Days of Thanksgiving Celebrated by Our Ancestors

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog article, Mary searches old newspapers to learn more about Days of Thanksgiving that have been proclaimed throughout American history.

While planning Thanksgiving celebrations, most of us dream of the bountiful feast set upon our tables: turkey, corn, mashed potatoes, pie and all of those other goodies made for the day.

We do this to commemorate the first successful harvest of the Mayflower passengers and the Wampanoag Indians at the Plymouth Plantation in 1621.

Painting: “The First Thanksgiving,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

Painting: “The First Thanksgiving,” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, c. 1912-1915. Credit: U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

That first Thanksgiving celebration lasted three days. The Wampanoags brought five deer as gifts, which were consumed along with other food that has never been documented.

1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation

Much has been written about Thanksgiving, including President George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation on 3 October 1789, given in response to a request by Congress. Since few have ever read it, I searched GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to find the proclamation as it was printed in the newspapers of that time.

In three paragraphs, President Washington proclaimed “a day of public Thanksgiving and Prayer” to take place on November 26.

article about President George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper article 14 October 1789article about President George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper article 14 October 1789

article about President George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper article 14 October 1789

Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 14 October 1789, page 3

First Mention of Thanksgiving in a Newspaper?

I was curious about the first mention of Thanksgiving in a newspaper prior to Washington’s proclamation.

Would you be surprised to learn it occurred in the earliest newspaper to be published in our country: Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestik?

Richard Pierce of Boston had great hopes for this publication, but it was shut down by the authorities after the initial printing on 25 September 1690. Luckily the full copy of this first American newspaper can be found in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

The article reports:

The Christianized Indians in some parts of Plimouth, have newly appointed a day of Thanksgiving to God for his Mercy in supplying their extream and pinching Necessities under their late want of Corn, & for His giving them now a prospect of a very Comfortable Harvest. Their Example may be worth Mentioning.

article about Indians in Plymouth, Massachusetts, celebrating Thanksgiving, Public Occurrences newspaper article 25 September 1690

Public Occurrences (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 September 1690, page 1

Other Thanksgiving Proclamations

Ordinary subjects of Colonial America were not allowed to decide when to set aside a day of Thanksgiving. Magistrates and other leaders – such as Joseph Dudley, Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay – issued proclamations stating the reasons and guidelines for special days of Thanksgiving.

This 1704 Thanksgiving Proclamation was to celebrate “Victory over their Enemies in the Summer past,” referring to England’s victories in the War of the Spanish Succession. In his order declaring 23 November 1704 a “Day of General Thanksgiving throughout this Province,” the governor prohibited “all Servile Labour” on that special day, exhorting everyone:

to Celebrate the Praises of GOD, for all His Benefits and Blessings, And to devote themselves [to] a Thank-Offering to Him in a right Ordered Conversation.

an article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 13 November 1704

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 November 1704, page 2

Day of Fasting and Prayer

One of the more intriguing early proclamations is this one, in part concerning captives taken from Deerfield, Massachusetts, in a 1704 raid by French and Native American forces. The attackers killed 44 Deerfield villagers and 12 of their militia defenders, and 112 settlers were taken as captives to Canada.

Since calling for a day of thanks would be inappropriate on this occasion, Governor Dudley called for “a day of Publick FASTING and PRAYER” to appease God in hopes of gaining “Remission of our great and manifold Sins that have justly displeased God” and caused the settlers’ misfortune.

In his proclamation, Governor Dudley expressed hope that the day of fasting and prayer would grant them their most fervent wishes:

The Designs of the barbarous Savages against us defeated; Our exposed Plantations preserved; And the poor Christian Captives in their hands, returned.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Fasting and Prayer, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 5 February 1705

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 February 1705, page 1

Day of Thanksgiving for the Captives’ Return

By the end of 1706, many of the captives had been “redeemed” (recovered by the English, either through paying ransom or via prisoner exchanges). This newspaper report of January 1707 notes:

The People of this County are fill’d with Joy, for the Arrival of the Captives…Wednesday the 8th Currant [i.e., this month] was a Day of Thanksgiving there [Deerfield], to Praise GOD for His great Goodness.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 20 January 1707

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 20 January 1707, page 4

I am entirely grateful for the captives’ return, as among them were members of my Belden, Burt and Foote families. Click here to see a list of the Deerfield captives of 1704.

Other Days of Thanksgiving

While contemplating the meaning of Thanksgiving, take the time to explore early newspapers to learn more about the many days of Thanksgiving set aside for our ancestors. Here are two more examples I found.

On 20 September 1704, Governor Dudley once again celebrated English victories in the War of the Spanish Succession by announcing that October 18 would be a day of Thanksgiving because it had:

pleased Almighty God in his Great Goodness to preserve Her Majesties Sacred Person, and to prosper Her Arms in the Just War, wherein Her Majesty and Her Allies are Engaged for the preservation of the Liberties of Europe.

