William Beekman was proud of his Dutch heritage, and certainly would have celebrated the Dutch holiday of Pinksteren (“Pentecost”).
Pinksteren was a celebration of the change of the seasons and of spring renewal. Dutch settlers in present-day New England brought the celebration of Pinkster to North America in the 17th century.
To the Dutch settlers, Pinksteren was a religious holiday, and a chance to gather and celebrate. For their African slaves, it was a time free from work.
By the early 19th century, particularly in the Northeast, the holiday became known as Pinkster and had evolved into a primarily African-American holiday, celebrated by slaves and free blacks.
The great majority of New England farm families owned few slaves. With the less hospitable climate and less hospitable natives, farms in the north were much smaller and fewer servants were needed. Slave family members and offspring were often sold or traded to other farm families living just down the road or in neighboring villages. Pinkster was a chance for the Africans to catch up with family and friends, to taste some temporary independence, and a chance to make and spend a little money of their own. African Americans sold berries, herbs, sassafras bark, beverages, and oysters, and they used the money they earned. The festival also provided the opportunity to share, express and pass on African culture and tradition, especially to those African Americans born in North America.
Pinkster as an African-American celebration reached its height in New England between 1790 and 1810, right around the time that William Beekman was moving his family and all of his servants into his newly-built home.
We know that William treated his servants well (even having pews built for them so that they could attend church with the rest of the Beekman family) and that the house was later part of the Underground Railroad.
In the tradition of Pinksteren, we like to imagine that William would have encouraged his servants to apply their skills to create goods for his mercantile, thus providing them further opportunity to participate in America’s burgeoning capitalist freedoms.
It’s this history that informed the creation of our Generous Fruitcake.
Read more about its entrepreneurial origins. Click here.