The Carversville Christian Orphanage once stood on the western side of Wismer Road on the hill overlooking the town. It occupied the building previously used by the Excelsior Normal Institute, a private school.
The Carversville Christian Orphanage once stood on the western side of Wismer Road on the hill overlooking the town. It occupied the building previously used by the Excelsior Normal Institute, a private school.
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.”
A Paper Read Before the Farmers’ Institute at Lansdale by Miss Mattie Reeder, of New Hope, on Wednesday, March 10th, 1897.
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.
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.
Tonight 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.
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
which translates to:
Book for Writing
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.
Next weekend I’ll be leading a tour at Solebury Friends burial ground. It was a big hit last year, with about 80 people in attendance. The press release is below. Hope to see you there!
WHEN: Sunday, October 27, 12 noon to 1:30 p.m., rain or shine
WHERE: Solebury Friends Meeting Cemetery
2680 North Sugan Road
New Hope, PA 18938
Local historian Jesse Crooks will lead us through the fascinating stories of those buried at Solebury Meeting Cemetery, which opened in 1809. Along with seeing the burial plots of many locally famous Quaker families like Reeder, Eastburn, Paxton, Ely, Comfort, and Kitchen, we will visit the plot sites and learn the histories of freed slaves and the unknowns in Stranger’s Row. Insightful points of Jesse’s talk cover daily elements of people’s lives and how they dealt with the great issues of the Civil War, slavery, pacifism, and the poor.
Please join us for this very popular, free event. Donations, however, are welcome!
Light refreshments will be served.
QUESTIONS? Call 215 297 5091 or email email@example.com.
Oliver Paxson was a prominent member of the Religious Society of Friends, and was one of the first residents of New Hope. His home, known as Maple Grove, still stands in New Hope immediately to the east of the New Hope-Solebury school complex. He also operated a stable and a salt store, now Hearth restaurant around the corner from Farley’s Bookshop.
In this letter, published in the first volume of Friends Miscellany (1831), Paxson considers the issue of settling land that has been expropriated from the Indians by force. Paxson presents a surprisingly nuanced and empathetic perspective on the conflict between Indians an European settlers. He believes that Indians own the land they lived on, and that Europeans who want to rightfully occupy that land must purchase it from the Indians on mutually agreeable terms. This stands in sharp contrast to the view of many of his contemporaries, who believed that Indians didn’t actually own the lived on because they didn’t use it properly (“wasting” it as hunting grounds, etc.) and that Europeans farmers were therefore justified in appropriating it. Paxson also believes that capturing land in war or compelling Indians to sell their land through force of arms does not bestow a legitimate right of ownership. When the government has taken Indian land by force Quakers still have an ethical obligation fairly compensate the rightful owners. Otherwise, they’re complicit in the theft of native property.
To support his argument, Paxson cites instances in which Europeans appropriated native land by force resulted in violent reprisals and outright war, and compares that violent outcome to the peaceable outcome that occurred when Quakers made agreements with the Indians to purchase their land on fair terms. William Penn knew that his royal grant did not absolve him of purchasing the land from its true owners, and when a group of Quakers settled in Virginia on land that hadn’t been fairly purchased, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting raised money to compensate the Indians, “which had a good effect among the tribes.”
He then cites the biblical precedent in the story of Naboth. In that story, the Jews had a different theory of land ownership than the Baalist king. Naboth owned his farm by right of inheritance, and was required by Jewish law to pass it on to his own heirs in turn. Ahab demanded to purchase it as one would purchase an alienable commodity. Because Naboth couldn’t sell his land, Ahab murdered him and stole it, and the prophet Elijah brought God’s wrath upon his family. Quakers, Paxson implied, should not go the way of Ahab.
The letter probably dates to 1802.
TO JOHN SIMPSON OHIO.
New Hope, 5th of 4th mo.
I have had a share of thy kind remembrance, with many other friends in the place of thy nativity, which I have no doubt has been gladly received by all the friends thou hast written to; and I thought I felt under some obligation to answer thee. But alas! what shall I say? When I think of writing a letter of social friendship, there is a subject that more or less, for fifty years, hath exercised my mind, and greatly so, of latter times:–that is, the situation of the Indians, unto whom this great and populous country once belonged.
