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Tacos Arrive in Mennonite Country: A Slice of My Life

Since it is Cinco de Mayo, I got to thinking about Mexican food. Today we take for granted that tacos and enchiladas and chimichangas and burritos show up in weekly menus as often as the German- and British-derived foods I grew up on. But there was that time in 1966 when I introduced an Ohio family to (American) Mexican food. There was that time when farmer Adam Bair, my husband’s uncle, could not get enough tacos.

Uncle Adam Bair with Kenneth Paul, Brent and Mike Badertscher about 1966.

The success of tacos at a family reunion of Badertschers and Kohlers and Bairs in rural Wayne County, Ohio, provides a perfect illustration of the way that American food preferences change.

In the late spring of 1966, my husband Ken and I traveled back to our home state of Ohio to visit the relatives we had left behind when we moved to Arizona. We had married in 1960 and moved to Arizona in 1963. Ken’s mother’s family gathered at their home which was surrounded by farms and just down the road from a center of Mennonite culture, Kidron Ohio. All the women would bring a dish to share. They would perhaps make a noodle casserole with the obligatory mushroom soup. Or perhaps they made a J-ello salad with cabbage and carrots. Surely some melt-in-your mouth desserts like raisin pie or dump cake would appear. There would be a platter of ham slices and Swiss cheese and home made rolls.

noodle casserole

Noodle Casserole, photo from Flickr used with Creative Commons license.

My mother-in-law told me that there would be plenty of food. Since I came from so far away, I would not be expected to provide a dish. But that did not seem right to me. For one thing, I loved to cook. For another, I wanted to be a part of the family.

When we moved to Arizona I quickly began to explore the new-to-me everyday cuisine of Sonora, Mexico. Sonora was just down the road. From Scottsdale where we lived, we would drive south through Tucson and on to Nogales, the border town. And Mexican restaurants were popular in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. (We were later to move to Tucson, much closer to the border. As a town founded by the Spanish in 1776, Tucson was much more oriented culturally (and by cuisine) to Mexico.)

To put this in perspective, in the 1960s, ethnic foods and restaurants other than Italian and Americanized Chinese were just beginning to make inroads. Although there were plenty of Mexican restaurants in Arizona there were none in this county. No one at that family gathering had ever been to a Mexican restaurant. There were no Taco Bells in Ohio until 1970. There were no frozen Mexican dinners. There were no tortillas. And that explains why it was perhaps foolhardy of me to decide that I should make tacos for the family. [Note: My mother had been serving us “tamales” from a can in the 50s, but they bear little resemblance to real Mexican food.]

Tacos were simple to throw together, and a dish that I could make without recipes. All I needed was corn tortillas, some oil to cook them in, ground beef, tomatoes, onion, lettuce, and cheese for the filling. Salsa? Hot sauce? Not for these people who had never seen, let alone tasted tacos and enchiladas. [I may be wrong about that–my sister-in-law thinks that I did bring a bottle of salsa back from the store where I found the tortillas. Any cousins remember?]

Ken and I set out to get some tortillas. There were none in the grocery store in nearby Dalton. I don’t remember if we checked nearby Orrville, but they wouldn’t have had them either. So we went further afield–all the way to Mansfield, Ohio, nearly 50 miles away. We checked a couple of stores and they had no tortillas. Dejected, I tried one more store, perusing the freezer case–and there were frozen tortillas! Frankly, I don’t remember if I also found a can of Hatch green chiles to mix in with the meat, but I would have been cautious about using peppers, anyhow. Perhaps I diced a green bell pepper from my mother-in-law’s garden.

Back we went to my in-laws’ home, hoping the tortillas would thaw overnight. The next morning, I stirred the ground beef and diced onions in a hot skillet. I chopped tomatoes, and lettuce and grated cheese. (Plenty of cheese in Mennonite country, even if there was no queso blanco or Monterey Jack.) When the family members began to arrive, I fried tortillas in a inch of hot oil in a large skillet. I maneuvered them with tongs to form an envelope that could be stuffed with the ground beef. and vegetables.



