Monday, December 14, 2009

'Hanging by a Thread' or 'Between a Rock & a Hard Place!'

There are many sayings still current in modern English, in reference to being in an unwanted position or predicament, such as the following: 'stuck between a rock & a hard place; hanging by a thread; between the Devil and the deep blue sea; or 'the wolf is at the door,' the latter usually mentioned in reference to someone's dire economic conditions.

However, from frontier times to the modern era, there have been individuals who have found themselves in actual 'life-threatening' situations, yet through sheer courage, fortitude, and will-power, have failed to surrender themselves to depression, fear or hopelessness. Their perseverance through trials & tribulations are a testimony to us all, of the strength of the human spirit and the existence of an awe-inspiring 'will-to-survive.'

A recent example of the above is the true story of Aron Ralston, who in April of 2003, was forced to sever his own right arm with a pocket knife, in order to save his life, after being pinned down by a boulder, having little water, for some five days in a canyon in southern Utah. His courageous autobiography is aptly entitled, Between a Rock & a Hard Place, published just a few years ago.

Aron Ralston is by no means the only individual to find himself in such a life-threatening situation. In 1911, Daniel Snyder, revealed his possession of 'true grit,' when "he was caught beneath a fallen tree" in New York. A woodsmen by profession, Snyder's leg was being "crushed by the weight of tons of wood" and was literally hanging "by shreds" while "rapidly bleeding to death." He "crawled to his ax, severed the limb with it, ripped off his shirt, and checked the flow of blood by binding it tightly about the stump," and lay back awaiting the arrival of help which eventually came, requiring surgeons to 'per-fect' his "crude amputation by removing another portion of the crushed limb." (see, "Ax Surgery Saves Life," The Philadelphia Record, March 3rd, 1911, p.1, col.2).

An earlier and fantastic account of self-survival, also occurred in New York state in May of 1817, as recorded in many publications of the day. Mr. Artemus Shattuck (1795-1878), a native of Colchester, Connecticut (but living at the time in the small village of Wrights Corners, in Wyoming County), would endure an ordeal near Middlebury (same county) that few would wish to replicate.

While cutting wood in the forest, Mr. Shattuck's foot became entangled within the crack of a log "that had been partially split open," after a tree fell where he stood. He was consequently "raised several feet from the ground and suspended with his head downwards; and in such a position that he could not touch the ground..." His axe was out of reach and he was thus unable "to extricate himself." As one would assume, he immediately called for aid repeatedly, but no one could hear his repeated pleas for assistance.

Put yourself in Artemus Shattuck's position: He was hanging upside down; his foot "remained clenched in the cleft of the tree," while his voice was now gone from his constant yelling for help. To add 'insult to injury,' his head was aching from being suspended in such a precarious position; while the weather was very cold and he was also far removed "from any human being." What could he do under such circumstances? Death seemed to be the only 'escape route' left to him.

However, Mr. Shattuck came upon an idea, one that might save his life, or be responsible for his demise. He took from his pocket, "an old Barlow knife, and first cut off the leg of his boot and stocking," then tied a piece of fabric around his ankle as tightly as he could, in order to stop "the current of blood." Then, "with his knife, he unjointed his own ankle, and left his foot cut and separated from his leg in the cleft of the tree."

Falling to the ground, he next bound up his 'stump' with a napkin found in his dinner-basket,"made a crutch of a crooked stick," and started for home, for the most part crawling upon his hands and knees through the snow covered forest. Surprisingly, he made it to the house, fainted from loss of blood and exertion, but was found by family members and resuscitated, only to have a surgeon, Dr. John Cotes of Batavia, amputate his limb completely.

Remarkably, Artemus Shattuck survived his ordeal, an experience which truly affected his demeanor and outlook on life in general, and so turned his mind towards the ministry, rather than farming & forestry as had been his former occupation. He soon emigrated to North Carolina where he joined the Baptist Church, where by 1835 he was the minister of the 'Frienship & Mechanic's Hill Church' in Moore County of that Southern state. Later he would migrate to Mississippi, where trajedy would strike once again, with the death of his wife and youngest child, causing him to remove back to North Carolina.

By 1852 Artemus Shattuck would become the pastor of the 'Eight Mile Creek' church in Mobile, Alabama, and later a minister at Villanow, in Walker County, Georgia, where he would die at Lafayette, on August 23, 1878.

An interesting side-note to this story, concerns the reports of his dismembered 'foot,' and his repeated feeling of a 'ghost-limb,' something now documented within the medical field in regard to amputee victims. A story contained in the 'Presbyterian,' a Philadelphia publication of 1850-51,' carried an article entitled, "A Curious Fact," wherein witnesses claimed Shattuck asked for his foot to be retrieved. after which he was said to have felt the "coldness of the foot, and ...heat of the water" in which it was placed.

As has been stated repeatedly within this blog, there are numerous subjects, topics, human interest stories, etc., of every kind, certainly enough to 'whet the appetite' of both scholar & lay person, to be found in the vast & diverse collections, of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

(For a few sources on Artemus Shattuck & his experience, see: J. H. French, Gazetteer of the State of New York, 7th Edition (1860): 714; Lemuel Shattuck, Memorials of The Descendants of William Shattuck (Boston: Dutton & Wentworth., 1855): 286-288; Andrew W. Young, History of the Town of Warsaw, New York (Buffalo, NY: Sage, Sons & Co., 1869): 53-55)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

With a Stake in the Heart: Suicides or 'Self-Murder' and a Peculiar Custom

During the Civil War in September of 1863, one Margaret Tinney, age 23, a native of New Jersey residing on Trout Street in Philadelphia, committed suicide by taking a large "horse pistol," which she promptly placed within her mouth, then "pulled the trigger," after which the "upper part of her head was almost entirely blown off." A few days later she would be buried in Lafayette Cemetery, with her 'official' cause of death being listed as: "suicide by shooting."

Why Ms. Tinney did what she did is unknown. Perhaps she had a lover who'd been killed in a battle prior to that time, and thus felt alone without him, or she could simply have suffered from emotional distress, depression or some hormonal imbalance. The science of medicine or knowledge of disorders was not as advanced as it is today, but the fate of her body after death, would have been carried out much differently, if she had died previous to the American Civil War.

As late as November 29, 1908, the Philadelphia Public Ledger carried an account entitled, "Two Girls Who Tried to Die Are Repentant," individuals who were "arraigned" before a magistrate or judge, and "charged with attempting suicide," or 'self-murder.' The act of suicide for many centuries, was considered a felony or capital crime in many parts of the world.

The famed English writer, Charles Dickens, in his work, The Old Curiosity Shop, first published in 1841, has a character named Quilp, whose body was found washed ashore, after which an inquest was held on the spot, where it was determined that the man had committed suicide. However, the verdict did not end here. As we're told in Dickens literary tale, Quilp "was left to be buried with a stake through his heart in the centre of four lonely roads."

Lest we think such actions are limited only to the British Isles, fiction or literature, it is recorded in the records of Westmoreland County, Virginia, how on August 25th, 1661, "a man servant of Mr. William Frekes who was Drowned in the Creek neare to his master's plantacon {plantation}...hath wilfully cast himself away..." Thus according to local custom, he was "to be buried at the next cross path as the Law Requires with a stake driven through the middle of him in his grave, hee having wilfully Cast himself away."

The above was not an isolated case, since one Thomas Moverly, "a well known and highly esteemed citizen of the County of Westmoreland," had also committed felo de se, or suicide, considered a 'felony' at that time in 1726. Moverly's corpse was "buried in the fork of a lonely cross-roads," in Westmoreland, with a sign posted stating, "Thou has cast thyself away, wilfully." Such a posting was made as a 'warning' to others who would attempt such rash actions.

