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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 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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The Baby Beneath the Floorboards – 1789

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Categories: Crime, Death, Inns & Taverns, Newtown

In the March of 1789, John Carcaddon made a grisly discovery beneath the floorboards of Hanna’s Brew House in Newtown. Stuffed into a drain beneath the floor was the month-old body of a dead child. He later testified:

he took up a pine Board of the floor to throw the water into it being a drain, and after throwing of a considerable quantity of Water off, the passage appeared to be stopped and upon examining the cause found a hair Cloth under which I found the Infant wrapped in an old piece of Calico

The coroner called an inquest, and a jury was convened to determine the circumstances of the child’s death. Witnesses were called, and suspicion soon fell on a woman named Phebe Stover. Catherine Clucker was called before the jury and testified:

that Phebe Stover was taken Ill in the night about a Month ago, that her husband proposed sending for a Doctor, that she would not consent to it, next day she came into my room continued Ill, that Doct. Torbet was sent for, that he came two different times, that Doct. Asked her how long she had been with Child she answered about four Months and a few days—that she and her Husband frequently quarreled—that she [illegible] this deponent that she thought she had miscarried but would not tell her

The doctor, Samuel Torbet, confirmed her story, reporting:

that he was called upon by the Husband of Phebe Stover that he went with him and found her very Ill, her symptoms I thought were such as threatened a Miscarriage—and found she had been in that situation for some time—and proceeded to treat her as one in that situation—she told me she had been pregnant about four Months and a few days to the best of her knowledge—that he saw no symptoms of her having Miscarried that he told her if she had not already Miscarried she certainly would

It seems clear that the Phebe Stover miscarried, but it’s a mystery why she would attempt to dispose of the body in this disturbing manner.

Today, the County Coroner looks into the death of anyone who dies without being attended to by a doctor. In the early years of Bucks County only exceptional deaths were investigated, and the early coroner’s records are far less frequent and are mostly dedicated to violent, accidental, or otherwise suspicious deaths.

(Source: Bucks County Coroner’s Reports, #20, March 13th, 1789. In the collection of the Bucks County Historical Society)

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