The Governor ordered:

That a General THANKSGIVING to Almighty God, for these His Mercies be Observed throughout this Province, within the several Towns and Districts thereof, on Thursday the Eighteenth Day of October next; and do strictly forbid all Servile Labour thereupon; Exhorting both Ministers and People to Solemnize the said Day after a Religious manner, and to offer up sincere and hearty Praises to GOD.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 1 October 1705

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 1 October 1705, page 2

In this next example, Governor Dudley on 27 December 1705 called for yet another day of Thanksgiving to celebrate English victories in the War of the Spanish Succession, this one scheduled for January 24.

article about a proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 31 December 1705

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 31 December 1705, page 4

Why not take a little time during this Thanksgiving break to search the old newspapers in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to learn more about early Thanksgiving celebrations and enrich your understanding of this very special day of thanks?

Happy Thanksgiving and blessings to you and your families!

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Veterans Day: Saluting Amos Barnes, Revolutionary War Vet

Our nation has long been grateful to our veterans, starting with the American Revolutionary War.

obituary for Amos Barnes, New Hampshire Gazette newspaper article 12 January 1841

New Hampshire Gazette (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 12 January 1841, page 3

When Amos Barnes died in 1840 newspapers remembered him – giving the details of his life, his family and his service to the nation in a detailed obituary.

  • He died 6 December 1840 in Conway, New Hampshire
  • He had served as a lieutenant and was a Revolutionary War pensioner
  • He was 83 years old
  • His funeral sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. Wides, based on Job 7:16
  • He was born in Groton, Massachusetts, the youngest of 11 children
  • His father died in the French & Indian War
  • At age 6 the family moved to Concord, New Hampshire
  • At age 18 he enlisted in the Army
  • He marched to Mystic, Connecticut
  • June 1775 – he was in the Battle of Bunker Hill
  • He marched to New York; then to Canada; then to Mont Independence
  • December 1776 – he was with George Washington in Newtown, Pennsylvania
  • December 1776 – Battle of Trenton
  • His enlistment over, with an honorable discharge, he returned home to Concord, New Hampshire
  • Re-enlisted January 1778, serving with George Washington in Valley Forge
  • Served as Orderly Sergeant for the next two years
  • June 1778 – Battle of Monmouth
  • Winter 1779 – Valley Forge
  • 1779-1780 – Sullivan campaign
  • January 1780 – discharged, returned to Concord, New Hampshire
  • November 1787 – moved to Conway, New Hampshire
  • [17 July 1790] – married Polly Eastman, “second daughter of the late Richard Eastman, Esq. who, with several children, still survive…”
  • Described as “a very intelligent, industrious and honest man through life”
  • Served in “the last war [War of 1812], in defence of free trade and sailor’s rights”
  • He was a Jeffersonian Republican, “a firm supporter of Gen. Jackson and Mr. Van Buren”
  • He voted in the last election
  • Late in life “with intense anxiety and fervent prayer” he turned to a deeper faith in Christ

Compact and filled with the details of his life, his obituary – like all veterans’ obituaries – makes us pause and remember his life and his service to our country.

photo of the tombstone for Amos and Polly Barnes

Source: Find-a-Grave, Memorial # 44819194

Amos Barnes and his wife Polly were buried in the North Conway Cemetery, North Conway, New Hampshire.

Today on Veterans Day we honor and remember the efforts of all who have served our nation, from the Revolutionary War down to the troops that serve today.

Find their stories in newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Newspapers have recorded the lives of all Americans for the last three centuries, from 1690 to today.

Note: FamilySearch International ( and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from recent and historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at:

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What’s a Third Cousin Anyway? Genealogy Tutorial Video

The Anaconda Standard reported this interesting case in 1901 of one of George Washington’s “third cousins” who had fallen on hard times.

article about Agnes Washington Fairchild, Anaconda Standard newspaper article 24 November 1901

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 24 November 1901, page 14

Per the news report, Miss Agnes Washington Fairchild, who was born in Fairfax, Virginia, had no means of support and had called on the “Supervisor of the Outdoor Poor” (now, that’s a descriptive title) and the local New York City chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution for help.

Wait – “third cousin”?
What exactly is that?

How can you easily see how cousin relationships are structured and named?

Here are two handy genealogy tutorial videos from YouTube that will help you do just that.

Watch “What’s a Second Cousin Once Removed?”

Now that you have the basics of tracing your cousins, you’re ready to tackle a more advanced family tree.

Watch “The Complicated Chinese Family Tree – Cantonese Version”

Did you know? has a Learning Center and Youtube channel where you can watch expert-led genealogy tutorial videos to learn how to use historical newspapers and obituaries to find your family stories and trace your family tree.

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What Were the Real Last Words of These U.S. Presidents?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In celebration of Presidents’ Day, Mary takes a look at the last words our first four presidents supposedly said on their deathbeds.

In honor of Presidents’ Day, I decided to research the last words of our first four United States presidents. You’ll find them quoted in books, in historical documents and in historical newspapers.

What I found while researching was intriguing: some of these accounts of presidents’ last words are noteworthy – and others, well (how do I say this politely), may be historically inaccurate.

I’ll let you be the judge if any of the common lore should be discounted.

George Washington (1732-1799)

portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1797

Illustration: portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1797. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Many, including Mount Vernon’s website, report George Washington’s final words as “’Tis well.”