Thou hast often heard and read of the wars in New England and Virginia, in conquests over them, and taking their lands. Not so, when William Penn came to Pennsylvania:–a man who had learned his Master’s lesson, “to do unto all men as he would they should do unto him.” This made his name honourable among the Indians, and it remains so to the present time. But after some time one of his successors, not keeping strictly to this rule, overreached them in a purchase in an extraordinary (or shall I say extravagant) day’s walk, and they revenged it many years afterward, when an opportunity offered, by killing and taking into captivity, many of the white inhabitants. Thou and I can remember these things. How our very ears were made to tingle!
Well, time passed on, till the revolutionary war began. The poor Indians hardly knew what part to take, fearing they should lose all their country in the quarrel between nations of white people; especially if it should turn in favour of the United States (as it finally did) and some of the Seneca Chiefs addressed General Washington near the close of the war, made their submission, and remain peaceably on their reservations in the State of New York.
What comes next to be considered is the state of the country thou livest in. About this time, the white people near the Ohio river went over and made settlements on their lands. They complained of their land and game being taken from them, and found no redress. At length they took up the hatchet, and skirmishing on both sides of the river ensued. The President by this time, thought it his duty to endeavour to put a stop to it, and appointed commissioners to treat of peace, and purchase their land. They met, divers Friends attending, viz. John Parrish, Joseph Moore, Jacob Lindley, and some others. The Indians appeared in a hostile, angry mood, and told the commissioners, they would sell them no land;–but required them to remove the white people that were already settled over the river. The treaty broke up, without doing any thing, and hostilities continued: in consequence of which, the President ordered an armed force to defend the frontiers, and bring the Indians to terms. Sinclair their general. About this time the Meeting for Sufferings was sitting, and a heavy exercise came over the meeting on this account, and a committee was appointed to wait on the President, to intreat him to stay the sword:–which they did in a solemn manner, but all in vain. The expedition was pursued. Sinclair defeated, and many fell in battle. But it did not stop here. A greater force was raised, and a general appointed, more skilful in fighting the Indians, and effectually subdued them; and many of the rightful owners of the country, fell down slain in battle, in defending their just rights:–terms of peace were offered, which they declare, they were forced to accept, it being a price very inadequate to its value.
I do not mean by this, to arraign the government. The United States is a warlike nation;–and conquests made by the sword, are commonly applied to the account of the conquerors. So that in this view of things, it may be considered as an act of generosity in the government to pay the Indians twenty thousand dollars, for a country worth an hundred times that sum. But this wont do for thee nor me, who profess to be redeemed from the spirit of war, so as not even to buy a coat, if we know it to be a prize article. Thou may remember the concern brought on our Yearly Meeting by a few families of Friends in Virginia, who were settled on land not fairly bought of the Indians, and a sum of money was finally raised by Friends in Philadelphia, as a compensation, which had a good effect among the tribes.
I must close this singular epistle, by just observing, that when thou wast concerned some years ago, to publish the glad tidings of the Gospel of peace and salvation to the inhabitants of Ohio, my heart went with thee. And had that been thy sole concern when thou went last, I could again have said Amen. But when I took a view of thy wife and children, going with thee to settle in the country, to buy and sell, and get gain, I was not able to go thy pace. My heart is, nevertheless, filled with tender affection and sympathy for thee, thy dear wife, and her children; and I am persuaded, thou hast not seen the thing in the light I view it, or thou would hardly have taken so much pains to induce Friends to settle, in such numbers, in a land obtained in the manner I have mentioned. Naboth must die, because he refused to sell his inheritance to Ahab; though Ahab offered to give him the worth of it in money, or give him a better for it; yet he would not sell it.1 Mark the sequel. If the Province of Pennsylvania must be visited with the horrors of an Indian War,–many of its inhabitants slain, and many carried into captivity–for one man’s offence, in overreaching the Indians in the purchase of land from them;–what may we then expect in the instance before us? The Indians did refuse to sell their inheritance, till many of them were slain, and they were compelled to it. And would it be a strange thing, if an opportunity should offer for the Indians to revenge their wrongs–if the earth, that hath opened its mouth to receive the blood of the rightful owners of the soil, should again open its mouth to receive the blood of white inhabitants? Which judgment may be averted by acts of righteousness, is the sincere desire of my soul. From thy friend,
1In the Old Testament, Naboth owned a small vineyard next to the palace of King Ahab, who wanted to buy the land. Naboth was forbidden from selling the land by Jewish law. After his offer was rebuffed, Ahab had Naboth killed in order to seize his land. As a result, the prophet Elijah prophesies Ahab’s destruction as punishment for murdering Naboth and stealing his land. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naboth)
This map of the Solebury Friends Meeting graveyard was drafted in 1907, based on an earlier map from 1866. Unfortunately the 1866 map has suffered some damage and it’s difficult to make out most of the handwriting. The handwriting matches that in the burial book in the Swarthmore archive, which also dates to 1866. That book makes reference to a previous burial chart used as a reference for the 1866 map. It cites “extracts from the old chart” about decisions the meeting made about laying out the graveyard. There are also sections in the list of graves in which the writer of the 1866 book omits names, stating that they were illegible on the old chart.
