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.