These final words were said during a conversation with Washington’s personal secretary Tobias Lear, but interestingly, we do not find it recorded in a newspaper until years later. The Springfield Republican in 1856 published a full account of Washington’s last day, which claims a far more extensive report of Washington’s last words than the Mount Vernon website. Part of this report discusses Washington’s conversations with his physician, and others with his secretary. No family member, including his wife Martha who died in 1802, is mentioned.

The old newspaper article reports that Washington was ill and asked to be bled, which although gruesome by today’s standards, was an accepted medical treatment at that time. His overseer, Mr. Rawlings, was concerned; his hands trembled and Washington told him: “Do not be afraid. More.”

After this, time was spent with his secretary and Washington indicated where his will was. Then he said:

I find I am going; my breath cannot continue long. I believed from the first that it would be fatal. Do you arrange and record all my military letters and papers; arrange my accounts and settle my books, as you know more about them than any one else, and let Mr. Rawlings finish recording my other letters, which he has begun.

Between 5 and 6 o’clock, he addressed Dr. Craik, followed by another sentence not much later:

I feel myself going; you had better not take any more trouble about me, but let me go off quietly; I cannot last long! …Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go; I believed from my first attack I should not survive it; my breath cannot last long.

His last recorded conversation was with Mr. Lear about 10 o’clock:

I am just going. Have me decently buried, and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than two days after I am dead.

Lear nodded assent and Washington asked: “Do you understand me?”

“Yes, Sir,” he replied, followed by Washington’s final response: “’Tis well.”

article about George Washington's death, Springfield Republican newspaper article 19 July 1856

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 19 July 1856, page 8

John Adams (1735–1826)

portrait of John Adams by Asher Brown Durand

Illustration: portrait of John Adams by Asher Brown Durand. Source: U.S. Navy; Wikimedia Commons.

Much has been written about the coincidence of the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who both died on the 50-Year Jubilee of the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1826.

The Jefferson Monticello website reports that the Adams family recalled many years later that ex-President Adams’s last words were: “Thomas Jefferson survives.” (See Charles Francis Adams, ed., The Memoirs of John Quincy Adams (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1874-77), 7:133.)

Were John Adams’s last thoughts about his friend and the third president, ex-President Jefferson, or were his last words about the 50-year celebration of the Fourth of July? I’m inclined to suspect the Jefferson reference may have been a family joke, since not long after his death, it was noted in the Spectator of 14 July 1826 that Adams’s last words were: “It is a great and glorious day.”

article about John Adams's last words, Spectator newspaper article 14 July 1826

Spectator (New York, New York), 14 July 1826, page 1

Thomas Jefferson (1743- 1826)

portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1805

Illustration: portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1805. Source: New York Historical Society; Wikimedia Commons.

The Jefferson Monticello website  reports that nobody can state with certainty what ex-President Jefferson’s real last words were. Three persons, including physician Robley Dunglison, grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph, and his granddaughter’s husband Nicholas Trist, gave varying accounts of his final words.

Trist reported that on July 3 Jefferson enquired: “This is the Fourth?” and upon not hearing a reply, he asked again. Trist nodded in assent, finding the deceit repugnant.

Randolph reported Jefferson made a strong statement: “This is the Fourth of July.” He slept and upon awaking refused a dose of laudanum (an opiate) by saying: “No Doctor. Nothing more.”

Dunglison’s account was that Jefferson asked: “Is it the Fourth?” The doctor responded with, “It soon will be.” Several later accounts mention this, but add an additional statement: “I resign my spirit to God, my daughter to my country.”

About 21 years after he passed, the Maine Cultivator and Hallowell Gazette reported an additional variation in 1847: “I have done for my country and all mankind all that I could do, and now I resign my soul to God, and my daughter to my country.”

article about Thomas Jefferson's last words, Maine Cultivator and Hallowell Gazette newspaper article 13 March 1847

Maine Cultivator and Hallowell Gazette (Hallowell, Maine), 13 March 1847, page 3

James Madison (1751-1836)

portrait of James Madison by John Vanderlyn, 1816

Illustration: portrait of James Madison by John Vanderlyn, 1816. Source: White House Historical Association; Wikimedia Commons.

James Madison’s death was only six days prior to the Fourth of July, on 28 June 1836. There is some uncertainty about Madison’s last words as well, but the common lore is that he spoke last to a niece. She asked, “What is the matter?” Madison’s response was: “Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear.”

However, none of Madison’s obituaries report these – or any other – last words. Typical is this obituary from the Alexandria Gazette.

obituary for James Madison, Alexandria Gazette newspaper article 2 July 1836

Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), 2 July 1836, page 3

So there you have it. The authors of historical accounts do not always agree with what people say – but don’t let that stop you from having fun. Search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for the last words of U.S. presidents and let us know if you can disprove any of what people say they said!

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John M’Donogh – Loyal American Patriot ’till Death

Deemed an upstanding citizen by the Salem Gazette, two-time American war veteran John M’Donogh passed away, losing a long fight with disease on 19 March 1809.