In all likelihood this original map no longer exists, and the names omitted on the 1866 map are probably lost forever.
The 1866 and 1907 maps were almost lost as well. My great-grandfather used them as a reference when creating the modern burial map in the 1960s. Apparently he never returned the maps to the meeting, and I found them in a box of maps that had been stored in my family’s barn.
I deposited them in the archive of the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College along with the rest of the meeting’s original records. While there, I used their excellent overhead scanner to digitize the maps. Click on the map above to see the full image.
A few months ago my grandfather decided to a do a little spring cleaning. There was a storage unit in our barn that hadn’t been touched in years, full of mildewy furniture and worthless miscellany. He came across a metal container full of maps, mostly showing local topography and zoning. My aunt suggested that I might want them, so they escaped the trash heap.
When I got down to the barn I found a pile of mostly junk, covered in a plastic tarp because we were expecting rain. I found a few items worth keeping: the sled my great-grandmother had when she was a little girl growing up in Battle Creek, Michigan, a wooden tricycle that belonged to my grandfather, and a few plastic trucks for my son to play with. I found the box of maps and popped open the latch, and immediately knew that the contents were far more important than my grandfather had realized.
There were dozens of maps, but among the rolls of paper I recognized a draft of the map my great-grandfather made for the Solebury Friends Meeting burial ground in the 1960s. Then I noticed another roll that was clearly a much older material. With the box sitting in the gravel driveway, I rolled the map out a few inches and discovered that it was in fact two maps rolled together.
The first was from 1907.
The second was from 1866.
They were the original maps that by great-grandfather used as a reference for the modern map, and they’d been sitting in our barn for decades, totally forgotten.
I called the person currently in charge of the graveyard to tell him about my find and offered to bring it to the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College to deposit it with the rest of the Meeting’s original records, and I held on to them for a few months until I had time to make the trip.
A couple weeks ago I finally I finally had a day off, and decided to bring the maps to Swarthmore. My timing was fortuitous. That Monday I led a graveyard tour at Plumstead Friends Meeting. We assembled in the meetinghouse, and as I led the group outside towards the burial ground, a woman approached me with a box of documents about the meeting. At the time I was too focused on the tour to discuss it, and suggested that she talk to the clerk of the meeting. The next day, however, I was consumed by curiosity. I already had plans to go down the the Friends Historical Library that week, and thought I might be able to bring those papers as well. Luckily I ran into her in Doylestown a couple days later and proposed that I take them for her. She agreed.
When she dropped the documents off the next day, she brought a lot more than the Plumstead material. She also brought a collection of documents from Buckingham Meeting, and there was so much that it took her two trips to unload it from her car.
The Plumstead material turned out to be the notes and research prepared for a pamphlet published for the meeting’s 225th anniversary celebration on 1953, as well as notes about the ceremony itself. There were also two large photographs that were used in the pamphlet, one from c.1875, and one from 1953.
The Buckingham material was rather varied. One box contained about a dozen copies of the book published for Buckingham Meeting’s 225th anniversary in 1923, as well as a block print of the meetinghouse that was used for that book. There was a folder with newspaper clippings and other 20th Century material. Finally, there was a cardboard box that had been saved from Buckingham Meeting by the woman’s father. At some point a few decades ago, the members of Buckingham meeting had decided to indiscriminately “clean” their attic, and this box was a subject of the purge. Like the burial map from Solebury, these documents were almost destroyed.
When I opened this final box I got goosebumps. I could tell by looking at the parchment that they were old. Really old. Most of them were tied together with string into little bundles, with a few groupings of loose papers between them. I saw the date “1776” peeking out from one of the bundles. When I brought them home and examined them further I found that some documents dated back to the beginning of the 1700s, and in addition to material from Buckingham, a lot of the documents actually came from Middletown Monthly Meeting. Most of them were excerpts from annual conference of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and epistles from the yearly meetings in London and Philadelphia. Some were testimony against members of meeting, or letters from people willingly leaving the Society of Friends. There were a few more recent documents that dealt with the Civil War. Perhaps the most interesting document is a letter written from a Quaker aid mission during the British occupation of Boston. She had kept them in storage for years, hoping to eventually deposit them in the archive, and I was finally able to bring them for her.
