Thursday, December 29, 2011

'White Slavery' in the ante-Bellum South and Civil War Era: A Little Known Phenomenon'

When one researches primary source material for the 19th-century American South, occasionally one finds enigmatic references to 'white slaves,' or individuals who were in reality Caucasians, but were sold or held in bondage, by crooked masters or slave-dealers, for a variety of reasons. A number of publications exist on the subject today, but one wonders exactly how many whites were in reality enslaved, since cases or accounts of such incidents are numerically significant.

For example, the abolitionist newspaper, the National Anti-Slavery Standard, published in New York City, for March 9, 1861, printed an incident of a slave being sent back to Tippah County, Mississippi, from Illinois, who according to the Cairo (IL) Gazette, "claimed he was actually white, and had every appearance of being so." The individual's name, was Henry Lee, alias Henry Jones, the property of a Mr. W.C. Faulkner.  The above article declares:

"Mr. Lee...thinks he is a white man, and if the matter were to be determined wholly by color and appearance, some folks might join him in the conclusion. He says that his parents were white, that they dying, when he was very young, left him in the charge of a slaveholder in Alabama, who raised him in slavery, and taught him to believe that he was a mulatto. He further claims that his name was changed so that his relatives might never seek to reclaim him from bondage." 

Such assertions as above may seem to be distortions of the truth, but it was the case in some Southern states, that children who were products of Black fathers, but White mothers, often obtained their freedom once they reached a certain age. Thus, many African-Americans attempted to 'pass as partial Whites,' or went to court attesting that their mothers were White and not Black, when the issue became a source of contention between the person enslaved, and his or her master or mistress.

The Philadelphia (PA) Public Ledger, for December 27, 1860, reprinted an article from a Natchez, Mississippi newspaper, entitled, "Painting a White Girl to Make Her a Slave."  It was stated how a man from Natchez was on a steamboat on its way to Greenville, Mississippi, when he noticed a young girl, "aged about nine or ten years," with black hair and "yellowish brown skin." He was told she belonged to a gentleman on board who was taking her to New Orleans to be sold for $160.00. Talking to the young girl alone, the inquisitive passenger was informed by the girl, how "she was an orphan, and had been taken from an asylum in New York," and that her hair had been light originally, but her 'master' had a barber dye her hair black, and also put "some yellow dye on her skin."

Soon after the above confession, the young girl was taken by the ship captain, who after using potash, soap and water, removed "the dyes...and the light hair and light complexion {were} brought to light." The pretended "master was seized by the excited passengers," who caused him to be locked up in a state room until the boat should land.  The young girl was eventually placed in an orphan asylum in New Orleans.

Interestingly, such cases of 'white slavery' in the Southern states was not limited only to the 'ante-bellum' or pre-Civil War period of history. During the 'War Between the States,' in 1863, a correspondent of the Cincinnati (Ohio) Gazette (reprinted in the Philadelphia Daily Evening Bulletin), related that within the 78th Ohio Infantry Regiment, was a man who was taken, "as a runaway slave," into the Union lines in Tennessee. His features and skin color denoted "Anglo-Saxon" ancestry, while his eyes were also "blue, his lips thin, and his hair light."  His former Tennessee master had admitted to Colonel Mortimer D. Leggett, "that there was not a drop of African blood in the veins of his slave," and that he had purchased the man in Richmond, Kentucky years before, and that he'd been "sold into slavery, out of some charitable institution to which he had been committed as a vagrant."

The Lebanon (PA) Courier, for April 9, 1863, contains a remarkable tale of a white man held as a slave. The account states how a planter's daughter in Mississippi was seduced, and to "hide her shame" after she became pregnant, her female child was given to a slave woman, along with a certain amount of money, in order to "bring her up as her own." The child eventually became the "mistress of the planter's son, who succeeded to the estate. She had by him five children, and among them the man...Charles Grayson. This was in Calhoun County, Mississippi, three miles from Paris."

Eventually Charles was sold to William Steen, and soon after he learned of his true parentage. Running away, he was "captured and treated with harshness. He was made to do more work than any slave.--The object was to break him down. He proved to be strong and able to bear all the burdens put upon him."

On December 17, 1862, the Third Michigan Cavalry came into the area, and Grayson procured a horse and rode into their encampment. There he was employed as a cook for one of the non-commissioned officers, Theodore Reese, of Company 'F.' He wished to move North, and was thus aided by Lt. Col. G. Rogers as well as citizens of Jackson, Tennessee, who assisted Grayson in carrying out his plan. Not long after he took up residence in Cass County, Michigan, where by 1870 he was working as a farm laborer for a Peter Scofield and his family of Cass County.

Charles Grayson was a 'slave' for seventeen of his twenty-three years, but his "straight, light hair, fair blue eyes, a sandy beard," revealed that he was indeed a Caucasian and not of Black ancestry.

The above accounts are only a few scattered renditions of one little known aspect of the institution of slavery within the Southern States prior to and during the American Civil War. Such incidents reveal that 'slavery' is a much more complex issue than anyone has imagined, affecting individuals, both White and Black in a very diverse manner.

Such accounts, like so many other topics included within this blog, may be found here, within the collections at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Nineteenth Century Christmas in Words and Illustrations

This appeared in the December HSP email publication, History Hits: Collecting & sharing the stories of Pennsylvania. For a free subscription, enter your email here
The Christmas holiday season has generated much interest from both a personal and commercial perspective within the United States for many years. What is considered to be the first illustration of Santa Claus descending a chimney with a bag or sack full of toys was printed in the January 1841 issue of the New York City weekly newspaper, the New York Mirror (1823-1842). The picture below, drawn by Dublin-born portrait-painter Charles Cromwell Ingham, was then made available in print through the efforts of a wood engraver, Robert Roberts, an immigrant from Wales.  
Christmas cards have been around for quite some time. William Egley Jr. of Great Britain has received credit for creating the oldest card in 1843, though many early versions appear to stem from Valentine cards, whose origins can be traced as far back as the 15th century. Poems or verses, along with graphic illustrations, have been a major part of Christmas cards, as demonstrated by the one below, printed in 1855.   
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Christmas is a time that brings families together.  In a letter written in 1842, a woman named Mary in Montrose, Pennsylvania, recalled to John, how "... (Christmas Eve), you know, when St. Nicholas fills the stockings of good little children, Bubby held the candle while I drove a nail by the fireplace, he then hung up his stocking, and went to bed...As soon as he was awake this morning...I wish you could too could have seen him as he drew parcel after parcel, from the stocking--carefully inspected the contents, and then laid it aside for the next."

William R. O'Donovan, writing to his sister from New York City on Christmas Day in 1871, stated: "This is Christmas night...A night that brings to all our minds the recollections of our childhoods, with what a keen zest we all used to look forward to Christmas for weeks before, with anticipations of what Santa-Claus would bring us. And how our eagerness to see the contents of our stockings, drove all sleep away.  It may seem foolish, at this time of life to recall such reminiscences. But I am glad...I am still able to recall with pleasure the halo of brightness that always lent to this day such a sweet enjoyment to our youthful minds. May none of us ever grow old enough in Spirit to forget these early, happy, times in the morning of our lives...."

