The autobiography of a Pennsylvanian/01 Ancestry

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THE life of every man has a value as well as an interest for his fellows. No matter how humble may have been the career, if the events are truly told they are a source of helpfulness to the race.

The book of the old gossip, Pepys, has outlasted and been oftener reprinted than many another of more apparent importance. Scientists search with the utmost care for the chips of stone which men, long forgotten, threw away as refuse, in order that their lost lives may be reconstructed.

My own life has been somewhat eventful, and in a certain sense representative. It presents many antitheses. It covers the period of the War of the Rebellion (I decline to use the euphuism of the Civil War, no such thing having been ever), the destruction of slavery, the centennial anniversaries, the publication of the Origin of Species, the introduction of electricity into the industries and the discovery of the North Pole. I have been brought into relations with the presidents, from Lincoln to Roosevelt, with the generals, Grant, Sherman, Hancock, Sickles, Howard and Sheridan, and have corresponded with Darwin, Le Comte de Paris, DeHoop Scheffer, Bayard Taylor and Lloyd Mifflin. I have made addresses at Stony Point and at Gettysburg. I have presided over the Law Academy, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the University of Pennsylvania, a court and the commonwealth. I have walked one hundred and seventy-five miles on a stretch, and have ridden down Pennsylvania Avenue, from the capitol to the White House, at the head of ten thousand men. I have carried on my back at one time twenty pounds of putty, and at another a musket. I have made pills in Kensington, thrown a load of wood into a Chestnut Street cellar, kept the books of an oil company, mowed weeds in a meadow, gathered a great library, written eighty books and pamphlets, tried men for murder, and sent sixty-six criminals to be hanged. Therefore is this story begun.

It pleases the vanity of men who have won some of the success of life to believe that they have been the architects of their own fortunes, and that the results are due to their individualities. The thought is pure error. Countless ages and almost infinite effort of unrecognized forces are required to make a man. His character and his physique he inherits, what he accomplishes depends upon the conditions that surround him more than upon the weight of his hand or the logic of his brain. I became Governor of Pennyslvania because one grandfather earned and gave to me the money with which to read law, and the other grandfather, in obedience to family traditions, took into his home and provided for a helpless child. The deeds of virtue, as well as the sins of the fathers, are visited upon the children even unto the third and fourth generations. Consequently, if we wish to understand a man and his work, it is necessary to know how he came about and what there is back of him.

The people of Pennsylvania are more blended in race than those of any of the other American colonies. Biologists and breeders alike have learned the law of nature that the crossing of allied stocks leads to the increase of vital activities. To interbreed, or, as it is called, to keep a strain pure is to prevent further development. Substantially all of my American ancestors were residents of Pennsylvania, save a few from New Jersey, and in almost all of my lines they came to the country among the earliest settlers. But among them were Dutch, English, Germans, Welsh, Swedes, Scotch-Irish and French Huguenots, though in the main my blood is English. The paternal line is Dutch, and the name which originated somewhere in the neighborhood of Gorcum, in Holland, is Pannebakker. It means a maker of tiles. The earliest trace of the family that I have found tells the tale of a man who was burned to death and a wife who was drowned for heresy at Utrecht in 1568. In those days they were more gentle with the women. The founder of the family in Pennsylvania, Hendrick Pannebecker, was born March 21, 1674. He was in Germantown in 1699, and from there moved out to Skippack in 1702 as the attorney for Matthias Van Bebber for the sale of the lands of the latter in Bebber's township. He later bought the township and became, as well as Van Bebber and Lodowick Christian Sprogell, one of the three Dutch patroons of Pennsylvania. He was a surveyor and laid out most of the early roads in upper Philadelphia, now Montgomery County. I have his bill to the Penns for surveying a number of their manors in 1733, with the order of Thomas Penn for its payment. He understood three languages—Dutch, German and English. He had a library of books. He owned seven thousand acres of land. He wrote a very pretty script, drew deeds and devised a seal much like that of Van Rensselaer in New York. There is a biography of him in print and when it turns up at a book sale it brings twenty-five dollars. His wife, Eva Umstat, came from the lower Rhine and neither the marriage of his son, Jacob, who was a miller on the Skippack, nor that of his grandson, Matthias, who moved to the Pickering Creek, in Chester County, effected any race modifications. This Matthias, born in 1742, had rather a broad country life. He owned a mill, still standing, and four or five farms. He was a commissioner appointed by act of assembly to provide for the navigation of the River Schuylkill. He was a bishop of the Mennonites, using the three languages of his grandfather and preaching with eloquence and strength. He sent several contributions of flour and money to the Philadelphia people when the yellow fever devasted the city in 1793, as will be seen in the report of the committee. It is told of him that people came to his funeral from five counties and that he had the largest funeral and the longest will up to that time known in the county. No better evidence could have been given of his consequence. His son, Matthias, my grandfather, born in 1787, spent his days on the Pickering, owning the same mill. He was portly, and, it may, be a little pompous, but he had some reason for demanding in manner that those around him show respect. “Rich, respectable and numerous” was written of the family in his time. In 1826 and 1827 he was a member of assembly. The organization which was effected to bring about the incorporation of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company made him its president, and he was one of the incorporators of that road. He represented Chester County in the Constitutional Convention of 1837 which prepared a constitution for the state. When the Whig party held their county meetings at West Chester, he presided. In his day the traces of the old Dutch life almost entirely disappeared. English alone was spoken in the household and his children knew no other tongue. The German books which had lost their utility were given to a servant. The old German family Bible was banished to the springhouse, and there one of his boys cut from it all its pictures.

