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As you sit down before that nice, plump
turkey, yams, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and whatever else
is on the table this Thanksgiving Day, don't forget that there
are connections it has with Beaver County.
We'll start at the beginning---which is
the best place to start. According to an Associated Press article
from the November 24, 1963 issue of the Youngstown Vindicator
"Prosperity has dealt indifferently with William Bradford,
the Pilgrim Governor who first proclaimed Thanksgiving Day back
in 1621." It also reports, "But somehow, dimly viewed
through the mists of history, his image has been obscured by the
fame of Miles Standish, John Alden and Pricilla Mullin."
So, what exactly is his local link? To begin
with, it was his grandson, another William, who made what's now
New Sewickley Township his "summer home." It was the
same log house that descendant David Bradford, leader of the "Whiskey
Rebellion" went to during the nice warm months to get away
from it all.
For those living in the Darlington area,
Arthur B. Bradford is well known for his abolitionist work. It
tells us in Bausman's History of Beaver County 1904, that, "Toward
slavery and its adherents he was sarcastic beyond description."
It continues "As an orator he resembled Beecher." Bausman
points out that he, "In order to protect his wife and children,
temporarily transferred his property to a friend" to thwart
The Fugitive Slave Act.
We are also told that, "He gave the
main part of his life to the cause of freedom and spared neither
time nor expense in his travels." He is also a direct descendant
of William, who came over on the "Mayflower" and gave
us Thanksgiving Day.
Getting back to William. He was elected
to his post after the first man appointed governor, died of heatstroke
"on a balmy April day shortly after the "Mayflower"
returned to England. His death climaxed a series of grim tragedies
that decimated the colony in the first few months in the New World."
Only 56 people, out of the original 102 passengers who survived
that dangerous 65 day ocean voyage, lived through that first winter.
William Bradford's wife was one of the dead. She had either jumped
or fallen from the high deck of the "Mayflower."
We now turn to the book, New Years to Christmas.
This 1928 publication states:
"Thanksgiving Day, blends together
two important elements, historical, religious, and at the same
time is the oldest of American holidays. For the pilgrims it lead
to their first winter which was one of unexpected and, of course,
unprepared for hardship.
It seems that every variety of affliction visited them during this first winter.
They had been nearly frozen, had hung on
the borders of starvation, were prostrated by illness and threatened
again and again by wild beasts and, worse perhaps than all the
rest, were surrounded by many unfriendly Indians."
It is without doubt that the rugged and
hardy settlers, who were still breathing when spring came around,
began planting unsure of what would be produced. But, as autumn
drew near, their spirits must have gone shooting up as a bountiful
harvest was on hand. Then came the Rev. William Bradford's call
for a general Thanksgiving Feast. There are three notable points
that should forever remain when considering this first New England
Thanksgiving. The first was that the settlers were called together
by Rev. Bradford to give thanks for their great blessings. The
second was that they rejoiced, didn't whine or mourn over their
trials and tribulations. Lastly, the call was to "rejoice
It's said that even their new found Indian
friends, who could talk little English, were invited and included
in this festivity. Thanksgiving Day initially remained practically
a New England institution, receiving little notice from the people
who had settled in the southern part of the country for years.
The book, In the Beginning explains that
cranberries and corn were two of the few crops that were plentiful
in New England at that time. They, however, have problems with
the rest of the menu. They believe the settlers made good use
of the corn and also "fired it in venison fat, ending up
with a tasty precursor to cornbread." Watercress and leeks
were also served, probably alongside a "succulent slab of
venison." Over three days, the guests managed polish off
"five whole deer."
Seafood was in abundance too. Don't forget
New England is famous for its lobster? The initial hunting party
for the first Thanksgiving Feast was also a fishing party since
lobster, bass and clams were all on the menu. And, here's a kicker:
The Massachusetts governor himself wrote that the party brought
back a great store of wild "turkies." But, then, "turkies"
didn't mean "turkey" it just meant "edible
birds" or guinea fowl.
Traditional stuffing would have been impossible
to make, "because the Pilgrims had long since run out of
flour." Ditto for pumpkin pie, since one can't make a crust
without flour either. There was probably a boiled side dish of
pumpkin, but not a dessert.
If you thought you were overwhelmed this year with the task of cooking for your extended family, pity the plight of the poor Pilgrim women who did it first. There were only four of them cooking for 90 or so guests!
During the next century or so, when the
Revolutionary War held the young colonists in its grip, people
were called upon by the Continental Congress to hold Thanksgiving
Days for victories or other blessings received.
Thanksgiving Days weren't now just a New England thing. At last, when the long and tedious war of the Revolution was over and Congress adopted the Constitution of the United States, which gave us the status of other nations, a push was started to make it a national holiday. President George Washington proclaimed November 26, 1789, as the first national holiday. President Abraham Lincoln made it official in 1864. It was moved to its November date by Franklin D. Roosevelt.