The autobiography of a Pennsylvanian/02 Childhood and Youth
Childhood and Youth
I WAS born April 9, 1843, the second of six children, upon a Sunday and, therefore, gifted with the power to pow-wow and to see fairies as the opportunity arises. The room in which I was born had ten windows and was floored with walnut. The house stood upon a high bluff, upon the north bank of the French Creek, in the town of Phœnixville, and faced the creek which flows eastwardly to the Schuylkill, falling over the breast of a dam on its way. Connected with the house were about five acres of land. Perhaps the most famous bridge builder of his day was a German named Lewis Wernwag. He had thrown a bridge across the Schuylkill at the Upper Ferry, at Callowhill Street in Philadelphia, which had the longest span of all the bridges constructed down to that time. There is a fine engraving of it reproduced upon a set of blue china manufactured in England, now very scarce and therefore much in demand. He came to Phœnixville in the early part of the nineteenth century to conduct the iron works there, and built this house, intended for his own permanent residence, in a fashion then regarded as luxurious and extravagant. The visitor, entering from the front, trod upon a stone step and over a wrought iron lintel into a hallway. To the right were two rooms with folding doors between them used as parlor and sitting-room, each of which had an open fireplace with a hand-carved hard-wood mantel and mantelpiece around it. To the left was the dining-room with a kitchen in the rear. The dining-room had likewise a fireplace with stone hearth, and higher than the mantel to the right was a large “hole-in-the wall” out of the reach of me as a child, and always a subject of mystery. The kitchen had a large stone sink and from it ran, the whole length of the yard, a drain of carved stone which, covered over with the detritus of time and bad housekeeping, had, like an archæological discovery, been found a few years before. On the second story over the dining-room was the large room in which I was born, and to the eastward was “the spare-room” and five others. The garret contained six chambers. From one small room a flight of open steps ran up to a loft and a wooden railing enclosed a flat roof. Running the whole front of the house was a porch of hewn and huge stones, perhaps eight feet long, three feet wide and eight inches thick. The ground from the crest down to the creek was terraced after the manner of the vineyards along the Rhine by a succession of five walls. From a point across the drive in front of the house a long flight of stone steps ran all of the way down to the creek. I never saw anywhere else so much wall and stone work. It had been the intention of Wernwag to run an iron railing along the tops of these walls, but his resources were exhausted before this was accomplished and the walls remained unprotected. One of the amusements of the children was to banter each other to jump from one wall to the other above the flight of descending steps, where to have fallen would have meant destruction, and every once in a while one of them fell from a wall into the garden below, perhaps twenty feet. Before Wernwag was able to complete his designs the War of 1812 threw the business of the country into confusion and his efforts in connection with the making of iron ended in failure. He went to Harper's Ferry in Virginia where the Duke of Saxe-Weimar found him about 1830, and where he died in poverty. There are still some traces of him around Phœnixville. At Moore Hall my brother, Henry C., has his clock. At Pennypacker's Mills I have his hickory chair. The stone bridge built by him over the Pickering creek at Moore Hall is as firm as ever. His house and grounds have been torn down and asunder by a railroad, but at “The Knoll,” now owned by Colonel Paul S. Reeves, he built for Judge Benjamin Morris, a counterpart of the house, save that he put the better work and material into his own house, a preference in those days not unusual. Built into the corner of the barn on the Robinson place in Upper Providence township, across the road from Phœnixville, is a block of iron conspicuous in contrast with the stone which encloses it. When Wernwag failed he owed the Robinson, then living, a considerable sum of money; all that the creditor could get was this block of iron which he permanently preserved, and he secured some satisfaction in frequently telling how much it had cost him.
As a baby, I had the colic and was more than ordinarily troublesome. My earliest recollection is of an event almost a tragedy. At a tenant house, belonging to my father, a short distance from the mansion, and still standing, masons were at work. John, my older brother, and I hung over the wall watching them. Presently John fell, struck upon the corner of a stone and was carried home unconscious with a deep gash in his forehead. I was then about three years old, and the mental impression made by seeing him supported in a chair with the blood running down his cheek is still distinct.