It was common practice for many centuries, that those who committed suicide, could not be interred in 'holy ground,' within a church cemetery or graveyard, a similar restriction being also reserved for such malefactors as murderers and thieves. Thus, in 1660 in Massachusetts, the Colonial legislature considered suicide to be 'wicked & unnatural' and thus enacted a law that every suicide victim "shall be denied the privilege of being buried in the common burying place of Christians, but shall be buried in some common highway...and a cartload of stones laid upon the grave, as a brand of infamy, and as a warning to others to beware of the like damnable practices."

As the result of an Act of King George IV, for July 8, 1823, at least in England, such practices as those mentioned above, were finally "put an end to," and considered to be a "barbarous mode of interring suicides," though another would transpire as late as 1825. Prior to that time, an individual committing suicide also prevented his spouse or family from inheriting any properties left by the deceased, but all was automatically "forfeited to the King."

It is interesting as well, when 'Duels' were such a prevalent custom in the United States, particularly during the 18th & 19th centuries, in such places as Massachusetts, that in order to dissuade individuals from engaging in such practices, those who were killed in a conflict were denied, "the right to be buried in a coffin," plus their bodies were "interred near the place of execution, or in the public highway, with a stake driven through them."

Just recently, the well-presevered skeleton of a middle-aged man, uncovered in a Turkish cemetery, at Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos, was disinterred and found to have been "nailed to his coffin with eight-inch iron spikes," through his neck, pelvis, and ankle.

Many societies feared that the 'soul' or 'spirit' of the deceased, would rise up and haunt the living, thus the reason for placing stones upon the corpse, or the custom of impalement and internment at a 'crossroads,' in order to prevent the spirit from leaving the grave. A 'crossroad' was also in the 'shape of a cross,' thus the inherent 'power' of the holy icon or symbol would hopefully prevent the ghost of the deceased from leaving his or her grave, in order to harass those left behind. A 'crossroad' would also purportedly 'confuse' the restless spirit as to which direction it should go, in order to inact its spiteful revenge.

Such laws, beliefs, customs, or superstitions as those mentioned above, and other peculiar accounts from historical records, may be found in abundance here, at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Supernatural or Insanity? Dark Voices & Visitations from an Unseen World?

In June of 2004, in Monmouth County, New Jersey, a man decapitated & 'dismembered' his grandmother and girl friend, purportedly "acting on orders from God," though he referred to the home where the heinous acts transpired, as "the gateway to Hell," while a mother of five in 2001, drowned her five children in a bathtub in Texas, stating later that "Satan was talking to her. ..She had seen images of Satan in the walls, in the cinder blocks of her cell."

Such horrific accounts as the above, be they truthful or fictional in origin, have been the subject for numerous monographs, cinematic movies & documentaries, or prime-time episodes of crime & forensic T.V., dramas for many years, but especially during the period of 'Halloween,' or 'All Hallow's Eve' in October. However, they are in reality, nothing new.

In July of 1823, Mr. William Hood, a man of forty-five years of age and father of ten, forced three of his children to assist him in erecting a pen of fodder and rails, of which he then forced one son, "being threatened with death," to go to their home and obtain "a chunk of fire." Sitting himself down within the structure, Hood then had himself set on fire while he sang, "Drink about boys and drown away sorrow," as the flames were about to consume him. A neighbor atttempted to extricate the man from his self-imposed death-trap, but upon seizing Hood, "he found him so much burnt that the skin left the flesh...the enfuriated maniac in a rage, seized a club, and swore by his maker he would kill him for interfering."

The good-intentioned neighbor twice attempted to drag Mr. Hood from the flames, even though by the second time, the man's "nose & one of his ears were burnt off, the wind-pipe exposed..." He was taken to his home and medical aid was sent for, but he emphatically declared to his pregnant wife, that " his Master had come for him the day before, but he was not ready for him--that he would be for him again that night, but he was not yet prepared, but that next day, at 11 0'clock, when he came again, he should be ready and would go."

Mr. William Hood stated that, "his object was to have burnt up soul & body, so as to deprive the devil of his expectation." To his last breath he bitterly denounced those who had attempted to keep him from his goal, and is described as having been a man "of singular manners and intemperate habits."(Daily National Intelligencer, Washington, DC, July 26, 1823)

Thomas Goss of Barkhampstead in Connecticut, in February of 1785, "murdered his wife in a most shocking manner, as she lay in bed with three children. He perpetrated his crime with an axe, which he plunged into her forehead even to her brains...He confessed the atrocious deed, and said he expected to be commended for it, as he had, for some time, thought his wife was possessed with a familiar spirit." Goss was described as being "regular and rational," and "even to religious duties," but was executed in November of 1785 for the murder of his wife. (The Providence Rhode Island Gazette & Country Journal, March 5, 1785)

In that same year of 1785, Mrs. M'Comb, of Princeton, New Jersey, described as the "wife of a gentleman of that place," locked herself in her chamber, refused to open the door, which was broke open, only to find that she had "cut off both her ears, and scarished her throat in attempting to cut that." When asked the reason for such a "rash act," she replied, "that an Angel appeared to her, and threatened her with the horrors of perdition, unless she performed the aforesaid operation." (The Pennsylvania Gazette, November 23, 1785).

The Reverend Josiah or Joshua Upson, a Universalist minister of Ohio in 1856, had repeatedly starved himself for many days, into becoming "an almost human skeleton," under the orders of "the Spirit," which promised him that through such "discipline,' he would become "a more extraordinary 'medium' than has hitherto been known."

According to Upson, he believed "that hundreds of disembodied spirits were constantly talking with him, prescribing what he should eat, what he should say...and punishing him severely when he refused to act in accordance with their directions." These same 'spirits,' informed the clergyman that through "his mission," he would thus become "a wonderful specimen of a spiritually developed man." (Lebanon (PA) Courier, September 19, 1856).

The above are only a VERY FEW accounts which exist, in published and manuscript collections here at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, testifying to the fact such macabre & terrifying acts of cruelty to others or to one's self (and often attributed to 'voices' or 'visitations' of some sinister force), are not events peculiar only to the present, because of drug abuse, and/or mental disorders, but are a phenomenon that has plagued society and mankind for many years.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Quaker Traveler Ann Mifflin & her 'Cave of Skeletons' in 1802

During the Colonial period and well within the 19th-century, as the early American pioneers plowed their land, cleared trees from property containing vast virgin forests, dug wells and explored the frontier, numerous ancient works of the former inhabitants of North America were continually brought to light in the form of burial mounds, fortifications, skeletons and mysterious artifacts.

Predominately, modern archaeology often tends to dismiss many of these discoveries as the products of an 'over-active imagination,' the result of illiterate farmers attempting to interpret remains by means of a limited education, or simply dismiss such findings and/or writings as examples of fraud, forgery, prevarication, gullibility and the material culture they discuss as being exclusively of post-European origin.

However, enough bona-fide archaeological excavations have since revealed that within this vast area from ca. 1000BC to AD 500, sophisticated cultures of the 'Mound Builders' once existed. These societies are primarily referred to in today's scientific literature as that of the 'Adena' & 'Hopewell' Cultures, whose physical remains and artifacts exist from eastern Kansas to the Great Lakes region within the Illinois & Ohio River Valleys and on into Western Pennsylvania, New York, parts of Ontario, Canada, and as even as far south as Crystal River, Florida.

Numerous written accounts exist, both published & in manuscript form, of many such remains as mentioned above, which tend to either support or contradict current scientific interpretation as to the size of North America's prehistoric population, their anatomy, physiology & ethnicity, as well as to the level of technology & industry they attained.

