Categotry Archives: Philadelphia


Whistling to the Devil

Categories: Philadelphia

From Joseph C. Martindale’s 1867 history of Byberry and Moreland townships:

Samuel Scott was an old Friend who had a very remarkable way of whistling through his nose. On one occasion Jeremy Hibbs clothed himself in a skin, with horns projecting from his head, and placed himself in the bushes by a path where he expected Samuel Ross to pass. After Samuel had gone a few yards, Jeremy came out and hailed him. Samuel gave a whistle through his nose, and exclaimed, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” and walked on as unconcernedly as if nothing had happened.

Samuel Scott died in 1761, so this anecdote likely dates to the first half of the 18th century.


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


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.


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.