At four years of age I began school. Even earlier my mother had taught me to read. William S. Dare, a superintendent or boss at the iron works, lived in the Starr farm-house, and one of his relatives, a Mrs. Heilig, opened a school for boys and girls in the house. Lib Schroeder, a girl employed by my mother, who afterward married and named her oldest boy for me, took me by the hand and led me over the high foot-bridge, which then crossed the creek, to the school. My few memories of it are confined to three or four girls, to the stool in the center of the room with the paper cap for the “fool” who failed in his lesson, and the roof of the spring-house down which we slid at recess. A stream of water then ran, from “Frog Hollow,” by the spring-house, through a green meadow to the French Creek. All are long gone and Starr Street is filled in over them. At this time my head was covered with light curls twisted into shape over her finger each morning by “Aunt Sallie,” an invalid sister of my mother. When they were cut away two were preserved. My earliest playmate was a boy of my age named Loved Hathaway, a son of the tenant in the house where the accident to my brother, John, occurred. Ere long the Hathaways moved to the far West. At their sale my playmate's grandmother, “Granny Blake,” gave me a large hammer which I have used through my whole life and remains my oldest possession.
One of my very early recollections pictures to me Bayard Taylor. To me he was not a poet, but a companion. My father owned a flat-bottomed boat on the French Creek, and often Taylor, taking me with him, would row in it up the creek for perhaps a mile beneath the willows which grew along the banks. From these willows I soon learned to make whistles, when the sap was running. Taylor had just returned from Europe and wanting something to do thought of starting a newspaper. My father had another and much larger stone tenant house at the extreme east end of his tract near Main Street and almost upon the site where Moses Coates, the first settler in the town, had lived in his time. In it were a family named Allen, fallen scions of the family of the Colonial Chief Justice William Allen, powerful in their day but who lost their hold at the time of the Revolution. With them was a very aged relative, Elizabeth Oakman, a young woman at the period of that war, who gave to my father the key of the trunk Nathaniel Allen brought from Europe, and made for him with finest needlework a shirt which remains to represent the art of the women of the colonies. My father persuaded Taylor to come to Phœnixville and open a printing office in this house and loaned him money to assist. The first outcome of the office was an advertisement of the millinery establishment of a Mrs. Strembeck. He published a weekly newspaper called The Phœnixville Pioneer, far above the heads of the community, in which appeared many of his effusions and comments upon local events. Young, vigorous and full of vitality, he climbed out along the dam-breast in the midst of a freshet and plunged into the waters surging below. Somebody had discovered the uses of ether as an anæsthetic, and the subject was much discussed by my father and other physicians. Taylor determined to inhale the drug as an experiment. I well remember the excited way in which he flung himself around the sitting-room. He told a tale of adventure, very wonderful to me, of having been once robbed, tied to a tree with his hands behind him and abandoned, in California, and how he managed to twist through the cords, getting them in front where he could use his teeth. Here was a hero come to the very hearthstone, and the awe of the listening boy may be easily imagined. The earliest portrait of him extant, a drawing in black and white, in 1847, by P. Thramer, with a poem in autograph underneath, he gave to my father, as well as a daguerreotype taken by “the Buckeye Blacksmith.” I have likewise the only complete file of the Phœnixville Pioneer, a number of autograph poems and a series of his letters.
More vivid by far than that of Taylor is the mental image of the dog “Jerry,” a household pet of more than ordinary intelligence. He regularly went to the post-office for the mail. He carried a basket to the market and brought home the things bought. He would hunt a glove hidden in a closet in the house and never cease from his efforts until it was secured. When he died he was buried below a great rock in the field, and for long afterward there was many a pilgrimage to Jerry's grave. In the same field, but on the crest of the hill near the present depot of the Schuylkill Valley Railroad Company stood a tall, narrow stone which marked the site of the wigwam of “Old Skye,” the last of the Delaware Indians to live in the neighborhood.
The home discipline established by my father, a wise and kindly man, whom I revered, was most excellent. He never whipped me. When I stripped the bark from a cherry tree, very like George Washington of old, he gave me some tools and sent me out to restore it to its place. When I broke one of the stones of a wall with my hammer, I was kept busy for an hour or two trying to put it together. When my brother John and I disobediently remained away at our play until after night had fallen, and in great trepidation sought the house, we found the doors locked and the lights out. In other words, the treatment was of a kind to teach a child the law of cause and effect, and there was a continual effort to reach the processes of childish thought. When a circus or Signor Blitz, a noted conjurer and ventriloquist, with his manikin “Bobby,” came to the town, or a lecture was delivered by some long-haired wanderer from New England, in the squat brick building called the “Temperance Hall,” we were always taken. The former were delights, but many a time I was in misery trying to keep awake over the lecture. When Signor Blitz appeared, all around the low building gathered the town urchins trying to get a peep through the crevices of the wooden shutters, and the scene generally ended in my father, who was ever generous, making a bargain with the manager to let them in at wholesale rates. On one occasion we went to Ullman's Hotel and paid ten cents a piece to see a Chinaman, then on exhibition, as a rara avis.
