Monday, December 15, 2008

Muslim Slaves: 19th-century Arabic signatures & Documents at HSP

During the 18th and 19th centuries, a number of travelers would visit the United States from the Near or Middle East, such as "Sheick Shedid Allhazar," (usually referred to simply as 'Sheick Sidi'), said to have been an 'Emir' or Prince of Syria, who visited New York & Pennsylvania, and was said to have received from the Society of Friends, "one hundred pistoles," during his Philadelphia visit in 1739.

A strange undated, undeciphered document of unknown origin, is found within the papers of Samuel Clarke Perkins (1828-1903), written partially in the Farsi dialect of Persian or Iranian, and including selections as well from the Quran, written in Arabic.

(Samuel Clarke Perkins Collection: #494, 'Miscellaneous Undated File & Folder')

A number of slaves in bondage within the United States during the 19th-century, had originally been of the Islamic faith, and were literate. One such famous individual of which much has been written, was Abduhl Rahman, who was freed under the express directions of Pres. John Quincy Adams and his Secretary of State, Henry Clay, in 1828.

Abdulrahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori had been taken in battle at the age of 26 and sold into slavery, eventually arriving in the Americas, where he served in bondage on a plantation at Natchez, Mississippi. Known by the honorific, 'Prince of Slaves,' Rahman had been educated in the famed city of Timbuctoo in Mali, West Africa.

After gaining his freedom, Rahman would make his way to Philadelphia on the way to Liberia, celebrating the New Year's celebration of 1829 in the city, as recorded by Henry Clay in his diary. A PBS documentary has been produced about the 'Prince,' as well as the biography published by Terry Alford entitled, 'Prince Among Slaves,' now available in paperback.

Two fascinating hand-written notes in Arabic, penned personally by the 'Prince of Slaves,' are found at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, within the Simon Gratz & John F. Watson collections of manuscripts, the latter giving significant biographical detail on Abduhl Rahman's life, who would later die in 1829 at Monrovia, in Liberia.

('Abduhl Rahhaman', 'Simon Gratz Collection, Alphabetical Series, September 1, 1828)

('Abduhl Rahahman', John F. Watson's 'Annals of Philadelphia,' Mss. Am .301, Vol.1 (1829): 130)

One "autograph of a slave of General Owen," of Wilmington, North Carolina, was the son of an Arabian merchant, sold into slavery. He later became a Christian while enslaved in the United States, and was known locally as "old Uncle Monroe" by many who came to know him. This is also a part of the Simon Gratz Collection at HSP.

('Arabian,' Simon Gratz Collection, Alphabetical Series)

The Arabic texts and accounts of the lives of the above individuals, are another example of the rich and diverse materials which may be found, within the manuscript collections at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Red Man's Squaw: The Return of White Female Captives & their Native-American Children

Captivity narratives abound in early Colonial and post-Colonial American history. Numerous European women were captured by Native-American tribesmen for centuries, some adapting or assimilating within Indian culture, others successfully escaping bondage and thus returning to family & friends, while a few, after long abscences, were ill-received by husband, father or kin, since they had become 'with child,' by their former captors.

A requirement of the Native-Americans in 1764, after their defeat during the 'French & Indian War,' was to return all their 'white captives,' "even their own Children born from White Women." Col. Henry Bouquet would comment that same year, how he had received some 200 captives, "including the Children Born from White Women married to Savages which I have obliged them to give up." (see, Colonial Records of Pennsylvania, Vol.9: 207; Henry Bouquet to Sir William Johnson, Nov. 15, 1764)

One such captive and her daughter, were part of the family of Johan Adam Buss, all of which had been captured by the Cayuga Indians on November 6th, 1756, at Maxatawny, in Albany or Allemangel Township, in what was then Northampton County, Pennsylvania.

('List of all the People Killed...' Conrad Weiser Papers, HSP)

According to the 'baptismal records' of the 'New Bethel' or Corner Church, of Albany Township, Berks County, PA, 'Anna Eva,' a child of Adam Buss & Mariah Sarah Gerhart, had been born in 1756 during her mother's captivity, but another child, named Maria Sarah Buss, was "born in heathenism by her mother Mariah Sarah and an Indian father on....1762." After her mother's return from captivity, the child would be baptized into the Christian faith on October 4th, 1767.

Johan Adam Buss had believed his wife had died while in captivity, and when his wife Maria Sarah returned, she found her husband had remarried.

This was not an isolated case. Catherine Jager, the daughter of Cunigunda & Baltis Yager (or Yeager), of Lynn Township, Northampton County, had been taken captive in 1756, at the age of nine.

Cunigunda Jager declares in a petition to the Pennsylvania Assembly, dated for June 4th, 1766, that her daughter had remained a prisoner among the Indians until "after the last Treaty of Peace with the Indians, when she, with others, was delivered up to Sir William Johnson," and furthermore that she had paid a man to bring her daughter back to her, in the sum of ten pounds, a sum which she had borrowed.

Mrs. Jager describes herself as "a very poor widow," and her daughter as "a very unhappy young Woman, having spent in the Indian idlenesss those Days of her Life...and is now unable to support herself; and what makes her misfortune still greater, she has a Child by an Indian Man, for which other young Women look upon her with Contempt and Derision..."

(PA Archives, Vol.VII: 5883)

Cunigunda Jager asked for "the Support of her unfortunate Daughter, with her innocent Babe." The court agreed, and by September of 1767, she was receiving support in the amount of "Fifteen Pounds."

As revealed in the historical fiction of Conrad Richter's famous works, A Light in the Forest and A Country of Strangers, along with Walter D. Edmond's (author of Drums Along the Mohawk), short-story, 'Dygartsbush,' the adjustment of returning White captives to their former homes and families, was not without stress, nor often trajedy.

However, as with so many topics and events in the past, be it 'Native American Heritage Month' or otherwise, such individuals as those above, all come together in creating what has become both Pennsylvania and 'America's History' in general, truly a unique and fascinating 'tapestry of tales.'

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Native American or Indian Heritage Month: A Personal Perspective

Though many may be unaware, November 2008 is 'National Indian Heritage Month,' an opportunity for myself and others to reflect on the diverse role 'Native-Americans' have played in our nation's history.

Later this month, I'll relate a couple of narratives or examples from our collections here at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, relative to our Native American materials, but within today's post, I'd like to take you on a personal journey or reminiscence.

As a child growing up in northeastern Kentucky, with awe & wonder, I was always thrilled each time I visited my Uncle Wendell Mason's home, to venture into his den, where encased in picture frames and glass cases, were literally hundreds of Indian artifacts, collected by him through many years from fields and ancient or early camp-sites in our part of Kentucky and into southern Ohio, along with an Indian skull affectionately named 'Lulu.' Wendell himself was part-Cherokee in ancestry, as attested in his family's lore and in the physiology of his ancestors and his descendants, my first cousins.

Literally, like the time worn phrase, of 'a kid in a candy shop,' I was intrigued by what I saw at my uncle's home. Though I never became one, he was an avid hunter, and I spent many an hour in his basement, helping him skin rabbits, but I had ulterior motives, since for each rabbit I cleaned, he allowed me to scour through the many boxes in his basement filled with Indian arrowheads, and select one to add to my own small collection.

Also, across the Ohio River from my hometown, and up and down the Ohio, from Cincinnati to the West Virginia border, there are numerous ancient, pre-Columbian earthworks, burial mounds and artifacts from the Adena & Hopewell cultures, which I had the opportunity to visit many times over the years, many of which have never been excavated.

