The History Channel identifies the origin of Halloween with the Celtic rituals of Samhain and says people have been making jack o’lanterns for centuries, carving scary faces into turnips (pictured below) or potatoes and setting them in windows or near doors to frighten away evil spirits. It also says the practice is related to an Irish legend of a stingy blacksmith named Jack and the Devil (read more here).
I found the same story at www.jack-o-lantern.com which also says that when the word first appeared in print, it referred to a night watchman or man carrying a lantern. Halloween History says the word was used for the phenomenon of ignis fatuus, lights appearing over bogs and marshes. For all I know, both may be true. I didn’t have time to search further!
Halloween History also says that:
“Throughout Britain and Ireland, there is a long tradition of carving lanterns from vegetables, particularly the turnip, mangelwurzel, or swede. But not until 1837 does jack-o’-lantern appear as a term for a carved vegetable lantern, and the carved lantern does not become associated specifically with Halloween until 1866. Significantly, both occurred not in Britain or Ireland, but in North America.”
So yeah, people probably did carve jack o’lanterns during the Regency, though they may not have called them that and probably wouldn’t have used pumpkins, which Cobbett wrote was “a thing little used in England”. I also think it was a country custom, not something the gentry or aristocracy would have done except perhaps on a whim.
Anyone else doing anything fun with pumpkins…or other vegetables? That you’re willing to share, of course. Planning costumes for themselves, children or pets?