There was not a novel in the house. The nearest thing to it was a copy of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, which I devoured for the story, utterly regardless of the allegory. The Fables of Æsop I learned by heart. When I was about eight years of age a young woman, dressy and bright, whose name perhaps I never knew, came to the house. She was a granddaughter of Henry Rhoades, an old Mennonite, who had a farm adjoining. He was a stern man; he had the reputation of being a hard man. When his child died, he said in grief that he would rather have lost the best cow on his place. My recollections of him are all kindly. When I caught a partridge once he gave me a peck of oats to feed it and refused my money. The first time that I ate preserved quinces, they came from him as a present. His granddaughter ran away and became a circus actress. There was no sense that such conduct was disgraceful but a feeling that it was wicked. She did not dare to go home, and she left a box of things which was put into our garret to be kept for her. Rummaging in the box, I found a paper covered copy of Lewis Arundel. The book opened out vistas before me, and today I could repeat the story of the proud young man who went as a tutor, fought the poachers and remained to marry. In a Geography of the World I found detailed an adventure of Audubon in the wilds of the West; in a Universal History there was a description of the Haschischins (assassins) of India; in Sartain's Magazine I found an Indian story called “Hard Scrabble;” in the Whig Review, beside the biographies of the politicians of the day and the poems of Poe, there was told of “Jack Long, or Lynch Law and Vengeance,” and along with these I satisfied my craving for romantic narrative by reading of John Smith, Hernan Cortes, Henry Hudson, Putnam's Ride at Horseneck, Marion and Sergeant Champ. Somewhere I found a copy of Montgomery Bird's Nick of the Woods which I still regard as the most meritorious of the tales of Indian warfare. Nothing in the shape of literature came amiss and before I was eleven I had read an elaborate Natural History, Whitaker on Arianism, Dick's Sidereal Heavens and Guizot's Washington.
The games I played were tag, hop-scotch, ball, marbles — in “fun,” in “earnest” which meant “for keeps,” and “knucks.” Mumble-the-peg, jackstones, shindy, and once a year when, in the spring, the Sunday-school had a picnic in the woods, “Copenhagen” and “drop the handkerchief.” The counting out rhymes I learned were:
|“||Ala mala tipsy tee,|
|Teela tila dominee,|
|Ocka pocha dominocha.|
|Hi pon tus.”|
|“||Inty, minty, cuty corn,|
|Apple seed and briar thorn,|
|Briar, briar limber lock|
|Three geese in a flock|
|One, two, three.|
|Out goes she|
|With a rotten dish clout, out”.|
Marbles, which came along regularly with the relenting of the frost, had a vocabulary all its own. “Fen dubs,” “Fen puds” and “Hist man lay you and the nigger” were among the phrases. Often it happens that the most important of possessions are found among the refuse as the dust man of Dickens illustrated. The manure pile is the most valuable asset of the farmer. From the Kjokken Möddings of Denmark and the shell-heaps of Florida the cast-off rubbish of former people we gather what we know of those ages. There was an obscene word in common use among the boys which I am satisfied had a long and interesting history. It must have been in use ages ago and been preserved for thousands of years by the utterance of boys. The word carries us back to the goddess of love among our Norse ancestors when they worshiped Thor and Woden in the woods along the Baltic Sea.
When things were presented to us we said “Saddy,” a word whose origin I have never been able to discover. One of the oaths of the urchins was “by Jingo,” who appears to have been a deity of those black-eyed little people who inhabited Europe before the inroads of the Celts and whose only remnants are the Basques of the Pyrenees.
My father bought for us children a box of white dominoes. They were a great source of enjoyment, but we quarreled over them and were warned. We quarreled again. He called us from the dining-room to the sitting-room, where he sat at a high desk given to him by his father, put the dominoes into the box, threw them into the fire and sent us away to repent. Afterward the box was found slightly charred on a shelf in a tall closet set into the end of the fireplace. These were his methods of discipline. It illustrates the tenacity of memory when I say that the “double three” had a slight defect in the ivory on the back.
