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Thanksgiving at the Van Riper-Hopper House

By: Tessa Payer, Museum Specialist at the Wayne Museum and Passaic County Department of Cultural & Historic Affairs


Happy Thanksgiving! On a holiday like this, when many families in Wayne gather together for food and festivities, I invite you to think about how families might have celebrated in the past- and do a little time-travelling with me!

Figure 1- A comical take on eating habits at Thanksgiving from The Morning Call, November 28th, 1886.

We’re setting our time machine to November 1880, only a few months after the census was taken. Mary Ann Van Riper and Andrew Hopper had been married for eight years, but this was likely their first Thanksgiving as the sole owners of the Van Riper-Hopper House. Mary Ann’s father, Uriah, died the previous year, and they inherited the home from him. The property was bustling, inside and out. The couple had four children, all under the age of ten; Uriah, Henry, Anna, and Isaac. Mary Ann’s mother, still wearing her mourning dress, was also living with them. Sarah Ogden appears to be the only live-in domestic servant, tasking with cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, and more. Three “laborers”, as the census notes, lived onsite. William Demott, John Vanbibin, and Simon Peterson worked on the farm, growing many of the ingredients that contributed to the Thanksgiving meal.


Mary Ann and Andrew weren’t strangers to the Thanksgiving holiday, and neither was the house. Mary Ann’s great-grandparents were alive and living in Wayne when the first national “day of public Thanksgiving” under the Constitution was declared by George Washington in 1789. The date wasn’t fixed, however, and relied on presidential proclamations. Families like the Van Ripers, however, probably continued with their usual harvest-time festivities until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving an annual national holiday. He set the precedent for celebrations to take place on the last Thursday of November, though the holiday seems to have always been tied to autumn. In 1827, author Sarah Josepha Hale connected the bountiful Thanksgiving feast with the harvest season.


Figure 2- Fall harvests would have included pumpkins and squash. From the Wayne Museum.


“The provision is always sufficient for a multitude, every farmer in the country being, at this season of the year, plentifully supplied, and every one proud of displaying his abundance and prosperity.”[1]







Looking out the windows of the Van Riper-Hopper House in November 1880 would have offered a view of fields, pastures, and orchards. Under the oversight of Andrew Hopper, William Demott, John Vanbibin and Simon Peterson had been hard at work that harvest season. While we don’t know exactly what grew on the Hoppers’ property, farm returns in 1860 include wheat, rye, corn, oats, potatoes, hay, butter, and honey. Sheep, horses, donkeys, milk cows, working oxen, cattle, and pigs were chief amongst the livestock.


By November 1880, Thanksgiving was formally established as a national holiday, enough that newspapers and books provided coverage of celebrations. They weren’t all centered around the dinner table. The Hoppers may have attended special services at Preakness Reformed Church, where Mary Ann’s younger sister had previously performed as an organist. More boisterous activities were advertised in local newspapers. One of the Hoppers’ neighbors in Preakness, the Barney Sisco hotel, hosted a Thanksgiving Day shooting match in 1887. Nearby cities like Paterson and Passaic had their fair share of festivities. Throughout the 1880s, The Morning Call and the Passaic Daily News reported on turkey raffles, dances, and even ice skating performances. “The Thanksgiving ball at the Lyceum” in 1882 was described by the Passaic Daily News as “one of the most successful entertainments ever given at that house.” The ball opened in the evening, and included a meal, jig and waltz contests, and dancing until 4:00 AM. The newspaper reported, “the entire affair could not have been a more successful or pleasanter winding up of the Thanksgiving holiday.” [2]


Though we don’t quite know if Mary Ann and Andrew danced the night away on Thanksgiving, we can assume they sat down to a special holiday meal. Local expert on domestic affairs, Marion Harland (pen name of Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune), offered her perspective on the dinner in 1896,


“A Thanksgiving dinner should be the visible rendering of thought and emotion…there is sweet significance in the gathering of the family, young and old, from near and from far, about the table (or altar), laden with the kindly fruits of the earth. ‘All this hath GOD given us!’”[3]

As expected, she had clear instructions about how a Thanksgiving dinner table should be set. First, “a fair cloth” should be laid out, followed by “a large napkin or carving-cloth, over the spot where the chief dish of meat is to stand.” Under Mary Ann’s supervision, Sarah Ogden would have placed the ‘good china’; Harland advised, “grudge not your best belongings of crockery, china, glass and silver.” Each place setting received a plate, soup-spoon, two forks, two knives, and “a glossy (not starched) napkin”.[4] Individual salt cellars, goblets, and butter plates accompanied the stable tableware.