Taco photo from Flickr with Creative Commons license.

Of course I had second thoughts once the familiar casserole dishes began to arrive. Would I alienate myself from these folks by bringing them alien food? Would they spurn the crispy taco shells spilling contents all over with every bite? Could I compete with J-ello salads?

As I watched anxiously, everyone cautiously took a taco from the warming pan I had put in a low oven. They said they liked them. But Uncle Adam, the German-Swiss farmer who defined the word “raw-boned” wrapped his big hand around one taco. And another and then another. I wound up back in the kitchen making more even more tacos. Ole’!

Of course by the mid 1980s, Mexican restaurants had spread to Ohio. One could find the ingredients to make them at home in every grocery store. But I am proud to say that in 1961. I introduced tacos to a bunch of people who lived in Wayne County, Ohio. They may even be celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Kidron, Ohio today.

HAPPY CINCO de MAYO!

[Note: I have made a couple of additions since receiving comments on this post. Keep the comments coming!]

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James Morgan Sr.

James Morgan, 1607-1685

In a previous post, I reviewed the murky nature of materials regarding James Morgan’s birth and parentage. However, once he gets to New England, my seventh great-grandfather’s name appears frequently in the record books of New London Connecticut. Besides being the “first comer” of my Morgan line, he helped found two communities and was an early resident of a third.

In that earlier post, I named some of the family biographies that mention James. However, more details to flesh out the life of this early mover and shaker in New England lie in the history of communities. I have been engrossed in New London County Connecticut with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneer and Prominent Men, compiled by D. Hamilton Hurd and published in 1882.

Although I had not noticed that James was associated with the town of Stonington, Connecticut, Ancestry also led me to explore the book, Stonington Chronology, 1649-1949, Being a Year to Year Record of the American Way of Life in a Connecticut Town. That book, published in 1949, makes clear how intertwined these early towns were, and how fluid their boundaries. The book includes both local “news” as well as national and international events, so we learn that Cromwell was declared Lord Protector of England in Nov. 1653 as well as the bounty for wolves and the prices of trading goods. I have inserted excerpts, not always direct quotes, from that book throughout this article on James Morgan Sr.

James Morgan Sr Comes to America

It seems clear that James was born about 1607, and probably in Llandaff, Glamorgan, Wales. As I discussed in the previous post, his parentage is not well documented.

He probably sailed from England in March 1636 and landed in Boston the following month, accompanied by younger brothers Miles and John. However another account claims he sailed “in the summer” with a kinsman named Robert. In that scenario, Miles, whose mother was Elizabeth who had been born into another Morgan line, had sailed in January and was not a brother.

June 1637: Earthquake in North East in the month of June.

New England Chronicles

We forget that this whole territory had yet to be populated. A contemporary account in 1638 says there were 20 houses in Boston. Salem, Roxbury, Charleston, Dorchester, Waterton, Cambridge, Lynn and other towns totaled about 16,000 populaton. The first settlers arrived in Roxbury in 1630.

James Morgan Sr. Family in Roxbury

The first record of James Morgan Sr. in America comes with his marriage to Margery Hill in Roxbury. Margery and James had six children all born in Roxbury, four of whom lived to adulthood. (The sixth might have been born in New London as they moved from Roxbury to Pequot/New London in 1650 when she was born.)

  • Hannah, b. 1642, married Nehemiah Royce of New London in November 1660 and lived in Wallingford.
  • James (later known as Capt. James, b. 1643, married Mary Vine. Like his father, Capt. James held many church and civic positions in New London County.
  • John (my ancestor, and also later known as Capt.) , b. 1645, married first Rachael Dymond and 2nd Elizabeth Williams (nee Jones). He had a total of 15 children and lived in Preston Connecticut later in life.
  • Joseph (later known as Lt. Joseph), b. 1646, married Dorothy Parke and lived in Norwich/Preston
  • Abraham, b. 1648, died when he was one year old.
  • Elizabeth, b. 1650, died as an infant.

