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The Little Witch of the Woods

Categories: Archives, Buckingham, Lahaska, Quakerism, Solebury, Tags: ,

Betts Homestead

The Betts Homestead in Solebury

While cataloging bound manuscripts for the Bucks County Historical Society I came across this story in a scrapbook from the Lahaska area dating to the 1890s. It contained the following newspaper clipping, in which Martha Kenderdine “Mattie” Reeder recounts stories from her grandmother’s childhood:

Reminiscences of “When Grandma Was Young.”

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A Paper Read Before the Farmers’ Institute at Lansdale by Miss Mattie Reeder, of New Hope, on Wednesday, March 10th, 1897.

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It was a dreary day in early November. The scudding clouds had fought a triumphant battle with the wintry sunshine. Now the first snow was falling. The old, stone farm house, safe sheltered from the north winds by the surrounding hills and forest, was never known to close its door upon the tired traveler. To-night there seemed an extra bustle within its walls. A little stranger had that day arrived. “The baby is a girl,” the radiant nurse announces. “Another little girl, and I have so many little girls,” sighed the pale mother. And this was grandma’s welcome to the world. It was not a very warm one and at first grandma debated long the question, should she stay? Perhaps it was the beauty of the dancing flames in the great fireplace, or the tender mother love which cherished her, or maybe the awkward caresses of her blue-eyed brother that at length determined her. So the sickly baby grew into a rosy, toddling girl, whose life was as joyous and free as the song birds about her. And it is fragments from this girl[‘s] life of long ago that I will try to tell.

It was a large family that dwelt in the spacious farm house. The first-born, a son, was looked upon with awe by all the youngsters. He was treated with almost the respect they showed to father. Then came a list of daughters who went by the name of “the girls.” And lastly grandma and her darling scapegrace* brother, who were known until both married as “the children.” This brother and sister, “the children,” the love that bound them so closely together, makes it impossible to tell the story of one life without also telling that of the other.

Grandma’s one great trial of her childhood’s days was that she could not be a prim and quiet little maid like her sisters. She would run and romp, climb the tallest trees and whistle. Her little feet from spring to fall were innocent of shoes and stockings, except on First-days when it was her turn to go to meeting. Then, in a household of so many daughters there could not be a different dress and bonnet for each one. One costume did for many. So poor little grandma would find herself in a gown, either too long or too short and with shoes that clumped or else cruelly pinched her feet. But not withstanding this her day to go to meeting was always longed for and when over remembered fondly.

It was ever wonderment to her grandchildren that grandma showed an unconquerable aversion to a yellow cat. One day the secret transpired. At the farm house, it appears, pet cats and kittens were tabooed. But one yellow kitten proved so engaging that the little fluffy thing crept right into the hearts of the children. When their secret was discovered the mandate was issued, the kitten must die and they must kill it. It did seem cruel but to disobey father or mother was never thought of. Grandmother and her brother held a sorrowful consultation. At last he had a brilliant inspiration. The kitten should be Arnold, the traitor, and be hung. Arnold deserved the fate and they, he argued, (not withstanding their friendly up bringing) would be doing a worthy act. Grandma gave a dubious sigh of assent and followed her leader. Arnold was taken to the woods with a tow string fixed firmly around his neck. The limb was chosen, the deed all but done, when “you wicked children!” screamed a shrill voice behind them. Turning they saw flying toward them an old woman, whose gray hair flew out behind her. She had thrown her bundle of sticks aside and shook her crutch in a menacing manner as she swooped upon them. “The Witch of the Woods,” they gasped in terror and fled. This old woman had long been known to them by fame. She lived alone in her wretched hut and how she existed none knew. But because she was old and poor and lonely she was called a witch and the name clung to her and helped make her shunned. She knew she was feared and her temper was sound, but she saved that kitten.