Mr. O'Donovan later writes to his mother on Christmas Day in 1876 lamenting the plight of the poor in New York City. "I have seen fair young girls, who have never known the want of a luxery, {sic} in filthy tenements, ministering to poor sufferers, with the self forgetfulness, and gentleness of angels...How then can I call this a hard and heartless world? It is full of beauty, and truth, and love; if we will but try to find it...."

In the 19th century and today, Christmas has brought joy to many souls, in both picture, poetry, and memory, much of which is available within the collections at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The American Frontier: Romantic Portrayal vs. Reality

Today's culture is permeated with so-called 'reality' television shows, which in some ways are no doubt 'mirror-images' of at least a portion of our society, while others are blatantly more fiction than fact, characters and events simply 'staged' for the camera and a gullible public that thrives on sensationalism.  The same was true for the frontier period of American history, with its stark 'reality' of scalpings, murders, death by wild animals, disease, accidental misfortunes on farm or within the forest, as well as fictional renditions of persons and events (though occasionally based somewhat on 'fact'), as rendered in such popular novels, as those by famed author, James Fenimore Cooper.

Luckily, many primary sources exist describing 'life on the Frontier,' by which one can at least gain a semblance of the perils and harsh reality that our ancestors endured, as well as an almost nostalgic yearning for a time long past that could prove to be either 'Edenic' or 'Hellish,' depending perhaps on one's perspective.

Elias Pym Fordham, describing the frontier of Illinois Territory in 1817, remarked:
To be at an unknown distance from the dwellings of man...and then to lie at night in a blanket, with your feet to a fire, with your rifle hugged in your arms, listening to the howling wolves, and starting at the shriek of the terrible panther: This it is to be in a wilderness alone.
One visitor to a Kentucky pioneer station or fort, during the time of Daniel Boone in the late 18th-century, stated how:

The whole dirt and filth of the Fort, putrified flesh, dead dogs, horse, cow, hog excrement and human odour," coupled "with the Ashes and sweepings of filthy Cabbins, the dirtiness of the people, steeping skins to dress and washing every sort of dirty rags and cloths, will certainly contribute to render the inhabitants of this place sickly." One visitor to Boonesborough itself, remarked how its residents were, "a poor, distressed, half-naked, half-starved people," while another settler lamented how there was "no bred, no salt, no vegetables, no fruit of any kind, no Ardent sperrets, indeed nothing but meet {meat}.

 A Mr. Andrew Boggs, along with his wife Margery Harris, were the first settlers in what is now Centre County, Pennsylvania, at a place called 'Bald Eagle's Nest' (the site of Milesburg) in 1769. Boggs ran a 'Trader's Inn,' which was visited on one occasion by the Rev. Philip Vicars Fithian, of Greenwich, New Jersey, who was on a tour of the frontier in the spring of 1775. The good parson relates how the pioneer post was located in a "pleasant spot," with a "broad creek running by the door." However, his appreciation for his lodgings 'soon soured,' since he then remarks that,   
Soon after we had dined, two Indian boys bolted in (they never knock or speak at the door), with seven large fish--In return Mrs. Boggs gave them bread and a piece of our venison. Down they sat in the ashes before the fire, stirred up the coals, and laid on their flesh. When it was roasted, they eat in great mouthfuls and devoured it with the greatest rapacity...

I sat me down on a three-legged stool to writing. This house looks and smells like a shambles--raw flesh and blood, fish and deer, flesh and blood in every part--mangled, wasting flesh on every shelf. Hounds licking up the blood from the floor...naked Indians. Ten hundred thousand flies. Oh, I fear there are as many fleas. Seize me soon, kind sleep, lock me in they sweet I lay me down let me...lose my senses! 

Stop! oh, stop! sleep to-night is gone. Four Indians came droving in, each with a large knife and tomahawk...For all this settlement I would not live here--for two such settlements--not for five hundred a year.
Lucy Watson, who had lived on the frontier in New Hampshire in 1762, recalled in later years, how as a child her family "could hear the wolves howling near them every night. The Foxes could be heard to Bark by day as well as by night. The Panthers too, were several times heard. They cried like the voice of a woman in distress, and would deceive Persons so as to incline them to go after them..."

Lucy goes on to relate how her family had went "to work to cutting down Trees, to burn them away and get the Land clear. This they did themselves, for they could not get any hired help.--The wild wooden state was such, that formerly a Mrs. Pritchet, with her infant Son, got lost therein--She wandered about till the child died and she buried it under a Tree root, where the ground was broken by the blown over tree. Hunger and anxiety bewildered her mind and when she was found after many days of search...she was so wild she fled from them. Her clothes had been nearly torn off by the bushes and brakes."

Many early frontier families, floated down the Ohio River on 'flatboats,' from Redstone, located in what is now Fayette County, Pennsylvania, to Limestone (now Maysville, Kentucky my home town), where many such would-be settlers were waylaid, captured, or murdered before ever arriving at their intended destination. One such family was that of Jacob Greathouse, and his party of sixteen, in the spring of 1791. Other pioneers in their group had previously arrived at Limestone, but the Greathouse family had not appeared as expected. Thus, a relief party of frontiersmen went to search for them, and soon found them all, from the youngest to the oldest, scalped and tortured.

Jacob Greathouse and his wife "had been tethered each to a sapling...Their bellies had been opened...and a loose end of the entrails tied to the sapling. They had then either been dragged or prodded around and around so that their intestines had been pulled out of their bodies to wind around the trees as they walked...Greathouse himself had stumbled along until not only his intestines but even his stomach had been pulled out and wound into the  obscene mass on the tree. They had been scalped and burning coals stuffed into their body cavities before the Indians departed."

Such accounts as the above were quite often the realities of 'life on the Frontier.' Yet, still there literally hundreds of thousands of pioneers who ventured westwards. Frederick Jackson Turner, an historian and son of early Wisconsin settlers, would write a seminal essay, entitled, "The Frontier in American History," wherein he would vividly recall the 'hybrid' culture created on the frontier, with the merging of Native-American and Anglo-American societies. Though he advocated that American democracy had originated as the result of the frontier experience, later scholars such as Ray Allen Billington, would challenge his thesis, but admit that Turner's theory held true in that "the frontier environment" did indeed heighten or intensify democratic institutions, rugged individualism, and independent thinking.

It is appropriate to close this blog entry with a famed quotation, taken from Turner's essay, which contains much truth as well as 'romance' of the frontier experience in America. He states:
The wilderness masters the colonist. It finds him a European in dress, industries, tools, mode of travel, and thought. It takes him from the railroad car, and puts him in the birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin. It puts him in the log cabin of the Cherokee and Iroquois and runs an Indian palisade around him.