In 1643, the young James applied for the designation of Freeman. In 1646 and 1650 he was listed as a resident of Roxbury, but in 1650 he moved to Pequot, later called New London.

James Morgan Sr. Family in New London

To illustrate the confusion of names, here is an 1893 map of West Mystic (Groton) and East Mystic (Stonington) on either side of the Mystic River. Farther west you come to Pequot/Groton’s western boundary, the Thames, which separates Groton from the town of New London.

The General Court at Hartford Ct. had established Pequot the previous year–May 1649. The town would stretch four miles on each side of the Great River (Thames) and six miles in from the sea. Only 40 families would acquire lots.

An influx of Welshmen arrived in 1650, following their minister Richard Blinman. The author of History of James Morgan gives his proof that James was not part of that group. However, another book says the Welsh party from Gloucester Massachusetts were granted house lots on Cape Ann Lane–the street on which Morgan settled. So he certainly lived near his fellow countrymen, even if he did not arrive in the large group that followed Richard Blinman.

The History of James Morgan of New London describes in detail the location of his home in Pequot/New London. It was located on “the path (later known as Cape Ann Lane) to New Street (later known as Ashcraft Road). ” The area was a highland on the east side of the Thames River and today borders Morgan Park. James and his family lived in that home until 1656 when he moved across the river to the town that became Groton. That same source sites a sale of some of his land, described as 6 acres of upland, where the wigwams were, in the path that goes from his house towards Culvers, among the rocky hills.

Click on map to enlarge and see labels for markers.

1654, April: Peace in Europe ended the British/Dutch war and Connecticut stopped preparing to attack New Amsterdam.


1654, August: The bounty on wolves raised from 5s to 20s. (shillings)

Stonington Chronicle

James Morgan and Family Move Across River

On Christmas day (just another day to the Puritans) in 1656, James sold his Pequot/New London homestead and moved to the west side of the river to what would become Groton. (I assume to occupy some of that 200 acres he was granted earlier, but I don’t know for sure.) He was part of a move by some of the movers and shakers of the community who decided the West side of the river was a better place to live.

1656: Thomas Hewitt first appeared on the Mystic River trading grindstones, muskets and poder and rum and such goods for corn, cattle and sheep.

1656: A citizen of Stonington paid 12s 3d (12 shillings, 3 pence) for county taxes plus his one year’s dues to the minister of 1 firkin of butter, 12d worth of wampum. Note: for an explanation of the money system in the colonies see this very interesting article.

Stonington Chronicle

The house location is described as three miles from the Groton ferry on the road to Poquona Bridge.

The first settlers of Groton, besides James Morgan, included James Avery, Wiilliam Meades, Nehemiah Smith and John Smith. Interestingly James Morgan’s home passed down to seven successive James Morgans who lived in the same home until the final James had no sons.

In March 1657, The General Court changed the name of Pequot to New London and the east side of the river, where the Morgan family now lived, became Groton and Ledyard.

1660, May 8: Charles II restored as King of England after Cromwell died in 1658.

Stonington Chronicle

James apparently made the most of the property he had been granted. In a tax list in 1662, of 100 property holders, only seven had value more than 200 Pounds. His property was valued at 250 pounds.

1664, Nov.17: A comet streaking over New England is taken as a portent of war with Indians.

Stonington Chronicle

James Morgan Sr, a Community Leader

In short order–May 1657, James was sent to the General Court of Connecticut to represent his new community. It was then that we have a statement from him that he was “about 50 years old” confirming his birth at about 1607.

He held other positions of responsibility for which I do not have specific dates.