My father drove two horses. The stableman, Tim McGlone, painted a checker-board, and with black and white bone buttons from old breeches taught me to play. I had a knack for it and soon beat him. Dr. J. Warren Royer of the Trappe, still living at a great age, came to consult my father about a case and saw me playing. He was an adept. The Royers of the Trappe were given to all kinds of games. He took nine men and won easily from my twelve. We played more and ere long he needed ten, then eleven, and finally twelve, and lost with them all. In the village Dr. David Euen had a drug store and here Dr. Isaac Z. Coffman and others congregated to talk politics and play checkers. One day there was great astonishment when a boy of ten walked in, threw down the gauge of combat and carried off all the honors. About the same time Dr. David F. Anderson, who was reading medicine with my father, made a set of wooden chessmen and taught me to play chess.
Sarah Ann Radcliffe came to the house and made our clothes. When we were done with them they were cut into strips, sewed together, rolled into hard balls weighing about three pounds each and sent to Munshower to be woven into rag carpet. I often helped at each stage of the process. Quilting parties had not yet gone out of vogue. The quilt was stretched on a frame, the design marked out with chalk, and then the women gathered around. Stockings and mittens were still knit of woolen yarn with long steel needles. I learned to knit. Coal came to the house in huge lumps which were broken to a suitable size with an axe or sledge. From the stove in the sitting-room a pipe ran up through the large room above and furnished the only heat. We made and used tallow candles and later used lard oil, whale oil and burning fluid.
The fare was simple and substantial. We had breakfast at seven, dinner at twelve, and supper at six. It was not usual to put fruit on the table. I never saw a banana in my childhood, and when, long afterward, I ate one for the first time, did not like it. Oranges were reserved for Christmas and festal occasions. There was nothing to drink but water, milk, tea, and coffee. The last was not good for children and was kept from them. White sugar came in the shape of a tall cone, called a loaf, and was broken into lumps with a knife and flat iron. Coffee was bought raw and roasted over the kitchen fire. Behind the same fire we were washed and soaped every Saturday night. Mush and milk was a customary dish and made me very tired. Two hogs were killed in the winter and we had fried mush, fried scrapple, fried sausage, fried ham, fried eggs and fried potatoes — not French fried or by any other namby-pamby modern method, but fried with fat — and I am fond of them all today. The abomination called baker's bread was unknown. We had roast turkey for Christmas and New Year's Day, and once in a while a roast pig. We were taught to say “Sir” and “Ma'am” to elderly people and to be silent in their presence. On Sunday afternoons we went to Sunday-school, and for five verses of Scripture committed to memory received a blue ticket; for five blue tickets a red ticket, and for a hundred red tickets a Bible, but no confectionery. Flat white mint sticks, flat white cream sticks, rock candy or crystallized sugar around a thread, and round sticks of lemon and of sassafras in red and white, and sour balls could be bought and were called candy, but chocolate had not yet appeared. Occasionally, in summer, a man named Kirchner who lived miles away in Vincent, would come in a wagon ringing a bell, and offering a luxury called ice cream, always flavored with vanilla. On the crest of Tunnel Hill, so called because through it the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company had constructed a long tunnel, in an adapted barn, lived an old woman named “Granny Stevens,” who beguiled the children inside by displaying, in the window, glass jars, half a dozen in number, containing attractively colored sticks of candy. It was she who gave us our first knowledge of cocoanut, cut into small strips and sweetened with molasses, an amazing delicacy. When we strayed into the shop of another woman named Holt, she fiercely denounced our ingratitude. The money ordinarily circulated consisted of copper pennies, “fips” (five-penny bits), “levies” (eleven-penny bits), quarters and dollars, the last four being Spanish or Mexican currency, generally worn to a smooth surface.