M’Donogh is noted for serving directly under a young General George Washington during the French & Indian War. M’Donogh fought during British General Braddock’s failed expedition in 1755 against the French, in which a 23-year-old Washington led troops, including M’Donogh, into battle on the Monongahela River.

obituary for John McDonogh, American and Commercial Daily Advertiser newspaper article 22 March 1809

American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Maryland), 22 March 1809, page 2

Enter Last Name

M’Donogh also served for the Maryland 3rd Regiment during the Revolutionary War, under Captain Cox. “One of the patriotic band of Baltimore,” Captain Cox led M’Donogh and other troops into battle at Germantown and Brandywine. M’Donogh survived, and went on to lead an exceptional life in Baltimore.

obituary for John McDonogh, Providence Gazette newspaper article 8 April 1809

Providence Gazette (Providence, Rhode Island), 8 April 1809, page 3

GenealogyBank makes it easy for me to learn about John M’Donogh and other Revolutionary War heroes; see what’s inside the archives on your ancestor’s story. Start your 30-day trial now!

Note: FamilySearch International ( and GenealogyBank are partnering to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at:

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Do You Celebrate Birthday Traditions Like Your Ancestors Did?

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find stories about birthday traditions celebrated by our ancestors.

Chances are you celebrate some of your birthday traditions the way your ancestors did—and not just extravagant gatherings with cakes, balloons and presents. Many cultures have unique and fun ways to commemorate a birthday.

photo of a Chinese birthday party

Photo: Chinese birthday party. Source: Library of Congress.

Birthday Traditions

This list of birthday traditions came from the following websites:

Enter Last Name

Birthday traditions around the world:

  • Do you pull one’s earlobes for each year of one’s life? Then you might come from Argentina.
  • Does your family host barbeques with fairy bread for the children? Then you may have Australian roots.
  • Is a one-year-old surrounded with toys and watched to see which one is picked first? In China, the selection is said to represent a future life pursuit. The child typically receives gifts with tigers which are said to protect children, and noodles are served at lunch.
  • Do you receive a cake shaped like a man? Then perhaps you are connected to Denmark.
  • Is a girl’s 15th birthday celebrated with a waltz, 14 young dancing couples and a new pair of shoes from her father? This is reported to be a tradition in Ecuador.
  • How about a wooden wreath placed on a table with candles representing your age during a Geburtstagsparty (birthday party)? This is common in Germany.
  • In many Hispanic cultures there are fiestas, complete with traditional food and piñatas filled with candy. Guests take turns trying to break it open with a stick while blindfolded.
  • The Irish are known to tip a child upside down and bump him/her gently on the floor.
  • In Jordan, many make a wish while cutting the cake with the wrong side of the knife.
  • In parts of Russia, pies are baked with greetings carved into the crust.
  • In Vietnam, a birthday is called a tet, and it is said that many celebrate them on New Year’s Day rather than on the actual birthday.

This boy celebrated his third birthday with a piñata.

article about Tony Perez's birthday party, Prensa newspaper article 12 October 1945

Prensa (San Antonio, Texas), 12 October 1945, page 2

Birthdays of Leaders, Presidents & Royalty in the News

Early reports in newspapers focus more on celebrations of leaders and royalty than ordinary citizens. The birthdays of presidents, and in particular George Washington, were frequently observed with parades and special dinners. At least one party was held at a tavern in his honor. This 1782 newspaper article notes that the entertainment for Washington’s birthday was elegant, and the whole festivity was conducted with exquisite propriety and decorum. One can almost imagine the toasts said in his name!

article about a celebration for George Washington's birthday, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 21 February 1782

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 21 February 1782, page 2

This earlier article from 1711 notes a special present for the Prince of Prussia’s mother—she was to receive a thousand ducats annually “on the Birth-day of the young Prince.”

article about the birthday of Frederick William, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 21 May 1711

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 21 May 1711, page 2

This is one of my favorite birthday announcements. In 1820 the Emperor of Russia issued an imperial Ukase abolishing all the war taxes that had been imposed eight years earlier.

article about the Emperor of Russia's birthday, Arkansas Weekly Gazette newspaper article 20 May 1820

Arkansas Weekly Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas), 20 May 1820, page 3

Researching Birthdays of Our Ancestors

Although GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives search page doesn’t have a specific category for birthdays, you can be successful by searching for ancestors in other ways. A fun way is to research a celebration in the Photos & Illustrations category.

Enter Last Name

If you get lucky, you’ll find a photo of a child or adult and a description of the birthday festivities. Try entering your ancestor’s name and then include “birthday” in the keyword field.

Many accounts, including this one for Miss Cora Van Fleet’s 17th birthday party, include a list of attendees.

article about Cora Van Fleet's birthday, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 1 November 1914

Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 1 November 1914, page 21

Since early newspapers rarely described birthdays for ordinary citizens, also try searching for descriptions of parties within news article stories. Although this account from 1833 was entirely from the author’s imagination, one can appreciate the frivolity and excitement one might feel from receiving a birthday party invitation delivered by sleigh.

article about Aura's birthday, Salem Gazette newspaper article 15 October 1833

Salem Gazette (Salem, Massachusetts), 15 October 1833, page 1

Coming of Age Parties

If your ancestors celebrated a coming of age party, such as a quinceanera (15th birthday party for Mexican females) or Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah (Jewish parties typically at age 12 or 13), you may find accounts in the papers, including Henry Sahlein’s from 1863.

article about Henry Sahlein's barmitzvah, Jewish Messenger newspaper article 16 January 1863

Jewish Messenger (New York, New York), 16 January 1863, page 21

And finally, I’ll leave you with this happy image, to remind us all how much fun birthday parties can be!

photo of Norma Horydczak and friends at her 8th-year birthday party

Photo: Norma Horydczak and friends at her 8th-year birthday party. Source: Library of Congress.