A bold and adventerous spirit existed in the physical frame of Philadelphia area Quaker Ann Mifflin (1755-1815), who along with a small party in 1802, desired to visit the Native-American Christian congregation of the Oneida, residing in New York, near Lake Cayuga. Central & Western New York at that time were still a 'frontier' in every sense of the word & Anne remarks how "when passing thro' the wilderness...we lay encamped on the grass, our midnight serenade being the howling of wolves and the screeching of owls..."

Not long before, both the Quakers & the Presbyterians had achieved significant success in establishing Christian-Indian communities, such as that at "Brothertown, within the Oneida reservation," described by Mifflin as "a settlement formed of the scattered fragments of seven different nations..."

Ann Mifflin, as well as being a fervent member of the 'Society of Friends,' was no doubt a curious individual also, since she found it important to relate an interesting acccount (evidently the earliest on record), of an intriguing archaeological discovery in early Western New York. Her personal narrative is located here, at 'The Historical Society of Pennsylvania,' written down within her own hand, and dated for 1803, included as part of the Logan-Fisher-Fox Family Papers, Collection #1960, Vol.11, and entitled, "Ann Mifflin's Visit to the Indians, 1802."

She relates:

"Not many miles distant are the ruins of an ancient fortification, near four miles square, with a strong wall on part of it: within it...trees grown therein, four feet in diameter, which shows its ancient date---

The Indians have adopted their present custom of burying with the dead the most valuable articles they possess...This practice seems to have been adopted before they had wholly lost the use of letters, from what appeared in a cave or sepulchre in this neighbourhood, discovered by a hunter in 1801; who observing an arch, on the top of which grew a tree above two feet in diameter, showing its antiquity; he procured hands and opened it at the side, from whence an intolerable stench for a time issued.

They discovered the skeletons of 8 persons, placed in a sitting posture, with their feet meeting each other. Their hands had fallen between their knees, & the arm bones remaining in the shoulder sockets & elbows resting on the ground, kept the back bones erect, leaning against the sides of the cave: from the size of the bones, there was four men on one side, and four women on the other, with bracelets on their arms, & other trinkets.

There were scissors of a curious workmanship...preserved from the damp & rust... and inscriptions on stones they could not understand. The bones crumbled to dust on the entrance of the air, and from the weight of the Tree on the top & side walls being taken away it soon caved in."

Ann Mifflin goes on to suggest how she had "expressed a wish these inscriptions could be procured for the Philadelphia Museum, as subjects of investigation," referring to the repository of natural curiosities and artifactual remains, on display within the building of antiquarian collector, Charles Willson Peale of Philadelphia. She also had spoken to "the friend who informed me of these matters," who had professed a desire to return to the ancient site and carry out further excavations, "digging to see what further could be procured."

Further research by the author has uncovered that Ann Mifflin's account was later confirmed, in works printed in the latter part of the 19th-century, by New York historian Theseus Apoleon Cheney, who gave other details about the above discovery of 1801, locating the tumuli in what is now, Connewango, Cattaraugus County, in south-western New York.

He states for example, that, "At the time of its discovery, the site was surrounded by primitive forest, and upon the tumulus there were growing several large trees, among them being a hemlock two feet in diameter...," and within the mound, "human skeletons, which had been buried in a sitting the form of a circle...skeletons {were} so far decayed as to crumble upon exposure to the atmosphere, but were all of very large size."

Cheney also relates how in the center of the circle formed by the eight "mouldering skeletons," stood a pestle artistically wrought from granite. This relic was placed in a perpendicular position and encircled with twenty-four flint arrows of large dimensions." He goes on to remark how at the time of his writing (in 1879), "this mound is now nearly obliterated, and the ground upon whereon it once stood is cultivated by the white man. The fields in either direction disclose large quantities of relics designed for warlike purposes which had been discharged, no doubt, during some terrible battle."

It should also be noted, that a large number of artifacts do exist, within the region described, of European origin. Yet underneath these remains are pre-Columbian artifacts resembling Colonial technology of iron & steel, but not 'intrusive' objects planted or dating to that period. Instead, these were found 'in situ,' and date to a time prior to the arrival of Europeans, though such a technology is considered to be beyond the capability of the ancient Americans.

Numerous anomalous artifacts such as alphabetic inscriptions, iron & steel objects, have regrettably been labeled by 'type,' rather than by association with the other pre-Columbian remains found within such ancient enclosures or burial mounds. This does a disservice to archaeology and to the inhabitants of ancient America who can no longer defend themselves, as to the higher technological achievements they attained, as revealed by their remains, scattered throughout North America and the New World as a whole.

Though the forests have been cleared and plows, construction sites, buildings or roads now dot the land where an ancient people once resided, fought, and died by the thousands -- luckily, there were individuals such as Ann Mifflin, who have left us vivid reminders of a unique & intriquing aspect of America's forgotten, yet rediscovered 'Hidden Histories,' as preserved at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Serpents in the Stomach: A 19th-Century Medical Nightmare or Figment of the Imagination?

In an 1818 publication, by famed Philadelphia physician & Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Benjamin Rush, entitled, Medical Inquiries & Observations, Upon the Diseases of the Mind, he included the account of a patient, who "believes he has a living animal in his body. A sea captain, formerly of this city, believed for many years that he had a wolf in his liver. Many persons have fancied they were gradually dying, from animals of other kinds preying upon different parts of their bodies," (p.80).

Such comments as those above, especially the latter sentence, aptly reminds one of such famed scenes as portrayed in 'Sci-fi' movies such as Aliens, of something derived solely from one's imagination, or products of a mental malady reserved exclusively for the insane. However, numerous accounts of such a phenomemon were extremely wide-spread, throughout 19th-century Pennsylvania, and across the nation.

Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), a native of Maryland, accomplished artist and a collector of natural curiosities, founded the famed 'Philadelphia Museum,' later referred to simply as the 'Peale Museum,' a repository of diverse biological objects as well as archaeological artifacts from throughout the nation & the world.

As part of the manuscript collections at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, one may find Peale's accession book or 'Memoranda of the Philadelphia Museum.' Contained within its handwritten notations, is an account, dated for March 6, 1806, a portion of which is reproduced in the image below.

As related by her attending physician to Peale, a female resident of Somerset County, Maryland, had suffered for years from "chills, a sick stomach with vomiting, high fevers...with considerable pain in her stomach..." It appears that 'Mrs. P.R.,' had often vomited up, "a number of round worms..." as well as a "number of Black likeness to what is called a black bess, but smaller, for eighteen months back."

The good doctor & an associate, gave the ailing lady "an emitic, afterwards a mercurial purge...with elixir of vitriol," which caused her to eject from her stomach, "one of the bugs...which upon examination was found to have wings...which, as soon as they could get their wings dry, would fly away.

I have sent you {referring to Peale} several for your inspection."

The Maryland physician queries Peale as to the possibility that the little denizens of the lady's stomach had "naturally formed in the stomach; or are they first taken in with the water and then generated in the stomach?" Perhaps Peale replied, but his entry in the Memoranda, dated for March 14, 1806, states: "The above insects are in the museum..."

This incident is neither unique nor an 'isolated case,' since the nation's newspapers literally were filled with such accounts by the hundreds for many years. Usually such reports concerned not insects as the contents of the gullet, but reptiles and other creatures, including everything from snakes, to lizards, toads, frogs and even crabs!