Sometime after this grandma chanced to be alone in the forest when she again encountered the witch, gathering her daily bundle of faggots. With scant ceremony the old woman bade the little girl help her carry wood. Afraid to obey, afraid to disobey, grandma stood. A second command, sharper than the first, made her hasten to assist. Arrived at the witch’s hut she found her reward in a seed cake. There were no black cats to be seen, not black bag to hide little girls in and no superfluous broom-sticks. It was only the home of a poor, lame, old woman, and when a little kindness was shown her she proved not ungrateful. Perhaps it was pity or maybe it was the seed cake that made grandma from that time a visitor to the old Witch of the Woods.

It was considered a misfortune by the children (and it was a misfortune) that they had no grandma. Other little people had and boasted to them and put on superior airs. Their pride was touched. Grandma pondered long on this perplexing problem; then it was solved. We would adopt a grandma, and no less a person was selected than the Witch of the Woods. This solution was rejected by her brother. He even teased her, calling her “The Little Witch of the Woods,” but she was not to be deterred.

One of the older sisters had been sent to boarding school. With the knowledge there acquired she was expected to teach the children and she did so with credit. A summer school was held in a room over the wagon house and to her little people come from far and near. In the winter the big boys come and then it was an unwritten law that no girl should attend. Grandma was quick at her studies and was loath to leave. She timidly petitioned to be allowed to attend the winter session. But her father’s stern “What does thee want among a parcel of big boys” effectually silenced her. Nevertheless, her brother went and grandma secretly pored over his books and kept pace with him.

One time when the father and mother attended yearly meeting her brother was taken with them. It was their first separation, and grandma felt it keenly. But the joy of the return! She learned then she had not been forgotten. With his scanty, hard-earned pennies her brother had bought her a china mug. And enclosed by a wreath of flowers were the words “For My Favorite.” As long as she lived this mug had a place among grandma’s greatest treasures. But all this time grandma was growing. She was no longer “The Little Witch of the Woods.” She was learning the art of spinning, of churning golden butter, and the mystery of cooking was no mystery to her. In all household affairs the careful mother trained her daughter. And she was such an old, old fashioned mother that she taught her to look forward to the time when she should be married, and helped form her so that she would perform the duties of a wife nobly and well. There was already a goodly store of linen, spun by grandma’s girlish fingers and laid carefully away for her “outset.” And as she sat by her wheel, spinning, spinning, many must have been the gorgeous day dreams of the coming of the prince. All the older girls were married, and her father jokingly had told her she must not ask for her outset for those three years. Then grandma was only dreaming, but at the end of those three years her father was seriously reminded of his joke.

Grandma’s brother had grown into a tall young man. He was something of a dandy and went to see the girls. Often his gay companions came to the old farm house. Neither their coming or their going troubled grandma.

She had not yet asked herself the question, “Am I a child or woman?” One day seeing her brother’s team drive in the door-yard, she left her work and ran to meet him. Too late, a strange young man, she saw, was with him. [And she] stood spell-bound for she looked upon her prince. Then she realized in one brief instant that her home-spun dress was old and faded. That her curly hair was dreadfully tumbled and oh, what should she do! She had on neither shoes nor stockings. At this crisis, without a word and with cheeks of crimson grandma turned and fled. But the prince had only seen her face.

This I think proves quite plainly nature had been very kind to grandma, since it took so little to make her charming. Still, great was the disgust of her brother. “What had made her behave so simple?” Alas! she did not know. “What would his friend think of the sister he had been so highly praising?” Grandma was silent, but she only wished she knew.

Meanwhile the father and the mother saw their daughter bud into a woman and they gave her the outfit suitable for a young woman of her day. To transform this merry girl into a stately lady they bought her one silk gown, a cotton print, a pair of long silk mit[t]s, a shawl and bonnet. And grandma over this modest wardrobe had just as many raptures as girls of to-day.