Do you have a special tradition to celebrate birthdays in your family? If so, please share it with us in the comments section.

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Old Newspapers Tell the History of Two Manhattan Taverns

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan searches old newspapers to find the history of two taverns in Manhattan that archaeologists recently excavated.

I recently read an article on the website Archaeology about an archaeological dig in Lower Manhattan at 50 Bowery.* They have unearthed the remains of two historic taverns built on the same location.  The older of the two, the “Bull’s Head,” was from the colonial-era. It was “built in the 1740s by a butcher near New York City’s first slaughterhouse.” The second tavern, the “Atlantic Garden” which opened in 1858, was “a tourist destination in its day—it was known for its German food and beer, and as a place for music and parties.”

I wanted to know more about the history of the two taverns, so I turned to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives to learn more.

Genealogy Tip: When searching through the newspaper archives, I entered phrases (enclosed in quotation marks) into the Include Keywords field to find the exact phrase in the newspaper articles. In this case I ran two searches, one with “Bull’s Head” and one with “Atlantic Garden.”

Interesting Tavern Tidbits

I found an article in a German American newspaper that discussed the origins of the area.

article about Manhattan's Bull's Head Tavern, New Yorker Volkszeitung newspaper article 23 November 1919

New Yorker Volkszeitung (New York, New York), 23 November 1919, page 14

I only have an elementary understanding of the language, so I went to Google Translate and typed in the German paragraph that I was interested in. A loose translation told me that the tavern was opened in 1760.

I also learned that:

Most of the guests were cattle drivers because of the proximity to the slaughter houses. However, Washington had rested there after the British troops marched along the Bowery Road to exit the city.

The abundance of cattle drivers explains all the newspaper notices I found announcing cattle and horse auctions taking place at the tavern, such as this ad from a 1780 newspaper.

ad for a livestock auction, Royal American Gazette newspaper advertisement 8 August 1780

Royal American Gazette (New York, New York), 8 August 1780, page 2

I also found an interesting reference to the story about George Washington, in another newspaper. This article explained that Washington had used the tavern as one of his headquarters during the Revolutionary War.

Atlantic Garden Changes Hands, New York Herald newspaper article 3 January 1895

New York Herald (New York, New York), 3 January 1895, page 10

Land History

Note that this article also reports: “It is said that $1,000,000 was offered for the property by the Third Avenue Railroad Company when the company was looking for ground for a new power house.” Assuming that the offer was made about 1880 and adjusting for inflation, the railroad was willing to pay about $17 million for the premium Manhattan location!

Enter Last Name

Then I found this well-written newspaper article, telling about the history of this plot of land in New York City.

Famous Old Tavern on Astor House Site, Worcester Daily Spy newspaper article 28 January 1902

Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 28 January 1902, page 3

I learned that originally the land was owned by the Trinity Church. It was covered in trees and was a beautiful spot to build a gathering place for the local drovers (people who drive sheep or cattle to the market) as they came into town.

The old newspaper article provided this description:

The Bull’s Head [Tavern] was built in the old Dutch style, with plenty of solid bricks and gables; and it had a number of trees around it, under the shade of which, in fine weather, the worthy burghers and butchers smoked their pipes and swallowed their schnapps. The land on which the tavern stood belonged to Trinity church, then as now a wealthy corporation, and the tavern itself had for a time been a farm-house on the Trinity farm. But the trustees of the Church accepted Van der Burgh’s proposition to lease the farm-house for tavern purposes, and so the first prominent inn of the city was started—indirectly, at least—under the auspices of a church.

A church would seem to be an odd landlord for such a raucous establishment! The article says this of Adam Van der Burgh:

His voice was loud, but pleasant; his laugh contagious; his appearance emblematic of good cheer, and he knew almost everybody, especially the butchers and politicians—the two most needful classes for him to know.

As Van der Burgh’s tavern thrived, he soon attracted the ire of the local women “who went so far as to hold a meeting, and to protest against the alienating influences” of the place. He weathered that storm, but went too far when he built the first race track in New York immediately in front of his tavern. This drew the wrath of his landlord the Trinity Church. In response, Van der Burgh closed the race track “and, apparently from spite, abandoned the Bull’s Head tavern.”

The Tavern Keepers

This newspaper article explained that during the American Revolution, the tavern was owned by John Jacob Astor’s brother Henry.

The Astor Butcher Trust, Evening News newspaper article 19 October 1900

Evening News (San Jose, California), 19 October 1900, page 7

In addition to owning the Bull’s Head Tavern, Henry Astor was a butcher. A brilliant idea came to him: he beat the competing butchers by “riding far out along the Bowery land, meeting the drovers as they brought their cattle to town and buying their stock, which he sold to the other butchers at his own price.”

