Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving: Our American Story

Cynthia Shenette at Heritage Zen wrote the loveliest post last week linking her family's history with our nation's history and issued a gentle challenge that we write about our American experience. Now I should be chopping veggies, straining turkey stock, finishing the cranberry sauce or even working on the Christmas craft project that for some insane reason I started this week. But not wanting to disappoint Cynthia (and apparently completely willing to disappoint my family), here goes...

For my children...

Our family's history is America's history. Not every moment of it's history, to be sure. But we have brushed against history makers, fought and died in the wars, built the roads and expanded the boundaries of this nation. A few of us made history. All of us lived it.

We came from England, France, Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, Germany, Haiti and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Photo by Desiree N. Williams
Our earliest immigrants landed in Virginia in 1621. We were settling Virginia and Massachusetts when, in 1634, our ancestors arrived on the Ark and the Dove and established Maryland. Over the next century and a half we pushed forward into the new world. It was not a peaceful expansion. Much blood was spilled as we took over native American lands and established our homes. Our ancestors and their children were killed in raids in Massachusetts and Virginia. We fought and killed native Americans in King Philip's and King William's Wars and fought and died in the French and Indian War.

Photo by Diorama Sky
We established homes in New England towns, plantations in Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas, built cabins in the Appalachian Mountains. We were swept up in the Great Awakening and left our homes to preach the gospel along the frontiers. We moved with Daniel Boone and the Long Hunters into the wilderness of today's Tennessee and Kentucky.

By 1776 our ancestors were living in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia and in the territories beyond. Ancestors from each fought for independence. Cousins argued in the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg and Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia. We were Minutemen from New England. We died at Trenton. We wintered at Valley Forge.  Some cousins sided with the King and left, moving south into the Spanish territories.

As our country grew we worked in mills in New England, were merchants in Baltimore and Virginia, physicians in Maryland, plantation owners in Virginia and built farms in the hills of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky. We traveled west by wagon and flatboat to Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, and Kansas searching for land to farm. We were missionaries and preachers in Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Louisiana. We owned slaves and were abolitionists. We fought and died in the Mexican-American War. We were in Kentucky with Lincoln as a boy and in Springfield, Illinois when he was a young lawyer. And when he grew up, your ancestors, uncles and cousins came from Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Virginia and Tennessee to fight for and against him during the Civil War.

Statue of Liberty
Photo by video4net
In the new century we left our homes in the mountains of eastern Europe and boarded ships for America. We sailed past the Statue of Liberty, sailed into Baltimore and Philadelphia and made our way to the coal mines of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, to the factories of New Jersey, Illinois and upstate New York. We had deeply established roots in East Tennessee and western Maryland where generations of our family lived and worked. The wanderers among us continued west and were ranchers and merchants in Kansas and Wyoming. We struggled during the Depression, but were more fortunate than many. We had homes and jobs, though some of us were forced to live with cousins and other relatives during those hard times. When World War II came we served in the Pacific as soldiers, sailors and nurses and shared our rations on the homefront.

We were witnesses to some of the great events during the last sixty years of America's history. We served in Europe as it rebuilt, were government agents during the Cold War, and helped push computers into all corners of our society. We were in Dallas in 1962, in Chicago in 1968, and in Philadelphia on July 4, 1976 when our nation celebrated its two hundredth anniversary.

For all of our family, all of that history I am enormously thankful this Thanksgiving Day.


  1. An absolutely special post, the best read I've had in a while! I must put together our family story in the fashion you have just done, thanks for inspiring me!

  2. This is just beautiful. Thank you so much for taking up the challenge. You reminded me that I forgot to include my Pennsylvania mining relations. Well, I'll have something new to include next year. I didn't realise you had family from Massachusetts. Any time you need a look-up, let me know. Now finish straining that gravy!

  3. Fabulous, fantastic post, I want to steal it!

    At some point we need to seriously compare those Northern Neck families! LOL

    Happy Thanksgiving, thank you for this wonderful post (thanks Cynthia as well!).

  4. Absolutely wonderful. It's an amazing overview of your ancestors' experience in this country.

  5. Thank you, ladies, for the kind comments. I've wanted to do a broad brushstroke sketch of our American journey for sometime, but just hadn't. Cynthia (as she often does) inspired me.

  6. now i have to work on one for my family. enjoyed reading this.

  7. Absolutely stellar post...I am linking to it from my blog.

    And perhaps your ancestors from the Ark and the Dove rubbed shoulders with my Ashmore ancestor, John...

  8. Absolutely fantastic! Enjoyed the journey!


Comments related to the information shared here are most appreciated. All comments are moderated, and since I am not actively researching right now it many take a day or two for your comment to post. Please know that it will post, and that I much appreciate the feedback.