Some twenty-miles south of my home town, was Blue Licks, Kentucky, the site of the last battle of the Revolutionary War, fought on August 19th, 1782, and now a state park, where the famous frontiersmen Daniel Boone, originally from Berks County, Pennsylvania, was present and witnessed the death and scalping of one of his own sons, along with other pioneer settlers who were defeated by the British and their Indian allies, neither side realizing that the War was over, Cornwallis having surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia. Incidentally, a number of Boone's relatives also lie in the old pioneer cemetery in my hometown of Maysville, Kentucky, located behind the present-day Mason County History Museum.

Just outside Blue Licks State Park, heading south on US Route 68, are two deep bottoms. On one side mammoth and mastodon bones were found, while on the left-side, yours truly spent many an hour hunting the newly plowed fields for Indian arrowheads, a site where Native Americans camped for centuries.

Harry M. Caudill (my mentor and advisor in Graduate School at the Univ. of Ky), the famed author of Night Comes to the Cumberland, which in 1963 revealed to the world the economic plight of Appalachian Kentucky & its residents, wrote the following:

"And, while he fought the Indian as a beast, the frontiersman unhesitatingly mated with the red man's sqaws...By capture and by wooing, great numbers of dusky aborigine women found their way into the pole cabins of the borderers...To this date countless mountaineers display high cheekbones...and one hears repeated over and over from old men and women, 'My grandmother told me that her mother was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian..." (p.16)

Such was the case in my own Rolph family. My great-grandmother's, "great-great grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian," an oral tradition given credence, as revealed by her own physiology, along with that of my Great Aunt's--her daughters, who were 'raven-haired,' and 'dark-eyed,' Aunt 'Lizzy' resembling particularly the traditional 'Indian squaw' in appearance.

Through genealogical research I had dis-proven the very old family legend, that we 'were direct descendants of John Rolfe and the famous Indian-Princess Pochahontas,' the Rolph/Rolfe family traditionally having 'crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains by ox-cart into Kentucky from Virginia.'

The family had indeed arrived in Kentucky by 1790, at a time when many families and individuals were being scalped up and down the Ohio River settlements, but my own Rolph line had emigrated from New Hampshire and Massachusetts, a lineage within which an ancestor named Ezra Rolfe, along with a young daughter, had been scalped by the Indians and killed during the Haverhill, Massachusetts massacre of 1689.

Hazen Rolph, my 5th-great grandfather had been one of the hundreds of 'Kentucky Volunteers,' who fought with the famed General 'Mad' Anthony Wayne (whose papers are housed here at the Historical Society) at the 'Battle of Fallen Timbers' in Ohio against the Indians in 1794.

Other family stories included tales of an ancestor who along with her daughter in frontier Virginia, 'had been attacked, scalped by marauding Indians and their bodies thrown into the cabin's fireplace to burn.'

Ellis Palmer, another ancestor from Pennsylvania, had 'seen his little brother scalped and murdered by the Indians" and made a vow 'he would kill every Indian he could get his hands on in revenge,' and so came to Kentucky in 1783 and became notorious as a frontier scout against the native tribes.

But not all family lore or history was negative or horrific in nature. My great-grandmother's brother was purportedly, 'cured from consumption,' the old term for Tuberculosis, by 'an old Indian woman, with herbs and liquor, who had long ago come into the area,' while much of the traditional 'medicinal lore' in the family was initially derived in part from old Native-American remedies.

What I call, 'Beautiful downtown 'Rolph Hollow' (or 'holler' in the Southern Mountain dialect), located in Fleming County, KY, was for generations the ancestral home of the family, which retains at this time, only piles of stone from early homes, lying near the multi-generational abandoned family graveyard or cemetery, all encompassed within the boundaries of a horseshoe-shaped ridge, which in turn, were once covered with numerous Indian stone graves.

In 'Rolph Hollow' or the 'holler' as well, family members claimed to have seen the 'spirits' of Indians riding on horseback and carrying out rituals, whose campsites are evident by the vast amount of arrowheads found over the years by myself and others in the hollow. It was the Indians who had also purportedly remarked at some time in the far distant past, "If you knew the riches that are in these hills, you'd be able to shoe your horses with silver & gold."

The point to my rambling, is that it is almost impossible to separate my own personal and family history from the Native Americans. I strongly believe, that part of my love for the past and the desire to pursue and obtain advanced, academic degrees in History, plus to currently teach and publish historical narratives, stems significantly from my initial exposure to the remains and family-lore connecting me to 'Indians' during my formative years.

The 'American Indians' have influenced our culture and society in so many ways, from topographical names such as 'Kentucky,' or 'the Wissahickon' and 'Allegheny' Mountains in Pennsylvania, to also linguistics and cuisine. Our literature from Colonial times to the present, as well as our cinematic experiences have been enriched because of this ancient and fascinating people.

I would truly be negligent, if I didn't at least during 'Indian Heritage Month,' recognize the legacies that derive from the 'Native Americans,' which are truly both a part of me and my own family's heritage. May we all reflect upon them and their role and contributions to the 'American Experience,' during not only this month, but for years to come.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Haunting of Capt. Henry Bell: A Miracle or Madness?

Almost no one today has heard of Capt. Henry Bell, an English military officer, well-known in aristocratic circles, who traveled throughout Europe in the early 17th-century, and is described by official British records as having, "no equal in Christendom as a brave and experienced soldier."

Capt. Bell was an unusual man, living during the reigns of King James I & Charles I of England, with whom he was closely associated, and who is described as having a firm "knowledge of Latin," and was particularly fluent in High German or 'Dutch,' as a result of his residency in Germany for many years.

Though Bell served in a number of military capacities for the Crown, he also was the 'Surveyor of Lead' for a time, but eventually found himself deep in debt, incarcerated in the famed 'Tower of London,' where he languished for a number of years, contributing unexpectedly to the spread of the 'Reformation,' and all because of a Ghost!

In 1626, Capt. Bell made the acquaintance of a Mr. Casparus Van Sparr, during a time when the works of the famous Christian reformer, Martin Luther, were 'banned & burned' throughout Germany. Sparr, having cleared off an out-building on his grandfather's property, found a book, "lying in a deep obscure hole, being wrapped in a strong linen cloth, which was waxed all over with Bee's wax...whereby the Book was preserved," a book "hid for many years, imprison'd under ground, till (to a miracle) it was brought forth, and sent over into England..."

The above mentioned book, having lain underground for some 52 years, and at the request of Van Sparr, was brought from Germany to England by Capt. Henry Bell, who promised to translate it, one of the works of Martin Luther, in this case, a volume known as the Colloquia Mensalia or Divine Discourses at his Table, first published in 1566.

Captain Henry Bell would later recount the following (in his own words and archaic spelling):

"Then about six weeks after I had received the said Book, it fell out, that I being in bed with my wife, one night between twelv and one of the clock, she being asleep, but my self yet awake, there appeared unto mee an antient man, standing at my bed's side, arraied all in white, having a long and broad white beard...who taking mee by my right ear, spake these words following unto me; Sirrah! Will you take time to Translate that book which is sent unto you out of Germany? I will provide for you, both place and time to do it: And then he vanished away out of my sight."

As one would imagine, Capt. Bell was "affrighted" and "fell into an extreme sweat," stating how he "never did heed nor regard visions nor dreams." He wife awoke to whom he related his experience, and though in shock at the time, the visit of the apparition and its words to him, soon lost their urgency. He states that, "Whereupon I took the said Book before mee, and manie times began to Translate the same, but alwaies I was hindered therein..."

However, the statement made by the spectral visitor, soon proved to come true.