I remember once in my childhood spending a Christmas at the house. Memories of the Peltz Nicol still lingered and I hung my stocking beside the stone fireplace, at the end of which stood a long wood box, but what was put into it were ginger cakes and store candy. There was a large kitchen garden in which were grown currants, gooseberries, black currants, asparagus, beets, corn, onions, lettuce and even strawberries, in beds interspersed with bright-colored flowers. Two large box bushes grew in the front yard. In the back yard were a burning bush and a fringe tree. There was a meadow in front of the house stretching to the Pickering, and the outlook was to the Valley Hills. There was a parlor, a spare room with high-post bedstead, stately and chill. Water was brought in pipes to the house from a distant spring and ran out of the nozzle of a pipe into a trough continuously, which was a great wonder to me who had seen nothing like it anywhere else, but the water had to be carried up a long flight of stone steps to the kitchen. The only indication of art in the house were profiles cut at Peale's Museum, and, in fact, the desire to have the features of the face preserved was regarded as a vanity to be condemned. There was no music, cards were an iniquity and there were no devices for other games. The mental attitude was stiff and cheerless, but rugged and sincere. To be honest and to tell the truth were the virtues inculcated. The letters written were in the main didactic and religious, and they tell much about going to meeting and hearing sermons. The welfare of the soul was a continual subject of contemplation. There was no liquor of any kind used during the lives of my great-grandfather, grandfather and father save that the housewife would have a cut-glass bottle filled with lavender brandy put away on the upper shelf of the closet in the spare room, to be ready in cases of emergency.

My grandfather, like his father, was a member of the Mennonite meeting at Phœnixville, and he paid the expense of having the Dordrecht Confession of Faith of 1632 reprinted at West Chester. My grandmother was fond of reading Pollok's Course of Time. My grandfather, in his marriage, doubtless without intending any such result, brought about a great change in the race. He courted Sarah Anderson, born February 10, 1784, whose parents lived upon the opposite side of the Pickering Creek. He gave to her as “a token of my esteem” a little porcelain box with a mirror on the underside of the lid, which box I still preserve. Her father, Isaac Anderson, hunted with the Indians, was a justice of the peace, a member of assembly, a presidential elector and a member of congress from 1803 to 1807. His name heads the list of those in congress who voted for the Louisiana Purchase. He served three terms in the Revolutionary army before he was eighteen years of age, and became an ensign and lieutenant of militia, taking part in the fight at the Warren Tavern. His portrait is extant, I have it, and he wrote a local history. He was six feet four inches in height and his firmness of will was such as to give him the reputation of being arbitrary.

