Thanksgiving in the Mohawk Valley

Daniel T. Weaver

Thanksgiving Day 1893 was not a happy time for many people in Amsterdam, New York. The Panic of 1893 was a financial crisis which lasted four years and had a negative impact on the city. Many newspapers blamed the crisis on free trade or the removal of tariffs on American goods. The city of Amsterdam was used as an object lesson for the “blighting effects” of “the tariff wreckers.” In an account in the Amsterdam Daily Democrat published the day after Thanksgiving, Amsterdam was described as a city where “Nearly every mill is shut down. Thousands of men and women, who a year ago were employed, are on the the brink of want. A recent Amsterdam dispatch declares that the Aid and Benevolent society is attempting to care for several thousand destitute families. People daily go from house to house begging for food. Local trade is at a standstill. Various charitable organizations are making constant appeals for help. Numbers are deserting the town.”

That Amsterdam’s population suffered because of the Panic of 1893 can be seen in its population growth during the era. From 1880 to 1890, the city grew from 9,486 to 17,336 inhabitants, an 83.1% growth. From 1890 to 1900, Amsterdam only grew from 17,336 to 20,929 inhabitants, a 20.1% growth.

Not everyone in Amsterdam was suffering, however. An item in the November 21 Democrat stated that “A number from this city intend to witness the Yale-Princeton football game at New York Thanksgiving day. A few football lovers also expect to be at the Yale-Harvard game at Springfield Saturday.”

Even though football had been around for nearly two decades, the Yale-Princeton game attracted unprecedented news coverage, bringing a reaction from the New York Herald which editorialized, “Thanksgiving Day is no longer a solemn festival to God for mercies given. It is a holiday granted by the State and the Nation to see a game of football. The kicker now is king and the people bow down to him. The gory nosed tackler, hero of a hundred scrimmages and half as many wrecked wedges, is the idol of the hour.”

Thanksgiving was not an official national holiday in Amsterdam’s early days and football had not been invented. Thanksgiving Day was observed, however, and it centered around faith. The Thanksgiving of 1822 turned out to be a very dark day, not in an economic sense as in 1893, but in a physical sense. The temperature had fallen to zero the night before and it began to snow heavily. There was so much snow that the country people could not make it into Amsterdam’s Presbyterian Church at the corner of Market and Main where the former Key Bank building stands vacant. Villagers however made their way to the church. Cloud cover and thick snow made the church so gloomy, Tommy Allen and Deacon Gabriel Manny, owner and operator of the Old Manny Inn, “lighted the tallow lamp and the dips.”

The story of the 1822 Thanksgiving appeared in an 1893 issue of the Democrat. The writer stated the 1822 Thanksgiving “was known through out the valley as the Dark Thanksgiving.” Only a couple days in American history were darker than that one. One of them was a day in May 1780 in the Northeast when candles were needed at noon, and people thought the end of the world had come. The cause was later determined to be a combination of smoke from forest fires, thick fog and cloud cover.

Thanksgiving Day of 2014 was one I won’t forget. The Mohawk Valley experienced the fifth worst November storm since records were kept. The snowfall we received on November 27 set a record for that day. It was the only White Thanksgiving I can remember in my lifetime. There was nearly a foot of snow on the ground, and our power had gone out. Breads and pies had already been baked, but the turkey, mashed potatoes, carrots and other foods had not been cooked.

We were expecting more than a dozen people at our house. Around 11:00 a.m. I suggested we might have to have an alternative dinner, like order take-out pizza. Fortunately, the power came back on at 11:30. We got everything in the oven and managed to sit down for our Thanksgiving dinner around 7:00 p.m. That was the last Thanksgiving we were all together as my father-in-law died the next year.

There is nothing wrong with football, but for me it’s faith and family that make Thanksgiving such a great holiday.

One thought on “Thanksgiving in the Mohawk Valley

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  1. It is so true that Thanksgiving is and should be about gathering with our loved ones and being grateful for all we have and it’s never more evident than now as something as invisible as a virus is keeping most of us apart from our loved ones.


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