During the Federal Era in America, a time corresponding to the Regency Era in England, the biggest holiday of the year was Thanksgiving. At that time, more Americans lived on farms than in cities, and with the grain harvested, the fruit preserved, and the pig butchered, it was time to join with family and friends to celebrate with prayer, song, and dancing the gifts of the harvest.
In 1834, the New Hampshire Patriot made note of the approaching holiday: A moderate rise in the price of molasses and spices—the increased demand for laces, ribbons, and dancing pumps—the hurrying of tailors, milliners, and mantua makers—frequent and important consultation of young gentlemen—whispering, flushed faces, and anxious looks among young ladies—and lastly, a string of proclamations announcing the 27th of November as a day of Thanksgiving in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont.”*
|Preparations for the feast|
In my novel, Darcy on the Hudson, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Georgiana, and Charles Bingley travel to Tarrytown in the Hudson River Valley to visit Bingley’s Uncle Richard, who has been living in America for twenty-five years. In addition to the love story of Darcy and Elizabeth, the novel mentions the Thanksgiving traditions of the New York/New England area. Here are three excerpts:
First, advanced preparations for the big day: “While sloops sailed north from the port of New York carrying Jamaica Rum, French and cider brandy, molasses, loaf and brown sugars, Hyson-Souchong and Bohea teas, various spices, dried fruits, coffee, and chocolate, barges filled to overflowing with cages containing live poultry and suckling pigs were arriving from Upstate New York at Tarrytown Harbor.”
Second, the preparation for the feast: “In the Bennet kitchen, Mrs. Kraft, Mrs. MacTavish, and Mrs. Wesley were already busy baking pies with every possible fruit filling, as well as Marlborough pies, brimming with apple and lemon custard. The five Bennet daughters, and every female servant at Longbourn, were either assisting in baking something or at Mrs. Bennet’s beck and call, running back and forth from the pantry cupboard, spring house, or woodpile bringing needed ingredients to the bakers or kindling to those tending the fires.”
Finally, the big day arrives: “After Mr. Bennet had finished saying grace and reading his proclamation, he began to carve the turkey, and everyone waited in anticipation as the bird was dismembered and the first slices fell onto the meat platter. Plates were heaped with potatoes, sweet potatoes, plum pudding, and vegetables, and everyone was encouraged to gorge themselves. The second course of cheese, squash pies, grapes, jellies, dried fruits, and nuts was eaten with relish, and everyone admitted that a break was necessary before enjoying the desserts.”
After the guests found the energy to push their chairs away from the table, they adjourned to the parlor for games and dancing. It was an excellent opportunity for young men and women to flirt or to begin a courtship. With family and friends gathered together on this special day, many chose that date as their wedding day. What better day could the happy couple have chosen than a day filled with food, drink, song, dance, and good company!
It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that Christmas would supplant Thanksgiving as the biggest holiday in America.
*Our Own Snug Fireside, Images of the New England Home 1760-1860 by Jane C. Nylander, Yale University Press, p. 264.
Darcy on the Hudson is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.