I found this illustration, showing what the Bull’s Head Tavern looked like in 1820.

illustration of Manhattan's Bull's Head Tavern, New York Herald-Tribune newspaper article 11 October 1894

New York Herald-Tribune (New York, New York), 11 October 1894, page 2

In 1825, the tavern was moved from the Bowery to Twenty-Fourth Street and Third Avenue. I learned this from the following newspaper article announcing the closing of the Bull’s Head Tavern. After 80 years in its second location, the tavern was closed down completely and the furnishings and fixtures were auctioned off.

Passing of Bull's Head Tavern, Springfield Republican newspaper article 24 May 1905

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 24 May 1905, page 11

In the meantime, back at 50 Bowery, the spot was used as a stove factory before the Atlantic Garden was opened in 1858.

Enter Last Name

As the next newspaper article reported, soon after William Kramer opened the Atlantic Garden it became the recruiting station for the German regiments during the Civil War. Next door was the Thalia Theater where German language operas were sung. A passageway was built between the theater and the Garden to facilitate the opera patrons running over “for a bite and a sip between the acts.”

Atlantic Garden to Pass, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 20 June 1909

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 20 June 1909, page 13

According to another newspaper article, Atlantic Garden became the center of German life in the city and was “a resort modeled after the amusement gardens of German cities.”

This old newspaper article also reported that the Atlantic Garden was about to be closed in 1911—slated to be torn down in preparation for a modern theatre and eight-story office building.

article about Manhattan's Atlantic Garden tavern, Grand Forks Daily Herald newspaper article 20 August 1911

Grand Forks Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 20 August 1911, page 7

Historical Professional Parallels

And that brings us back to the archaeology article I read recently, that spurred me to do this research. Just as the archaeologists dug through the earth to find “liquor bottles, plates, and mugs,” we dug through a few hundred years’ worth of newspaper articles to learn more about the people and buildings. Long-dead Van der Burgh, Astor, and Kramer left their mark in more ways than one. Their objects will fascinate those on-site. And a brief glimpse into their lives fascinates us. Well done, men!

Most genealogists know that newspapers help tell the stories of our ancestors’ lives—but, as this article has shown, newspapers also tell us about the times and places our ancestors lived in.

Genealogy Tip: Even though this research was about taverns in New York City, note the variety of states where relevant newspaper articles were found, including: California, Massachusetts, Minnesota and North Dakota. This is a reminder that you should begin your search with a broad geographical scope; you never know where a newspaper article was published that might be about your ancestor or area of interest.


* “Historic Taverns Unearthed in New York City.” May 5, 2014. Accessed June 1, 2014.

Old Music in Historical Newspapers: Tips for Finding Songs

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary provides newspaper search tips to find articles and musical scores about the songs our ancestors enjoyed

When doing your family history research, have you ever wondered about the old music your American ancestors enjoyed?

What were the popular melodies and tunes of earlier days, what were their origins, and what musical discoveries can we find in historical newspapers?

Yankee Doodle

A fun place to start is by researching one of the more ubiquitous tunes in American history: “Yankee Doodle.” Just think—our parents, grandparents and great grandparents knew the same lyrics to this song. What a wonderful shared experience that is.

Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.

To find a wide assortment of news articles about “Yankee Doodle” and amusing renditions of this popular American song, enter the title into GenealogyBank’s search engine. This search returns over 64,000 “best matches,” so you may wish to sort the results by date from the earliest to newest, or vice versa.

One of the earliest newspaper articles, from 1769, reports that the British military used the song as a type of verbal bantering or taunting of the colonists.

According to the article:

…the Officer of the Guard, in a sneering Manner, called upon the Musicians to play up the Yankee Doodle Tune, which completed the Conquest of the Military, and afforded them a temporary Triumph.

New-York Journal (New York, New York), 14 September 1769, page 2

New-York Journal (New York, New York), 14 September 1769, page 2

Limiting Music Searches by Categories

With so many search results, I looked for ways to narrow the focus. A promising option was the “Poems & Songs” category with over 1,200 historical newspaper articles to explore.

search results for "Yankee Doodle" in GenealogyBank

Adding Keywords to Your Article Search

To learn about specifics, I incorporated keywords such as “origins.”

Enter Last Name

A newspaper article from 1861 reported that “Yankee Doodle’s” music was derived from the “Lucy Locket” nursery rhyme. I wasn’t familiar with it—but if you hum “Lucy Locket,” you’ll find it has the same musical syntax, or structure, as “Yankee Doodle.”

Lucy Locket lost her pocket
Kitty Fisher found it;
Not a bit of money in it
Only binding ’round it.

After the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord, the patriots came up with their own lyrics. An early version was titled “The Yankee’s Return from Camp,” used as a battle march.

The old song has direct references to George Washington (then a Captain) and Capt. Isaac Davis. See article on Capt. Isaac Davis at

Photos & Illustrations

You’ll discover a number of musical scores in the “Poems & Songs” category on GenealogyBank’s search results page, and there are others in the “Photos & Illustrations” category. By examining these, I found a promising lead from 1910 that was reprinted three years later, in 1913.

