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Thanksgiving: With a Link to Beaver County

By Jack Goddard

Milestones Vol 34 No. 4

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 together."

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.


Don't Know Much About History
Kenneth C. Davis

History of Beaver County 1904
Rev. J. Bausman

History of the World
Eric Jass, Steve Wiegand

In the Beginning
Mental Floss co-writers (MENSA)

New Year to Christmas
Clara J. Denton


American Heritage
May, 1994

Beaver County Times


Forgotten Founder
(Nov. 24, 1963)
Youngstown Vindicator

Welcome Englishmen"
William Bradford,