.

Getting here: 

If you're coming from the US, you're in luck... Wow Air offer flights from various locations including San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago to Bristol Airport via Reyjkavik, Iceland. You can also hop across the Atlantic via Dublin with Aer Lingus. Bristol is well-served by all the major european hub airports, such as Amsterdam Schiphol, Paris CDG, Frankfurt and Munich. Bristol is approximately two hours by train from London Heathrow.

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Berkeley Castle
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The Matthew
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Pero's Bridge
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Pero's Bridge - Copyright Mick Kirton

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The Georgian House Museum
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One of the most complete 18th century town houses surviving in the UK, offering a glimpse of life hunderds of years ago.

M Shed
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Bristol Pirate Walks
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Join Pirate Pete for a one-hour guided walking tour of Bristol's historic harbourside, with tales of discovery, slavery and piracy.

The Bristol Hippodrome
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The Bristol Hippodrome

One of the country's top provincial theatres, which proudly continues to stage major West End and Broadway productions

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