For the sake of brevity, I will show the individual documents in separate posts:
In the fall of 1897, prominent Solebury resident Eastburn Reeder, then an old man, was asked to recount his experience at the Solebury Friends’ school to the current generation of students. Reeder started school there in 1836, the first year it was open.
Solebury Meeting has since converted the school building into a residence for their caretakers, which just so happens to be the house I grew up in. The building was heavily altered long before I got there, but evidence of the original open floor plan can be seen in the uneven room sizes and odd layout. Other evidence of its prior use can be found in the old outhouse, where four wooden seats indicate that it was built for a well-trafficked public facility. Now used as a shed, the outhouse also once served as rabbit hutch for a previous caretaker, a serious alcoholic so poor that he had to raise rabbits for meat.
The following is his address, as recorded in the Daily Intelligencer, October 9th, 1897, which I’ve transcribed from microfilm:
In Days Gone By.
Recollections of the Solebury School from 1836 to 1846.
A Paper Read at the Closing Exercises of Solebury First Day School
by Eastburn Reader, 10th Month 3d, 1897—A Story of Two Boys.
A few weeks ago I was asked to give this First-day school my recollections of Solebury meeting of Friends of sixty and fifty years ago. Since that time these words have been continually coming to my mind—“How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood.” Whether they were suggested by the effort to turn my mind backward to the day of my youth, or whether they are to be regarded as an evidence of approaching age, I will not stop now to inquire. I have not been able to rid myself of that thought. Like the ghost of Banquo in the story of Macbeth, “it would not down ;” it would not leave me. I am asked to-day to give my recollections of Solebury school, its teachers, and the scholars attending it, from 1836 to 1846, a period of ten years, and all of it more than fifty years, and some of it more than sixty years ago.
We, (my sister and I) began going to school here in the spring of 1836. I was nearly eight years of age, and my sister a little over five. Our mother went with us the first day, and we all walked to the school house. Whether mother went with us on that day to assist in carrying our books, and dinner, or to tell the teacher who we were, or to protect us from imaginary danger along the road, I never knew. After the school opened, mother walked home, and that was the only time that I ever recollect being taken to or from school. After that we had to rough it, like the rest of the scholars, having no protection from the storms, except an umbrella, or an occasional cloak or shawl. Elizabeth Ely was the teacher that summer, and continued to teach the school for four or five summers after that time, being succeeded by Annie Martin and Sarah Murphy in summer, and by Moses E. Blackburn, Albert Pearson, Charles Murphy, and Edward A. Magill in the winters.
Solebury township had not then (1836) accepted free school law, and our tuition was paid for by our parents at the rate of three cents per day. The teachers made out the bills regularly at the end of each month, which we carried home to our parents. The school was a large one, and the house was crowded to its fullest capacity. It was so large that our teacher had to employ her sister, Sarah Ely, to assist her in hearing some of the classes. The desks were arranged around the walls of the room, the boys occupying one side of the house, and the girls the other side, while a few benches in the centre of the room were occupied by the small children, and by those who did not need desks, having neither books, slates, pens or pencils, but recited their letters etc., at the teacher’s desk. I have a list of over seventy-five names of children whom I can recall to mind as having attended that school during the period that I attended it. These companions of my youth, where are they now? How many are yet living? How many deceased? And how far and widely have they been scattered? I have undertaken the task of ascertaining these points, and although the task is far from being completed I have good reasons for believing that a majority of them are still living. Out of a list of 76 names, 32 are know to be deceased, and 44 are believed to be now living. This, I think, is a remarkable showing for health and longevity—44 out of 76 beings is over 60 per cent. living, and all of them now over 50 years, and many of them over 60 years of age. During this entire period of ten years, we were called upon but once to note the death of but a single one of our school mates, and that was a little boy between 5 and 6 years of age.
The dead, where are they? Of the 32 who are known to be deceased 12 of them have been buried in these grounds. They lived out their allotted lives in this vicinity and have been gathered in with their fathers. Of the other 20, fifteen of them lie in cemeteries in different parts of this State ; three in New Jersey, one in Ohio and one in Bombay, in far away India. The 44 living are believed to be now scattered almost, if not quite, as widely, only five or six of us left remaining within a reasonable walking distance of the school.