Her grandfather, Patrick Anderson, commanded a company in the French and Indian War and for a time the Pennsylvania Musketry Battalion in the War of the Revolution, participating in the battles of Long Island, Brandywine and Germantown. He was major of Anthony Wayne's Regiment of Chester County Minute-men in 1775. He was also for four years a member of the assembly. He has an importance in Masonic history, having been master of Lodge No. 8 as early as 1760, and is claimed by Mr. Sachse to have organized the first lodge in the Continental army. It is said that his teeth were double all around, something often said of the aged, but rejected by dentists. He married three times and, being an Episcopalian, once in Christ Church in Philadelphia. Her great-grandfather, James Anderson, came from the Isle of Skye, in Scotland. I have reason to believe he could not write his name. His services were sold for a fixed term from the ship to Thomas Jerman, a noted Quaker preacher, in the Chester Valley, to pay for his passage, and he showed a certain canniness by running away with and marrying one of Jerman's daughters. He was the first settler along the Pickering, where he built a log hut beside a spring. When Patrick was born, and the mother occasionally trudged across the Valley Hill five miles to visit her relatives, an Indian squaw suckled and took care of the baby. In this instance, as in many others, the Revolutionary War brought to the front a family of native vigor which had been theretofore obscure. The blood which came with the alliances of the Andersons was that of the famines of Jerman (Welsh), Morris (Welsh) and Bartholomew (Bartholimi, French Huguenot).

My grandmother, through her mother, Mary Lane, had her part in a great pedigree. The name of Lane occurs in Battle Abbey. Edward Lane, to whom William Penn frequently refers in terms of friendship and to whom he entrusted some correspondence to be brought across the Atlantic, son of William Lane of Bristol, England, lived on the Perkiomen, where he owned seven thousand five hundred acres of land and where he founded St. James' Episcopal Church. He married Ann, daughter of Samuel Richardson, member of assembly, provincial councillor, judge of the Philadelphia court of common pleas and the first alderman of that city. Next to Samuel Carpenter, he was the richest man there and owned all of the land on the north side of Market Street from Second Street to the river. George Keith said he was lascivious, but Keith was a very bitter partisan with a long tongue. He had only one son, Joseph, who also went to the Perkiomen where he bought one thousand acres at the junction of that creek and the Schuylkill, in a region bearing the Indian name of Olethgo. There was another intermarriage. Sarah Richardson, the granddaughter of Joseph, married Edward Lane, who had fought under Braddock, the grandson of Edward. The Friends' Meeting records of Gwynedd say that he had another wife, a statement hinting at a long forgotten scandal which cannot now be probed. Mary Lane was their daughter. When Joseph Richardson married Elizabeth, the daughter of John Bevan, in 1696, there was an elaborate settlement recorded in Philadelphia in which lands and £200 in money were given them by their fathers. John Bevan lived on land in Glamorganshire, Wales, which he had inherited from Jestyn ap Gwyrgan in the eleventh century. He displayed a coat of arms showing descent from the royal families in England and France, the earliest assertion of such a right made in America. In Philadelphia he was a member of assembly and a judge of the court of common pleas. A contemporary biography says he was “Well descended from the ancient Britons.” His wife, Barbara Aubrey, came from Reginald Aubrey, one of the Norman conquerors of Wales, and was nearly related to the William Aubrey who married Letitia, daughter of William Penn. Elizabeth Bevan, therefore, could prove her descent from Edward III, John of Gaunt, Warwick the King Maker, the Fair Maid of Kent, the loss of whose garter led to the establishment of the ancient order, and many other historical characters. The blood of Mary Lane was consequently English and Welsh. I have an indistinct recollection of her. The Lanes were a short-lived stock, but she reached an age of over eighty years. She long suffered from rheumatism, which twisted her hands, but she retained her skill in needlework and made very pretty silk pincushions. I have two of them and her long knit garter.

