The first recorded parade honoring the Catholic feast day of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is held in New York City on March 17, 1762 – fourteen years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The parade is comprised of a band of homesick, Irish ex-patriots and Irish military members serving with the British Army stationed in the colonies in New York. They march to an inn of one John Marshall located near the present-day intersection of Barclay and Church streets in lower Manhattan.
Early Irish settlers to the American colonies, many of whom are indentured servants, bring the Irish tradition of celebrating St. Patrick’s feast day to America. This is at a time when the wearing of green is a sign of Irish pride but is banned in Ireland. In the 1762 parade, participants revel in the freedom to speak Irish, wear green, sing Irish songs, and play the pipes to Irish tunes that are meaningful to the Irish immigrants of the time.
With the dramatic increase of Irish immigrants to the United States in the mid-19th century, the March 17th celebration becomes widespread. Today, across the United States, millions of Americans of Irish ancestry celebrate their cultural identity and history by enjoying St. Patrick’s Day parades and engaging in general revelry.
Saint Patrick, born in the late 4th century, is one of the most successful Christian missionaries in history. Born in Britain to a Christian family of Roman citizenship, he is taken prisoner at the age of sixteen by a group of Irish raiders during an attack on his family’s estate. They transport him to Ireland where he spends six years in captivity before escaping back to Britain. Believing he has been called by God to Christianize Ireland, he joins the Catholic Church and studies for 15 years before being consecrated as the church’s second missionary to Ireland. Patrick begins his mission to Ireland in 432 and the island is almost entirely Christian at the time of his death in 461.