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Fall Harvest & Thanksgiving

The autumn harvest was the source of the celebration, including onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots, peas and corn, though possibly in the form of cornmeal or corn porridge.
Richard Holland of the 9th Massachusetts Battery’s1884 sketch of Spangler's Farm

Richard Holland of the 9th Massachusetts Battery’s1884 sketch of Spangler's Farm

As we enter the last month of the year and the holidays, our thoughts turn to gratitude for all your support this year! The first Thanksgiving celebrated in this country was reportedly in 1621, four hundred years ago. The autumn harvest was the source of the celebration, including onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots, peas and corn, though possibly in the form of cornmeal or corn porridge.

Farming during the Revolutionary War

As the country grew and the Revolutionary War loomed, farming was the primary way of life for North Americans. Fruits native to Colonial America included blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries and, of course cranberries, a true “superfood”. Native Americans used cranberries not only as fresh fruit, but also dried to form cakes, used the leaves to make tea or as a tobacco substitute, boiled and used to dye porcupine quills and as bait to trap snowshoe hares.

The onset of the Revolutionary War disturbed all aspects of life in the Colonies. Farming operations in particular were disrupted. Trade routes were disturbed, crops and livestock were plundered by the British or used to fortify the Continental Army. At the end of the war, most farmers needed to start their farm operations from scratch.

The first battles of the American Revolution, at Lexington and Concord, occurred on land that was and is now home to many farm activities.

Sheep at Minute Man National Park
Sheep at Minute Man National Park Friends of Minute Man National Park

Today, there is a focus on sustainable agriculture on the battlefield.

Pigs and sheep grazing at the Minuteman National Historical Park help steward the battlefield digging into invasive species. This allows local farmers to then plant cover crops that keep the soils healthy.

Wool from the sheep is used for local knitting and felt. Visitors to Minuteman National Historical Park can sometimes see the sheep while walking along the Battle Road Trail between the parking lots at Meriam’s Corner and Brooks Village in Concord, as well as other grazing areas at the Park. The sheep, an Ouessant breed which originated on the French island of Ushant, typically stay at the Carty Barn at the Park. The Ouesssant breed produces dense high-quality wool.

Farming during the Civil War

During the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg took place across many farm fields and orchards. The George Spangler family farm is one of several farms that were witness to this bloody battle. In 1863, Union 11th Corps used the Spangler farm as a field hospital for more than 1,900 wounded soldiers.

Another farm that witnessed the Gettysburg battle was owned by Peter Trostle, occupied and managed by his son Abraham. At the time of the battle, the Trostle farm included a brick barn, corn crib, springhouse, and a brick smokehouse, among other structures. The Trostle farm would become the site of the headquarters of Major General Daniel Sickles after his Third Army Corps advanced to Emmitsburg Road on July 2nd. After the battle, at least sixteen dead battery horses were in the front yard and over a hundred on the farm itself. The Trostle farm would ultimately be sold to the National Park service in the 1899.

Trostle House, Gettysburg, Pa.
Trostle House, Gettysburg, Pa. National Park Service

Thanksgiving: a fall harvest celebration

Our country’s tradition of turkey at our holiday meals is connected to the Civil War, as it provided an important source of protein for soldiers and turkey feathers provided quills used for letter-writing.

Wherever the farm that provides your holiday meal is located, we at the Trust are grateful to all farmers, past and present, for their hard work and the gifts they continue to provide to all our tables. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sincerely,

Kathy Robertson
Deputy Director, Real Estate
American Battlefield Trust