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How Stately Oaks Plantation celebrated Thanksgiving in the 19th century

Volunteer Elizabeth Whitley, of Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County Inc., holds the bucket at the well at Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro. People would get water from a well in the 19th Century.

Volunteer Elizabeth Whitley, of Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County Inc., holds the bucket at the well at Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro. People would get water from a well in the 19th Century.

It was 1839, and not a single Kroger, Publix or Ingles grocery store was in sight.

There were no cars, airplanes, paved roads, electricity, cell phones, telephones, TVs and most of the other convenient facilities of today’s society.

The Stately Oaks Plantation, a historical site in Jonesboro, was built in 1839, said Ted Key, a volunteer for Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County Inc. Whitmell Allen was the original founder of the property.

Key said, typically, in the 19th Century, preparations for Thanksgiving dinner started weeks before the holiday. “There were no stores and shopping centers, of course, at the time,” he said. “So, whatever they wanted to eat, they had to grow it or kill it.”

The women and men of the plantation would gather vegetables and fruits, such as corn, squash and apples. The dressing, which is what stuffing is called in the South, was prepared to be placed inside the turkey or hen, said Key. Corn meal dressing was prepared, which included beans, peas, biscuits, chicken broth and corn.

Key said the kitchen was located outside the home, where the meals would be prepared. Elizabeth Whitley, a volunteer for Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County Inc., said women would cook with heavy iron cookware, so salt was not used when preparing a meal. Instead, it was placed on the table. The salt could corrode the cookware, she explained.

Women during the Civil War era would not wear their hoop skirts in the kitchen for safety reasons, she said. The top causes of death in women at the time were fires in the kitchen, or child birth, Whitley said.

The men would go into the woods to hunt for a turkey, continued Key. “Most of the time men couldn’t find a turkey, so they would find the fattest and plumpest hen, or both,” he said.

Key said Allen, the first owner of the plantation, liked to stand on the front porch to wait for deer to come by. He would kill one and process it, so the family might have had deer for Thanksgiving, as well, he said.

The turkey would’ve have been roasted over the fire, said Key. Sweet tea and cold well water would’ve been the drink of choice, he said. The family might have had popcorn as well, which was introduced by the Native Americans to pilgrims in the first Thanksgiving meal in 1621.

Desserts would have included cookies and pies. The dinner contained traditional Thanksgiving food items, which were prepared differently, he said. Nothing came in a box or can and ready to be served.

Whitley said a wife would sit at the opposite end of a table, across from her husband, who would sit right in front of a mirror. This would allow her to look at the mirror and make delicate hand signals to the servants, who were typically behind her, she said.

Key said that in 1839, a household did not have a lot of fall season, or Thanksgiving, decorations, like most households of the 21st Century. For decoration, several pines were placed inside a vase to create an aroma for the house, he explained.

The Thanksgiving parties in Georgia weren’t as frivolous as they are today, he said. There was no dancing, singing or games. “There were no football games on Thursday night,” he said with a chuckle.

Families would travel long distances to be with loved ones, like it is done today, but the travel time may have taken a lot longer—three to four days. “Sometimes, they would have to stop at an inn or camp out,” he said. Some travelers came from Alabama, North Carolina, but most would come from Georgia.

Key explained that at the time, Stately Oaks wasn’t even in Clayton County, it was in Fayette County in 1839. Clayton did not exist at the time. The house was originally located in Jonesboro on Mt. Zion Road and Tara Boulevard., he said. It was in short proximity to Sherwood Memorial Park and Mausoleum. If facing north, anything west from the railroad track in Jonesboro was Fayette County, and anything east from the tracks was Henry County. The railroad tracks were the dividing line. Clayton County was created in 1858, he said.

The land where the plantation was located was bought by Ford Motor Company in 1972 for a dealership to be built there, said Key. The plantation was forced to move to its present location at 100 Carriage Lane, in Jonesboro.

Key said he is a retired educator, who taught for more than 50 years, and that he taught Georgia history for 33 years.

For more information about the Stately Oaks Plantation, visit: www.historicaljonesboro.org.