My father, Isaac Anderson Pennypacker, was born July 15, 1812, on the Pickering. As a youth he worked on the farm and in the mill. He went to a country school and learned arithmetic as far as cube root, mensuration, algebra, trigonometry and surveying. Later he was sent to Bolmar's Academy, in West Chester, and there acquired some knowledge of French and Latin. Later he studied medicine in the office of his uncle. Dr. Isaac Anderson, and at the University of Pennsylvania, from which he was graduated in 1833, writing a thesis upon “Sleep.” He was about six feet in height, weighed two hundred and twenty pounds and was unusually impressive in both feature and figure. A daughter of Doctor Dorr, rector of Christ Church in Philadelphia, told me that one of the Wetherill women told

her that once on a visit to the Wetherills, on the Perkiomen,

Isaac Anderson Pennypacker, M.D.

she saw him come down the stairs and inquired “who can

that handsome young doctor be?” When it came to me this story had lasted sixty years. Everybody liked him. The women named their boy babies after him. This was due to a kindly disposition which led him to take an interest in all around him and to endeavor to aid them. Thomas Adamson, United States Consul to Panama, the Sandwich Islands and Melbourne, Australia, told me that once when he was a little boy playing along Nutt's Road, at the Corner Stores, my father drove by in a buggy. Seated beside him was a dark-browed swarthy man who had come from the Valley Forge. My father stopped and called: “Come over here, Thomas!” The boy hung his head but went. “I want to introduce you to Daniel Webster.” Adamson said the incident made an impression which affected his whole career. My father had a gift of speech and made many public addresses—upon education, temperance, medicine and politics. He was ambitious. He was a capable physician, quick to see and decisive in action. A man met with what threatened to be a fatal accident. My father bought a big knife in a near store and cut the man's leg off while my mother steadied the limb. A boy, fishing, caught the hook in his nose and a young physician worried over him in vain. My father chanced to come along and with a sudden twist jerked the hook out while the boy screamed. He bled, and pulled teeth, and prescribed calomel, jalap and flowers of sulphur. In my younger days I have seen setons, moxas, cups and leeches. He was fond of having his hair combed and his skin rubbed. He smoked cigars to excess.

On the 9th of May, 1839, he married Anna Maria Whitaker, born March 23, 1815. She had black eyes and black hair and as she grew older became stout. Hers was a resolute character. Her life was one of devotion to her children. Left with four of them under thirteen years of age, she took care of them and refused to marry again. To fulfil the duties of life as they came to her was her idea of what was required of her, and she never flinched and never lamented. What she was unable to buy she cheerfully did without, and what she could not secure did not disturb her. Her predominant trait was a certain setness. There were people she disliked and she never relented. There were people of whom she was fond, and no poverty, failure or misfortune could weaken her affection for them. She was not aggressive, but was immovable. She was timid at a distance, but when an emergency arose was calm and efficient. She never fainted nor grew hysterical, nor became “rattled,” but simply stayed there and did what could be done. I have seen her tried in sudden accident, in cases of extreme illness, on an occasion when the upsetting of a fluid lamp set fire to the room, and in all of these instances alike the same quiet strength of character was manifested. Her Irish and negro maids, from the point of view of the household training to which she had been accustomed, were a sorry lot of incapables, but when they were ill she nursed them, mended their clothing, and, in person, attended to their wants. In her childhood she lived with her grandmother at the southeast corner of Front and Pine streets, in Philadelphia, going to school on Pine Street, and later was a pupil in the Kimberton School in Chester County, where she learned the prim chirography of that Quaker establishment. Up to the end of her long life she could read a book and enjoy it all, meet a guest and chat with her cheerily, and in her eighty-fourth year she made for me an elaborate piece of needlework, so elaborate that a maid of eighteen would have abandoned the task.