Before long he has gone to planting Indian corn and plowing with a sharp stick; he shouts the war cry and takes the scalp in orthodox Indian fashion. In short, at the frontier the environment is at first too strong for the man. He must accept the conditions which it furnishes, or perish, and so he fits himself into the Indian clearings and follows the Indian trails.

Little by little he transforms the wilderness, but the outcome is not the old Europe...The fact is, that here is a new product that is American.
The 'frontier' is a massive subject in and of itself, in regard to our American heritage. Luckily, much of its past reality and romance can be found here, within the primary and secondary sources, available at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Honesty, Patriotism, and Self-Sacrifice of some Civil War Soldiers: Examples for Thanksgiving Day

Since Thanksgiving Day is rapidly approaching, it is a credit to the citizens of our nation, to know that we have always had men and women who have willingly and valiantly served their country, though regrettably often resulting in battle-wounds leaving them physically maimed for life. As early as the Revolutionary War, Margaret Cochran Corbin (the first woman in the United States to receive a pension for military service), took her deceased husband's place in battle at his cannon, receiving wounds which caused her to be partially paralyzed until her death, though she continued to serve within the 'Invalid Regiment,' performing what duties she was able, during the remainder of the War.

The Wounded Warrior Project of today, reveals how thousands of American soldiers, having served within Iraq and Afghanistan, gave both mind and body to maintain the freedom of our country, and desired to extend that liberty to individuals in those countries where they were stationed, even at the expense of their own safety and well-being.

Since this is the 150th year of the Commemoration of the American Civil War, it is only fitting to recall a few examples of soldiers of that era, who literally gave both life 'and limb,' to the service of their country. It is interesting as well, in opposition to our age of the 'get-rich-quick-scheme' and 'cradle-to-the-grave-security' mentality, that such individuals also at times, refused assistance from the Federal Government, though it was legally allotted to them for their service to the nation.

In an article entitled, "A True Patriot," appearing in the Lebanon {PA} Courier, on January 20th, 1870, an account was given from the 'Commissioners of Pensions,' who had received a letter from a DANIEL K. WILD, former private in Co. 'K,' 84th Pennsylvania Volunteers, residing at Abbott Village, in Maine. The letter from Wild to the Federal government's pension office, stated how, "the writer had regained his health, and can get along without his pension. He therefore requests that his name be stricken from the pension rolls."

As one can imagine, such a denial of monies, drew the attention of the Pension Bureau, and prompted Commissioner Van Aernam to write Daniel Wild and let him know that his "request has been granted." The Commissioner continued:

"Living in an age when the honest impulses of the great mass of the people are blunted by an overweening desire for gain, this request with your services as a soldier in the field, shows that you are alike honorable and patriotic, and your name should go down to history as a worthy example for the coming generation. Permit me to thank you for your noble letter."

During the Civil War itself, an article appearing in the Philadelphia Daily Evening Bulletin, for May 12th, 1863, entitled, "An Honest Soldier," concerned that of Private JOHN MOHR, of Co. 'E,' Fifth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry (USA), who'd received $104.00 more than was due to him, though as far as 'Uncle Sam' was concerned, the amount was correct. However, Mohr insisted "that he had been overpaid, but failed to convince the paymaster, until he brought proof that a payment made two months previous had not been entered against him."

Mohr's case was investigated and it was found "that his statement was correct, and the Paymaster awarded him $5.00 for his honesty. He had every opportunity to pocket the money, and it never would have been discovered, but his heart was too large to be guilty of such a crime." The article goes on to state, that "John is highly deserving of promotion for his honesty. Aside from this virtue, he is said to be an excellent soldier and has seen hard service."

Such honor and devotion was also exemplified by certain Civil War soldiers, both during the war and afterwards as well. As early as September 28th, in 1861, the Lebanon {PA} Courier recalled within an article entitled, "Incidents of Battle," how one wounded soldier, "with both his legs nearly shot off, was found in the woods singing the 'Star Spangled Banner,' and "but for this circumstance, the surgeons say they would not have discovered him."

Private WILLIAM LAMBERT, of Co. 'D,' Thirteenth New Jersey Infantry Regiment, participated in the 'Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, fought on May 3, 1863. According to the Germantown, Philadelphia {PA} Telegraph for August 5th, he appeared "the next the regimental hospital, without either cap, coat, vest, or shoes, and with one arm gone...merely observing that the 'Rebels had given him a devil of a rap.' He had been wounded and taken to a hospital near the battle field, had his arm amputated, and then, disdaining to be idle, walked five miles to his own hospital."

Lambert was offered a ride in an ambulance but declined, preferring he said to "see the country." As the above article states, "When such men grapple with the enemy there can be no doubt where the victory will lie."

During the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, fought on December 13th, 1862, Color-Sergeant THOMAS PLUNKETT, of  Co. 'E,' Twenty-First Massachusetts Infantry, while "bearing the colors of his regiment," bravely bore it to the front lines and "held his ground, until both arms were shot away by a shell." In his official report of his regiment's participation within the battle, Col. William S. Clark of the Twenty-First, confirmed how,

"Color-Sergeant Collins, of Company A, was shot, and fell to the ground. Sergeant Plunkett, of Company E, instantly seized the colors, and carried them proudly forward to the farthest point reached by our troops during the battle...about 40 rods from the position of the rebel infantry...a shell was thrown with fatal accuracy, at the colors, which again brought them to the ground wet with the life-blood of the brave Plunkett, both of whose arms were carried away."

Interestingly, a number of the nation's newspapers in January of 1864 related how when Plunkett left for the War, he was engaged. Once he returned without his two arms, he offered "a release to his betrothed, which was readily accepted." However, her sister, a Miss Nellie Lorrimer, "was so indignant at this that she said she would marry the brave man herself if he was agreeable, and agreeable he was, and they married." The wedding took place in Worcester, Massachusetts, and afterwards the citizens of that state, "raised a purse of $50,000 and presented it to Plunkett." In 1870, during a parade of former Civil War soldiers, Plunkett was present, and "as he raised his cap with his artificial arm, was loudly cheered."

There are many such inspiring and uplifting stories as those mentioned above, waiting and available to the researcher, on this and many other topics, located within the varied collections at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Strange Insanity of Hannah Lewis, in 18th-century Philadelphia

Surprisingly, exactly two hundred twelve years ago today, the Gazette of the United States and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, for November 15, 1799, recorded the death of HANNAH LEWIS, an elderly woman from Philadelphia. For seventeen years, Mrs. Lewis resided at America's first hospital for the mentally impaired, or the Pennsylvania Hospital, which began on May 11, 1751, by an 'Act of the Pennsylvania Assembly,' largely through the efforts of Philadelphia physician, Dr.Thomas Bond, and well-known resident and citizen, Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Rush, famed Philadelphia physician and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence wished for mentally impaired individuals to receive "humane and proper treatment," and served as a physician at the Pennsylvania Hospital from 1783 until his death in 1813. Within his personal papers on deposit at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (but owned by the Library Company of Philadelphia), is a "List of Lunatics in the Pennsylvania Hospital," for May 1, 1784, which states the "Disease, Causes, Mania," of the respective residents, among which one "Hannah Lewis" is included, with "Grief" being the reason for her mental difficulty or imbalance.