Philadelphia physician, Dr. Samuel Atkinson, in 1838, would not only publish an account, but also give an affidavit to the veracity of his investigation of a man named Thomas Ruth, a shoemaker, who for some five years had "complained of an oppression of the stomach and breast, and at times a violent cough," who had seen multiple doctors in an attempt to obtain relief, but with negative results. As Dr. Atkinson remarked: "He strenuously persisted in the belief that there was something alive in his stomach."

Dr. Atkinson gave the ailing patient "emetics," which caused the man to vomit and thus discharge "an animal about two inches long, about as large as the finger of a man; its head, eyes, etc., were like a dog, and the body like a large snail, of an ash color, and without legs. The animal was alive."

Representatives of the Public Ledger newspaper, remarked of the above, "Whether this is a wonderful story or not, we know that part of it is true, for the dog headed phenomenon was actually exhibited at this office. So we vouch for the existence of the entity, and leave Messrs. Atkinson and Ruth to vouch for its birth." The editors go on to state their belief that the creature was "probably a tadpole" or a "pollywog, which means a young frog." (see the Public Ledger, October 1, 1838).

The Lewistown (PA) Gazette, of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, quoting the Reading Times, published an account on December 5th, 1877, of a 'Mrs. Mitchell,' a resident of Gibralter below Reading, "who recently vomited a lizard from her stomach in Markley's drug store, this city, emitted two more on Friday afternoon last, making nine which have been ejected from her stomach during the past few years."

Mrs. Mitchell, having been given a "purgative medicine," purportedly "vomited up 2 lizards, some four inches in length. One is black and the other has a reddish stripe the whole length of its back. The lizards were brought to Reading on Saturday and given to druggist Markley, who placed them in a jar of water in which the reptiles were wriggling lively on Saturday evening."

Once again, numerous Pennsylvania and national newspapers of the 19th-century, relate many diverse but similar accounts such as those given above. Certainly individuals have swallowed many things through the centuries, as witnessed by the drawer-filled items at the famed 'Mutter Museum' in Philadelphia, everything from pins to jewelry. Nineteenth-century Pennsylvania papers like present-day accounts, speak frequently of foreign objects being found in patients during surgery or surgical tools having accidently been sewn into bodies, being found years later by x-rays.

Humans have served as 'hosts' for many parasitic infestations for centuries, as witnessed in the tropics or 'Third-World' countries, creatures which often burrow or lay their eggs in festering wounds, only to be found later by empirical evidence or acute observation, as well as through surgery and x-rays. Wasps and other insects as well, continue to act as predators, 'laying their eggs' in the head & thorax of various ant species, which soon hatch & mature, by literally feeding off the nutrients contained within the body of the host, eventually leaving its prey nothing more than an 'empty shell.'

Once again, as mentioned frequently in this 'blog,' The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, has numerous newspapers and also manuscript sources such as the one cited above, which reveal strange 'phenomena' as well as basic historical data and information.

There is something at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania to satiate everyone's interest, from the benign & often 'worn-out' traditional renditions of past events, to the unique, unexplained and even the bizarre!

(For further reading see: Daniel R. Barnes, "The Bosom Serpent: A Legend in American Literature & Culture," Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 85 {1972}: 111-122).

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pennsylvania and the Civil War: Southern Sympathies

In reality, the 'stereotypical' American Civil War, never existed. Not everyone 'North of the Mason-Dixon Line' were lovers of freedom & equality for African-Americans, neither were all Southernors ardent slave-holding secessionists. Perhaps that is one reason why the Civil War continues to generate such a fascination to both scholars and the lay public, since there were so many 'exceptions to the rule.' Certainly, the state of Pennsylvania was not exempt from this phenomenon.

Pennsylvania's divergent role in the Civil War, runs the full gambit of 'pro-Confederate personalities,' from Franklin Weirick, 'copperhead' editor of the Selinsgrove Times in Snyder County, who wrote anti-Lincoln editorials and poems throughout the conflict, to famed Rebel soldier, Wesley Culp, who died on his family farm during the 'Battle of Gettysburg' in Adams County. Many Pennsylvanian's were 'divided' across familial and ideological lines, though it was not a 'border state,' as were Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland, yet a number of its 'southern tier' counties, bordering near Maryland, such as Chester, Snyder and Union, were 'hotbeds' of pro-Southern sentiment.

Pierce Butler, a member of Philadelphia's famed 'City Troop,' had resigned in 1860, and by August of 1861 had been arrested and placed in Fort Hamilton in New York "on a charge of treason," for an attempt or at least suspicion, of supplying the Confederacy with armaments. Butler incidentally had actually owned, but sold in 1859, part of an estate on Butler Island in Georgia, containing hundreds of slaves.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Hall, erected in 1837 as a meeting house by Philadelphia abolitionists, was destroyed by fire through the arsonist actions of an 'anti-abolitionist' mob on May 17th, 1838, only three days after the buildings dedication.

Dislike for African-Americans was not a prejudice reserved only for Southernors (a stereotype regrettably still portrayed in today's cinema and media), as revealed by the famed 'Street car controversy' in Philadelphia, of both the ante-bellum and post-Civil War eras, wherein "Colored People" were forbidden to ride on Philadelphia street cars with 'Whites.' This controversy was aptly revealed by an editorial printed in the Philadelphia Sunday Dispatch, for as early as October 1st, 1848, entitled, 'Black and White,' declaring that,

"there is no State where the distinction of color is maintained more determinedly and assidiously than in Pennsylvania.--The whites will not in any way even assemble with the negroes...In the south--in the very hotbeds of slavery, South Carolina & Mississippi--negroes travel in the same cars and carriages with whites, and are well treated. Here, {italics added} such a thing would not be attempted by a 'gentleman of color,' or if he did essay it, he would be unceremoniously thrust out by the colorless inmates."

Neither was the politically charged idea of 'secession,' exclusively restricted or peculiar only to the 'South' or to 'Southerners' alone.

Francis Wade Hughes, of Pottsville in Schuylkill County, who served as the Chairman for the central Democratic committee of Pennsylvania, and a delegate to the 'Democratic State Convention' at Harrisburg in 1861, stated that,

"I intend offering a resolution before that Convention, that Pennsylvania secede from the Union, and join herself with the South, and leave Rhode Island and Connecticut and Massachusetts, and them d---d little petty States, to Subsist on their codfish and Plymouth Rock." (Forney's War Press, Philadelphia, PA, October 4th, 1862).

Many individuals from multi-generationally descended Pennsylvania families, nevertheless 'fought for the Confederacy' once the Civil War began. For example, John Clifford Pemberton, a Mexican-American War hero and native Philadelphian of Quaker ancestry, would resign his Federal commission, only to enlist his services and allegiance to the Confederacy, rising to the rank of Brevet Brigadier-General.

Josiah Gorgas, a native of Dauphin County, by April of 1861, had become a Major in the Confederate Army, being assigned as the 'Chief of Ordinance,' with the responsibility of supplying the Rebel Army with its needed military munitions and arms, in order to carry out its conflict with his native North. Both Pemberton & Gorgas had married Southern or Virginia women, but such marital affiliations served only as partial reasons for their alliance with the Confederacy.

During the Civil War, Lieut. Hugh H. McClune, of Co. 'C,' 135th Penn. Vols., of Lancaster County, would be tried by a court-martial, and was "cashiered" and "deprived from ever holding any office or post of honor or trust under the United States," partly because of his "uttering disloyal sentiments," while U.S. Surgeon, Levi Oberholtzer, of the 147th PA Infantry Regiment, was "dismissed with disgrace from the military service of the United States...for disloyalty to the Government."