Not long after the above visitation, Capt. Bell found himself a Prisoner of the famed, 'Star Chamber,' for some ten years, five of which he states: "I spent...translating...the said Book: insomuch as I found the words very true which the old man in the foresaid Vision did saie unto mee. 'I will provide for you both the place and time to Translate it."

Eventually Captain Henry Bell's translation of Martin Luther's Colloquia Mensalia would indeed be published in London, England, in 1651, but not until a Spirit of the 'nether-world,' would visit in the 'dead of night,' a much surprised individual, who did not believe, in "visions nor dreams."

Because of Capt. Bell's incarceration, he would remark while in prison, that 'by reason whereof my wife and two young infants miserably were destroyed." He continually stated his innocence of any wrong doing, being willing as he said to "rot in prison" if guilty, but since he was "guiltless," he would petition to have his cause "brought to a legal hearing."

The 'life & times' of Captain Henry Bell could fill a volume, but it might be pertinent when you commemorate Halloween during this month of October, take some time to reflect on the fact, that such things as ghosts, spirits or spectral visitations and their belief are nothing new, and some have even played significant roles at times, in important historical events or publications.

{The reason for Capt. Henry Bell's imprisonment are laid out in the Calendar of State Papers: Domestic Series, of the Reign of Charles I: 1636-1637 (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1867): 433; as are biographical facts regarding his career in other volumes of the same series, available at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania}

Thursday, September 11, 2008

An English slave trader, An African Prince & The Pennsylvania Gazette

The history of African enslavement, as portrayed by scholars and interpreted by the general public, has been represented, discussed and defined, in far too often simplistic generalizations, without recognizing the intriguing 'exceptions to the rule' that exist in primary source materials.

One prime example is that concerning an English slaver trader, an African Prince and the contemporary records of the period reporting their activities, from Africa, to England and as far West as Philadelphia.

For many years I was fascinated by an individual named Bulfinche Lambe, a 'Factor' or commercial agent for the 'Royal African Company,' a slaving enterprise which began in London as early as 1660. During the rule of King George I, or the early 18th century, Lambe resided within 'Agaja,' or the west African kingdom of Dahomey, where he also spent time in captivity as a 'guest' of its local chief, known as the 'Emperor of PawPaw' or 'Trudo Audati,' styled as the conqueror "of the great Kingdoms of Ardah & Whidah," neighboring chiefdoms also located in West Africa.

After three years of residency with the 'Emperor,' Lambe was permitted to return to England, but only under certain conditions. He brought a letter from the African chieftain, asking for an alliance to be made between King George & himself, requesting the possession of "Fire-Arms" and the "Secret of making Powder," {gun powder} for which he he would then permit "other white Men and Women... {to} live in my Country; and they shall have as many of my Subjects as they desire," meaning 'slaves,' which he continually obtained through multiple battles with enemy tribal nations.

Thus, Bulfinche Lambe did indeed return to England in September of 1731, but along with Adomo Tomo, also known as Robert Whidah, an African Prince, who, through the direct command from the administrators of the 'African Company,' and by an "Order from the Treasury," was to be personally cared for & maintained, to be "handsomely provided for during his Stay here...all his Debts to be paid, and all other Expences defray'd..."

Having researched the above individuals & incidents for quite sometime, as found within editions of the Pennsylvania Gazette and elsewhere, I had the distinct opportunity to discover and correspond with Dr. Robin Law, of the University of Sterling in Scotland & Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who surprisingly had simultaneously been investigating the above affair and individuals and had published articles relative to the same subject matter.

By comparing the accounts recorded within Dr. Law's British texts, and those found in Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette, it became evident that the Philadelphia versions, in a number of cases, contained significant details which were for some reason were left 'unrecorded' or non-extant in the English sources from which they derived.

Through our mutual investigation, Dr. Law & myself discovered some interesting details, information which revealed surprising data, not normally associated with slavery and the 'stereotypical' race-relations believed to have exclusively existed at that time, between Africans & Europeans.

Information contained within the Pennsylvania Gazette, revealed that Adomo Tomo & Robert Whidah, were in actuality one and the same person, a fact not previously known. Also, the 'African Prince' was baptized into the Christian faith while in England, in May of 1731. The Gazette then emphatically declares:

"The said Adomo Tomo being christened, married Mrs. Johnson an English woman, on the 4th of Jan. 1732, who proposes to go with him when he returns to his own Country."

June 15 - June19, 1732

The Gentleman's Magazine, printed in London in 1731 had mentioned a "Mrs. Johnson" marrying a man named Robert Whidah, but it was believed that he was someone other than Adomo Tomo, the African Prince. As Dr. Law states, "whether she did in fact accompany him back to Dahomey is not (or at least, not yet) known."

Thus, as has occurred in so many cases, records here at 'The Historical Society of Pennsylvania,' continue to shed light on well-known, as well as obscure events in history, and in this particular case, from African involvement in the slave trade, to race relations and social interaction between African 'nobility' and English society.

As had been acutely revealed over a century earlier at Jamestown (in relation to Pocahontas and her Native American cousins' reception by the Crown and British aristocracy); it was 'social class & status,' not one's race nor ethnicity, which at times determined how one was received and treated in Europe, and in America, as revealed by many recorded primary sources of that period of Western history.

Both Africans & Europeans during the 18th-century, were heavily involved in the 'slave-trade,' and neither seemed particulary concerned on occasion, as to what the 'race' of the other may be, in connection with their social or cultural interactions.


For information relative to the above account, consult the following:

Robin Law, "King Agaja of Dahomey, the Slave Trade and the Question of West African Plantations: The Embassy of Bulfinch Lambe & Adomo Tomo to England, 1726-32," The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol.XIX, No.2 (May, 1991): 137-163; (by same author: "An Alternative Text of King Agaja of Dahomey's Letter to King George I of England, 1726," History of Africa Vol.29 (2002): 257-271. On page 259, note 8, Dr. Law remarks: "My profound thanks to Daniel Rolph of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Gwenydd-Mercy College and Montgomery County Community College, who located these reports and supplied photocopies of them to me." See also Robin Law & Kristin Mann, "West Africa in the Atlantic Community: The Case of the Slave Coast," William & Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol.LVI, No.2 (April, 1999): 307-334.

See, The Pennsylvania Gazette, July 29th to August 5th, 1731; February 8th to 15th, 1731-32;
June 8th to June 15th, 1732; June 15th to June 19th, 1732.

Consult also, The Gentlemen's Magazine, Vol.1, (May, September & December issues, for they year '1731').

Monday, August 18, 2008

An Anonymous Military Diary of an Unfamiliar War

12th to the 15th of Feb 1864
: "Having been directed by the Lt. General Commanding, to report on the successful skirmish of yesterday...I moved rappidly {archaic spelling is retained as in the original entries} down to where our leading men were hotly engaged and pressed. They were commanded by Capt. Fisher 40 {40th Regiment} who had hastened here earlyer with a few men....

A sceries {sic} of hand to hand encounter(s) here took place... and our men, who displayed, if anything, to keen an eagerness to dash out and close with their lurking enemies, where ever visible...."

One captain, "In gallantly assisting a wounded soldier of the 40th, who had fallen into a hollow...became the target for a volley. At a few feet distance, 5 balls pierced his slightly wounded in three places. Though hurt himself he continued to aid the wounded to the end of the day."

The account goes on to list those individuals of the '40th Regiment,' who were either killed or wounded during the skirmish.

Considering the dates, and the comments taken from the above diary, one would naturally assume, that the account describes details from a particular battle of the American Civil War, when in actuality it concerns an engagement during the 'Maori Wars,' sometimes known as the 'Anglo-Maori,' 'New Zealand' or the 'Land Wars,' a series of conflicts between the British settlers and the native inhabitants, or the 'MAORI,' which transpired between 1845 & 1872.

The 'Diary of a British Soldier, Queen's Redoubt,' is the anonymous account of a soldier of the British, '40th Regiment of Foot' or infantry, who fought on New Zealand's North Island, in 1863 & 1864, in what is known as the 'Invasion of Waikato.'

Interestingly, the unknown author of the diary, later immigrated to the United States, and appears to have enlisted in the American Army, since diary entries for the month of January, 1867-69, mention his residence during 'Reconstruction,' at Delta, Mississippi; at 'Bedloe's Island' NYH or 'New York Harbor,' (also known as 'Liberty Island' where the statue of Liberty is located), which was home to 'Fort Wood' or 'Star Fort.'

Interestingly, by 1869, he was stationed in Arizona Territory, at 'Camp V,' perhaps to fight the Apache Indians. 'Camp V,' appears to have been 'Fort Verde,' of the Verde Valley, originally known as 'Camp Lincoln,' created for the purpose of halting raids against settlers, carried out by the Tonto and Yavapai Apaches of Arizona and New Mexico. The military post was renamed, Fort Verde in November of 1868, and was in existence at least until 1873, and is now part of the current, 'Fort Verde State Historic Park' in Arizona.

The Diary of a British Soldier, Queens Redoubt, is a fascinating account of an 'unfamilar' War, which transpired between British colonists and the Native Maori tribes of New Zealand, during the 19th century. This anonymous work, went through a number of hands and places before eventually being donated to the Society in August of 1927. It had originally been "presented to Mr. Frank M. Hutchinson" in June of 1907 (see 'Inside left cover'), who was a Pennsylvania Democrat Delegate to the Democratic National Convention, from Pennsylvania in 1864, from the 22nd District.

Who the unknown British soldier was, how and why his diary became the property of a number of possible relatives, or unrelated persons, from Canada to Pennsylvania, is just one of the many mysteries, the diary intices the researcher to solve.

Such unpublished manuscript materials once again demonstrates, the diverse and varied records waiting to be transcribed, cataloged and made available to scholars and amateurs alike, for both their enjoyment, enrichment and education, here at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Original Source: Diary of a British Soldier: Queens Redout 1863 To New Zealand, Call no. Am.6957 (unpublished manuscript)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Thomas Leiper Kane & the Utah-Mormon War of 1857-58

On July 24th, 1847, a number of wagons, filled with beleagured, worn & weary 'Mormon' pioneers, entered what is now, the Salt Lake Valley, which would later become Utah Territory, under the leadership of an American religious leader & colonizer, Brigham Young.
Image from the Society Portrait Collection at HSP

Some nine years previously in October of 1838, during the so-called, 'Trail of Tears,' some 11, 500 Cherokee Indians had been forced from their ancestral lands in the Southeast, only to be resettled in what is now Oklahoma. The famous late historian, Dr. Thomas D. Clark in his seminal volume, Frontier America (1959), would state: "No more pathetic mass movement of people had occurred on this continent."

In actuality, some 15,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the 'Mormons,' had also been forced at gunpoint, to leave the State of Missouri, as a result of the 'Extermination Order,' issued by Governor Lillburn Boggs, on October 30, 1838. However, this would not occur until 200 armed men attacked the small 'Mormon' settlement of Haun's Mill, where they killed & massacred 18 persons, one being a nine-year old boy.

Then again, beginning in 1846, approximately 20,000 'Mormons,' were driven from their burning homes at Nauvoo, Illinois (a city rivaling Chicago in population) & the surrounding area, the start of what would become in reality, the largest forced migration in American history.

Philadelphia born resident, Thomas Leiper Kane, son of U.S. District Judge John K. Kane and brother to famed Arctic explorer (Elisha Kent Kane, see previous blog for details), would play a major role in 'Mormon' & Federal affairs.
'Thomas Leiper Kane' taken from the Gratz Collection, Case 5, Box 5, at HSP

Having attended previously a gathering of 'Mormons' in Philadelphia in May of 1846 {Joseph Smith, the founder and martyr of Mormonism had established a congregation in the city as early as 1839} Kane became a solid advocate for Latter-Day Saint rights and a staunch defender of their faith within governmental circles.

Kane would go on to serve as as an attorney, counselor and clerk for the District Court of the U.S., in Philadelphia in 1857, but not until he had first given a sympathetic account in behalf of the Latter-Day Saints sect, entitled, The Mormons: A Discourse delivered before the Historical Society of Pennsylvania: March 26, 1850,' published in Philadelphia that same year.

In March of 1850, there was a heated dialogue occuring within the 'halls of Congress' and elsewhere in the country, over the establishment of Utah Territory. Thomas L. Kane continually defended Brigham Young & the 'Mormon' sect, both in print & as an orator during this time of debate.

During the winter of 1857-58, when much of the American public was convinced the 'Mormons' and Brigham Young were in 'armed rebellion' against Pres. James Buchanan & the government of the United States, Kane traveled some 3,000 miles from the East to Salt Lake City, Utah, in an attempt to halt any actual bloodshed that might possibly occur between the 'Mormons' & Federal forces, which at the time were under the command of Albert Sidney Johnston (from my native Mason County, Kentucky), who would later serve in the Civil War, and die during the Battle of Shiloh in 1862.

Kane would be successful as a mediator during what would later become known as, 'Buchanan's Blunder,' since there were in reality, NO casualties in the so-called, 'Utah-Mormon War,' other than two Kentuckians, who shot & stabbed one another with bowie-knives, in Kentucky, over which individual would lead their county's company of volunteers to 'put down the Mormon rebellion that never was.' (see my article reference below)

Thomas Leiper Kane and his family, though not 'Mormon,' would continue to visit & carry out friendly relations with Brigham Young & the Mormons long after 'Buchanan's Blunder.' Kane County, Utah is named after this Philadelphia native, and the 'Thomas L. Kane Memorial Chapel,' located in the Borough of Kane, McKean County, Pennsylvania, is maintained as a visitor's center, by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints today.

Thomas Leiper Kane after the 'Mormon' conflict, would go on to serve in the American Civil War, as Colonel of the 'Bucktails,' or 42nd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, during which he would be wounded, captured, but later rose to the rank of Brigadier-General in the 'Army of the Potomac,' and would also fight at Gettysburg on 'Culp's Hill,' achieving the rank of 'Brevet Major-General.'

Kane was a staunch supporter of Brigham Young and a loyal friend of the Latter-Day Saints until his death in 1883. He is buried at the former Presbyterian chapel in McKean County, Pennsylvania, where the 'Mormon' church erected a statue in his honor, in 1972.

See also, Daniel N. Rolph, "Kentucky Reactions & Casualties in the Utah War of 1857-58," The Journal of Kentucky Studies, Vol.4 (September, 1987): 89-96.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Hungarians: Lovers of Freedom & Liberty

During this season of reflection on 'American Independence,' it is wise to remember various ethnic groups which make-up the 'American landscape,' individuals & peoples who fought, bled and died for liberty, freedom and self-government centuries ago, or in modern history, both abroad and in the New World.

One such people are the Hungarians, or as they call themselves, the Magyars, who by the thousands came to Pennsylvania and worked in the factories and mines located throughout the state, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Many people are aware of the stubborn but fatal resistance of the Hungarian 'freedom fighters,' against their Communist overlords, from October 23rd through November 20th, 1956, known as the 'Hungarian Freedom Revolt' which received international attention, a nation who sought for Western aid which never came, leaving them to throw stones at the tanks of their enemies, once their ammunition was depleted.

On this day
, beginning on July 6th through the 9th, in the year 1552, Capt. Gyorgy Szondi, with only 146 men, held out against an opposing force of some 12,000 Ottoman Turks, at Castle Dregely, on a volcanic escarpment in Hungary. Some 30 fortresses would fall in Hungary during that one year alone, as the Turkish-Muslim forces attempted to carry out a jihad or 'holy war' against the Christians of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, which would continue until the Turks were halted at the 'Siege of Vienna' in September of 1683.

Szondi and his forces would 'die to the last man' on July 9th, but unlike other previous engagements between Muslim & Christian forces in Eastern Europe, the ill-fated Magyar captain received an honorable burial by his opponents, for his stalwart & heroic defense, which is still commemorated annually today, in Hungary at the very location of the conflict.

Some of my fondest memories, are sitting at a kitchen table, in northeast Philadelphia, with the late Irene & George Lukacs, immigrants from Hungary, who'd fled Communist oppression in their native land, having hid in the American Embassy in 1965, until they could secretly cross the Hungarian border and ultimately arrive as exiles in the United States with their children.

The love of their land and its rich heritage was evident, as the Lukacs family spoke often of their country's historical & folk heroes, from Janos Hunyadi or Corvinus, the 15th-century 'Hammer of the Turks,' who helped save Central & Eastern Europe from Ottoman domination, to such colorful individuals as Toldi Miklos or Michael Toldi of poetic & Medieval fame, to Arpad, their ancestral leader who led the Magyar tribes into Europe from Central Asia. Statues to these and many other Hungarian figures were long ago erected, and are visited today by thousands of tourists who visit the city of Budapest.

Hungarians are no strangers to America or to Pennsylvania. Stephen Parmenius, a Hungarian poet, linguist, historian and explorer, traveled with the famed English adventurer, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, on his voyage to Newfoundland, in 1583, with Parmenius serving as a chronicler for the expedition, and who would later lose his life during his exploratory ventures.

Lajos or Louis Kossuth (1802-1894), Governor of Hungary, freedom fighter & patriot, would tour the United States in 1851 & 1852, traveling to Pittsburgh as well as speaking in Philadelphia at Independence Hall. The city of Kossuth, Clarion County, Pennsylvania, is named for this Hungarian statesman.

The collections at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, are no strangers to Hungarian or Magyar materials as well. Manuscript collections like that of the Gondos Family Papers (1895-1978); Philadelphia & Vicinity Hungarian Sports Club Records (1977-78); as well as newspapers, such as the Magyar Hirado (1917-1919, 1924-25), published in Pittsburgh, to that of the Magyar Herald or Magyar Hirnok (1915, 1922-1951), of New Brunswick, NJ, printed in both Hungarian & English are to name only a few that are available at the Society.

Issues of the Hungarian Quarterly, Hungarian Studies Newsletter, and the Magyar Hirek (1962-1976), the latter publication being in the Magyar language all are part of HSP's 'Balch Collection' of ethnic materials, while the Hungarian encyclopedia or dictionary, Magyar Neprajzi Lexikon, in five volumes, is a valuable source for researchers of Hungarian culture as well.

Once again, as we reflect upon our own heritage of freedom and liberty, inherited by us vicariously from the 'Founding Fathers' or through the struggles of our own ancestors, let us not forget the many minority ethnic groups, such as the Magyars or Hungarians, who have also contributed their own blood, sweat & tears, both on American soil and their ancestral homeland.

Hungarian or Magyar history, serves as an acute reminder, that 'freedom's formula' has always required 'sacrifice' and 'suffering,' by those who are brave and self-less enough to fight for it, be it for themselves or in behalf of their posterity.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Buried Treasure in Society Hill, Philadelphia: 1716?

Currently, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia is featuring its famed 'Real Pirates' exhibit, revealing the treasures found on the British slave ship, Whydah, which sank near Cape Cod in 1717.

The eastern coast of Colonial America was no stranger to the voyages and marauding ventures of famed pirates, such as 'Captain Kidd' and Edward Teach or 'Blackbeard.'

According to the early antiquarian of Philadelphia, John F. Watson, in his famous Annals of Philadelphia, And Pennsylvania, in The Olden Time (Vol.2: 1900 edition), it was a prevalent belief that,

"especially near the Delaware & Schuylkill waters, that the pirates of Black Beard's day had deposited treasure in the earth. The fancy was, that sometimes they killed a prisoner and interred him with it, to make his ghost keep his vigils there and guard it." (p.32)

As is well-known, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania's vast collections include many on-site rich 'treasures' in the form of written and published histories pertaining to both the state and the nation. However, perhaps its documents also reveal a hidden history, one which literally lies buried, beneath the ground, in the city of Philadelphia.

One of the earliest records, housed at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, is an enigmatic & mysterious document, written by an unknown man to his brother, residing in Philadelphia, as of May 14, 1716. However, this early 'treasure map' if you will, was penned at Saint Jago de la Vega, Jamaica, the site of a Spanish colony as early as 1509, and which presently retains the oldest existing Spanish cathedral in the West Indies. Jamaica has historically been known as the 'hotbed' of piratical activities in the Western hemisphere, with such famous places as Port Royal, quickly coming to mind.

The document below describes denominations of Spanish currency, heavily utilized by both merchants & pirates during Colonial times, such as silver 'Double Reals,' 'Pieces of Eight,' & 'pistoles,' etc., all said to have been buried in what is now the 'Society Hill' section of Philadelphia.

'Society Hill' takes its name, not from present-day standards of affluence, but from the mercantile establishment known as, 'The Free Society of Traders,' who as early as 1682, were granted a charter by William Penn. They consequently erected an office and warehouse, "on the west side of Front Street, near the south side of Dock Creek" (See PMHB, Vol.XLVII: 333; see also Mss Collection No.1277, call no. Am.2085 & 'Free Society of Traders: Charter of Incorporation: 1681-1682, in the 'Society of Miscellaneous Collections, Box 6b, Folder 11), a site early surveyor Thomas Holme aptly portrays upon his famous 17th-century map of the 'City of Brotherly Love.'

HSP's mysterious 'treasure' document specifically mentions a locale referred to as the "Cherry Garden," which was indeed located in early Society Hill, and though the 'Free Society of Traders' never prospered as it hoped, and came to an end in 1723, perhaps some member of the organization decided to deposit his investment close by, somewhere in the ground, for safe-keeping or for rapid retrieval if the 'Society' should go 'belly-up' like a piratical ship besieged by fellow entrepreneurs.

Our unknown 18th century author, besides giving 'location' information as to where the above monies were hidden, emphatically instructs his brother, stating: "I order you immediately to burn this Direction," in fear that perhaps 'others' may also be able to follow his directions to the 'buried treasure.' But alas, his advice was evidently ignored, since the document has survived up until the present-day. Did his brother fail to receive the letter? Did he meet some untimely death or misfortune? It's difficult to say at this point in time.

The question which naturally arises is the following: was the 'treasure' retrieved & removed from Society Hill? Did the 'pirate currency' ever see the light of day and bring fortune to the two 'brothers,' as contained in the "chest, 4 and a half foot long-2 foot broad and half foot and the same Depth accordingly..." OR, does it lie in the ground, even today, waiting to be discovered?

I leave it to the curious and to those with an imagination, to uncover the truth! Just click on the image of the document to read the directions & instructions yourself. Perhaps you'll be able to solve the mystery of 1716 and discover the treasure!