When she stood arrayed in her gown of silvery gray her thoughts wandered to the prince and she could not help sighing, “Oh! If he could only see me now.” But the prince did not forget her. He began to come quite often to see her brother. At least the brother thought so, and took upon himself all the entertainment, while the poor prince suffered torments. Demure grandma saw it all, but would not help him. But at last grandpa (Oh! the prince) by means of schemes the darkest and efforts mighty succeeded in escaping from this now tiresome brother. But when this poor deluded brother saw his friend walking with his sister he was blind no longer.

Then came grandma’s courting days. But of the long rides, the walks, the talks grandma and grandpa had together grandma would never tell me. She was growing old, she said, and it was all so long ago she could not remember. And that was the first and only time that I could not quite believe her.

*Scapegrace: a mischievous or wayward person; a rascal.

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The grandmother in question is Letitia Blackfan Betts. Her father Stephen Betts settled in Solebury in the late 1700s, and the Betts homestead remained in their family for more than a century. Letitia was born on November 11th, 1801, and grew up on her family’s farm on Stoney Hill Road. Her younger brother John, with whom she was so close, was born in 1804. Letitia married her suitor Joseph Eastburn Reeder at Buckingham Friends Meeting on April 11th, 1824. The farmhouse, which still stands today, was located between Stoney Hill and Aquetong Road.

Letitia's brother William Betts owned the farm in 1850

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The Burning of Pennsylvania Hall

Categories: Abolitionists, Black History, Buckingham, Philadelphia, Racism, Solebury

The Burning of Pennsylvania HallTonight marks the 176th anniversary of the burning of Pennsylvania Hall, which was razed by anti-black rioters a mere three days after it opened in May of 1838. The building was erected in Philadelphia by the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, and at the time of the riot they were hosting the Requited Labor Convention, which brought together various regional anti-slavery societies. A number of Bucks County abolitionists were in attendance when the hall was destroyed. The convention minutes list delegates from the Bucks County Anti-Slavery Society as well as the Buckingham Female Anti-Slavery Society. The delegates include people who were very active in the Underground Railroad in Bucks County, including William H. and Mary Johnson of Buckingham and Jonathan P. and Mary W. Magill of Solebury. After the convention was reconvened in September, William H. Johnson was elected as one of the convention’s vice-presidents. The Magills’ son Edward H. Magill would later write the most complete history of the Underground Railroad in Bucks County, “When Men Were Sold: Reminiscences of the Underground Railroad in Bucks County,” published in the second volume of A Collection of Papers Read Before the Bucks County Historical Society.

Bucks Anti-Slavery Society Buckingham Female Anti-Slavery Society

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Yiddish in a 1780s Solebury Account Book

Categories: Books, Judaism, Philadelphia, Solebury

Yiddish Writing I found this written on the last page of the ledger book of Solebury Doctor Jonathan Ingham, now in the collection of the Bucks County Historical Society. The account book dates to the 1780s, and the rest of the book is a straightforward record of Ingham’s accounts.

While I was surprised to find 18th century Hebrew script in the archive, it was not a total shock. Ingham was multilingual, with some knowledge of Greek, Latin, German, France, and Spanish, and he was supposedly able to speak to the Lenape in their own language. He was also said to be a student of Hebrew, which he studied under Samuel De Lucena, a member of the Mikveh Israel congregation in Philadelphia, the oldest continuously operated synagogue in the United States. Ingham’s relationship with De Lucena was so close that Ingham named his son Samuel Delucenna Ingham in his honor (Samuel would later become a US Senator and serve as secretary of the treasury under Andrew Jackson before resigning during the Petticoat Affair.)

I asked my friend who speaks modern Hebrew to take a look at it, but she determined that the text is actually Yiddish and could only give me a partial translation. Luckily, another friend of mine is a student of Yiddish, and he was able to translate it for me. The transliteration is as follows:

bikh far shraybn

sefer zikaron

which translates to:

Book for Writing

Memorial Book

I asked him if the two words translating as “book” carried a different sense, and he explained that “bikh,” used in the first line, is a variation of “bukh,” related to the German “buch.” On the second line, Ingham uses the work “sefer”, which is derived from Hebrew. My friend explains, “‘sefer’ (Hebraic) is in a higher register than the more quotidian “bukh” and I’d be inclined to think that ‘sefer zikaron’ would almost always mean a memorial book.”

