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