Artifact Corner: Thanksgiving Letter

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a letter that Betsey Delord Swetland wrote to her Granddaughter Fannie Delord Webb Hall. The letter was dated December 8, 1857, and reads as follows:

“My Beloved Child,
We have an open winter. So far the weather has been like September, only an occasional cold day. Our little bay was only frozen over Thanksgiving day. It was black with boys and girls skating, a fine sport. Next day all open and still continues open and raining today. I had rather have cold weather and snow. With the poor help I had, and not being well enough, I gave up asking Rev. Coit’s family for dinner Thanksgiving, as we always had them. I told Mr. Coit so, but as the time approached, I felt so bad about it and finally concluded to have them and do the best I could. We had a room full and made out a very nice dinner and all seemed to enjoy it. Since you left many friends calling and enquiring after you.”

Thanks to this letter, we know that the winter of 1857 seems to have been a rather mild one. Cumberland Bay was without ice and it was raining on December 8th. Betsey was 73 at the time of writing this letter, and putting on a big Thanksgiving spread would be awfully challenging, but she couldn’t let the day pass without making a big meal and inviting friends and family over to share it. I think we can all relate to that. Betsey does not state what exactly she served, but she has a couple of well preserved cook books from this time period.

In one of Betsey’s cookbooks from the 1850’s she has a really good recipe that we here at the museum have recreated. We think this could be a fantastic addition to any Thanksgiving dinner. Here it is, exactly as written:

“Stew five good sized apples, mash them fine and stir to cream two spoonfuls of butter, four of sugar, mix these with the apples, then stir in one pint of cream, half a nutmeg, grate in five crackers, and lastly beat six eggs to a froth, mix all together, beating it well, bake as a custard, and you will say it is splendid.”

The instructions are vague, which is unsurprising for recipes from the 1800’s. What do they mean by spoonful? What does, “bake as a custard mean?” If you plan to give this recipe a shot, I would use tablespoons, and bake this in a 350 degree oven for around 45 minutes, or until you can stick a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean. If you are feeling a bit lazy and don’t want to stew 5 apples, you could substitute in unsweetened apple sauce, which would work just fine.

Both the letter and cookbook give us a glimpse into life in Plattsburgh in the 1850’s, and we are so lucky to have them in our collections. From all of us at KDHM, we wish you and yours a happy Thanksgiving, and we hope you are able to spend it with loved ones. Thanks so much for stopping by!

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
Free download:
License (CC BY 4.0):
Artist website: