The excellent article by Jody Stump on the origins of Thanksgiving (Nov. 25), stemming from the 1621 dinner organized by Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony and Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag Tribe, led me to recall that I am the 11th generation descendant of that same Gov. Bradford. People in California don’t much care about who their ancestors were, but in Connecticut, where I grew up, tracing one’s ancestry is a popular rainy day avocation.
Here is mine: William Bradford (1589-1657) was Governor of the Plymouth Colony from 1621 to 1657, and his manuscript, “History of Plimoth Plantation,” formed the basis for much we know about the life of the Pilgrims. It was published in 1669, and the publisher recalled about Bradford that “His mind was placid, grave, well-poised; he was the student of many books and five foreign languages (Dutch, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew)…” He wore “a red waistcoat, a turkey grosgrain suit, silver buttons, a colored hat, and a violet cloak.”
His son, Major William Bradford, had a daughter, Alice Bradford (1661-1745), who married Rev. William Adams in 1680, and their daughter, Abiel Adams (1685-?) married Rev. Joseph Metcalf in 1707. Their daughter, Sarah Metcalf (1720-1771) married Rev. Joseph Fowler in 1747, and their daughter, Sarah Metcalf Fowler (1753-1832) married Rev. Joseph Vaill, who graduated from one of the first classes at Dartmouth, in 1780 in Litchfield, CT. Their son, Rev. Joseph Vaill, D.D. (1790-1869), graduated from Yale in 1810 first in his class, and was a founder of Amherst College.
Edward Warren Vaill (1826-1915) was the inventor of the folding chair, and was a prominent industrialist in Worcester, Mass. His son, Edward Warren Vaill, Jr. (1870-1939), was one of the early patent lawyers in the U.S., and his son, my father Edward Warren Vaill (1908-1989) was an early pioneer in the plastics industry.
If it is true that you are what you eat, it may also be true that you are in part what genes are passed on to you by your ancestors. Although I can’t say the five generations of Puritan/Congregationalist ministers found their way much into my psyche, or the three generations of engineers, I did take after my grandfather (on both sides of my family) and become a lawyer. Given my family history, Thanksgiving is an especially meaningful holiday, and each year on that day our family pauses to remember William Bradford’s legacy to our country.