Image is from the Society Collection, under 'Society Hill'. ‘Treasure Buried,’ May 14, 1716.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The 'Blackhole' of Genealogical Research as Revealed in 'Buying a Baby'

It is almost inevitable, that everyone doing family history or genealogical research, will eventually hit the well-known brick wall, when no trace or documentation for an ancestor's whereabouts can be found to complete the family tree. This is an acute malady brought about either by the lack of existing records or their destruction.

Some researchers have even jokingly suggested that this is proof for the existence of extra-terrestrials, since some enigmatic ancestor appears to have literally dropped out of the sky from another planet to the Earth, since no terrestrial records seem to record his nor her origin.

However, the following account, as recorded in Frederick Humphreys, The Humphreys Family in America (NY: Humphreys Print; 1883)*, aptly demonstrates why and how ancestors are frequently unable to be found, and without such information, may never be located. One wonders how many times such similar events transpired in American history and elsewhere. Under the heading of Buying a Baby, the following story is related concerning the story of the Hon. Noah Humphrey Osborn:

"When a young man, he engaged for some years, like many of his active and enterprising associates, in the business of selling clocks...In his vocation he called at a house in an obscure neighborhood in lower Pennsylvania or upper Virginia, and asked the woman of the house the customary question, if she would not 'like to purchase a clock?'

'Yes,' she replied, 'I would like right well to have a clock, but I have nothing to pay you with, unless you will take one of my babies. I have got plenty of children, but no clock.'

'Well,' said the dealer, willing to humor the joke, 'I have plenty of clocks, but no children. Which one of yours would you like to exchange for the clock?'

'Well,' said the woman, 'you may have that one,' pointing to a little stubbed, shoeless and hatless boy, some two years old.

'Well, my boy,' said the dealer, 'would you like to go with me and ride on the wagon and help take care of the horse?'

The boy was not at all averse; so, after some further bantering, the clock was put up in its place on the wall, and the dealer then said to the mother, 'I suppose you will let his clothes go with him--it is usual to give the halter when you sell the horse.' 'O, yes,' said the mother, and she got his meagre traps upon him and at the conclusion lifted him up beside the dealer on his wagon, without a word of regret.

The joke had now gone so far that the only way out, was to go through; so, with the little boy beside him, he slowly drove away, turning his eyes from time to time over his shoulder for some signal from the mother, to return with the child. But he looked in vain---no signal came.

He spent his first night in the immediate neighborhood, not doubting that by morning the mother would have relented, and that she would come or send for her boy. But no mother or word came. He washed, fed and dressed the boy, riding with him by day, and sleeping with him at night, frequently in close proximity to the parents' home, but they never came for the child.

After a time, the future Judge took the boy to one of his married sisters, paid his board and schooling, and when the Judge settled in life, he took the boy so strangely obtained and raised him in his family, as one of his own, giving him a fair education...

When the lad had nearly arrived at man's estate, the Judge told him the entire story, and said to him: 'You are free from all cast in your lot among them.' The young man did so, remained some weeks, but returned, saying he preferred to take his name and his chances in life with the kind, worthy and humane man who had been his fast and firm friend from early childhood; and so he has remained, always calling himself and being known by the name of his foster father." (p.1076)

The above account, illustrates the need to interview family members, as soon as possible. Alex Haley, the late author of Roots, who I had the opportunity of meeting and speaking to many years ago, made the apt comment, 'When an old person dies, a library burns to the ground.'

I recall working on my 'ROLPH' family line, some years ago, and contacted a Rolph living in a mid-western city, hoping he may be related and have information I didn't possess. Though he was not a relative, he told an interesting story, stating, that his family name had been changed from 'Mikaravich,' to that of 'Rolph,' and that his grandfather had immigrated from Finland. When I asked, how they came to bear the surname of 'Rolph,' he didn't know. Without that significant information preserved in family lore, some descendant in THAT family would have endlessly looked for an English or German ancestor, but would NEVER find the right person, since the family name and ancestor was in reality Finnish.

Thus the need once again, to begin your family research TODAY! Don't wait until those relatives who are 'in the know' are deceased, and the vital data on the family's past becomes irretrievable.

*The above text is available at HSP. Call No. Fa929.2 H9267h 1883

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Armenian Genocide, Philadelphia & the Knights of Vartan

Next to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, stands a 22 foot high monument, dedicated on April 24, 1976, as a tribute to the spirit and sacrifice of the Armenian people, designed to remind Philadelphians of the 'Day of Infamy,' or April 24, 1915, which is associated with the genocide and massacres carried out against the Armenians by Turkey, which occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In 1915 alone, some two-thirds of the Armenian population of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, were murdered, well over a million individuals, a people and culture that existed far back into antiquity. Severed heads, mounds of bones and skulls, starvation & rape, forced evacuations, separation of families, destruction of homes & villages, forced conversions to the invader's religion, etc., characteristics often associated with many 'genocides' of the past and present, were all commonplace attributes during this atrocity, which has very recently returned to the forefront for recognition or denial, from Turkey, to the halls of Congress.

Significantly, it was at the 'Bingham House Hotel' in center city Philadelphia, on 1026-1044 Market Street, where on May 27, 1916, members of the 'Armenian-American' community of the city, created the heritage organization, known as the 'Knights of Vartan,' in response to the atrocities being committed by the Turks against the Armenian people and culture at that time.

Though not Armenian, I nevertheless, carry on my key chain, a medallion of 'Vartan the Great,' or Vartan Mamigonian, commemorating this nobleman who served as 'commander-in-chief' of all the Armenian Christian forces, in 451 A.D., against the invading Persian Army, who were attempting to crush the oldest Christian nation in existence, and force them to convert to the Zoroastrian faith. Though he would be killed at the 'Battle of Vartanantz' on June 2nd, his heroism became a symbol and personification of Armenian ethnicity.

Like so many other subjects discussed at this blog, 'The Historical Society of Pennsylvania' has a rich collection of publications, manuscripts and materials, relative to the 'Armenian Genocide' and Armenian culture & history in general, including portions of the personal library, of 'His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian-96th Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem,' who at one time served as the "pastorate of the Holy Trinity Armenian Church in North Philadelphia."

Among other items, the Historical Society has the 'Citizens Permanent Relief Committee Papers', for 1885-1899, which includes primary source material on the 'Armenian massacres in 1896,' as well as the Herbert Welsh Collection, which are papers of the Executive Secretary of the 'Philadelphia Committee for Armenian Relief,' containing correspondence between local & national politicians, civic & ecclesiastical leaders, both in the Philadelphia area and elsewhere, concerning the Armenian massacres, from 1916 to 1924.

The Herbert Welsh Collection also contains correspondence documenting the genocidal atrocities committed against the Armenian people, from 1896 to 1924.

Regrettably, 'genocides' are still in the news even today, and though many are familiar in history with the 'Jewish Holocaust' of WWII, too few are aware of the 'Armenian Genocide' which would eventually bring thousands of Armenians to America, a culture & people, though numerically a minority, have contributed significantly to American society & history in the modern world.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

To the Frozen North: Arctic Exploration & Philadelphia

Later this month, in Philadelphia, the 'International Conference on Arctic Exploration: 1850-1940,' will be held, entitled, 'North by Degree.'

When one thinks of Arctic exploration, visions of adventure, hardship & trajedy vividly come to mind, yet too few realize, that Philadelphia has played a significant role in this fascinating period of history.

