Saturday, April 3, 2010

Rebecca - Her Early Life

[Photo to Right: A Farm in Northern Ireland]

Our progenitor, Rebecca Bradford Miller, grew up during the colonial period, born around 1760 in the Cecil County, Maryland area. She was the daughter of Samuel and Sarah Bradford.

Samuel was born in 1727, probably in Northern Ireland, being of Scots-Irish descent. We have almost no information about him, however more is written about his brother (Rebecca's uncle) James Bradford, probably by virtue of the fact that James was the father of the infamous David Bradford of Whiskey Rebellion fame. James was born in Ireland in 1716 ( He may have immigrated to America some time around 1740. His son, David, (Rebecca's infamous cousin) was born in 1756 in Cecil County. Samuel and Sarah were probably married by then and living nearby.

Rebecca's brother were David, Samuel and William. David was born in 1765, married Barbara Grimes, settled in Adams County, PA, and was well known locally as being "General Bradford" who built the Wayside Inn. Samuel died young. William was born in 1770, married Margaret Parkinson, and would someday become involved in the Whiskey Rebellion with his cousin David (see previous posts). Rebecca had a sister named Jane whom we know nothing about.

Their mother Sarah, was the daughter of Samuel Bradford (as mentioned in previous posts, yes, Rebecca's father was a Samuel Bradford and her mother's father was a Samuel Bradford - no known connection). Sadly, almost nothing is known about Sarah, other than in later years she would move to Fayette County, PA, with Rebecca and her husband, William Miller.

We will probably never know anything about the personality of Rebecca's father, and we can only paint a broad stroke about the Scots-Irish in general. One online source paints a not-too-appealing picture, claiming they were "determined, pragmatic, insensitive, aesthetically deficient, honest, clever, learned, diligent, thrifty, hardworking, dedicated, narrow-minded Calvinist[s]"

However, this same article does point out that since they believed everyone should be able to read the Bible, the Scots-Irish were also the "greatest single force for the educational progress" during this time period.

If the Bradford brothers attended school, Rebecca and Jane probably did not, as was the custom. This is borne out by the fact that in a later land record, Rebecca did not sign her name, but merely "made her mark."

So how did Sarah and her daughters spend a typical day? From an online source we learn that "Colonial housewives and cooks began their days very early by modern standards. They built the fire, carried water, gathered fresh fruits and vegetables for the day's meals from the kitchen garden, got meat from the smokehouse, and prepared breakfast. This meal usually consisted of mush with milk, which was sweetened with molasses. The mid-day meal, dinner, was the heaviest, generally served between noon and 3 pm. This meal was commonly a stew, the ingredients of which varied with the seasons. The advantage of serving stew was that it required little tending from the housewife and required only one pot. Puddings could also be steamed in fabric bags suspended above the cooking pot of stew. Individual portions of meat and vegetables were uncommon in the colonies until the 1700's, and then were had by well-to-do colonists. Supper, the evening meal, was generally warmed up leftovers.

Women trained girls to be wives and mothers by having them help around the house. Girls helped with cooking, preserving food, caring for children, cleaning the house, washing clothes and gardening. They milked cows, churned butter, and made cheese. Girls' work was important to cloth making. After the men and boys grew flax and sheared sheep, girls and single women did the spinning, knitting, sewing, and sometimes weaving. Girls spun wool and flax so that it could be woven into fabric or knitted into socks, hats, scarves, and mittens. They usually brought yarn to weavers to have cloth woven and they used the cloth to make clothing and sacks. Girls sewed by hand, with strong, tiny stitches that would hold clothes together during many washings over years of wear."

Rebecca's father no doubt farmed the land there in Cecil County, as virtually all men did in that era in order to provide for their family. Unfortunately, we have no records to indicate if Samuel Bradford was a large land-holder or if he worked a small farm. There is, however, this intriguing clue. In 1767, his wife's father passed away, leaving land in nearby Red Lion Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware. Apparently the family would have lost this property (probably due to outstanding debts) were it not for the fact that Rebecca's father, Samuel, was able to buy this parcel that had belonged to his father-in-law, being "the highest bidder." [Interestingly, they sold it back to Sarah's brother, William, just a few months later in 1768.] This indicates that Samuel was able to fund the purchase price which must have included the outstanding debts.

So at least when Rebecca was a young child (she would have been around 8 years old at this time), her father must have been doing pretty well!

Next time: Rebecca Married


  1. I hate reading about things like stew. Now I'm not going to be able to concentrate on my work - just stew. Pudding made in fabric bags? Interesting. What a different world.

  2. Oh, I missed that comment from a few weeks ago! You're too cute, Haley!! You have to tell stew objectionable because it's composed of lots of possibly un-identifiable things floating in liquid?


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