I Googled the term “sefer zikaron,” and I found that it was in fact used in the context of a written memorial for someone who has died. I also found the term used in the titles of memorial books dedicated to Jewish towns that had been destroyed in the Holocaust. It’s unclear why Ingham wrote this Yiddish phrase in the back of his ledger, but it doesn’t appear to relate to the book’s content. Perhaps he was practicing the script in preparation for another text.

The fact that this text is in Yiddish is interesting. This makes sense because Hebrew was only used for religious texts and rituals in this period and had not yet been revived as a spoken language. However, it is somewhat curious that De Lucena taught Ingham Yiddish because Mikveh Israel was founded in the 1740s by Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugual who would not have spoken the German-influenced Yiddish. De Lucena appears on a list of congregants from 1780s, and while De Lucena and others have surnames of Iberian origin, others have clearly Germanic names. It’s possible that as Ashkenazi congregants joined the community the language they used to speak to one another shifted as well.

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Portraits of Black Soldiers from World War I

Categories: Black History, Military, Postcard, World War I

These are post cards, although neither has a stamp so they were never mailed. The first has holes at the top where it was pinned up, presumably by a loved one awaiting the soldier’s return. Based on the uniform, I’m pretty confident it dates to World War I.

Black Soldier WWI Rifle(small)

The second was pretty degraded when I got it, with significant fading and some stains. It was stamped on the back by the photographer, and was taken at Greenfield’s Art Studio, 531 Central Ave, Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m guessing this one is from the same era, although it lacks the distinctive leggings that made me sure about the first one.

Black Soldier WWI Flag(small)

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Three Generations in Photographs

Categories: Ambrotype, Horsham, Langhorne, Lower Moreland, Middletown, Opalotype, Philadelphia, Photography, Portrait, Tintype

Alexander Porter (zoom)

(Click on any portrait to see the extremely detailed hi-res scan)

I purchased this collection of photographs a few months ago. In addition to the fact that they’re interesting photographs covering a wide span of time and including diverse photographic processes, I was primarily motivated to buy them because they came from Bucks County and the subjects were named. With a little research I was able to find out who they were and where they came were from.

The oldest is that of David Kerbaugh, a salted paper print that probably dates to before 1855. Kerbaugh was born in 1817 in Warrington Township, Bucks County. His father Justus later moved the family to Horsham, Montgomery County. He died in 1867 and was probably buried at Horsham Friends Meeting, where is wife and other members of the Kerbaugh family are buried.

David Kerbaugh

When fully zoomed in you can see the rough fibers characteristic of salted paper prints.

The next oldest are the portraits of his brother-in-law, George Palmer, and his daughter, Mary “Minnie” Augusta Kerbaugh. These are both ambrotypes, photographs made by pouring a liquid emulsion on a plate of glass. They’re the earlier style of ambrotype, in the photograph is taken on clear glass and black varnish is then painted on the back in order to make it a positive image. They date to about 1860.

George Palmer

The photographer hand-tinted his lips and cheeks.

The portrait of George Palmer is very small, a 1/16th plate measuring less than 2″, housed in a broken Union case made of hard plastic. The photo of Minnie Kerbaugh has clearly been altered. The metal frame holding the pane of glass is warped from being opened, and it is slightly too large for the leather case. It looks like the glass cover may have broken and been replaced with thicker glass that doesn’t fit correctly in the metal frame.

Mary "Minnie" Augusta Kerbaugh

Notice the red tinting on her cheeks and the green tinting on the shoulder of her dress.