The well-known female Quaker diarist, Elizabeth Drinker, recorded the death of Hannah Lewis on November 14, 1799, stating how she was "in the 87th year of her age...a native of this City, and for the last 17 years a pattient {sic} of that house.---I knew her when I was a Child as did most in this City, she being always look'd on as a person deranged."

Yet just exactly what was her 'derangement?' The above Gazette and other Philadelphia papers describe it as the following: "Supposing herself to be a daughter of King George II, and having a mind to see her father {italics from the paper}, she made several attempts about forty years since to go to England, but was always detected and prevented by her friends. At length she eluded their vigilance and escaped to New York...There she concealed herself in a ship bound to London, where she arrived and remained about seven years, till her money and plate was all expended; her curiosity being gratified, she settled her 'tribute money' as she called it, at the rate of a heaped bushel of gold per annum, and returned to Philadelphia, supremely happy, in the idea of receiving punctual remitances every year."

With this she supported the Hospital (which she called her own house), and allowed her domestics to "live in splendor, equal to the pre-eminent dignity and rank, she always imagined she sustained in the world."

Samuel Coates (1748-1830), a Philadephia Quaker merchant, served on the Pennsylvania Hospital's Board of Managers, and as both the Secretary of the Board for twenty-six years, and President of the Hospital for some thirteen years of his life. He was particularly interested in the insane, and actually kept a "leather-bound memorandum book," in which he recorded his feelings, ideas, observations, and thoughts on madness. It is within this work, that we have the most detailed account of the 'madness of Hannah Lewis,' entitled, "Some Account of Hannah Lewis, A Lunatic, who died in the Pennsylvania Hospital."

Coates states how Hannah was the daughter of early Welsh settlers of Pennsylvania and that her problems began or "commenced soon after the Death of her husband, and was attributed to that cause," hence Benjamin Rush's statement that her derangement came from 'Grief,' as stated.  However, her manifestations of instability took on a somewhat 'different turn' that one would naturally expect, if derived from sorrow or despair.

Being a Quaker, we're told she commenced preaching in the "Friends Meeting, at the old Courthouse Steps, and in the open streets." Owen Jones (1711-1793), an early Quaker leader, visited her in an attempt to "dissuade her from preaching." In response, Hannah "invited him to sit down and accept a glass of wine and a bisquit," then said a prayer, but afterwards reproved him "as an unfit person to treat with her, he having just taken the Sacrament against the very principles he professed as a Quaker..." She soon denied her parentage, as well as her own children, describing them as "brats" which had been "imposed upon her...because she was rich."

It is this latter remark which brought to her, a "claim to fame," since she emphatically declared herself "to be a Member of the Royal Family, and eldest daughter of George the Second." Eventually arriving in England, she roamed the Royal Gardens, but "was permitted to range" according to Coates, since she was considered to be a harmless character. Eventually accruing a debt of several hundred pounds which she was unable to pay, she returned to Philadelphia. However, she came back to America "as she said," with "Tribute Money" from "her Father, the King of Great Britain," consisting of gold, silver, and copper coinage, believing she applied such funding "to the support of the Pennsylvania Hospital, which she called her Palace."

Samuel Coates further states, that among her friends, he was "one of the unfortunate ones that lost her affections," since he claimed part-ownership "in her Palace" or the Hospital. She thus accused him of stealing such things as her "silver tankard," of robbing her of "a bushel of gold and silver," of drinking "the Milk of her Nine Cows, swallowing 3 gallons of it at one time," and among many other accusations, also informed Coates of her displeasure in removing the pavements "she had laid with Jewels, Sapphires, and Diamonds, and replaced them with common bricks and Stones..."

If the above wasn't enough, Hannah informed poor Coates that he knew he "had murdered all her Children in Cold Blood, entered her Chamber in the Night, cut her into pieces, and carried off her back bones, till she bent like an Old Woman, pressed down by the Infirmities of Age," all of which were crimes, not only against her person, but also "her Kingdom."

On one occasion, Governor Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania visited and conversed with her, a conversation which Samuel Coates witnessed and recorded within his memorandum book as follows:
   "Governor: How do you do Mrs. Lewis?
   Hannah: You make very free--Who are you?
   Governor: I am the Governor of Pennsylvania--don't you know me?
   Hannah: And I am the King's daughter, You say, you are the Governor, do You?
   Governor: Yes, I am.
   Hannah: The Devil you are!  I think you have a great deal of impudence to tell me so. Where did you get your commission? I never signed it...From the people did You? They were hard put to, when they made you a Governor...You are a very ill looking fellow...
   Governor: Mrs. Lewis, why you know me very well, and I have known you, ever since I was a Child.
   Hannah: That may be...What do you do with that fellow {meaning Samuel Coates}, he is a great Villain, and ought to have his Ears cutt off!"

Samuel Coates goes on to relate how Mrs. Lewis believed herself to be the most brilliant individual, and described "Newton was but a Child to her in Astronomy...She having lived seven thousand years in the Moon. Had direct communication with every Star...She also knew the Sea better than Neptune, who was but a fool, skimming the surface of the Water, while she was swimming nine thousand years in a fishes Eye, exploring the Deep..," where she spoke with whales, fish, etc. When asked in what language she addressed the denizens of the ocean, she replied: "In the Oyer and Terminer Tongue,..which a fool like You, known nothing of!"

Coates records how Hannah Lewis "would eat almost anything," stating how he had caught her "eating mice...that she cut her hair off, when it grew long, and plaited it in the form of a pincushion, curiously wrought."  For the last twelve years of her life, Coates stated she "required an allowance of rum," which she consumed "till within a few days of her death."  Perhaps it was this regular allotment of 'rum' that Hannah Lewis received that was in reality the deciding factor that brought about her bouts of insanity, rather than any psychological or emotional condition!

Coates states how from her father she had received a substantial inheritance, but which disappeared by her "roving about" and from her time spent in England. When found dead in her bed, she had upon her chest, carefully placed, "a few pieces of Glass and Pebbles," which she "valued as Jewells," plus "the heads perhaps of One hundred thousand Flies and Misquitoes, which she had been in the habit of de-capitating for Many years, as a punishment for their presumption, in biting the King's daughter."

One naturally feels sadness for the disturbed life of a woman who at one time had been quite sane. Regrettably, to my knowledge, nothing to date has been found as to what caused her "Grief," whether it was in fact tied to the loss of her husband. If so, the question becomes, who was he? How and when did he die? Such traumatic losses of loved-ones can cause depression and often psychological and emotional instability.