Very early in life I began to wander. In Rhoades' woods along the French Creek could be found in the spring the hepatica, the anemone, the spring beauty, the saxifrage, the American spice wood, the sassafras and the slippery elm. At Black Rock, a bluff along the Schuylkill, more than a mile away, grew the columbine. Alone I strayed through the woods, getting a quiet and unanalyzed enjoyment from the beauties of form and color, while learning to seek the taste of the spice and the sassafras and to avoid that of the smartweed and the Indian turnip. In the fall, rising at daybreak, I always gathered, hulled, dried and put away in the loft a store of walnuts and such butternuts and shellbarks as could be secured. When my younger brother, Henry C., was three years old and I was seven, he had a dangerous attack of fever and I did harm by dropping a bag of walnuts which I was lugging up the steps from the garret to the loft. I learned to skate on a pair of skates which cost fifty cents at Samuel Moses' store, and made great progress forward and backward and in cutting rings on the ice by throwing one foot across the other. Thereupon a generous uncle, Joseph R. Whitaker, gave me a handsome and expensive pair of skates bought in Philadelphia, but the metal was soft. I could not discard them, and I never skated so well afterward. We made sleds with the staves of rejected barrels, and when a painted sled came from the city with iron on the runners, it was a wonder and I was envied by all of the boys. In the summer we went to the “Gut,” which ran between an island in the French Creek and the main land, to swim. It was the fashion to go barefoot, and the boy who did not was rather despised as a weakling. I hid my shoes and stockings behind an oak tree and followed the flock. Along the bank of the creek it went well enough with a little care, but when we crossed a field of wheat stubble, there was a boy in trouble. On an occasion when playing “tickly benders” on the thin ice of the canal, the ice gave way and I fell into the water and was wetted from head to foot. Scrambling out, I went to the furnaces of the Chester County Iron Works, stripped off my clothes and danced about naked in front of a furnace until they were dried. At home the mishap was not reported.
When very young I was frequently ill and had sores around my mouth. I was dosed with flowers of sulphur mixed in molasses, with Husband's sulphate of magnesia, recommended as tasteless, with jalap mixed in currant jelly to make it palatable, and occasionally with castor oil. With the measles I had a high fever and in one night was bled three times, the cicatrices remaining upon my arms.
Common sense is as important a quality in nursing as in all the other affairs of life. If some one of my attendants had been wise enough to remove the parti-colored counterpane from the bed, it would have meant much. These colors coiled up into serpents. How important is the soothing voice of a motherly woman! Aunt Ann, the wife of my uncle, James Pennypacker, herself a Pennypacker, and one of the sweetest-souled women who ever lived, gathered me into her arms, crooned over me with soft song, succeeded in putting me to sleep and perhaps saved me. When I was eight years of age my brother, John, died at the age of eleven. He was an intelligent boy who had read much and was doing mensuration and bookkeeping. The event had one permanent effect upon me. I had been in the habit of using profanity and then determined to cease. I grew accustomed to expressing feeling without expletives and have never since upon any occasion given utterance to them. About the same time, during a time of excitement over the temperance question, I signed perhaps twenty pledges, carried around by the children, never to use any intoxicating liquor. This, too, became a habit unbroken until I was thirty-five years of age, but which finally yielded to the dinner customs of the city.
While not robust, I must have been endowed with vitality, because energy was always exhibited, and the obstacles to which many children yielded were not sufficient to deter me from doing what I had undertaken. I planted the peas in the garden and my mother depended upon me to gather the pods. My father brought to me from my Grandfather Pennypacker a cabbage plant and I watered it every night. He brought me later four chickens and at the end of the second summer I had over two hundred, let no nest escape me, and gathered the eggs. I found my way to a seemingly inaccessible tree, which bore black cherries, by getting on to the rail of a pale fence, clambering into another tree, one of whose limbs crossed over from the tree I wanted to reach and then by following this natural bridge.
When what was called the hen fever, a wild speculation in fancy chickens spread over the country, an uncle, George W. Whitaker, paid twenty dollars for a dozen Shanghai eggs and, not knowing what to do with them, gave them to me. Four chickens were hatched. As they grew, their enormous size and feathered legs were an astonishing thing. As the fever abated I sold the eggs for two dollars a dozen.
Every fruit tree and nut tree within a mile, with its comparative merit and the way to reach its store, was known to me. I raised broods of white rabbits.