Minnie remained single into her 50s, when she married Alexander Forbes Porter Jr., a widower who had employed her as a housekeeper for over a decade before their marriage. Porter spent most of his life in Philadelphia before moving to Langhorne.

The collection also contains an opalotype, a rare early form a photography created by pouring emulsion over white opaque glass. Unfortunately, it’s the only one that hasn’t been identified. Based on the family resemblance, the man is probably a Porter. It may be Alexander as a young man.

Porter Opalotype - Before

This opalotype was extremely faded before I touched it up. It was difficult to view at most angles. Also known as opalypes or milk glass positives, these photographs are made by pouring collodion emulsion on opaque white glass.

Porter Opalotype - After

After adjusting the levels and hue concentration, the subject is easier to see, as is the hand-tinted bow tie. The pigment on his chin was smudged, demonstrating how fragile the unprotected emulsion is. Zoom in to see the particles of pigment on the surface of the glass.

 

 

 

 

There are two other photos of Alexander, both tintypes, photos made by pouring a liquid emulsion on a piece of metal. The first shows Alexander (right) and his brother Richard (left), taken in Philadelphia on August 30th, 1892. This photo is still in its decorative paper sleeve. While early tintypes were housed in cases like daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, they were more often displayed in paper sleeves or specially designed books. Matting the image behind paper hides the irregular shape of the plate as well as the edge of the photo where the emulsion is uneven.

Alexander Forbes Porter Jr (left) & Richard Porter (right) in sleeve

 

Notice the line below Alexander's head where a swatch off emulsion is gone, exposing the iron plate below. This sort of damage usually occurs when a tintype is bent, causing the inflexible emulsion to break and fall off.

Notice the line below Alexander’s head where a swath off emulsion is gone, exposing the iron plate below. This sort of damage usually occurs when a tintype is bent, causing the inflexible emulsion to break and fall off.

The other photo shows Alexander standing with an unnamed man. Alexander looks a good bit older in this photo, having gained some weight and lost some hair. Based on these features, this photo may date to around 1900-1910.

Alexander Forbes Porter Jr. (left)

The last photo, also a tintype, shows Alexander’s son-in-law Clarence Luther Green. Born in Shippensbury in 1877, Clarence moved to Philadelphia where he married Lillian May Porter, Alexander’s daughter from his first marriage. The couple eventually moved to Langhorne. Clarence is seated on the left, and his friend Linford Logan is on the right. The photo was taken on August 31st, 1902.

Clarence Green & Linford Logan

When I purchased the collection of photographs, it contained the following letter:

Linford Logan Letter

John K. Logan was Linford’s brother. They grew up in Horsham, Montgomery County, before Linfored moved to west. John stayed in the area and lived in Lower Moreland until his death in 1961. He and Eva are buried in William Penn Cemetery.

It’s not clear which Mr. Green the letter is addressed to. Clarence was still alive, but a very old man. It may have been addressed to his son, Emerson P. Green.

It’s likely that this collection of photos was owned by Emerson. The note accompanying one photo of Alexander Porter refers to him as the grandfather of Emerson Green, indicating that they may have been identified for Emerson by an older relative. Emerson had no siblings and no children, so it makes sense that he would have been the last owner.

Emerson Porter Green died just last year on October 23rd, 2012, at the age of 97. His wife, Jean Mitchell Green, died this January. I bought these photos on eBay in March, so perhaps the seller bought the photos at their estate sale. Regardless, after being kept in the family for 150 years, they were sold a stranger. Usually a collection like this would be parted out and sold as individual pieces for more money. When family photographs are transformed into commodities they are stripped of their context and the identities of their subjects are usually lost. According to Emerson’s obituary, “He spent a large amount of his time volunteering at the Langhorne Historical Society where he was involved in archiving historical artifacts for the society.”

Given Emerson’s dedication to preserving local history, I’m glad that I was able to purchase them and save them from that nameless abyss.

Emerson and Jean Green are buried at Middletown Friends Meeting.