Perhaps a current reader has previously uncovered the background to the insanity of Hannah Lewis, if so, I invite their remarks to this blog entry. If not, hopefully some future researcher will someday shed light on the origins of the insanity of Hannah Lewis. Schizophrenia, early psychiatric accounts, are only a few of the diverse topics or subject matter awaiting the avid reseachers, who visit The Historical Society of Pennsylvania and utilize its varied and diverse collections.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Charles Dickens, the Supernatural, and Captain Murderer!

As promised, I wanted to mention a few of my favorite macabre or ghost-related accounts, prior to Halloween itself, one of them surprisingly, coming from none other than the famous and gifted English writer, Charles Dickens. Few have failed to enjoy in print or on the cinematic screen, such stories or books as, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and perhaps one of the most dearly loved and favorite tales, that of, A Christmas Carol, told and retold in multiple movies to the present-day, a holiday favorite.

Most readers are acutely aware that A Christmas Carol, contains as some of its most important and memorable characters, a certain number of ghosts, besides the person of Ebenezer Scrooge. However, I would venture to say, that the public-at-large are largely unaware that Charles Dickens began his illustrious writing career within the realm of the supernatural. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the lettered Englishman was an early and active member of the Ghost Club, founded in 1862.

Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia in the early 19th-century, commented within his work, Medical Inquiries and Observations, Upon the Diseases of the Mind (1818), that, "The fear of ghosts should be prevented or subdued in early life, by teaching children the absurdity and falsehood of all the stories that are fabricated by nurses upon that subject."

As early as 1732, an article entitled, "Of Ghosts, Demons, and Spectres," published in the prestigious English journal, Gentleman's Magazine, reported how, "Some spirits or ghosts owe their existence only to a distempered imagination...The cheat is begun by nurses with stories of Bugbear, etc., from whence we are gradually led to listen to the traditionary accounts of local ghosts..."

I bring up nurses, since Charles Dickens once remarked how his family's nurse, the daughter of a shipwright, named Mercy, though he stated how "she had none on me." She frequently related to him as a child such nightmarish tales, as that of Captain Murderer, truly a Halloween-type tale if there ever was one!

In volume three of Dicken's work, All The Year Round, A Weekly Journal, published in September of 1860, he recounts the morbid tale of the murderous Captain, who had a habit of marrying women who mysteriously passed away, not long after the wedding. Dickens states how the Captain, being:
"Alone with his wife on the day month after their marriage, it was his whimsical custom to produce a golden rolling-pin and a silver pie-board. Now, there was this special feature in the Captain's courtships, that he always asked if the young lady could make pie-crust; and if she couldn't by nature or education, she was taught."
The Captain would then bring out "a silver pie-dish of immense capacity, and...brought out flour and butter and eggs and all things needful, except the inside of the pie," then his bride would remark, "Dear Captain, what pie is this to be?" His reply, "A meat pie." Naturally his new wife said, "Dear Captain Murderer, I see no meat." The Captain humorously retorted, "Look in the glass." She looked in the glass, but still she saw no meat, and then the Captain roared with laughter, and suddenly frowning and drawing his sword, bade her roll out the crust," which she would obediently proceed to do.

Once the crust was cut and "ready to fit the top" of the dish, the Captain would call out, "I see the meat in the glass! And the bride looked up at the glass, just in time to see the Captain cutting her head off; and he chopped her into pieces, and peppered her, and salted her, and put her in the pie, and sent it to the baker's, and ate it all, and picked the bones."

Charles Dickens relates further details concerning the life of Captain Murderer, stating how eventually the cannibal married one of "two twin sisters," one fair-haired and the other dark. The one not chosen, or the brunette, soon became suspicious of the Captain's actions, and actually witnessed him filing his teeth to a sharp point and then murder her sybling; followed by his baking, peppering, salting her sister's corpse, then sending her remains "to the baker's, and ate it all, and picked the bones."

Wanting revenge for the death of her sister, the other twin enticed the Captain to marry her which he did. The same deadly procedure was carried out upon the other sister as well, but prior to being chopped up and eaten, she purposely had "taken a deadly poison of a most awful character, distilled from toads' eyes and spiders' knees," and after the Captain 'had his fill' and "had hardly picked her last bone," he "began to swell, and to turn blue, and to be all over spots, and to scream." This process continued until he eventually exploded.

As Dickens states: "Hundreds of times did I hear this legend of Captain Murderer, in my early youth...there was a mental compulsion upon me in bed, to peep in at his window as the dark twin peeped, and to revisit his horrible house, and look at him in his blue and spotty and screaming stage..." He added how, the nurse or "young woman who brought me acquainted with Captain Murderer, had a fiendish enjoyment of my terrors, and used to begin, I remember--as a sort of introductory overture--by clawing the air with both hands, and uttering a long low hollow groan....I sometimes used to plead I thought I was hardly strong enough and old enough to hear the story again...But she never spared me one word of it..."

The above story of course are variants of the English tale of "Mr. Fox," and that of the famed French account of "Bluebeard," who were both cannibal bride-grooms who murdered and/or ate their wives.

One would think Dickens would have been ruined for life, but as Harry Stone says in his work, The Night Side of Dickens: Cannibalism, Passion, Necessity (Columbus: Ohio State University, 1994), Dickens consequently became, "an early devotee of the wonder-filled realms of fairy tales, folklore, and mythology," which added to his creativity as a writer (p.20).

Many such stories as the above, including publications containing Charles Dickens' story of Captain Murderer, can be found in the collections at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 14, 2011

An Unexpected Pennsylvania 'Haunting' in 1787: A Tale of Warning?

Since this is the month of October and close to Halloween, it's only appropriate that I relate at least a short supernatural tale. Without further introductory remarks, it's best to simply quote the article in full, as it appeared, within the published pages of the New Jersey Journal and Political Intelligencer, for September 12, 1787, which goes as follows:
"We learn from Lancaster that the following singular affair is founded on fact, and confirmed by Dr. Huston.
On the evening of the 11th ultimo, a young man having obtained information of some young women near Wright's ferry, having formed a resolution of going in the evening to a cornfield to get some roasting ears of Indian corn, resolved he would go with a white sheet about him to represent a ghost, and have some fun in scaring them; but fatal was the consequence to him; whether he saw any thing which might be permitted to chastise him for his boldness, or what incident fell out to craze his imagination we cannot tell.
But so it turned out, that after running through the fields for some hours, at last he reached a house in a manner frighted beyond description; he was immediately seized with epileptic fits, and continued to have frequent returns of them, till they put a period to his existence about the middle of last week.
Doctor Huston attended him, and says when he was not in these fits, he was always scared and imagined he saw something terrible, and cried to be taken away from him."
The above is a simple story, but perhaps it contains a warning to all those who would attempt to frighten others this coming Halloween. Yet, if one enjoys being "frighted," or frightened, as occurred in 1787, there are many photographs, diaries, letters, newspaper accounts, etc., relating to the supernatural, available within the collections, housed here within the hallowed halls, of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.

Incidentally, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania will be conducting a 'Ghost Tour' of our building, as well as a short power-point presentation, relative to some of our supernatural-related materials. This will occur on Wednesday, October 26, at 5:30 and 7:00 p.m. To register for the event, click here.

Visit us, if you dare! 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Killed at Gettysburg: Death Elegies Written about Philadelphia Soldiers Who Lost Their Lives in the Famous Battle

It was a common practice in America, from the Colonial period and well up into the American Civil War era, for family members to express their mourning or grief, in what are referred to as elegies, a written 'lament' or tribute to the dead. Often times these elegies were rhymed couplets, which appear quite frequently in newspapers of the day, revealing not only the bravery, courage, and sacrifices of the soldiers involved, but also the eloquence in writing, of those who paid tribute to the deceased in verse.

Various regiments of volunteer soldiers from Philadelphia, fought at the Battle of Gettysburg in early July of 1863, resulting in the tragic deaths of many of its residents. The newspapers are filled with sorrowful yet proud poems honoring those who'd gave the ultimate sacrifice during that famous engagement in Adams County, Pennsylvania.

For example, Augustus Joseph, of Co. 'H,' 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, or 'Rush's Lancers' (though his body had not yet been retrieved), had the following poem printed in his behalf, within the Philadelphia Public Ledger, on August 7th, 1863:
"On Gettysburg's bloody field, a wounded soldier lay;
Hist thoughts were on his happy home, some hundred miles away.
A soldier friend stood by his side, a tear stood in his eye,
And cold the sweat stood on his brow, he felt he soon must die.
'When you see my mother dear, be careful how you speak,
The cords of life may snap too soon, her heart may be too weak.
Go tell her that my aching heart, did heave a gentle sigh.
Go tell her that her son so true, a soldier's death did die."
Robert W. Ray, of Frankford, age 37, of Co. 'I,' 121st Pennsylvania Regiment, was honored by the following in an elegy written by his wife:
"His country' s cause, it was his own, before his foes he would not bend.
He stood upon a freeman's throne, for equal rights did he contend.
When husband last was home to rest, I little thought death was so nigh.
He pressed our children to his breast, and said, 'for you and these I'll die.'
From home into the field he went, where armies met a dread array.
Where tyrants and oppressors sent, to beat out freedom's gentle sway.
The Lord of Hosts our army led, and victory on our banner hung,
And when they searched among the dead, my husband amid the throng.
My heart it beats with anguish deep, as o'er the dead, I sit and mourn.
But why cast down my soul and weep, for soon will dawn a glorious morn.
The Saviour will for thee appear, to gather up thy little dust;
Husband, children, and father dear, in Christ our Saviour shall find rest."
Forty-six members of Baxter's Philadelphia Fire Zouaves, or the 72nd Regiment of Pennsylvania Infantry, lost their lives at Gettysburg, while another sixteen would later die of wounds received during the battle, some as late as November of 1863. Many elegies appear in honor of these men in Philadelphia newspapers after the battle, and like those above, for space considerations, I've rendered these tributes simply as 'run-on' verses, when in reality they appear published as 'couplets' within the press.

Samuel A. Morrison of Co. 'B,' had this simple, but special verse published in his behalf:
"No mother near him when he died, no brother nor sister's hand to cheer.
His death, his country's noblest pride, A Union volunteer."

Twenty-five year old John F. Walbert, of Co. 'F,' was honored by the following:
"Sleep, noble warrior, sleep, the tomb is now thy bed.
Cold in its bosom thou dost rest, in silence with the dead.
We tell thy doom with many tears, how rose they morning sun.
How quickly too, alas, it set; Warrior, thy march is done."

The elegy of Frederick B. Shoner, of Co. 'A,' states:
"Rest, soldier, rest, thy warfare o'er, the battle-roll thou'll hear no more!
Thy duty bravely, nobly done--The conflict past, the victory won.
All honor to the fallen brave, who on his country's altar gave,
A noble heart, a generous soul, the freeman's standard to unroll.
Their battle cry is liberty---"Our country must and shall be free."

George Mickle, of private of Co. 'C,' is mentioned in his obituary as being "killed, while nobly fighting for his country, at the battle of Gettysburg," at the age of nineteen. By July 18th his body had still not been recovered, yet the following verse was penned:
"Returned, alas! returned too soon, stricken low in his youthful bloom.
While yet his heart beat high; striving for truth and right,
He sought the thickest of the fight, and, wounded, fell and died.
They've brought him back to his parents' heart, but not as they saw him
Last depart. In uniform so gay;
He's lying in his coffin now, with his death white marble brow,
And they can only pray."

Far many individuals today such verses may sound morbid or even depressing, yet many families on both sides of the conflict, were products of their culture. Such 'cultural baggage' in dealing with the death of soldiers was nothing new to them.

As far back as the 625 B.C., Tyrtaeus, the famed poet of the Greek militaristic state of Sparta, had penned his lengthy poem, Code of the Citizen Soldier, which echoed many of the same sentiments as those expressed by families who lost loved ones during the American Civil War, or for that matter, those in American today who have lost loved ones in Iraq, Afghanistan, or on 9/11.

Tyrtaeus remarked of such losses in the following manner:
"Why such a man is lamented alike by the young and the elders,
And all his polis {city-state} goes into mourning and grieves for his loss.
His tomb is pointed out with pride, and so are his children, and his children's children,
And afterwards all that is his.
His shining glory is never forgotten. His name is remembered, and he becomes immortal,
Though he lies under the ground.
When one brave man had been killed by the furious War God, standing his ground and
Fighting hard for his children and land."

The words above speak for themselves. Honor, courage, bravery, sacrifice, have always been character traits revered by most peoples, especially Americans. Perhaps we can pay no greater honor to our Civil War dead during this 150th Commemoration, than to at least remember their sacrifices which were placed upon the 'altar of freedom,' as revealed in the many stirring elegies or tributes, found within the collections at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mormonism in Early Philadelphia

This appeared in the September HSP email publication, History Hits: Collecting & sharing the stories of Pennsylvania. For a free subscription, enter your email here
Kane speech
Title page of Thomas Leiper Kane's
discourse delivered at the
Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Much of the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) rests in the Philadelphia region and the Delaware Valley. A native of Vermont, Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-1844) was the founding prophet and first president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In January 1827, Smith married Emma Hale, a native of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, where the couple resided for a time and where much history relative to the Mormon Church and its teachings transpired. The Book of Mormon was published in March 1830 and the church was officially organized on April 6, 1830 in the state of New York.  
Church book
First Universalist Church Treasurer's Book, entry for January 14, 1840 showing "J. Smith" paid $13.63 to preach at the church.

Smith organized the Philadelphia branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on December 23, 1839 on the corner of 7th and Callowhill Streets. On January 14, 1840, he spoke to an audience of about 3,000 at the First Independent Church of Christ (later called the First Universalist Church and now a Jewish synagogue), located on 4th and Lombard Streets. He preached Mormon doctrine, specifically from the Book of Mormon, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania holds many early printed editions of this gospel.    

Soon, congregations of Mormons were found throughout the Delaware Valley, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Philadelphia newspaper accounts from the 19th-century record the exponential spread of Mormonism in the city. Prominent Quaker Edward Hunter converted to Mormonism in 1840. Even as a Quaker, he had permitted Joseph Smith and other LDS missionaries to preach in his West Nantmeal Seminary building. Hunter later moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, a settlement larger than Chicago at that time, and eventually served as the presiding bishop of the Mormon Church there. His former farm in Chester County is still locally referred to as Mormon Hollow and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  
Letter, Smith to Bennet, 1843
First page of a letter from Joseph Smith to James A. Bennet, March 17, 1843

Prior to his murder in June 1844 in Carthage, Illinois, Joseph Smith Jr. campaigned as a candidate for president of the United States with James Arlington Bennet as his vice-presidential running mate. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania holds an 1843 letter from Smith to Bennet discussing the presidential campaign and political corruption, pictured at right.

Although never a Mormon himself, Philadelphia lawyer and Union Civil War officer Thomas Leiper Kane (1822-1883) was a longtime supporter of the Mormon Church and friend of Mormon leader Brigham Young. Kane spoke at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania on March 25, 1850, giving a discourse titled "The Mormons" in an attempt to rectify some misconceptions and falsehoods about the Mormon people and their faith. This lengthy discourse was published by the Historical Society in the first volume of the Miscellaneous Publications of the Historical Society in 1850. Kane also served as a mediator during the so-called Utah-Mormon War from 1857-58, a dispute between Brigham Young in the Utah territory and President James Buchanan. To read more about Kane, visit Thomas Leiper Kane: the Utah-Mormon War of 1857-58.
Like most early Mormon converts, the majority of Philadelphia members migrated to the far West as a result of intense persecution. Decades later, Mormon missionaries returned and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began to grow once again in the Philadelphia area. Today, there are about 50,000 members in Pennsylvania. After a ground-breaking ceremony on September 17, 2011, construction will begin on a 68,000 square-foot temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the northeast corner of Vine and North 18th Streets in Philadelphia. 

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earthquakes, Philadelphia, and Murder!

Yesterday, on August 23, many portions of the Eastern U.S., including Philadelphia, were jolted by an earthquake, a geological activity most individuals associate with the far Western states such as California. However, this has not always been the case, as recorded historical events aptly reveal.

On August 31, 1886, a devastating earthquake, perhaps as powerful as 7.3 on the Richter Scale rocked Charleston, South Carolina, resulting in over one hundred deaths and wide-spread destruction throughout the city, with some 2000 buildings being either damaged or destroyed.

There are also many primary accounts or records located here at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania describing the total destruction of Port Royal, Jamaica by an earthquake, on June 7, 1692Isaac Norris I (1671-1735), a prominent Philadelphian and later Mayor of the city, lost his father Thomas and other members of his family, along with much of their property during that catastrophe in the West Indies.

Earthquake tremors were felt on a number of occasions in Philadelphia throughout the 18th-century, namely in 1727, 1758, 1763, 1772, and 1783. Benjamin Marshall, the son of the famed diarist, Christopher Marshall, recorded in a Letter-Book, {I leave the antiquated spelling as this appears in the original and any further quotes from primary sources}, for November 10, 1763, how in Philadelphia,
"...The 30 of last month...about 4 O'Clock in the afternoon we were surprized with a smart Shock of an Earth Quake, which much frightned many people, in their different places of Worship, and broke them all up, it happily concluded without doing any mischief..." (see, PMHB, or the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol.XX: 1896, pp's. 204-205).

Yet perhaps the quake most remembered and written about transpired on Wednesday, December 7, 1737. Quaker merchant Samuel Coates of Philadelphia wrote his friend Joseph Scott of New York on December 8, 1737, describing the event, and his beliefs as to its origin:
"Last night about 11 o'clock we had a Violent Shock of an Earth quake which lasted About 2 Minutes. The People Afrighted thought their Houses would fall upon them; it was Atended with a Noise like a Coach Driver over a Rough Pavement but Lowder; through Mercy there is no More Damage Done that we hear of but frightning the People and Breaking some Chimney Ware.
Dear Friend though those things are by most Men ascribed to Chance or to Natural Causes, they can't be without the will or permission of the Allmighty Creator and Ruler of the Universe and may Warn us to be prepared for Death let it come when it will."
Benjamin Franklin would also comment on the above quake, in his famed newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, for the week of December 8 - 15, 1737, remarking how, "the Shake" had also been "nearly as violent" (at what is now New Castle, Delaware), as it was in Philadelphia. He added that as far away as Conestoga, some 100 miles West of the city, "some clouds at the same time were seen to waver, dance, disappear and appear again in an uncommon and surprizing manner...Three of four Evenings successively after the Earthquake, an unusual Redness appeared in the Western Sky and southwards..."

Franklin was so intrigued by the quake that he would publish within the Pennsylvania Gazette, two succesive articles on the "Causes of Earthquakes," from December 8 - 22 of 1737.  (see also, PMHB, Vol. LV: 1931, pp's. 24-31).    

Interestingly, social historian, folklorist, and early antiquarian of Philadelphia, John Fanning Watson, in his famed Annals of Philadelphia, recorded how, "When John Penn first arrived, {which was on October 30, 1763} on a Sunday, a strong earthquake was felt as he stepped ashore at High-street wharf. It raised some superstition...long remembered; and besides that, when he went home, a dreadful thunderstorm arose; and, finally, when he next time returned here as proprietary, a fierce hurricane came!" (Vol.1: 1900 edition, p.413).

Regrettably, one does often associate earthquakes with fatalities, but normally not with murder. The largest earthquake recorded in United States history, was that of the 'New Madrid Earthquake' of 1812, which reversed the course of the Mississippi River for a time, created lakes in Tennessee, and resulted in the deaths of a number of settlers in Missouri when their town literally sank deep into the earth, permanently burying them and their community.

Prior to the above event, in December 1811, two nephews of Thomas Jefferson, George and Lillburn Lewis, while living in Kentucky, literally murdered one of their slaves with an axe, while forcing the other enslaved persons to watch the dismemberment, as a discouragement to any future rebellion. Interred within the chimney of their residence, the hiding place of the corpse was soon discovered as a result of the violent shocks of the 'New Madrid Quake' in January and February of 1812. The skull and bones of the murdered slave fell from their place of concealment, causing the arrest of the Lewis brothers, whose history has been aptly portrayed in such works by author Boynton Merrill, Jr., Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Trajedy (1976, 2004 revised edition).