The school kept by Mrs. Heilig had only a brief existence, and I was then sent to the public school in a stone building since converted into dwellings upon Tunnel Hill. Among the teachers were John Sherman, who made of me a pet, and a man named English. It was a rough experience. The vacant lot adjoining was called “Bullies' Acre” and on it the toughs of the town settled their personal controversies. The pupils were the sons of the Irish workmen, who puddled iron and drove carts about the mills, and they were divided into two factions — the “Clinkers” and the “Bleeders,” who fought pitched battles with each other, with stones and other missiles. I belonged to the “Bleeders.” I fought three fist fights with a stocky boy named John Bradley, and I think had rather the worst of it, though, officially, the battles were decided to be a draw. Years later, I gave him a license to sell liquor in Philadelphia. More than one of these boys in later life went to prison and others have won substantial successes. Among them were Mickey McQuade, Johnnie McCullogh, Barney Green, the Sullivans and the Mullins, among whom the last two families reached respectable social standing. Green had a pretty sister, Annie, with a taste for vocal music, who became a teacher and married in Chicago. Tunnel Hill was naturally the prettiest part of the town, being on the high ground between the French Creek and the Schuylkill River. When the village was small, a butcher from near Kimberton, named John Vanderslice, bought it as a farm. He was hard, coarse and selfish. On it he built little houses and sold them to the laborers for such cash as they could pay, taking mortgages for the balance. Every few years the iron trade became dull and the mills closed. Then he foreclosed the mortgages. When trade revived, he sold the houses to another set of Irishmen. By repeating the process he grew rich. His boys went barefoot and worked at day labor. His wife and daughters did the washing. He made a trip around the world and left them at home. He paid the expense of printing a book of his travels, mainly the names of the towns and the dates when he reached them. Before he died, not trusting the regard of those around him, he bought a monument and had it properly inscribed and erected in the cemetery. It was among the sons of the tenants and purchasers from John Vanderslice that I was now thrown into daily companionship. It did me no harm, but on the contrary was beneficial. Every child is helped by playing for a part of the day in the mud. Every man ought to increase his experiences and grow to the extent of his capabilities, but he ought ever to have his feet upon the ground. Those people on Tunnel Hill had great regard for my father, and they have always been staunch friends of mine. When I was a candidate for the governorship. Tunnel Hill, for the first time in its history, voted with the Republicans, and an old Irish woman living there still keeps the cradle in which I was rocked.
At this school I learned all of the rules of Smith's Grammar, and I find firmly imbedded in my mind the propositions that “a noun is the name of a person, place or thing,” “a pronoun is a word used instead of a noun,” “prepositions govern the objective case,” “active transitive verbs govern the objective case,” and the like. I committed to memory the geography of the world from Mitchell's Atlas and could not be overcome by Cape Severo Vostochnoi or the Yang-tse-Kiang River. On one occasion, when there was an examination and none of the boys except myself appeared, I gave, before an audience, the bounds of each of the United States, named its capital, two principal towns and two principal rivers. I learned to cipher in Vogdes' Arithmetic as far as cube root. Among the brightest boys in the school were John H. Mullen, who afterward studied medicine, and Andrew J. Sullivan, a hunchback. Among the pupils about this period were some Indian boys and girls. A tribe came from Canada and encamped along the Pickering Creek in Schuylkill township, and there the boys, who were very skilful, shot with bows and arrows at a dime fixed in a pole, and the girls made very neat baskets. When the weather grew too cold for tent life they rented a house on Tunnel Hill, and both boys and girls came to school.
At ten years of age I went to school in the Presbyterian church, on the south side of the creek, to a Miss Agnes McClure, who afterward married a clerk named Hughes in the office of the iron company, and became the mother of Dr. William E. Hughes of Philadelphia, and to a Mrs. Wallace, and there made a beginning in the study of French.