Oberholtzer was a resident of Phoenixville, in Chester County, an area of the state which was renown for pro-Confederate sympathizers and for men who had enlisted in the Confederate Army (see, Germantown (Philadelphia) PA Telegraph, December 24, 1862; March 25, 1863; see also, Douglas R. Harper's work, IF Thee Must Fight: A Civil War History of Chester County, Pennsylvania, West Chester, PA: Chester County Historical Society, 1990, specifically Chp.43, 'Copperheads of Chester County,' pp's.209-213)

Diaries and letter collections available at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, written by Pennsylvania Federal or Union soldiers during the Civil War, acutely reveal the very diverse feelings which existed towards African-Americans, slavery and secession within the 'Keystone State,' as well as the wide-spread ideology of the 'copperheads,' or pro-Southern sentiments felt by many inhabitants living within the Commonwealth.

Such material as the above is only a very small 'sampling' of the rich resources available to researchers, which reveal the diverse and varied role Pennsylvanians played, during our tumultuous Civil War.

(A suggested source: Christine B. Keller, 'Keystone Confederates: Pennsylvanians Who Fought For Dixie,' in, Making & Remaking Pennsylvania's Civil War, edited by William Blair & William Pencak, University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press., 2001: pp's. 1-22, 262-266).

Monday, June 29, 2009

A UFO in 19th-Century Lancaster County, Pennsylvania?

The subject of UFO's are of course nothing new, but continue to create controversy, debate and investigation, within the scientific community and public-at-large, as to their existence or fallacy. Yet most studies of 'Unidentified Flying Objects' are predominately concerned with sightings from the modern-era, particularly that of the 20th and now 21st centuries.

The same is true of Pennsylvania. Temple University's tenured Professor David M. Jacobs, in such works as The Threat: The Secret Agenda: What the Aliens Really Want..And How They Plan to Get It, has investigated the 'abductee phenomena,' while the mysterious falling object that swept over the southwestern sky of Pennsylvania in 1965, purportedly crashing in the woods near Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, south of Pittsburgh, also continues to elicit much discussion.

However, various newspapers within Pennsylvania, reported how on Saturday, August 14th, 1869, the following mysterious sighting or encounter, transpired in broad daylight near Adamstown, located in East Cocalico Township, Lancaster County:

"About two hundred yards north of the village is an open lot, and at 12 0'clock, while the villagers were taking dinner, a luminous body was seen to settle near the centre {sic} of this lot. It is represented by four or five different parties, who witnessed it from several points, to have assumed a square shape and shooting up into a column about three or four feet in height and about two feet in thickness.

The sun was shining brightly at the time, and under its rays, the object glittered like a column of burnished silver. The presence, after reaching its full effulgence, gradually faded away, and in ten minutes time it had entirely disappeared.

Those who saw it were unable to tell what it was. It seemed to inspire terror rather than admiration. After it had disappeared a number of persons visited the spot, but not a trace of anything unusual could be found. Similar objects have been seen in the neighborhood on several occasions during the night time, but none before in the day time, or so bright as this.

The land in the immediate vicinity is dry, there being no swamp about, otherwise the phenomenon might be accounted for. We do not know whether the Jack o' Lantern assumes such large proportions or whether it appears in midday under a bright sun. Perhaps some of our friends versed in the sciences can solve the mystery." -Lancaster Express.

It is interesting in this description, that even during the 19th century, as today, individuals were not 'gullible,' as many would believe, but sought first for a 'scientific' explanation, and were quite familiar with swamp gases to that of the 'will-of-the-wisp' or Jack o' Lanterns,' a wide-spread phenomenon of mysterious 'balls of light' seen throughout the world today.

Albert Einstein once remarked, how, 'Imagination is the true source of all science.' Thus, it is always best to keep an 'open-mind,' when it comes to the unknown, since far too often, what was once considered 'science-fiction,' has repeatedly become 'scientific fact.'

The above account is only ONE of MANY diverse records, available within the collections of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, topics which are as pertinent today as they were in the past.

History often does indeed 'repeat itself,' not only as to the existence of unexplained phenomena, but in mankind's continual search to understand and solve such mysteries. 'Curiosity' may often 'kill the cat,' but such sacrifices into the unknown has resultingly given us most of our modern inventions and conveniences.

*Bold & italicized words in the above newspaper article are not emphasized as such in the original, but have been highlighted by this blog's author.

Original sources:

'Singular Phenomenon.'--The Oxford Press (Oxford, Chester Co. PA, August 18, 1869, p.3, col.2; The Lebanon (PA) Courier, August 19, 1869, p.2, col.4.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The 'Barbary Wars' and Their Philadelphia Connections

Twenty-first century news reports, are almost daily filled with accounts of piracy, occurring within the Gulf of Aden & Indian Ocean, off the Horn of Africa, by Somalian corsairs. Such acts of piracy or terror are nothing new within the world of Islamic jihad or 'holy war,' which has been carried on for centuries against the Western world, even to the present-day.

Either as the result of Ottoman Turkish invasions in Eastern Europe, to fleets of Barbary corsairs from North Africa journeying northwards into the Atlantic, attacks and enslavement were a frequent fear of communities, as well as ship's crews and would-be colonists to the New World. Between 1609 & 1616 alone, some 466 British vessels and their passengers were captured on the high seas and enslaved in the North African 'Barbary States' of Morocco, Tripoli (today's Libya), Algiers & Tunisia, creating a demand for what one recent author has referred to as 'White Gold,' or European slaves.

Not until the Presidencies of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams & James Madison, would the threat to American ships and shipping finally be dealt with and resolved, during the 'Barbary Wars' of the early 19th-century. However, prior to these events, literally thousands of individuals would rot, starve, die or experience years of servitude in North Africa, such as the crew of the Philadelphia ship, Dauphin, taken captive west of Lisbon, on the 30th of July, 1785.

The master of the Dauphin, Richard O'Brien (1758-1824), would be in bondage to the Muslims for some ten years, after which he would return as Consul-General to Algiers. An outbreak of the bubonic plague alone, would bring about the demise of 200 Christian slaves, from January to May of 1787, including crew members of the Dauphin. O'Brien's correspondence and journal, available here at the Society, written while a captive in North Africa, is both informative & essential, in understanding those trying times in American history. He would eventually return to Philadelphia, serve in the state legislature and die in Pennsylvania in 1824.

While a prisoner in Algiers, O'Brien would write the following entry in his journal, for February 19, 1790:

"Picture to yourself your Brother Citizens or Unfortunate Countrymen inthe Algerian State Prisons or Damned Castile, and starved 2/3rd's and Naked. ..The Chains of their Legs, and under the Lash...Beat in such a Manner as to Shock Humanity...No Prospects of ever being Redeemed or Restored to their Native Land & Never to See their Wives & Families...Viewing and Considering of their approaching Exit, where 6 of their Dear Country-man is buried with thousands of other Christian Slaves of all nations...Once a Citizen of the United States of America, but at present the Most Miserable Slave in Algiers."

O'Brien's, Remarks & Observations in Algiers: 1799

Just a few days prior to the seizure of the Dauphin, the Boston ship, the Maria, was also taken by Algierian pirates off the Cape of St. Vincent on July 25, 1785. On board this vessel was James Leander Cathcart (1767-1843), who would be enslaved in Algiers for eleven years, but would eventually become a clerk for the Dey, an important Islamic official, by which he was enabled to serve as a mediator along with Colonel David Humphreys, America's Minister to Portugal, thus creating the Treaty of Algiers in 1796, which would temporarily halt hostilities between the United States and that Muslim nation.

After being freed, James L. Cathcart would come to Philadelphia in 1796, along with twelve survivors of the crew of the Maria. He would marry Philadelphia resident, Jane B. Woodside in 1798, while their daughter, J. B. Newkirk, would write an account of her father's captivity entitled, The Captives, Eleven Years a Prisoner in Algiers.