One never knows what primary or secondary sources exist on any given subject until certain events transpire, such as an earthquake. However, the above events are just a few of the many types of subjects and records available here at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, for the reader's investigation, research, or enjoyment.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Conjoined Twins in Philadelphia History

This appeared in the August HSP email publication, History Hits: Collecting & sharing the stories of Pennsylvania. For a free subscription, enter your email here.

Though rare, conjoined twins are not a new physical phenomenon. The lives of conjoined twins have been remembered and documented throughout history and their stories reveal fascinating accounts of devotion, passion, and perseverance. The following two sets of twins have histories tied to Philadelphia.   
Millie-Christine McKoy were born as the slave daughters of Jacob and Monemia, property of a blacksmith named Jabez McCoy in Whiteville, North Carolina in July 1851. Recognizing their potential commercial value, McCoy sold the twin girls when they were ten months old. Millie-Christine eventually became the property of Joseph Pearson Smith, but were freed after the Civil War. The sisters became an entertainment sensation in both the United States and Europe, sometimes referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World or as the Two-Headed Nightingale. They performed in Philadelphia's concert hall at Chestnut and 12th Streets in the mid-19th century (see advertisement below). With the wealth from their career, Millie-Christine bought the former McCoy property where they had been born as slaves. The sisters died in October 1912 and their headstone was inscribed: "A soul with two thoughts. Two hearts that beat as one."  
Philadelphia playbill advertisement for Millie-Christine: Eighth Wonder of the World
Philadelphia playbill advertisement for Millie and Christine: Eighth Wonder of the World and Two-Headed Nightengale

Arguably the most famous conjoined twins were two brothers, Chang and Eng Bunker, who were born in 1811 in Samut Songkram, Thailand (in older literature their birthplace is named Mekong or
Life of the Siamese twins
Cover image for an 1853 book,  
"Life of the Siamese Twins"
Bangaseau in Siam). The brothers were the first to be referred to as Siamese twins. Chang and Eng were brought to Boston, Massachusetts in August 1829 by a New England sea captain, Abel Coffin, to tour with the famous P.T. Barnum Circus.  

After decades of touring, Chang and Eng accrued a substantial amount of wealth (over $60,000), became naturalized U.S. citizens, and settled as farmers in Wilkes and Surry Counties, North Carolina. The two brothers married two sisters from North Carolina, Sarah and Adelaide Yates, on April 13, 1843. Eng and Sarah had ten children, while Chang and Adelaide had twelve. Chang and Eng became the owners of eighteen slaves and were quite disgruntled at the end of the Civil War, when their slave property was lost with the defeat of the Confederacy.
Adelaide.  Chang.  Eng.  Sarah.
From left to right: Adelaide, Chang, Eng, Sarah.
In January 1874, Eng awoke to find his brother dead, and he died the next day at age 63. The bodies of the twins were eventually brought to Philadelphia, where an autopsy by physicians revealed that they could not have been separated because their livers were bound to each other by important blood vessels. Chang and Eng were buried in the White Plains Baptist Church cemetery in Surry County, North Carolina. Today, you can see the fused livers of the conjoined brothers as well as a death cast of their bodies at the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
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Monday, July 18, 2011

'John Brown's Body,' 1859: Philadelphia's Medical Schools Rebellion Against Its Presence in the City.

As most people realize, the execution of the famous abolitionist, John Brown, on December 2nd, 1859, by the state of Virginia for 'treason, and for conspiring and advising with slaves and other rebels, and murder in the first degree," prompted a wave of anti-Southern feeling within the Northern states, where he was perceived as a 'martyr for freedom,' although some Northernors believed Brown to have been quite insane at the time.

It is also well-known that once the various Southern States began to secede from the Union, hundreds of medical students attending various Philadelphia colleges, went South to enlist within the Confederate armed forces. However, many are unaware that prior to the outbreak of the Civil War itself in 1861; in December of 1859, hundreds of Southern-born medical students left Philadelphia for their native South land, specifically because of John Brown as well.

Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire, a native Virginian, was a graduate of the Winchester, Virginia Medical College in 1855 where he also taught anatomy. He later came to Philadelphia to teach surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as at Jefferson Medical College.  He and another native of Virginia, Dr. Francis E. Luckett, were offended by Brown's famous raid at Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), on October 16th, 1859, and more acutely upset, once they discovered that 'John Brown's body,' was first to be embalmed in Philadelphia, then transported by rail, through Philadelphia in early December, on its way to his final resting place in North Elba, New York.

Prior to the commencement of the Civil War, Philadelphia in December of 1859 was filled with both abolitionists and pro-slavery factions, and numerous medical students native to Virginia and elsewhere were residing in the 'City of Brotherly Love' at the time of John Brown's raid, execution, and transportation to New York. Mayor Alexander Henry, aware of the above friction and threats from both sides to plan demonstrations, wisely "made a fake casket, covered with flowers and flags which was carefully lifted from the coach and the train and sped onward in its destination..." In reality the train carrying Brown's body never actually stopped in Philadelphia, and thus violence was averted by a "sham coffin." (see, "The John Brown Excitement....Arrival Here of the Body. A Sham Coffin," in, Philadelphia Sunday Dispatch, December 4th, 1859; Philadelphia Germantown Telegraph, January 4th, 1860).

However, Dr. Hunter H. McGuire "organized a movement" which encouraged over three hundred medical students attending the University of Pennsylvania and Jefferson Medical College, to leave Philadelphia by rail en masse, on December 21st, 1859, in direct opposition to 'John Brown.' They first marched from Jefferson to the 'Musical Fund Hall' while giving the 'Rebel yell.'  Their passage by train out of the city, was paid by the Medical College of Virginia, an amount of almost $4,000 dollars, where many officially enrolled as students, while others continued on further South to medical colleges located in Charleston, Nashville, and New Orleans (see, "Another Civil War Story," The Pennsylvania Gazette, July/August, 2011, p.8).

Dr. McGuire left Philadelphia as well and returned to his native city of Winchester, in Frederick County, Virginia. Once war began, he would join the Confederate Army as a private, but soon became the Medical Director for the Army of the Shenandoah, serving with the famed Confederate officer, Thomas J. 'Stonewall' Jackson. It was McGuire who amputated 'Stonewall' Jackson's wounded left arm in May of 1863, as well as General Richard S. Ewell's left leg above the knee. After Jackson's death, McGuire would continue to serve as Medical Director of the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Truly the Civil War and our nation's response to the events preceding its outbreak and culmination are fascinating to study. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania has original 'John Brown' materials as well as many sources relative to the above incidents. Thus, there are many primary sources by which one can learn about pre-Civil War activities within Philadelphia, during this 150th Commemoration or Anniversary of our nation's worst and most intriguing disaster.