The Victorian love for greenery extended into the dining room. Harland wrote,


“As a central ornament, have a bowl, or, if you have no better vessel, a soup-plate of flowers. Or- for these are beginning to be very expensive now- make a beauty of economy, and fill the dish with autumnal treasures, the hardy ferns that can still be found under the fallen shrubs and leaves in the woods; bearded grasses, silver-gray ‘Life Everlasting’, the fluffy clusters of the winged seeds of clematis, and bright berries from wayside hedges, with a shining brown cone or two. Make your decorations mean something, and blend the fancy with all the appointments of the feast.”[5]


Though Harland noted the rising prices of decorative items, rising industrialism and manufacturing meant that many families had greater access to such goods than in previous Thanksgivings. Paterson’s dry goods stores were growing into department stores, like Quackenbush & Company, where one of Mary Ann and Andrew’s daughters would later work. If they didn’t want to drive into Paterson, mail-order catalogues offered the Hoppers a wide array of choices; around 1900, the Sears catalog advertised over 30 different dinner sets, with matching tea cups, saucers, dinner plates, breakfast plates, butter plates, vegetable dishes, platters, sauce boats, and more. Local businesses catered specifically to the holiday. “Eat, Drink And Be Merry”, the Passaic Crockery Store advertised on November 26th, 1895. “Have you all the goods you need for Thanksgiving dinner. Drip pans, roasting pans, pie plates, fruit and nut dishes, tumblers and goblets, cutlery, dishes, tea sets and dinner sets. We have everything to set a beautiful table.”[6]

Whether the Hopper’s table was set with dishes passed down through generations or the latest set from Quackenbush & Company, what came next was the food on it. In 1878, the Passaic Daily News stated, “a great deal of the happiness of Thanksgiving Day depends upon dinner.”[7] While Marion Harland commented that “the table is not furnished as our grandams loaded theirs in the olden time,” she laid out multiple courses.[8] Soup was a proper beginning, followed by fish, chicken pates or croquettes. Bills of fare from 1887 include chicken pie, beef a la mode, boiled chicken with oyster sauce, roast ducks, and cold boiled ham. While city families purchased their groceries from the market, the Hoppers had the surrounding farm at their disposal. Side dishes, like mashed potatoes, stewed celery and salsify, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, salad greens, and corn pudding, were probably grown onsite.

While wild game, beef, and pork were all Thanksgiving options, “the central theme, the point of clustering interests” (in Harland’s words) was the turkey.[9] If the Hopper farm didn’t have turkeys, Mary Ann may have journeyed into Paterson to brave the turkey market, which the Passaic Daily News described in November 1878 as “quite as important as the stock market.”[10] Even in the 19th century, cooking the turkey seems to have been a nerve-wracking endeavor. Harland provided strict instructions to the cook- likely Sarah Ogden- on how to treat the holiday bird,


“He should be well stuffed, carefully basted, judiciously turned from time to time, be a constant if not oppressive solicitude, never lifted from the mind of the cook, be she amateur or professional, from the moment he is put down to roast until he is drawn-”[11]

The Hoppers moved from the savory dishes to dessert. Pumpkin pie was on Harland’s menu. She wrote, “keep the mince for Christmas. The pumpkin is the homelier, yet luscious domestic product, the representative of our garnered harvest.”[12] In December 1887, The Morning Call provided the following recipe for “the time honored dessert of the Thanksgiving dinner”[13];


Figure 4- A recipe for "The Pie of the Season" from The Morning Call, December 2nd, 1887.

Our time travelling shows that Thanksgiving in November 1880 wasn’t terribly far off from the Thanksgiving you might have today. Mary Ann, Andrew, and their family sat down in their dining room for a holiday meal, the table laid with dishes, and the fruits of the fall harvest piled high on them. The smell of roast turkey filled the air, with pumpkin pie spice drifting from the kitchen (where Sarah Ogden was hard at work). Chatting across the table took place in between bites. Marion Harland called the dinner table conversation “the best sauce of the meal” and noted that even children should be allowed “a modest share in table-talk”; I wonder what she would have thought of the kids’ table found at many a crowded family gathering.[14]


Figure 5- Members of the Hopper family in what is believed to be the dining room of the Van Riper-Hopper House, ca. 1900. From the Wayne Museum.

Though we don’t have the Hopper family’s letters or diary entries, the sources mentioned throughout this article help us imagine Thanksgiving at the Van Riper-Hopper House and remind us that the family who lived here weren’t quite that different from how we are today.