As early as June of 1749, through the missionary efforts of the Moravians in Greenland, three young Eskimo Christian converts arrived in Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin, in his publication, the Pennsylvania Gazette, recorded how these individuals were "clad in Seal Skins...their Eyes and Hair black, like our Indians, but their Complexion somewhat lighter." (Pennsylvania Gazette, June 15, 1749)

On March 4, 1753, one of the earliest attempts of Colonial Americans, to search for the elusive 'Northwest Passage' for the riches of the Orient, left Philadelphia, financed by a group of merchants, in the ship Argo, under the command of a Captain Charles Swaine, a venture supported by Benjamin Franklin as well. Capt. Swaine had made previous attempts to find the Northwest Passage, as recorded in a document written by Governor Samuel Ogle of Maryland, in November of 1750, which states:

"Whereas an Act of Parliament hath been made for the Encouragement of his Majesty's Subjects to attempt a North West Passage, with a Bounty assured of Twenty Thousand Pounds for any Person or Persons who shall discover the same, And Whereas Charles Swaine, late clerk of the ship California..." (Samuel Ogle, November 3, 1750, Society Collection at HSP).

Like Arctic & Antarctic explorers of the future, Capt. Swaine would once again attempt another expedition into the frozen North country in 1753, as stated, but was forced to return to Philadelphia because of "heavy ice in Hudson Bay," though he was successful in mapping the coast of Labrador. Undeterred, Swaine journeyed once again into the Arctic, during the spring of 1754, but lost some of his crew to death by conflicts with the Eskimos, and returned to Philadelphia in October, presenting the Library Company with "some tools and Eskimo parkas."

Though Capt. Swaine would venture into the Arctic during the 18th century from Philadelphia, he would by no means be the last individual to leave the Delaware Valley, for the Northern frontier.

The most famous Arctic explorer from the 'City of Brotherly Love,' was Elisha Kent Kane (1820-1857), a veteran of the 'Mexican-American War,' graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, accomplished naval surgeon, and the son of U.S. District Judge, John Kintzing Kane.

'Elisha Kent Kane Portrait,' Gratz Collection, Case 6, Box 6

Almost exactly one hundred years after Capt. Swaine's voyages, Elisha Kent Kane would make two voyages into the Arctic, from 1850 through 1855, not to discover the 'Northwest Passage,' but to locate the lost expedition of the famed British Arctic explorer, Sir John Franklin. One of Kane's Arctic boats, 'The Faith,' is rendered in a watercolor housed here at the Society.

The Faith
, Dr. Elisha Kent Kane's Arctic Boat.' David M. Kennedy Collection, K: III-5.

In a letter dated July 7, 1854, to his brother, Thomas Leiper Kane, Elisha relates the familiar but horrendous trials and tribulations, which plagued Arctic exploration for generations. Kane states:

"My Dogs died of tetanus...during the winter darkness. It extended to the men and scurvy came-and the daylight found us diseased-but we fought...Two men dead from exposure-two living with amputated toes...Two men down-bears eat up our provisions-scurvy...I have 800 miles of newly discovered coast...more than any navigator since Parry...Fresh trials are ahead for the ice is unbroken around me-and I am well aged and worn. Yet the brig and my comrades must get back to tell their story..." (Letter of Elisha Kent Kane, to his brother, Thomas Leiper Kane, July 7, 1854, John Kintzing Kane Papers: 1826-1860, Collection No. #1851, in the 'Kane Family Letters Box.')

Elisha Kent Kane would die in Cuba, in 1857, as the result of the fatigue & hardship experienced during his Arctic explorations, but many of his writings survived and have been published, which are available here at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, another example once again, of the 'Hidden Histories' waiting for researchers at our repository.


For references to primary source material & further reading about Philadelphia and its 'Arctic' connections, the following resources may be examined at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Also remember to consult the 'on-line' card catalog & 'Guide to the Manuscript Collections' of the Society, for both published & unpublished materials, at:

One should also visit the Society to utilize the 'Card Catalogs' to the Mss. collections which are NOT online, as well as the 'Graphics Card Catalog,' for further materials, available in the Reference Room of the Society's Library):

John W. Jordan, "Moravian Immigration to Pennsylvania," PMHB 33 (1909): 228-248. {This contains an account of the three Eskimoe Greenlanders, and their 'Christian' names, that of 'John, Matthew & Judith}

Edwin Swift Balch, "Arctic Explorations Sent From the American Colonies," PMHB 31 (1907): 419-428. See also, 'Journals of the Argo,' in the 'Notes & Queries' section, of PMHB 3 (1879): 236.

Bertha Solis-Cohen, "Philadelphia's Expedition to Labrador," Pennsylvania History 19, no.2 (April, 1952): 148-162.

Gentleman's Magazine XXIV (1754): 46, 542-543, 577.

Leonard W. Labaree, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. IV:July1, 1750, through June 30, 1753 (New Haven: Yale University Press., 1961): 381-383, 446-449; ibid: Vol.5: July 1, 1753, through March 31, 1755, pp's. 12-13, 190-191, 227, 330-331, 438-439.

John Kintzing Kane Papers: 1826-1860. Collection no.1851 at HSP.

William Elder, Biography of Elisha Kent Kane (Philadelphia: Childs & Peterson; Boston: Phillips, Sampson & Co., 1858).

Elisha Kent Kane, Arctic explorations: the second Grinnell expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, 1853, '54,' '55.' (Philadelphia: Childs & Peterson, et al, 1856).

Elisha Kent Kane, Arctic Explorations: the second Grinnell Expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, 1853, 54, 55, ed. by Chauncey Loomis & Constance Martin (Chicago: R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 1996).

For information concerning the 'North by Degree,' International Conference on Arctic Exploration: 1850-1940,' to be held in Philadelphia: May 21-23, 2008, contact:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Character of Gen. Robert E. Lee: An Unknown Event

Numerous works have been published on the life of General Robert E. Lee, particularly concerning his activities as head of the 'Army of Northern Virginia' of the Confederacy, during the period of the American Civil War.

Many Civil War scholars are aware of the admiration and respect which General Lee received, both on and off the battlefield, by friend and foe alike.

A wonderful example of Lee's 'character,' is manifested in the 'Civil War Letters, of Major James Cornell Biddle,' of the 27th Pennsylvania Infantry, housed at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, primary sources which reflect only a small part of an extensive collection of Civil War related materials.

'General Robert E. Lee,' Society Portrait Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania

On October 21, 1863, months after Lee's humiliating defeat by Federal forces at Gettysburg, Major Biddle, of the 'Army of the Potomac,' stationed at Warrington, Virginia, related a recent experience to his wife, Gertrude Meredith Biddle of Philadelphia, concerning his famed opponent, General Robert E. Lee. He remarked:

"Lee followed on a parallel line with us as far as Broad Run and as soon as we got in his front, and advanced against him he retreated, he remained for one night at this place.

"An old lady living here went to see him. She put out her hand, and told him it had never touched a Yankee, and commenced abusing our troops. Lee they say rebuked her, and told her he was sorry to hear her speak in that way, that there were a great many gentlemen in our army, and some of those whom she mentioned were men whom he had a very great esteem for, and were formerly his most cherished friends.

"The officers whom he took prisoners were allowed to remain in a house at this place and upon promising not to attempt to escape, to hire a wagon to take them to Culpepper without any guard." (Original source: 'Civil War Letters of James Cornell Biddle,' Collection No.1881, 1 Box, Folder 18, October 21, 1863.)

What makes the above account unique is that not only do these remarks derive from a Federal opponent of Lee, rather than an officer of the Confederate Army, it is also ONLY recorded in a manuscript of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and found in no other Lee biography. It is truly another example of the speciality and broad scope of manuscript materials available within our collections here in Philadelphia.