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The Devil in Bucks County

Categories: Books, Bucks County, New Hope

It’s a cool rainy evening here in Bucks County, the perfect kind of night to curl up with a good book. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. Edmund Schiddel’s The Devil in Bucks County is so bad that it’s basically unreadable. I browsed it trying to pull a quote and couldn’t find anything worth repeating.

“They came flocking into Bucks County like locusts,” the back cover states, referring to the artists and writers who moved to the area from New York. Too bad Schiddel was one of them. In 1959 he published The Devil in Bucks County, which takes place in a town that loosely resembles New Hope.

Some of the locals have old Bucks County names like Stackhouse, Hibbs, and Satterthwaite, but Schiddel’s portrayal of New Hope is about as out of touch as M. Night Shymalan’s portrayal of Newtown in Signs (remember the scene in which the owners of the bookstore tell the children, “We keep those books for the city folk!”).

While the text may be worth less than the 50 cents this second edition sold for in 1960, it’s kind of nice to have a 50′s pulp novel set in your hometown. I’ll admit that I bought it for the cover:
Devil-In-Bucks_front Devil-In-Bucks_back

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Edward Hicks & The Founding of Newtown Friends Meeting

Categories: Documents, Graves, Newtown, Painting, Quakerism

Newtown Friends Meeting

The Founding of Newtown Friends Meeting

Among the documents that I recently deposited at the Friends Historical Library was this petition to Middletown and Wrightstown Monthly Meetings for permission to meet for worship as an indulged meeting, which is simply a group that meets to worship but doesn’t conduct any business on its own. This meeting would eventually become Newtown Friends Meeting. In 1815 they began meeting in the county courthouse, which had been abandoned after the county seat moved to Doylestown in 1812. In 1817, they built their own meetinghouse. Interestingly, some of their funding for the construction came from the sale of liquor. Joseph Jenks contributed $100 that he made by distilling apple whiskey, and others reportedly did as well. 

Edward Hicks

This document appears to have been written by Edward Hicks. Today Hicks is remembered as a famous painter, best known for his work The Peaceable Kingdom. During his lifetime, however, he was better known as a preacher. In fact, he faced criticism from fellow Quakers for creating decorative art. He even gave up artwork and tried to subsist by farming and only utilitarian painting, but couldn’t make a living doing so and eventually returned to his art.

Peaceable Kingdom

Hicks was the last to sign the petition, and the certain characteristics of his handwriting seem to match the text of the petition. The “H” in “All Heads of fammilys” following the signatures is identical, a number of the i’s are not dotted in the letter, as in his signature, and the nearly vertical c’s match as well.

Edward Hicks

Hicks’ authorship also fits with what we know about the early history of the Meeting. Hicks was a prominent member of the meeting, and he was the first preacher to speak at courthouse in 1815 as well as the new meetinghouse in 1817.

According to the meeting’s website:

Edward Hicks’ grave, with the low headstone preferred by Friends, may be found near the sycamore tree across from the front porch of the meeting house that he loved so much.

The Petition

While the document is undated it clearly predates 1815, the year in which Friends began meeting in the former county courthouse. It is addressed to both Middletown and Wrightstown Monthly Meetings because Newtown drew members from both.

Hicks writes:

Dear friends

We have believed it Right to revive the subject respecting a Meeting in Newtown, by calling the attention of friends in a Monthly Meeting capacity once more to that important subject, desiring that a [state?] may be sought after of judging wether [sic] the time has not arived [sic] when an Indulged Meeting might be granted might be granted with advantage and safety.

Interestingly, both men and women were listed as heads of families. However, it appears that the names of each couple were written by the same hand, so perhaps the husband signed both names.

They seem to have gotten a positive response from Wrightstown Meeting, which appointed a committee of six men and six women to look into the matter.

Full text below:

Newtown Meeting Petition_back1

Newtown Meeting Petition_frontNewtown Meeting Petition_back2

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