Historical Music Sheet Tab in Historical Newspapers Genealogy Bank

This sheet tab reference isn’t actually from the “Yankee Doodle” song itself, but instead a composition called “The Boys That Fight the Flames” by George M. Cohen. He composed it as part of his play, Fifty Miles from Boston.

Forgotten Old Songs

The “Photos & Illustrations” category is also a wonderful place to find musical scores of forgotten pieces. Although not familiar with “Life’s a Bumper,” I might try playing this song on my piano.

Bellows Falls Gazette (Bellows Falls, Vermont), 14 December 1839, page 1

Bellows Falls Gazette (Bellows Falls, Vermont), 14 December 1839, page 1

Search Tips for Finding Old Music

This blog post is just the tip of the iceberg on musical discoveries found in newspapers. Try these steps and be sure to share your own tips for researching the music of our ancestors in old newspapers.

  • Do a general search for a song title
  • Sort by Best Matches, Oldest Items or Newest Items
  • Narrow by the category “Poems & Songs”
  • Experiment with other categories, such as “Photos & Illustrations”
  • Repeat the previous steps by adding keywords, such as “origins” or a composer’s name

Related Music Articles:


Where Was George Washington? Revolutionary War Fact Checking

One of my family traditions tells us that George Washington made his headquarters, from 4 July to 19 August 1781, at the home of my 5th Great-Grandfather, Joseph Appleby (1732-1792) in Greenburgh, New York, in the Dobbs Ferry section of town, during the American Revolutionary War.

Joseph Appleby served as a 2nd lieutenant in the First Regiment of Westchester County, New York Militia.

I found this interesting 1935 newspaper article reporting that in 1935 Messmore Kendall (1872-1959) was living in a house in Dobbs Ferry—and erroneously stated that was the house that George Washington used as his headquarters in 1781, not the home of my ancestor Joseph Appleby.

article about Messmore Kendall and George Washington, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 27 August 1935

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 27 August 1935, page 8

Kendall took great pride in his home’s supposed connection to George Washington and its key role in the American Revolution.

It was an impressive home.

photo of Philipse Manor

Photo: Philipse Manor. Source: Library of Congress.

Kendall served as the national vice-president of the Sons of the American Revolution and as the president of the Empire State Chapter of the NSSAR. In 1894 he had a monument erected in front of his house commemorating its place in history.

Enter Last Name

Kendall collected dozens of historic heirlooms previously owned by George Washington and had them on display at his home.

It was a nice story—but it was not true.

A Historic American Building Survey Report issued 29 March 1934, written by Thomas Hotchkiss (Re: Messmore Kendall Residence), stated that:

The 1894 monument…incorrectly alleges that Washington and Rochambeau met at this house [Philipse Manor] to plan the Yorktown Campaign in 1781. As explained authoritatively…these commanders of the allied armies occupied the Appleby and Odell houses respectively on country roads back in the hills, and conveniently held their conference there surrounded by their troops.

It turns out that Kendall lived at the Philipse Manor built by Frederick Philipse. His great-grandson, Frederick Philipse, was a Tory and “his lands and houses” were seized and sold. The manor house was purchased by Philip Livingston.

See: Historic American Building Survey, Report HABS No. 4-105

Genealogy Tip: Historical claims can be wrong—even when they make it into print in a newspaper, such as Kendall’s claim about his home being a former headquarters of George Washington.

Enter Last Name

The Appleby home which George Washington did use as his headquarters stood on what is now Secor Road in Dobbs Ferry, New York. The WFAS radio station offices are now located on this site.

photo providing an aerial view of the Appleby farm

Photo: aerial view of the Appleby farm. Source: Google Earth.

There is a video interview with Mary Sudman Donovan, Ph.D., Village Historian of Dobbs Ferry, New York. See the interview on YouTube here:

Donovan is the author of the book George Washington at “Headquarters, Dobbs Ferry” July 4 to August 19, 1781. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2009.

photo of the cover of Mary Donovan's book "George Washington at 'Headquarters, Dobbs Ferry' July 4 to August 19, 1781

Find and document your family’s stories in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Carefully review the facts you are gathering. Evaluate them and seek out corroborating sources.

Make sure that the stories about your ancestors are accurate, preserved and passed down in the family.

Related Articles:

Hammet Achmet: Washington’s Waiter & Revolutionary War Patriot

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary presents the fascinating story of Hammet Achmet, who grew up a slave in George Washington’s household, served as a drummer in the Revolutionary War, then became a freedman and drum maker.

Piecing together the life of a patriot from the American Revolutionary War is challenging—but piecing together the life of an African American minority patriot is even more so. That is, unless the person distinguished himself in a special way.

Such was the case with Hammet (or Hamet) Achmet (c. 1752, Africa – 1842, Connecticut), who was captured and enslaved as a young child, and later became something of a celebrity—having served as George Washington’s personal waiter.

George Washington’s Slave & Close Companion

Achmet grew up in the Washington family’s household as a black slave. However, he was later freed, either for serving in the American Revolutionary War, or according to the terms of George Washington’s will.