  • Frequently employed in land surveys.
  • Helped establish highways.
  • Determined boundaries
  • Adjusted difficulties between citizens when he was a magistrate.
  • As a measure of the high regard his fellow citizens had for him, The History of James Morgan relates an incident where the court authorized a committee of three arbiters, but once James Morgan was chosen, he was authorized to proceed alone.
  • Elected Selectman of New London several different years.
  • Ten times was chosen as a member of the Assembly.
  • Commissioned to lay boundaries for New London.
  • Commissioned to contract for the building of a meeting house in 1662.
  • Between 1656-1660, Laid out the highway from Pequonnock Cove to Mystic River which is now U. S. Rt. 1. The road started as a bridle path, but wisely was build very wide so it accommodated later traffic.
  • November 29, 1669, New London appointed Lt. Avery, Saul Rogers, James Morgan and John Morgan (James’ son) to lay out a King’s Highway between Mystic and Norwich.

1673: England and Holland are at war again and the Dutch blockade Long Island Sound, making goods scarce in New London County.

1674, June 29: King Charles grants his brother Duke of York not only New York but most of New England in an effort to cancel New England charters and form royal provinces.

1675: King Phillip’s War breaks out, raining death and destruction on New England and forcing participation of men in militias. James Morgan’s friend James Avery is very active in this ear.

1676:The King Phillip’s War continues. In August, Thomas Miner has 6 sheep killed by a wolf.

1676: The colony levied a war tax of 8d on the pound on all the tax list. New London and Norwich pay 25s an acre.

1677: A smallpox epidemic strikes across New England.

1681: A comet with a blazing tail terrifies the people of New England.
1681: William Penn got grant for his colony which he opened without restrictions by creed or color.

1683: 2 horse coursers (thieves) apprehended at Stonington and fined
£ 10 AND 5 LASHES.

1684: The French/Indian war broke out in western New York and Connecticut sent troops.

1685, January: A great snowstorm and a very cold winter hit New England.

Stonington Chronicle

In 1685, at 78 years old, James Morgan, Sr., the early settler of New London and one of the founders of Groton Connecticut, died. He left four children and his wife.

How I am Related

  • Vera Marie (Kaser) Badertscher is the daughter of
  • Harriette Anderson Kaser, who is the daughter of
  • Vera Stout Anderson, who is the daughter of
  • Harriette Morgan Stout, who is the daughter of
  • Jesse Morgan, who is the son of
  • Jesse Morgan, who is the son of
  • Timothy Morgan, who is the son of
  • Samuel Morgan, who is the son of
  • Capt John Morgan (1st), who is the son of
  • James Morgan, Sr.

Notes on Research

A History of James Morgan of New London Connecticut and His Descendants, Nathaniel Morgan, Lockhart and Brainard, Hartford CT (1869). Accessed at archive.org April 2019

A History of the Family of Miles Morgan, Titus Morgan, self published (1809), Accessed at archive.org April 2019

The Stonington Chronology: 1649-1949, William Haynes, Pequot Press, Stonington, CT (1949), Accessed at archive.org April 2019

New England Chronology, From the Discovery of the County by Cabot in 1497 to 1820. Boston: S. G. Simpkins (1843) Accessed at archive.org May 2019

Connecticut, Church Record Abstracts, 1630-1920, Ancestry.com

Connecticut, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1790-1890, Ancestry.com,
CT 1635-1807 Misc. Records

Connecticut, Hale Cemetery Inscriptions and Newspaper Notices, 1629-1934 , Ancestry.com

Massachusetts Applications of Freemen, 1630-91,
C. R., Vol. II. pp. 27, 28. Accessed at Ancestry.com

Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, Roxbury, 1630-1867, Jay Mack Holbrook . Oxford MA : Holbrook Research Institute (1985), Accessed through Ancestry.com

U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s,
Place: Massachusetts; Year: 1636; Page Number: 49. Accessed at Ancestry.com Original Document: Immigrant Ancestors: A List of 2,500 Immigrants to America before 1750. Frederick Verkus, editor. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1964. 75p. Repr. 1986.

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