It is my object to ascertain the date of birth of all, the date of marriage, of those who married, and to whom married, the present whereabouts and address of those who are living ; and the date of death of those who have died, and the place where they are buried. I am aware that to accomplish this will be no easy task. It will take time, and I may find cases where it will be impossible to gain information I desire. I have already, in the very threshhold of the work, met with some very pleasant and encouraging experiences, and I have also met with some very sad and discouraging experiences. After I left Solebury school in 1846, I was away from this neighborhood most of the time for nearly three years. When I returned in the spring of 1849, and looked around for my former companions, what did I find? I found several of them married, and obeying that command which God gave to Noah in Genesis 8 : 16-17. Others had gone I knew not whether. To ascertain this as far as possible is my object, and while I am waiting for the returns to come in, I will tell the children a story of my recollections of my school boy days.
A STORY OF A BOY
I will tell a story of a boy, or rather a story of two boys. Almost every boy who goes to school, has his chum. This must be natural among boys, or so many of them would not do so. I had my chum. He was one year older than I. He was a boy very peculiar in disposition, and seemed to have the power of moulding me to his will. Everything he said or did, to my mind, was exactly right. Our desks and seats were side by side. This is not only for one term of the school, but it lasted as long as we both attended this school. To secure this end on the last day of a term of school we would each of us leave a book in our desks, in order to secure possession of them for the next term. In these books he taught me to write these lines—
“Steal not this book my honest friend,
For fear the gallows will be your end.”
These lines were signed by our respective names and were supposed to be potent against depredations. We had full faith in this, and our books were never stolen. I have said that my chum had a peculiar disposition. He was inclined to be a rover—he was going to be a sailor, to be a captain of a ship. He said I should be a farmer and have a large plantation. I was to produce articles for him to carry in his ship to other countries of the world. Every day as we studied our geography together afforded him an excellent opportunity to mature his plans. He located my plantation on the Atlantic coast somewhere between Charleston and Savannah. With a stroke of pen and ink he converted a promontory or cape to an island.
This is necessary, he said, so that he could approach my plantation from every side. I was to raise rice and cotton for him to export. To enable me to do this it would be necessary for me to have large numbers of slaves, which he would go to Africa for and capture and bring to me. I will say just here, that our teacher was his aunt, and boarded in his father’s family. She was a very strong anti-slavery woman, and often spoke to us of the sinfulness of slavery and the wrongs of the poor slaves. Whether it was to be in oppostion to the views of his aunt and teacher, that he decided to make a slave holder of me, I never knew. I was to be married, he said, and have a family, but he was to be a sea captain, and they never married or had families. His stories of adventure were so captivating that I believed everything he told me. As I was to marry and live on a plantation and have a family, I began to think about a wife early in life. Every day, instead of studying our lessons in geography, he would say to me “Let us transact business.” That is to say, he would buy up what I had produced for export, and bring back to me any product of the earth that I might desire. This gave us knowledge of geography, in a measure, but it did not give us very often much knowledge of the lesson for the day. Very frequently were the orders given to us by the teacher, “Boys, you must get this lesson over after school.” Then we would put ourselves down to work and soon master the lesson.
I recollect one day in particular as we opened our atlas, my chum told me that he had on board for me a large number of very valuable Araibian horses, fresh from the desert, that he had, with great difficulty, secured for me. He said his ship was now in sight of land, and would soon be in the harbor. He then put up both hands to his mouth to blow the trumpet announcing the arrival of his vessel. He blew louder than he know, for the noise of the blast attracted the attention of the teacher and the entire school. We were ordered to the teacher’s desk at once. Which of us had made that noise? Neither of us would tell. Then both must be punished, and that severely. The teacher had a small chestnut sprout in her desk, from which the bark had been peeled, and it had become very dry and brittle. My chum held out his hand to receive the punishment first, and after receiving a few sharp cuts, he cried out lustily, or pretended to do so, and was sent to his seat with his face deeply buried in his hands upon the top of his desk. It was my turn next, and as I did not cry, for in boy parlance, “it didn’t hurt a bit,” the teacher naturally looked to see why the punishment had not the same effect on me. Her eyes were small, black and fiery, and her expression almost convulsed me with laughter. The blows upon my hand were renewed with redoubled force. At every blow, two or three inches of the switch flew off the end, and it was speedily used up. The boy was still rebellious and defiant. The teacher was too conscientious to use a ruler, but something more must be done.
