J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Memories from John Marston

For the holiday I’ll quote John Marston’s recollection of Thanksgiving in Boston before the Revolution. Marston evidently wrote this letter to Anne Adams about 1830, and it was first published in The Treat Family: A Genealogy of Trott, Tratt, and Treat for Fifteen Generations, and Four Hundred and Fifty Years in England and America in 1893.

Dear Cousin,

This is Thanksgiving day and we have eaten our plum pudding alone, a circumstance I do not remember having occurred before in the course of my life. All anniversaries bring with them solemn reflections and reminders of former days. I have been cogitating on one of the earliest I can remember when I was about ten years old. My father always invited a large party to supper on the evenings of those days, and by carrying you back to one, I may be able to give you some idea of the “olden times” you express a wish to hear about.

The room in which were to be assembled the invited guests was what we call the Drawing room, but in those days it was called the large parlour. At the upper end of which a large mahogany desk and book case. Between the windows hung a large Pier glass with a black and gold frame, and under it, a mahogany round table, covered with the beautiful chintz of that day. Opposite to this was another glass in a gilt frame, and under it a valuable marble slab on a richly covered mahogany frame. The chairs were carved mahogany with black morocco seats.

In one corner stood a clock with a blue enameled case, and in the other corner, a “Beau fet,” fashionable in those days, the upper part of which displayed the richest burnt China, enameled [porcelain with underglaze blue decoration and overglaze red and gilding], and the lower part a goodly assortment of silver plate which was more common then than now.

The window curtains were blue, made of a fabric not now in use, composed of worsted and cotton, or may be linen, very handsome. The carpet was humble Scotch and considered at the time a great luxury. The walls were hung over with flowered paper, and covered with elegant prints of the King and Queen, Lord Chatham and some others I do not recollect of a different description. The old fashioned walnut wood fire, must not be omitted, and the brass fire-set. We seldom see now this cheerful accompaniment of a family gathering.

The only children present, were, on that occasion, your aunt Bessie Treat, and myself. We were anxiously looking for the company as they arrived. And first came our dear old grandfather [Nathaniel] Greenwood with the countenance of a saint, his silver locks flowing on his shoulder, his cambrick neckcloth tucked through the button hole of his coat.

And next our venerable grandmother [Elizabeth Greenwood], with a rich brocade, so substantial it might have stood alone; yet, with the address of her sex, she would occasionally raise her dress, so as to discover a scarlet broad cloth skirt with a broad gold lace round the bottom.

Then came my aunt [Eunice] Bowers in a rich dove colored damask dress. I have since seen many Duchesses while in England, who with all their diamonds were vastly her inferiors in beauty and dignity of port and elegance of manners. She was at this time a widow.

Next her sat my good aunt [Anna] Treat, your worthy Grandmother: dressed in a brocade the color of which I have forgotten. There too was her noble husband, my uncle Robert Treat, your Grandfather, dressed in a blue coat, scarlet vest, black small clothes, and white hose. He had the face of Apollo! with the dignity of Mars.

There were also your uncles Nathaniel and Samuel Greenwood in plain suits—their brother Miles was approaching to a Maccaroni—what we now call a dandy. His coat was scarlet with a dash of gold lace. He was naturally fond of dress, but at that time he was secretary to the Governor of Nova Scotia, in which position a young man would wish to appear well dressed.

And last, not not least my beloved father and mother—their portraits are familiar to you. When we recollect, my dear Cousin, our worthy ancestors, who were possessed of high moral worth and most of them of deep and ardent piety, should we not feel proud of our progenitors?

On this occasion my father invited other guests. On this occasion I remember the Rev’d Mr. Allan, an English Patriot, James Otis—well known in the history of the Revolution—Dr. [Thomas] Young and some others.

At nine o’clock the company were ushered into the supper room. The first course was served on highly polished pewter. The second on the finest of china. The knives and forks had silver handles. The candlesticks were of pure silver. The table was of polished oak, and covered with the finest linen damask.
As Caitlin G. D. Hopkins noted when she shared this letter two years ago, Marston expended a great deal of effort on describing furniture and clothing. Even when the meal begins, his words focus on the plates and silverware. No tastes, no smells, no snatches of conversation.

This recollection has been dated to 1766, when Marston was ten years old. However, if “the Rev’d Mr. Allen, an English Patriot,” was John Allen, then it was around 1772 and Marston was sixteen. Allen was a Particular Baptist minister who published “The Spirit of Liberty” in London in 1770 and “An Oration on the Beauties of Liberty” in New England in 1772. According to John Adams (Anne Adams’s father-in-law) in May 1773, “Coll. Otis [the Whig lawyer’s father] reads to large Circles of the common People, Allens Oration on the Beauties of Liberty and recommends it as an excellent Production.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great story, but as you noted, odd that its focus was so much on clothing and furniture. I was tickled to see the reappearance of "maccaroni." -- Joe Bauman