Footnotes


[1] Hale, Sarah Josepha Buell. Northwood; Or, Life North and South. New York: H. Long & Brother, 1852. Originally published in 1827.

[2] “Thanksgiving Day,” Passaic Daily News, December 1st, 1882, https://www.newspapers.com/image/555854246/?terms=%22Thanksgiving%20dinner%22&match=1.

[3] Harland, Marion. Ladies’ Home Cook Book. Philadelphia: L.M. Palmer, 1896: 443

[4] Ibid, 444.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Eat, Drink And Be Merry,” Passaic Daily News, November 26th, 1895, https://www.newspapers.com/image/555973305/?terms=%22Thanksgiving%20dinner%22%20%22Wayne%22&match=1.

[7] “The turkey market…” Passaic Daily News, November 26th, 1878, https://www.newspapers.com/image/555296151/?terms=%22Thanksgiving%22&match=1. [8] Harland, 443.

[9] Ibid, 445. [10] “The turkey market…” Passaic Daily News, November 26th, 1878, https://www.newspapers.com/image/555296151/?terms=%22Thanksgiving%22&match=1.

[11] Harland, 446.

[12] Ibid, 447. [13] “The Pie of the Season,” The Morning Call, December 2nd, 1887, https://www.newspapers.com/image/552620886/?terms=%22Thanksgiving%20dinner%22&match=1.

[14] Harland, 447.


Bibliography


"Andrew P. Hopper, Wayne Township, Passaic County, NJ." Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.


Thomas, Heather. “A Presidential History of Thanksgiving,” Library of Congress, November 24th, 2021, https://blogs.loc.gov/headlinesandheroes/2021/11/a-presidential-history-of-thanksgiving/.


“Thanksgiving in North America: From Local Harvests to National Holiday,” Smithsonian, https://www.si.edu/spotlight/thanksgiving/history.


Adams, John. John Adams to Abigail Adams, November 3rd, 1777. Founders Online, National Archives, https://www.founders.archives.gov/?q=thanksgiving&s=1111311111&sa=&r=32&sr=.


Hale, Sarah Josepha Buell. Northwood; Or, Life North and South. New York: H. Long & Brother, 1852. Originally published in 1827.


“Sarah Josepha Hale, The Little Lady From NH Who Started Thanksgiving,” New England Historical Society, https://newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/sarah-josepha-hale-little-lady-nh-started-thanksgiving/.


Berce, William. Under the Sign of the Eagle. Wayne: Louis J. Vorgetts, 1965.


“Thanksgiving Day,” Passaic Daily News, December 1st, 1882, https://www.newspapers.com/image/555854246/?terms=%22Thanksgiving%20dinner%22&match=1.


“Apollo Hall Skating Rink,” The Morning Call, November 21st, 1885, https://www.newspapers.com/image/552621176/?terms=%22Thanksgiving%22&match=1.


“Local Gleanings,” The Morning Call, November 18th, 1887, https://www.newspapers.com/image/552620156/?terms=%22Thanksgiving%22%20%22Preakness%22&match=1.


Harland, Marion. Ladies’ Home Cook Book. Philadelphia: L.M. Palmer, 1896. https://archive.org/details/ladieshomecookb00harlgoog/page/442/mode/2up?q=thanksgiving.


“Peter Quackenbush, The Quackenbush & Company Store In Paterson, New Jersey,” All Things Quackenbush, December 19th, 2019, https://www.allthingsquackenbush.com/2019/12/peter-quackenbush-quackenbush-company.html.


“The 1880’s and the Rise of Mail-Order Catalogues,” Historical Society of Cecil County, https://cecilhistory.org/articles-and-publications/great-reads/the-1880s-and-the-rise-of-mail-order-catalogues/.


Catalogue no. 112. Chicago: Sears, Roebuck & Co., ca. 1900. https://archive.org/details/catalogueno11200sear/page/638/mode/2up.


“Eat, Drink And Be Merry,” Passaic Daily News, November 26th, 1895, https://www.newspapers.com/image/555973305/?terms=%22Thanksgiving%20dinner%22%20%22Wayne%22&match=1.


“The turkey market…” Passaic Daily News, November 26th, 1878, https://www.newspapers.com/image/555296151/?terms=%22Thanksgiving%22&match=1.


“A Thanksgiving Dinner,” The Morning Call, November 24th, 1887, https://www.newspapers.com/image/554349904/?terms=%22Thanksgiving%22&match=1.


“The Pie of the Season,” The Morning Call, December 2nd, 1887, https://www.newspapers.com/image/552620886/?terms=%22Thanksgiving%20dinner%22&match=1.


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