Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rebecca – The Era She Was Born Into

Rebecca Bradford Miller was born during the American Colonial period in the year 1759 or 1760, the daughter of Samuel and Sarah Bradford.

Where was she born? That is yet to be proved. Some say Maryland, some say Pennsylvania. Rebecca, herself, claimed in a later census that her birthplace was “Pennsylvania.” An early researcher assumed this meant Fayette County, but that does not make sense. Western Pennsylvania was still wilderness, Pittsburgh was still a small settlement adjoining Fort Pitt, and the region was not officially opened for settlements until 1769. There is just no indication that her parents moved out west this early.

Instead, I believe that her parents were living in Cecil County in the territory that was disputed by Maryland and Pennsylvania. Until the Mason-Dixon Line was settled in 1763, parts of present-day Cecil County, Maryland were claimed by Pennsylvania.

As can be seen by this map, this included the area at the top of Chesapeake Bay “near the Head of the Elk” [eventually becoming the town of Elkton], which figures so prominently in our family history.

There is a chance that she was born in nearby Newcastle County, Delaware. A land record dated 1763 indicates that her parents, Samuel and Sarah Bradford, were formerly of Newcastle County, but “now of Cecil County.” According to that land record date, they conceivably could have still been in Delaware at the time of Rebecca’s birth. However, since Rebecca claimed Pennsylvania on the census, my guess is that the above Mason-Dixon line scenario is the more likely. In other words, I believe that the area around Elkton where Samuel and Sarah were living was, at the time of Rebecca's birth, claimed by Pennsylvania; hence, Rebecca claimed Pennsylvania as her birth state in the later census.

Now let’s move from geography to chronology. This time-frame around Rebecca’s birth looks like this: The French-Indian War is winding down, Voltaire writes Candide, and the British rule India. The population in all the American colonies has reached a million and a half. The colonists have endured ever-increasing taxes and economy-limiting bans placed on them by Britain, including the Navigation Act, the Wool Act, The Molasses Act and the Iron Act, which will soon be followed by the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, the Declaratory Act, the Townshend Act, and the disastrous Tea Act. All of these together constitute what the patriots so aptly named The Intolerable Acts. The stage is set for unrest in the colonies.

Regarding social matters, I think that we get the most reliable sense of this era, its customs, speech and dress from the miniseries “John Adams.” If you haven’t watched this yet, I would highly recommend it (this will whet your appetite!--

Her father no doubt was a farmer… most men of that era worked the land to survive, even if they had another skill. The question is, were they poor or wealthy, or somewhere in between?

That, and other questions will be addressed in the next post: Rebecca - Her Early Years

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