Accordingly, I was led by the shoulder over to the girls’ side of the schoolroom, where “room was made” for me on the bench between two of the oldest and largest girls in the school. I suppose they were 18 or 20 years of age. They appeared to me then as mountains of flesh, both being large and fat. I was not placed opposite to a window where I could look out, and had nothing but white wall to gaze upon. I could not even see the girl on the other side of the two between whom I was placed. I could not see over or around them, and was almost buried from sight. Had I been placed between two other girls, whom I could name, and nearer my own age, I should have liked it far better. I was compelled to remain there until school closed for the day. When the school was dismissed I was told to remain. The teacher busied herself with mending our goose quill pens, and setting the copies for the next day, until all the scholars had time to reach their homes. I wondered what was to be done with me next. The teacher told me that she had made up her mind to write a note and send it by me to my parents, telling them to keep me home from the school. I promptly told her she could send no such note home by me. Then she would send it by my sister, who would not go home without her brother. I said my sister should not take the note either. I do not know whether it was the tears of my sister, or what it was, but the teacher all at once took a sudden change. She began to talk to me. She told me what a great interest she had felt in me, and what pains she had taken, and how hard she had tried to do her duty by me. And as she talked on in this strain, her tears began to flow as rapidly as her words. This overcame me entirely. I could stand punishment, and scolding, but entreaties and tears I could not stand. I yielded, and promised obedience for the future. The note home was neither written nor sent. As I look back upon this little incident after an interval of sixty years, I can but look upon it as a victory for us both. It was a victory for the teacher, most certainly, for the boy not only promised, but gave obedience. It was a victory for the boy over himself, and it was not necessary to punish him afterward, and he continued to go to that teacher for several summers. She was a faithful, conscientious teacher, and tried hard to do her duty by us. She afterward removed form Solebury to Philadelphia, where she died many years ago, and was buried in Friends’ burial ground at Fair Hill. I intend some day to visit her grave as a deserving tribute to her memory
I cannot close this little story without telling what afterwards became of my chum. After he left school he studied medicine, and graduated with high honors. I believe he was soon appointed a ship surgeon, which was an object of his ambition. In the year 1851 he was appointed by the President of the United States Counsel to Bombay. He remained there for seven years, dying there in 1858. A short time before his death he married, and as they were making arrangements for their wedding trip home to visit his parents his wife was taken sick with some fatal disease peculiar to that country, and soon died. He was also smitten with the same disease, and died. When the news of their deaths reached this country I went to see his parents and sympathize with them in their great affliction. They told me it would be impossible for their bodies even to be brought here for burial. The distance was so great and the nature of the disease such as to render it impossible. I do not even know the name or nationality of his wife, and I may never be able to ascertain it. But I shall never forget the sorrow that was depicted upon that mother’s countenance as she told me the sad story. She had followed to the grave all the rest of her children in early life save one. This was her first-born and favorite son, and those lines of deep sorrow were never entirely obliterated from her countenance, and she lived for many years.
I hope there will be seen in this simple story a lesson for young boys and girls of this , our First-day school. That lesson is—get mementos, or keepsakes of some kind from your teachers and from your most intimate friends. You have far greater facilities to do this than we scholars had sixty years ago. Then photographs were unknown. I have not a single picture of one of my schoolmates or teachers. You can get them now at a very small cost. If you cannot get these, then get a few lines from a favorite author, written in their own handwriting, and signed by their names and date. And more than all, do not suffer yourselves to lose all knowledge of their address. Then no matter how widely the companions of your youthful days may become scattered in this wide world of ours, you will know and feel that you have the power of reaching them, and of communicating with them in a few days at most. It will be a source of great gratification to you when you grow to be old. I have here a card in my hand, a little red card, which I received from my first teacher more than sixty years ago. It was my first card, and is dated 8th mo. 7Th, 1835. I was not then seven years old, I have kept it to this day, and every year it grows more precious to my sight. The picture upon it represents Noah’s Ark riding upon the waters of the Deluge. Underneath the picture of the ark is printed the command given by God to Noah to enter the ark :
“Cometh thou and all thine houses into the ark,” Gen. 7 : 1.
Noah is represented as standing on the front of the ark, sending forth the dove to see if it could find land, the story of which is beautifully told in the following lines:
“The dove set free from Noah’s hand,
Wandered a weary space,
But could not find the solid land
Or gain a resting place.
‘Tis thus the soul that strays from God,
No comfort can obtain,
‘Till it return to its abode
And finds the Ark again.”
I do not know what then prompted my young mind to choose this card, but now its picture and its lines have to my mind a deep significance.
*Note: The chum is Dr. Edward Ely, 1827-1858, who served as consul in Bombay under President Polk. (Battle Vol.3 p.814)