When I was about four years of age the “Buckeye Blacksmith” came to the town. It had just been discovered that the sun could be made to paint portraits, and the common people, who could not afford to employ an artist with brush and canvas, might yet hope to have their features preserved for the enlightenment of posterity. Daguerre had added a new complication to life, if not a terror, and out of it has arisen the modern photograph and the possibility of all of the ugly pictures with which the newspaper destroys our ideas of art. The “Buckeye Blacksmith” was one of the most effective of stump orators. In a rough and homely fashion he blended wit and pathos. Any crowd would desert Webster or Seward to hear him, and he took part in all of the political campaigns upon the side of the Whigs. Between times he made daguerreotypes. My brother, John, and myself had “our likenesses taken” by him and the picture was reproduced over the country in 1903. His name was J. W. Baer and his memoirs have been printed. On the north side of a street, running from the Fountain Inn, the furthest inland point reached by the British army during the Revolution, to Gordon's Ford, where Cornwallis crossed the Schuylkill on the way to Philadelphia in 1777, stood and stands the Mansion House, a village tavern. The hostler was “Nigger Hen,” a mulatto, with whom, as boys, we played as with the rest. The tavern was owned by a man of Irish descent named Major McVeagh. He was illiterate but shrewd, and as a Democrat took his part in the affairs of the town. One of his near relatives, Peter Henry, drove a cart. His wife was a most worthy woman, named Lincoln, one of the family from which Abraham Lincoln was descended. He had three sons, all of whom were gifted with native intelligence, and he sought to give them names which would reflect importance — Nathan T., Isaac Wayne, named for the son of the General when he was running for the governorship, and Benjamin Franklin. The villagers always upheld that Nathan was the ablest of the family, but being the oldest he inherited the tavern and wasted his energies over and inside the bar. Wayne later became Attorney General of the United States in the Cabinet of Garfield, and Franklin, Secretary of the Treasury of the United States in the Cabinet of Taft. Wayne never was a favorite. He had the reputation as a boy of getting others into scrapes and keeping out of them himself. He had a certain volatility and instability of character, combined with acuteness which qualified the value of an otherwise important career. He inherited with his Irish blood not the gifts of logic or constructive capacity, but a caustic quickness and oratorical fervor quite unusual. Recognizing the nascent ability of the youth, my father invited him to his house and encouraged him to go to college. On his return from Yale, a homely and scrawny stripling, wearing a white necktie, he discussed in public in the Temperance Hall, with my father, the imposing but rather abstract question suggested by reading Locke, “Are ideas innate?” I listened, knowing as little as they did what it was all about and wishing I were in bed. Nathan and Franklin were both held by the villagers in more affection, if less admiration, than Wayne.
My father, being the most influential person in his section of the county, took an interest and active part in public affairs and at his home he entertained many persons of distinction and notoriety who chanced to come to the neighborhood. Like all other Whigs, he was enthusiastic over Henry Clay and the fortunes of that eloquent, magnetic and compromising statesman. In the greatest and most disappointing of his contests in 1844, on the third of October, there was a tumultuous gathering of the Whigs at Valley Forge, and that night and the next day Daniel Webster was the guest of my father.
Among several letters written to my father by Clay, the following comment upon that campaign is of interest:
Ashland, 28th November, 1844.
I received and thank you for your friendly letter communicating some of the causes which occasioned the recent most unexpected defeat of the Whigs in Pennsylvania. They are curious as matters of history; but I apprehend there is no present remedy.
I am grateful for the good opinion of me which prompts you to desire my return to the National Councils; but I have no intention of doing so. My desire is to pass the remnant of my days in private life. Grateful to my ardent and faithful friends, I shall never cease to cherish the warmest affection for them, and, in my private station, to co-operate with them in advancing the happiness and prosperity of our country.
- I am, truly, your friend and obedient servant,
Isaac A. Pennypacker, Esq.
At a later period he invited Mr. Webster to visit again his home, to which the Senator replied:
Washington, July 1st, 1852.
Isaac A. Pennypacker, Esq.,
- Phœnixville, Penna.
My dear Sir:
I am quite obliged to you for your very friendly letter, for the cordial sentiments which it contains, and the hospitality which you proffer me. I shall hardly be able to visit Pennsylvania this season, otherwise it would give me great satisfaction to visit the section of country in which you reside, and witness the improvements that are in progress around you.
- With great regard,
- Very truly yours,
- Daniel Webster.
- Very truly yours,
- With great regard,
There were likewise visits from people in other lines of life. Signor Blitz, the conjurer, gave a private exhibition of his skill, in the sitting-room, in the presence of my father and mother, of us amazed children, and a medical student or two. He took a silver dollar, marked it so that it might be recognized and placed it on his knee as he sat on a chair. Over the dollar he then put a kid glove; after a slight manipulation, the glove was lifted and the dollar had disappeared. One of the party pointed out by Blitz found it in his vest pocket. Of course the difficulty of such performances was increased by the absence of implements.
Charles H. Stratton, “Tom Thumb,” on exhibition by Barnum, came to the house, was carried to the roof and told us in a feeble voice with sprightly manner the details of his kindly treatment by Queen Victoria, whom he had lately visited. The dress invented for women by Miss Bloomer began to attract attention and lead to discussion. One afternoon my Aunt Gertrude K. Whitaker, then a young lady, and her cousin, Mary A. Bavis, came to the house on a sort of an escapade dressed in short skirts and baggy breeches, but the recollection I have is made up more of astonishment than of either shape or color of costume.
Governor William F. Johnson was a visitor. He offended my mother by coming to the house late at night somewhat exhilarated, and he had to be put to bed and kept out of sight until the next morning.