On June 5, 1798, the Philadelphia brig Mary, with its cargoe and crew were captured by Algierian pirates, causing Richard O'Brien to write from Algiers and "forewarn all citizens of the United States of the danger they run in risqueing {sic} their liberty, vessels, and property..." (The Philadelphia True American & Commercial Advertiser, January 18, 1799).

Present-day Bainbridge Street in Philadelphia, is named after Commodore William Bainbridge (1774-1833), who ran aground the brig, Philadelphia, off Tripoli in 1803, after which he and his crew were held captive for 19 months. Long after his captivity he would die in Philadelphia of pneumonia, and was buried in Christ Church within the city limits.

Eventually the famed naval hero and officer, Stephen Decatur (1779-1820), would also be intregally involved in the Tripolitian War with the Barbary Pirates and is buried in St. Peter's churchyard in Philadelphia.

The No. African states of Tripoli, Algiers, Morocco, and Tunisia would cease their hostilities with the United States temporarily, with the assault on the Tripolitian city of Derna, taken by U.S. marines in 1805, since appeasement, ransom, tribute, and diplomacy had failed to stop the conflict.

Not till 1815, during the Presidency of James Madison, would the 'Barbary Pirates' and their 'acts of terror' against Americans finally come to end. But this did not transpire until some estimated one million Europeans & citizens of the United States, would endure abuse, incarceration, enslavement and even death, within North Africa, a systematic jihad that had been raging for over 200 years.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has a very large collection of both primary & secondary correspondence, publications, as well as graphic materials, pertaining to the 'Barbary Wars' or America's 'First War on Terror,' fought against Islamic jihadists attempting to carry out a 'Holy War,' then as today, against the West on the high seas.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A 'Cannibal Cruise Liner' of 18th-century Immigration

Having taught American History for over twenty years on the academic level, it continually surprises me how so many individuals erroneously believe, that European immigration to the New World resembled to a marked degree, tourist-type ocean voyages as enjoyed on such present-day luxury liners as the 'Carnival Cruise Line,' and that only African slaves suffered hardship & deprivation during the 'Middle Passage,' or the voyage across the Atlantic. The opposite was of course the reality of immigration.

Numerous accounts survive of the horrendous conditions immigrants of all nationalities suffered, from Colonial times to the 20th-century. Gottlieb Mittelberger, a German immigrant of the 18th century to Philadelphia, recalled "how children from one to seven years rarely survive the less than thirty-two children in our ship, all of whom were thrown into the sea." He further remarks in his narrative of the water given to himself & fellow passengers was "very black, thick and full of worms," while biscuits were filled with "red worms and spiders nests." He also mentions how parents who survived the voyage, were often forced into debt-slavery, because of nefarious ship captains, and thus separated as husband and wife, and made to "sell and trade away their children like so many head of cattle," in order to pay for their voyage to Pennsylvania.

Often times as well, maurading 'Barbary Pirates' from the Muslim states of North Africa, frequently boarded vessels on the Atlantic, taking numerous crews in to slavery, as witnessed by many contemporary accounts, as revealed in such recent publications, as Giles Milton's White Gold, an account of over one million Europeans who suffered for years in bondage, ironically, in Africa.

Quite often as well, ships 'floundered' in the open sea, causing the depletion of provisions and stores to quickly disappear, resulting at times in the disease-ridden deaths of both crew members and passengers, who, in order to survive, resorted to dreaded acts of cannibalism. Many eye-witness descriptions exist of such tragic and horrendous voyages to America, but one in particular is the story of a ship, with the pleasant name of the Seaflower, its passengers hoping to acquire the 'American Dream,' but instead became participants in an 'American Nightmare.'

The Seaflower, bound for Philadelphia, left Belfast, Ireland in July of 1741, with 108 passengers, but death plagued the ship, including the Master of the vessel along with all the crew but one, leaving the passengers in mid-passage without food and provisions, or how to sail the ship to America. Anything edible was eventually consumed, from "Tallow, Candles, etc.," until finally, the survivors "fed upon the bodies of those that died."

According to the Pennsylvania Gazette a vessel, 'his Majesty's Ship Success,' eventually came upon the derelict, and upon boarding the ill-fated ship, "they found the Body of a Man lying upon Deck partly cut up, and his Arm and Shoulder then boiling in a Pot, in Salt Water (which had been their only drink for a long Time), and so eager were the poor famish'd People for the Flesh of their dead Companions, that many of them had conceal'd Pieces of it in their Pockets, to eat as they had Opportunity."

The Pennsylvania Gazette, November 12, 1741

The Seaflower, a Connecticut vessel, would eventually arrive in Boston, rather than Philadelphia, with sixty-five passengers barely alive, after having eaten "six Persons that Died in the Passage that as they were Cutting up the Seventh, they Espied the Success..." The poor passengers had been at sea for over sixteen weeks, until finally saved by the above Colonial vessel.

Such accounts as the above are regrettably, not rare in the annals of maritime history, many of which are found, along with other fascinating narratives, in the collections of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

For further reading on the Seaflower, and Mittelberger's narrative, consult the following:

  • The Pennsylvania Gazette, November 12, 1741;

  • The American Weekly Mercury, November 5th to November 12, 1741;

  • A Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston...Records of the Boston Selectmen, 1736 to 1742 (Boston: Rockwell, and Churchill, City Printers, 1886): 317-328;

  • R. J. Dickson, Ulster Emigration to Colonial America: 1718-1775 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966): 208-209;

  • Frank Ried Diffenderffer, The German Immigration Into Pennsylvania: Through the Port of Philadelphia from 1700 to 1775 and Redemptioners (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc, 1979): 173-185.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Forgotten Female Patriot of the American Revolution

When one thinks of the 'Revolutionary War,' it is natural to recall the stirring renditions of its various battles & participants, but such recollections generally invoke famous officers and soldiers, not female heroines.

Though there are many women of the Revolutionary Era, that are somewhat familiar to the general public, who served directly or indirectly in a martial capacity, such as the famed 'Molly Pitcher' (Mary Hays McCauly) or Deborah Samson Gannett, too few today remember the life and sacrifice of 'Captain Molly,' or Margaret Cochran Corbin, who would become the first woman in American history, to receive a pension for military service.

Edward Hagaman Hall's 1932 biography of Corbin, 'Margaret Corbin: Heroine of the Battle of Fort Washington, 16 November 1776,' is not currently required reading in college texts, and though she continues to appear in editions of the well-respected Dictionary of American Biography, for the most part, this native Pennsylvanian is poorly remembered or completely ignored.

In 1751, Margaret Cochran Corbin was not born into a life of luxury and ease, but on the frontier in what was then, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania where she became an orphan at the age of five. In June of 1756, during the 'French & Indian' or 'Seven Years War,' her father Robert Cochran, a Scot-Irish settler was killed and scalped during the 'Ft. Bigham Massacre' in the Tuscarora Valley, while Jane her mother, along with her brother, were also taken captive by the Indians during the same attack and never returned.

Raised by a maternal uncle, Margaret would eventually marry a John Corbin from Virginia, who would enlist in the artillery at the opening of the Revolutionary War, in Capt. Thomas Proctor's unit of the 'Pennsylvania Continental Line,' which was engaged in battle against the British forces on November 16, 1776 at Fort Washington, New York.