Her marriage breakfast was cooked by Julia Roberts, a mulatto woman who was raised as a slave in the family of my great-great-grandfather, Samuel Lane, and who finally died, after I reached manhood, at the age of one hundred and four years. Patrick Anderson owned a slave and the Richardsons owned slaves. Once I had the bill of sale of a slave in Richmond by a master who could not write, and I was in the habit of showing it as an illustration of the vileness of the system until I also became the possessor of a like paper executed by one of my own people along the Schuylkill, in which a black girl, Parthenia, in the early day, was sold by her mistress and, lo! the mistress could not write. Throwing stones at the wickedness of other people often leads to complications. Her father, Joseph Whitaker, born in 1789, in a one-story log house, in a poor stony region near Hopewell Furnace, so near the line between Berks and Chester counties that the family could not be quite sure in which county they lived, was five feet eight inches in height, full-blooded, with thick curly hair, which he never lost, and thin chin whiskers but no beard. He was sometimes described as a “little big man” and measured forty-four inches around the chest without clothing. His will power was immense and there were few men who could withstand him. He ruled over his household and pretty much everybody else who came within his influence. If he did not want the women to plant hollyhocks in the garden he pulled them up and threw them over the fence. In his younger days he kicked a clerk out of the office and down the stairs, and when seventy-five years of age he applied a whip to some young fellows from the canal who exposed themselves naked before women, and he broke his cane over the head of a young man who trampled his wheat and was impertinent about it. He was careful, but provided necessary things bountifully. He was proud and ruggedly honest. Through the vicissitudes of a long career in the iron business no contract of his was ever broken and no note ever went to protest. He loved to play checkers, the principles of which he never understood, but his opponent either had to stay up all night or lose a game. He never learned to swim. Having only such school training as came from a few nights spent at a night school, he could measure the hay in a barn and keep a set of books. Beginning life in extreme poverty, as a charcoal burner and wood chopper about an iron furnace, and as a maker of nails by hand in a small shop at the corner of Fourth Street and Old York Road in Philadelphia, he reached the position of one of the principal iron proprietors of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, took care of a family of eleven children, and, dying in 1870, left an estate of $520,000. Generous to the extent of his perception of the needs of those dependent on him, he bought each of his children a ticket to hear Jenny Lind sing, but he never overcame the impressions made in his early life, and always had a dread lest some of his children or grandchildren might drop back into the situation from which he had emerged. Once when I as a child was at his house in Mont Clare, opposite Phœnixville, he called me to him as he lay on a sofa and said: “Sam, there was once a little boy alone at a hotel, and when he went to the dinner table he was timid and could get nothing to eat. Presently he turned to the man next to him and said: ‘Please, sir, won't you give me a little salt?’ The man in surprise inquired: ‘What do you want with salt?’ ‘I thought, sir, if I had some salt maybe somebody would give me an egg to put it on.’ With a quizzical expression he continued: ‘Now I see that you have no watch-fob in your jacket. When you go home tell your mother to make a fob in your jacket and maybe some time or other somebody may give you a watch.’ ” Even in childhood I always wanted to think out the problems for myself, and this suggestion impressed me as pure foolishness and I did not mention the matter to my mother. The reasoning was correct enough, but, unfortunately, as so often happens in more serious affairs, some of the facts were unascertained. However the watch came and later he advanced the moneys which enabled me to read law. He wore a woolen shawl. Probably he would have lived to the age of his Brother James, which was ninety-four, but late in life he fell from the third story of a house, down an unfinished stairway, and though he recovered, the accident no doubt shortened his life. In his eighty-second year, one day he was in Philadelphia attending to business. He came home, and in the evening, as was his wont, lay down on a sofa to read a newspaper. The paper slipped from his hand. His daughter, who was in the room, went over to him and found him dead.

His father, Joseph Whitaker, named for his grandfather, Joseph Musgrave, of the Scottish clan referred to in “Young Lochinvar,” son of James Whitaker, born in Colne in Lancashire, grandson of John, also of Colne, was born in Leeds, England, where his father was a manufacturer of cloth. The Whitakers of Lancashire are an Anglo-Saxon family known at High Whitaker and the Holme since the eleventh century and distinguished in literature and in the Church. Several of them in remote times were inmates of Kirkstall Abbey, still well preserved. Among them were William Whitaker, who headed the Reformation in England; Alexander Whitaker, the rector at Jamestown, who married Pocahontas to Rolfe; John Whitaker, the historian of Manchester, and Thomas Dunham Whitaker, who wrote the History of Whalley.