In his youth, Achmet had the responsibility of holding his horse as Washington prepared to ride. Achmet was affable and the two of them shared a life-long relationship. As an adult, he attended the Washington family at meals. After George Washington’s death in 1799, Achmet was given a lock of the president’s hair, which he kept in a tiny silver box shaped like a coffin. This treasure, along with one of Washington’s waistcoats and a small rapier (dress sword) with the initials G.W., were heirlooms Achmet carefully guarded throughout his life.

As an African American slave he was never taught to read or write, but Achmet was very intelligent. He could speak four or five languages, a useful skill for anyone in early America with its melting pot of immigrants. Although of a diminutive size (4′ 6”), Achmet served his new country faithfully as a Revolutionary War drummer.

In 1900 his life was chronicled in a book by Emilie T. Stedman, whose family knew him personally. Stedman’s book makes for marvelous historical reading and features her original drawings. You can read her book for free online, Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington, here:

photo of the cover of Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington”

In addition to the interesting information about him in Stedman’s book, we can expand our understanding of Achmet’s story with newspaper accounts that chronicle his fascinating life.

An African American Drummer in the Revolutionary War

Many people today assume that a drummer’s duties were easy during the Revolutionary War—but the music corps, including fifers, drummers, and other musicians, toiled for long days with complicated assignments. Several guides still exist which describe their schedule and music. (See link at the end of this article.)

Up before dawn, the war musicians signaled the wake-up, or “Reveille,” by playing “The Drummer’s Call.” If the troops were going on march, this musical selection reverted to one called “The General.” Because they never knew if the enemy was listening, these easily understood auditory signals reduced the need to call out orders to the troops.

The military musicians had to learn at least a dozen routines because each separate activity, from Roll Call to Assembly, had its own special composition. There were even unique sets for officer activities, and a special one for the Retreat, during which the men received their evening’s orders.

drawing of a drum and swords from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington”

Illustration: from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington.” Credit: Library of Congress.

Drummers accompanied or led the troops to battle, acting much like modern-day cheerleaders at a pep rally. Imagine having to focus on playing your music correctly, avoiding injury, and inspiring the trembling soldiers to face the enemy with determined energy! Being a drummer during battle was no easy task, and Achmet performed his responsibilities as well as the best of them.

Achmet Receives Revolutionary War Pension

After the Revolutionary War, Achmet applied for and received a pension (S.38107). His first request was done as a resident of Connecticut on 28 June 1818.

In his pension application, Achmet stated that he had served under Capt. Throop in Col. Return Jonathan Meig’s regiment, and signed the statement with his mark. Supporting statements were made by veterans who remembered seeing Achmet at the Valley Forge Winter Encampment; Phillipsburg, New Jersey; the Battle of Stony Point, New York (16 July 1779); and elsewhere. One wrote this about Achmet:

I saw the same little black drummer who is now before me, marching with said division of said army.

The pension was eventually granted on the basis that Achmet was an invalid (or too frail to work).

The Drum Maker

Once Achmet was a free man, he made his living manufacturing drums and toys, and selling used shoes to a gun factory.

text from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington”

From: Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington.” Credit: Library of Congress.

Some remembered that Achmet would wear his old uniform, and his persistent drumming was often heard. He liked to recount stories about the dinners and grand company held in “Massa Washington’s mansion,” and sometimes showed off the president’s waistcoat.

Hammet Achmet’s Family Life

Achmet’s first wife was named Jane (c. 1774 – 1827), by whom there was a child. Jane was much younger than her husband but died before he did.

Their marriage was sometimes a rocky one, as we can infer from this historical newspaper advertisement in which Achmet is warning the public not to trust his wife, stating that he will not pay any more of the debts she incurs!

ad placed by Hamet Achmet warning he would not pay his wife's debts, Middlesex Gazette newspaper advertisement 5 July 1821

Middlesex Gazette (Middletown, Connecticut), 5 July 1821, page 3

When Jane sensed her impending death, “she prepared her shroud and mourning for her husband and granddaughter.” This obituary noted she was a professor of religion (meaning a type of preacher, not to be confused with a professor at a school).

obituary for Jane Achmet, Middlesex Gazette newspaper article 2 May 1827

Middlesex Gazette (Middletown, Connecticut), 2 May 1827, page 3

Achmet’s second wife, whose name might have been Ann, was Caucasian with darkened skin.

text from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington”

From: Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington.” Credit: Library of Congress.

They married at the Methodist parsonage. This young bride had a temper, and after one fight she cut off Achmet’s curls while he slept—a serious affront, as this was rarely done.

Here is Stedman’s drawing depicting Achmet’s cottage.

drawing of Hammet Achmet's cottage, from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington”

Illustration: from Emilie Stedman’s book, “Hammet Achmet, a Servant of George Washington.” Credit: Library of Congress.

A Colorful Personality

Stedman’s book provides many details about Achmet and recounts fun anecdotes, including how he responded when asked to join Phineas T. Barnum’s Circus.

To learn the answer, read the story here:

Achmet’s Obituary

When Hammett (or Hamet) Achmet passed away, this same obituary appeared in numerous newspapers.

obituary for Hamet Achmet, Boston Courier newspaper article 5 December 1842

Boston Courier (Boston, Massachusetts), 5 December 1842, page 3

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