While manning his cannon, John Corbin was killed during the above conflict by Hessian forces, thus leaving his wife Margaret a widow, who was present at his side, to 'man' the gun herself and continue the efforts of her deceased husband. The 'Minutes of the Supreme Executive Council' for Pennsylvania, as found in Vol.12 of the Colonial Records, dated June 29, 1779 records the following:

"And in favor of Margaret Corbin, for Thirty Dollars, to relieve her present necessities, she having been wounded and utterly disabled by three grape shott, while she filled with distinguished Bravery the post of her Husband, who was killed by her side, serving a piece of Artillery at Fort Washington.

Ordered, That the case of Margaret Corbin, who was wounded and utterly disabled at Fort Washington, while she heroically filled the post of her husband, who was killed by her recommended to a further consideration of the Board of War, This Council being of opinion, that notwithstanding the rations which have been allowed her, she is not Provided for as her helpless situation really requires." (p.34-35)

Margaret Cochran Corbin eventually was enrolled within the 'Invalid Regiment,' and on July 6, 1779, Congress voted that,

"during her natural life or the continuance of said disability the one-half of the monthly pay drawn by a soldier in the service of these states...and complete suit of clothes, or the value thereof in money" (see, Journals of the Continental Congress, XIV: 805; Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. IV: 1938, p. 438).

After the Revolution, Margaret was living with a second husband at Highland Falls, New York, near the Hudson River, and passed away on January 16, 1800. In 1926 her remains were disinterred, the surgeon of the West Point Hospital, verifying that her skeleton bore the evidence "that her shoulder and breast were badly bruised and battered" as history attested. Her remains were taken to West Point where they were reinterred, and a granite memorial with a bronze tablet erected over her grave. As stated on the marker:

"In Appreciation of her Deeds for the Cause of Liberty, and that her Heroism may not be forgotten, her dust was removed to this spot and this Memorial erected by THE NATIONAL SOCIETY OF THE DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, IN NEW YORK STATE, 1926."

As we commemorate 'Women's History Month,' during March, let us not forget the many sacrifices and hardships that women endured, some who are now forgotten or are barely-known and remembered, such individuals like Margaret Cochran Corbin, a Pennsylvanian, but most importantly, an American heroine.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Black History Month: The Remarkable Life of 'Billy' Brown

During the decade of the 1820's, John Fanning Watson, the intrepid antiquarian of early Philadelphia history, interviewed 'Billy' Brown, a free & aged Black man in his 93rd year, residing within the Frankford section of the city, whom he describes as being "quite intelligent," as well as being "possessed of an observing mind & good memory."

Luckily, prior to Brown's death, his remarkable and adventurous life as a former slave and servant, were in part recorded by Watson, thus preserving for present-day readers, the 'life & times' of a forgotten African-American. These are biographical events only partly published in Watson's famous Annals, the remainder being recorded in that author's unpublished manuscript volumes, held within the possession of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, for the years 1823 & 1829.

'Billy' Brown, Mss 'Annals of Philadelphia,' John F. Watson, Vol.1.'

Ethnically, Brown was of the West African tribe known as the Igbo or Ebo, and bore the name of Walka, who along with his parents & five brothers were initially enslaved by fellow Africans. It took he & other captives two years to reach the sea coast, but he remembered quite well, his homeland, and "spoke of seeing Elephants." He and others had been "bartered about among the Blacks for checkered linnen & flannel."

Eventually arriving in the West Indies, he at first was in Jamaica, then Barbadoes, Antigua, and sailed northwards to New York, where he became a slave, "waiter" or servant to a "Col. Brown" of the "Irish Regiment,' during the 'French & Indian War.'

'Billy' Brown was present at the famed, 'Battle of the Monongahela,' better known as 'Braddock's Defeat,' fought in western Pennsylvania in July of 1755, and became an eye-witness to the slaughter & mayhem surrounding that event, giving many details concerning the battle in the narration of his life to Watson. Even though a slave, he was permitted to carry "Pistols & sword to defend himself," during the engagement.

'Billy' remarked how Gen.Edward Braddock "spoke quick & swore much," and said to George Washington (at that time a Virginia militia officer) on their journey through the Pennsylvania wilderness, to what is now Pittsburgh, when angry at him, 'We'll dine today at Fort Duquesne or in Hell!'

Brown also confirmed the oft-told story, of the unpopularity of Braddock, how he was killed, not by the French or their Indian allies, but by a Colonial soldier who had shot an Indian, and then "Braddock shot the soldier, the soldier's Brother {then} shot B.K. {Braddock}, but was not arrested, even though "the soldier offered to give himself up, {but} the officers took no notice of him."

After 'Braddock's Defeat,' Brown and his master would be present at the 'Battle of Quebec,' fought in Canada on September 13th, 1759, where he personally witnessed the demise of the famed officer, General James Wolfe, whom he states remarked to Col. Brown while dying, "Never mind the loss of one man Brown. You know I never fly for one man." It was in Canada, while serving as a waiter to Colonel or General Brown, that he lost "his toes by frost."

Brown would follow his master back to the West Indies, where they joined the British fleet which attacked Havana, Cuba, having cut "the chain across the Harbour, run under the fort and took the town," in 1762.

Next the African sailed to Ireland with his master where he would reside for some years. He was later given passage to come to Philadelphia, with a "Capt. Duncan," in 1768, but upon arrival in America, was sold to Jonathan Bayard Smith, famed Philadelphia merchant and a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress in 1777-78.

Brown claimed he was eventually sold to General George Washington, but finally became the property of a Virginia slave master named Thomas Wiley, whom he states was "a Cruel Master" who had "whipt {sic} 4 slaves to death."

It was during his period of enslavement with Wiley, that Brown stated he had "lost his fingers by the frost," as well as "one of his eyes." Eventually escaping in 1791, 'Billy' Brown made it back to Pennsylvania where he married and resided at Frankford, where John F. Watson would eventually meet him and hear his life's story, as a 'personal experience narrative' or first-hand account, a couple of years prior to Brown's death.

The life story of 'Billy' Brown is quite detailed and extensive, revealing once again, the fascinating and rich material that awaits the avid researcher at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, data pertinent & appropriate as well, during this celebration of 'Black History Month.'

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"With the corpse of his betrothed lashed to his back," or 'Strange Tales of Hermits in American History'

The term 'hermit,' generally conjures up in one's mind, a recluse, a person whose self-induced isolation has occurred primarily as the result of mental instability or enhanced eccentricity. Yet individuals have become 'hermits' for a variety of reasons throughout the ages. Those in America's past often became such out of tragedy, in an attempt to flee from those sites and individuals which reminded them of their loss, pain, or crime.

To the early Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches, 'hermitage' and 'monasticism' were not frowned upon, but revered as a ways & means by which one could focus on the spiritual, free from outside temptations or distractions. Much of our Classical history & literature derives in part from such individuals, who were willing to painstakingly copy by hand, the works of past scholars.

In the late 17th-century, a group of 'German Pietists,' steeped in alchemy, along with Christian & Jewish mysticism, would immigrate to Philadelphia, and become known as the 'Hermits of the Wissahickon,' with their leader, Johannes Kelpius, choosing to reside in a cave, or the Laurea, near Germantown, awaiting the coming of "the Heavenly Bridegroom" or Christ.

Johannes Kelpius

Though he firmly believed he would not die or his body decay, Kelpius not long before his demise, instructed his disciple, one Daniel Geissler, to cast a box or casket, known as the Arcanum, into the Schuylkill river, which afterwards "exploded, and for a time flashes of lightning and peals like thunder came from out of the water."

Not all American 'hermits' isolated themselves for religious purposes, such as Francis Adam Joseph Phyle (also known as Francis Furgler), who died at the age of sixty-six in 1778, having lived near Mt. Holly, in Burlington County, New Jersey for over twenty-five years, secluded in the forest, where he made his bed within a hole dug into the earth, "under a large white oak,"covered only by a wooden board.