For further reference to the HSP's vast collections on the Civil War, see my Guide to Civil War Manuscripts and book, My Brother’s Keeper: Union & Confederate Soldiers’ Acts of Mercy During the Civil War, a work containing material drawn largely from both published & unpublished sources at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Singular Character

The following account reveals once again, the rich and diverse experiences of individuals, as contained within the collections at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

I have always been intrigued by the life of this 'unknown' African whose fascinating biography appears in a number of 18th-century newspapers. He was a remarkable man whose adventuresome life included for a time residence on a Quaker plantation, located somewhere within the Philadelphia area.

'A Singular Character.' (From a late London paper)

"Among the few survivors lately returned from the unsuccessful attempt to make a settlement at Sierra Leone, is an aged black man, whose life has been a continued scene of adventure, hair-breadth escapes, etc.

He was originally brought from Cape-Coast by a Liverpool trader, and sold to the West-Indies, from whence he got on board one of his majesty's ships, and served a number of years. He was so remarkable for his activity, that he jumped into the sea, and with a long knife, dispatched a large shark, that was so formidable in a harbour of the West-Indies, that few of the seamen could bathe without iminent danger, and for which, as it prevented a number of desertions, he got a merciless flogging.

He afterwards belonged to a Jamaica merchantman, where he was the means of saving the lives of the crew, consisting of thirty persons, as, through being becalmed near a month at sea, the stock of provisions was expended; the ship abounding with rats, he was the only person on board who took the hazardous method of catching them, by anointing his hands with oil; he then lay on his back with his eyes shut, and his arms extended in the hold, where, impelled by hunger, these vermin would lick his hands, when he was sure by a method peculiar to himself to grapple with them. There the exigency of the situation compelled the crew to eat till they got a better wind.

He has been several times shipwrecked, and once escaped when all the crew, except the captain and himself, perished. He succeeded unhurt another time in fixing a flag at the main top, during an engagement in one of his majesty's ships, where 3 other men had been killed in the attempt.

He was afterwards a drummer in a regiment of horse, in Germany, and had his drum shot through in an action, without receiving any personal damage.

He was a slave in Pennsylvania, and afterwards an overseer of them. This servile situation (tho' he had been in England several years a bricklayer's laborer, etc., previous to his late embarkation for Sierra Leone) from the kind of treatment of his owner, a quaker, near Philadelphia, he declares to have been the happiest part of his life.

His means of obtaining a livelihood, at present are as singular as the rest of his adventures, viz, by selling fish that he procures by groping with his hands, procuring worms, paste, etc., for angling, catching moles, and picking up wool in the fields." {From, 'The Pennsylvania Mercury & Universal Advertiser,' December 23, 1788, No.330, p.4, cols. 2-3}

Hopefully a reader will be able to shed more light on his identity, name and final demise.

See also: 'The Providence Rhode Island Gazette & Country Journal,' January 17th, 1789, p.1, col.3; p.2, col.2; 'The Maryland Gazette,' December 25, 1788, p.1, col.3; p.2, col.1).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

An Unsung Heroine of the Pennsylvania Frontier

Since March is Women
’s History Month, it is only appropriate to acquaint the reader with some aspect of women’s history available at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Most often such tributes focus on the more famous individuals of our nation’s past. However, though the account highlighted in this installment is historically obscure or unknown, it is highly representative of an example of hundreds of ‘unsung heroines’ of Pennsylvania and elsewhere, during the French & Indian War from 1753-1764. This case is a tribute to the sacrifice made by frontier mothers in behalf of their children.

On November 19, 1755, Lt. Colonel Conrad Weiser, farmer, judge, Indian agent and officer of the First Battalion of the Pennsylvania Regiment, wrote to Governor Robert Hunter Morris, from Heidleberg, concerning the massacre of a Pennsylvania German family by the name of Kobel, residents of Bethel Township in Berks County.

(Image: Penn Papers: Indian Affairs, Vol.II: 48-49)

A rescue party, “…Found a woman just expired, with a male child on her side, both killed & scalped. The woman lay upon her Face. My Son Frederick turned her about, to see who she might have been, and to his and his Companions surprise, they found a Babe, of about 14 days old under her rapped (sic) up in a little Cushion, his Nose quite flat which was set right by Frederick, and life was yet in it, and recovered again.”*

In a fragment of a letter from Conrad Weiser, found within the Conrad Weiser Papers, dated November 18th, 1755 (Image: ‘Conrad Weiser Papers: Correspondence, Vol.1: p.60), the Colonel relates a similar account as above, stating that “three children lay scalped, yet alive, one died…the other two, like to do well,” then relates once again the discovery of the woman and her child.

In the image to the right (PA Archives, First Series, Vol.2, pp’s. 511-512), Lt. Col. Weiser corresponded once again with Governor Morris, stating in a letter of November 24, 1755, that:

“I cannot forbear to acquaint your Honour of a certain Circumstance of the late unhappy Affair: One….Kobel, with his wife and eight children, the eldest about fourteen Years and the youngest fourteen Days, was flying before the Enemy, he carrying one, and his Wife and a Boy another of the Children, when they were fired upon by two Indians very nigh, but hit only the Man upon his Breast, though not Dangerously. They, the Indians, then came with their Tomhacks (sic) knocked the Woman down, but not dead. They intended to kill the Man, but his Gun…kept them off.

The Woman recovered so farr, and seated herself upon a Stump, with her Babe in her Arms, and gave it Suck; and the Indians driving the Children together, and spoke to them in High Dutch, ‘be still we won’t hurt you’. Then they struck a Hatchit into the Womans Head, and she fell upon her Face with her Babe under her, and the Indian trod on her Neck and tore off the Scalp. The Children then run: four of them were scalped, among which was a Girl of Eleven Years of Age, who related the whole Story: of the scalped, two are alive and like to do well. The rest of the Children ran into the Bushes and the Indians after them, but our People coming near to them, and hallowed and made noise; The Indians Ran, and the Rest of the Children were saved…There was about Seven or Eight of the Enemy.”

Mothers have for centuries, at the expense of their own health, sacrificed themselves for the welfare of their family. As we celebrate the contributions of women in today’s society, and the diverse and varied roles they are engaged in, from business to education, let us not forget the accounts of many women who served in the frequent selfless role as mothers, many who are nameless, but who gave their own lives, so that their posterity might live.

*Archaic spelling, grammar & punctuation has been retained, as found in the original manuscript documents.

Bibliography for picture credits:

‘Penn Papers: Indian Affairs, Vol. 2 (November 19,1755): 48-49

‘Conrad Weiser Papers: Correspondence: Collection # 700, Volume 1: p.60 (‘fragment for November 18, 1755)

Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, Vol. Two (1748-1756): 511-512.

For further reading, see the following:

‘Colonial Record Series: Vol.VI: (1754-1756): 703-705, ‘Pennsylvania Gazette,’ November 20, 1755.

Shirley J. Turner, “Jacob Kobel (1682-1731) of the Palatinate, New York, and Pennsylvania,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol 69, No.3 (September, 1981): 163-170 & by same author and same source, “Henry Kobel of Berks County, Pennsylvania, and the Kobel Massacre,” Vol.69, No.4 (December, 1981): 243-250).

“Killed, Captured or Missing.” ‘Western PA Genealogical Quarterly’ Vol.4, No.1 (August, 1977): 13.

Morton L. Montgomery, ‘History of Berks County, Pennsylvania,’ (Philadelphia: Everts, Peck & Richards, 1886): 122, 134-135

“List of Pennsylvania Settlers Murdered, Scalped and Taken Prisoner By Indians, 1755-1756,” ‘Pennsylvania Magazine of History & Biography’ Vol.XXXII (1908):309-319.