I spent a little time going through both the Spirit of Jefferson and the Virginia Free Press and Farmer’s Repository looking for what might be found regarding Easter in the mid-19th century lower Valley. I didn’t go through all of the papers, but did hit about a dozen years between 1842 and 1858, looking at the dates just prior to Easter… and, yes, not unlike today, dates varied.
What did I find?
No, not even the mention of the word “Easter”. No advertisements for creative confectioneries (no… no chocolate Easter bunnies/eggs, or sugared “peeps”… and, to be clear… chocolate wasn’t among the more popular confectionery items of the time), no mention of Easter egg hunts, no mention by the mercantile establishments of special sales on new bonnets for the ladies, etc.
Not that I really expected to find anything.
Rather, I expected to find religious references, in some form or fashion. I did find those, but, to be honest, those can be found in most issues (if not every issue… I haven’t gone through each and every one). Then too, there are plenty of front page articles, in the mid-19th century that emphasize morality (and the stories are often well-spun pieces with morality being an underlying theme). The closest thing I found to the meaning of Easter was in the March 28, 1850 issue of the Virginia Free Press and Farmer’s Repository. Easter fell on March 31 of that year (my, isn’t that timely!).
I know the search for such a thing might seem trivial to some, but I’m intrigued by the culture of that period. Also, keep in mind, I’m not a specialist on mid-19th century Victorian culture in America, but I have spent an appreciable amount of time reading about it (more from primary sources than secondary) over the last six months or so. After all, it ties in well with my studies of civilians in the Civil War… Unionists or not. I also believe, in dealing with “historical memory”, it too is a worthy spot in our history to point to and say… “really, it’s not like what you might think” (or… for some… maybe it is). When it comes to such days, I find we’ve often been immersed in more recent traditions that we’ve pretty much become oblivious of past traditions… or lack thereof.
Here’s that piece from the 1850 newspaper. Note that the article falls under the column “Miscellany”, but is still on the front page (where most morality pieces are usually found as well). Also, it is not a piece written for the paper… but taken from the Gospel Messenger (a rather normal practice among newspapers from that period… to borrow from other sources).
Enjoy, and here’s wishing everyone a pleasant Easter!