Famed Revolutionary War surgeon, Albigence Waldo, in his diary entry for November 19, 1777, states that Phyle professed he had been "warned of God in a remarkable Dream," when he arrived in America from Germany to lead his life of isolation, until the age of eighty, when he would then be "purified" enough to live with the rest of humanity, since it was reported that he had either, "murdered his own sister," or had "killed a Gentleman in a Duel" while serving as an officer in the French army.

William Hewitt, who died in 1834 at the age of seventy, was known far and wide as the "Scioto Hermit," residing primarily in a cave in various counties in southern Ohio. He was a large man who dressed like a stereotypical frontiersman in deerskin, "from his cap to his moccasins," described as a "buckskin clad Robinson Crusoe," that purportedly fled Virginia after having killed his unfaithful wife's "paramour" or lover and went Westward. Others who knew him stated Hewitt had left Virginia to lead a solitary life, after the death of his father, in order to escape his 'avaricious' relatives who quarreled over the estate.

Perhaps the most tragic account of a 'hermit' in American history, comes from the Diaries kept by Robert Patterson, whose former mansion site is now occupied by 'The Historical Society of Pennsylvania,' on 13th & Locust Streets in Philadelphia.

Patterson kept a number of very detailed journals, of a trip he'd made from Philadelphia to various 'Western' states, from Kentucky to Iowa during the year 1835. Some fifty miles north of Alton, Illinois, he came to a sparsely settled community called 'Cassaw Gris,' the home of a mysterious but respected individual referred to as the 'Hermit of the Cape.'

As Patterson relates, "the history of this unfortunate individual would furnish a good ground work for a sensation novel."

Robert Patterson Journal, Volume II

It appears that the unnamed 'Hermit,' years previous to Patterson's visit, was holding a party on his wedding night, when "a band of Indians rushed into the house, seized the bride that was to be and some others and fled to the prairie."

After collecting a party for pursuit, the newly married husband retrieved his bride, but all were "waylaid, forced into a large sink hole...and all shot but the groom. Some days afterward he was found in a state of derangement, with the corpse of his betrothed lashed to his back."

The rescue party found the remains of the family & friends of the groom and deceased bride, "by observing a number of birds of prey who were hovering over the sink, circling the spot and occasionally descending to partake of the hideous feast."

Later, the widower or "bereaved groom," built a small hut at 'Cape Gray,' where he remained in seclusion until his death, a few years prior to 1835. According to Patterson, the only time the 'Hermit' was known to have ventured out of his place of solitude after the above trajedy was when in association with other pioneers, he went on an expedition,

"against the same tribe of Indians who had murdered his bride. In the battle that ensued he behaved with distinguished bravery and killed the Chief who had led the assault on his family.The settlers speak of him with great respect. Some call him the 'Indian Hater,' others have given him the more romantic appellation of the "Hermit of the Cape."

Truly 'American History' is filled with colorful and tragic accounts of many individuals whose experiences in life determined their actions. But other 'hermits' (and there were many) passed away on the frontier and elsewhere utterly nameless, and the motives for their conduct are now lost to the curious seeker, as well as their bones or places of burial, if interred at all.

The above narratives and their documentation, like those of previous entries contained within this 'blog,' may be found here at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, along with many other examples of ignored, forgotten or little-known, 'Hidden Histories.'

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Strange Mementos and Heirlooms of the Civil War

Many individuals like myself, have various souvenirs or mementos, which have been found or passed down through the family, relative to the American Civil War. These may come in the form of oral traditions, letters, diaries, journals; or they are artifactual in nature, items such as saddle-bag 'rosettes,' swords, minie-balls or other heirlooms.

However, there were many Civil War soldiers, who carried with them, for many years after the conflict, unintentional 'memorials' of the service rendered to their country or cause.

A personal relation of my own, Alfred Snapp, of the 18th Kentucky Infantry (Union), "received a bullitt which lodged in his forehead and was never taken out for fear that the operation might prove fatal to him," according to a great-uncle of mine who knew him quite well.

David H. Smith, who served in Co. 'D,' of the 20th PA Cavalry, was "shot through the head from ear to ear," during the Battle of Piedmont, Virginia, and lay unconscious upon the battlefield for some three days and nights. Eventually incarcerated in the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia, he survived long enough to eventually be discharged from service in June of 1865. In 1897, while a resident of Perry County, PA, Smith was interviewed for a biographical sketch in which it was remarked that, "the ball is still in his head."

Richard Marley, another Civil War veteran residing at Darby, PA in 1912, was wounded by a Confederate sharp-shooter, a bullet "which he has carried in his leg as a memento of the occasion ever since," and which never bothered him until 50 years later, when symptoms of 'blood-poisoning' occurred and his leg turned black and began to swell. He was operated on at Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia for the removal of his 'war souvenir.'

Major James J. Morrison, of the 4th Georgia Infantry, was living at Mount Sterling, Alabama in 1891, was interviewed about the "curious missile," of which he was wounded in the calf of his leg, during the First Battle of Bull Run or Manassas, Virginia in 1861. Suffering excruciating pain at times from his wound for many years, doctors in August of 1891 were successful in removing what was found to be, "no bullet, but a small gold button," inscribed with the legend, "E. to R. Mizpah," in diminutive German lettering.

Though former Confederate Major Morrison prized his "memento" of thirty-one years, he remarked that he would be happy to return the artifact, "to the man who fired it if he still lives and can relate the circumstances under which he made use of it..."

A Pennsylvania paper for May 24, 1881, recalled how Colonel William J. Bolton of Norristown, PA, formerly an officer in the 51st PA Infantry, had "stood on a mound before Petersburg, Virginia," just prior to the famed explosion on July 30, 1864, observing a Black regiment making a charge, when a ball struck him "immediately under the right jaw, in precisely the same spot that he had been wounded at the 'Battle of Antietam' in September of 1862."

Col. Bolton's wound was probed by surgeons on a number of occasions, in an attempt to remove the ball, but without success. Finally, in 1881, retiring for the evening and feeling as though, "a heavy weight was pressing against his throat," was at his work the next day and "was compelled to cough, when he discovered that he had coughed into his hand the rusty bullet, covered with saliva."

Some 'mementos' of the War, which can be identified to specific indiviudals, were located long after the sectional conflict ended. One such item was a "brass tag," with the inscription, "Captain Peter W. Rodgers, Company B, 119th Pennsylvania Volunteers," an organization composed entirely of Philadelphians.

During a fierce engagement between Union & Confederate forces near Spottsylvania, Virginia, at 'Salem Church' in 1863, Captain Peter Rodgers, "was mortally wounded and, after asking for a drink of water, ordered his men to retire and not wait for him. He lay down alongside a tree to die: This was the last ever heard from him."

In 1922, a farmer, plowing over the above battlefield in Spottsylvania, Virginia, "turned up a brass tag of a Philadelphia soldier, from whom no tidings had been heard for more than 60 years." That soldier, was the above Captain Peter W. Rodgers, whose son, John J. S. Rodgers, a former 'Commissioner of Immigration' for the port of Philadelphia and who in 1922 was a 'Commissioner of Conciliation of the Federal Department of Labor,' received his father's identifying 'brass tag,' on October 29th of that year. Prior to that time, it was believed that Capt Rodgers' body had been burned, as there were no records of his ever being taken prisoner, nor any death information from either Confederate or Federal sources.

The above data represents just a few examples of many similar existing accounts, gleaned from various resources, from newspapers to biographical journals, which were published after the Civil War. Those interested in the documentation for these entries, plus others of a similar nature, should contact me and/or visit The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, where such material is abundantly located.