Attention is called to Joseph Whitaker the elder because, while his career was in every sense a failure, he transmitted certain dominant traits of character—mental and physical, which have left their impress upon all of his many descendants. His father intended that he should be trained for the ministry of the Church of England. His inclinations turned toward another line of work. The father was determined and the son was resolute. The result was that he left his home and enlisted in Colonel Harcourt's Cavalry. The regiment was sent to America to suppress the rebellious colonists who were fighting in the Army of Washington. He participated in a number of engagements and was one of the squad which captured General Charles Lee in New Jersey in 1776. The tradition is that he became convinced of the merit of the American cause, in which tradition I have little faith, but at all events he became weary of the service. While the army was on its way from the Head of Elk to Philadelphia in the campaign of 1777, he mounted his horse and rode away. There was a pursuit and shots were fired, but he escaped unhurt and thereafter made his home in a hilly region in the northern part of Chester County. He had a small farm with a log house upon it, but the ground was poor and stony, and the crops, wrested from an unwilling soil, were scant. He cut wood for the neighboring furnaces, but he had not been trained to this kind of labor and almost any other wood-chopper could excel him. He married Sarah Updegrove and had a family of thirteen children. It was a life of hardship in which there was a continual struggle to get enough to eat. He did not spare the rod. He was earnest in prayer and had a gift in that direction. Despite his poverty and his failures, he was intensely proud and was able to assert and even to maintain a certain sense of superiority in the rural neighborhood in which he lived. It is manifest that he had a power of will which was not to be over-ridden by conventions or to be suppressed by adverse circumstances. He was about five feet eight inches in height, his hair inclined to curl, he had a red birthmark upon one cheek and a readiness of speech. Strange as it seems, his barren and unfruitful life was the ground from which were raised the fortunes of a family. His wife, Sarah, a worthy woman with a tender heart, was the daughter of Jacob, granddaughter of Isaac and great-granddaughter of Abraham Op den Graeff, who came to Germantown in 1683. He signed the protest against slavery in 1688 and is immortahzed by Whittier in his poem, The Pennsylvania Pilgrim. He was burgess of Germantown and a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly. His grandfather, Herman Op den Graeff, was a delegate to the Mennonite Convention which met in Dordrecht in 1632 and there signed the Confession of Faith which has often been printed both in Europe and America. Abraham later moved to the Skippack. His son, Isaac, was employed by the Potts families about their iron works at Pine Forge and Colebrookdale, and his grandson, Jacob, crossed the Schuylkill River to Chester County, where Samuel Nutt was making iron at Coventry in partnership with William Branson and Mordecai Lincoln, the great-great-grandfather of the President. Jacob Updegrove married Sarah, the daughter of Richard Butler. He and Butler were both wood-choppers and day laborers around these furnaces and forges where the industry which has created the prosperity of Pennsylvania began. There is a fatality in the preservation of pedigrees as in other things. For thirty years I can give the daily details of the inconspicuous and uneventful life of Richard Butler—what he did, what he ate and drank, what he wore. In this atmosphere, with such antecedents, my great-grandfather, Joseph Whitaker, raised his family. Each of his sons heard of the making of iron from his childhood and several of them, as they grew older, became iron-masters and made fortunes. From him came these physical tendencies: A weakness of the stomach, often running into dyspepsia, a certain rattle of the nerves and a vital tenacity which overcomes all attacks of disease and leads to length of life, ending in death from failure of the heart. Along with these tendencies came pride, firmness and a disposition to be masterful. It is a remarkable fact, observable down to the fifth generation, that individual descendants, who in youth show the traits of other forefathers, as they grow older, display the mental and physical characteristics of Joseph Whitaker. He wears out the stocks of lesser vital strength. While it is impossible to speak with confidence upon a subject so involved as that of inheritance, it is nevertheless my thought that while the convolutions of the brain which enabled me to grapple with a difficult problem of law while on the Bench, came by way of Matthias Pennypacker, the temperament which led me, as Governor, to undertake alone the correction of sensational journalism, knowing its power to harm, was derived from that other ancestor who did not fear to offend both father and king.

My mother, therefore, with the exception of the highland Celtic blood which came from the clan of Musgrave and the infusion of Dutch derived from the family of Op den Graeff, was of pure Saxon lineage. In the direct paternal line my forefathers, though perhaps inclined to be a little tame from habit and religious repression, obstinate rather than aggressive, were sensible, sober, honest and cleanly. For six generations, at least, I am satisfied no one of them had ever been inside of a bawdy house or retained a cent which did not belong to him.