Neal Dow, the author of the Maine Liquor Law, and afterward a brigadier-general in the War of the Rebellion and a prisoner in Libby Prison, made a proselyting tour in the cause of temperance, and found my father earnestly in sympathy. He was no doubt abstemious in the use of wine, but he drank five or six cups of tea at a meal. Nevertheless he lived to be ninety-four years of age. When I was a very little child, I found in the garden a white flint of unusual shape and took it to my father, who explained to me that it was an Indian arrow head. Ever since I have collected Indian implements and taught others to do the like. My father took me with Dow in his carriage to Valley Forge. While clambering over the entrenchments, then rough and overgrown, I picked up an arrow head which had been thrown up by the Revolutionary soldiers and washed out by later storms. It was surely an interesting memento, and in a child's way I presented it to Dow. He made a to-do over it and wrote an account of the matter for a newspaper in Boston. He always remembered me, but called me “Tommy.”
|Troy, N. Y., January 31/54.|
Dear Sir: — I have just received yours of the 23rd forwarded from Portland, and am very much obliged. It would have given me great pleasure to have seen you at Philadelphia, for my visit at your house and my trip with you to the memorable scene of our fathers' trials and sufferings at Valley Forge, are among the pleasant memories of my life. Please present my regards to your wife, and give my love to Tommy, whom I remember with pleasure.
It must be a sacrifice to you all, to change your pleasant location at Phœnixville for a residence in Philadelphia, but I hope it will prove satisfactory to you. When I get home I will see what I can do about giving your College a favorable notice in the Maine papers, and may have an opportunity to recommend some students to your care and instruction.
I go from here to Montreal, then home.
- Very respectfully yours,
- Neal Dow.
- Very respectfully yours,
William H. Seward had pleasant relations with my father and spent a few nights at our home. He was thin, with a countenance the lines of which were somewhat drawn, reserved and unsympathetic and made little impression except for smoking a great quantity of cigars. From among his letters I select the following brief note:
Washington, December 25, 1852.
I regret that all my copies of the eulogies on Mr. Clay were exhausted a month and more ago. I have requested my friend, Mr. Schoolcraft, of this State to send you one. I will try to save a copy of the Webster Obituary notices for you, but I shall be obliged if you will remind me of it after the publication appears.
Pray offer my most respectful regards to Mrs. Pennypacker and believe me, Always faithfully,
- Your friend,
- William H. Seward.
- Your friend,
Dr. I. A. Pennypacker,
- Phœnixville, Pa.
Being an earnest Whig, my father had little sympathy with the Abolitionists, whom he blamed for causing the defeat of Clay by nominating Birney for the presidency, and when such of their associates as Miller McKim and Charles C. Burleigh appeared he wrestled with them in public controversies, some of which were published in the journals of the time. He was likewise the first to advocate making a public park of the camp ground of Valley Forge. The village of Phœnixville grew up around the iron works owned by my grandfather, Joseph Whitaker, and his partners, Benjamin and David Reeves, composing the firm of Reeves & Whitaker, and managed by him very successfully from 1829 to 1847. It was a dirty town. The streets were unpaved and were cut into deep ruts by the huge six-horse teams which hauled the iron ore from the Chester Springs to the works, made up of pig iron furnaces, puddling mills and a nail factory. The sidewalks were made of black cinder. Dogs and pigs wandered about at their will. There was no authority to check the disorders of a somewhat rough community. In 1847 my grandfather withdrew from the firm and built a handsome residence upon the opposite side of the Schuylkill River in Montgomery County, to which Bayard Taylor gave the name of Mont Clare. Thereupon my father undertook to get the town incorporated into a borough. The effort led to a bitter local contest. The firm, now Reeves, Buck & Co., were opposed because it meant increased taxation and a certain loss of control, and they had the aid of all of their employees, who composed the greater part of the male population. Meetings were held, pro and con, for which Bayard Taylor printed the handbills. Heated speeches were made and violent letters were written. Before one legislature the effort failed, but the next granted a charter, and in 1849 the borough of Phœnixville started upon its career, with my father, who, after a spirited contest between the friends and opponents of the movement, had been successful in the election, as its first burgess. Public service is very often an unsatisfactory proceeding accompanied by ingratitude and followed by discomfort. To pay for the charter and expenses, he gave his individual note, which the town council, at the suggestion of Vanderslice, declined to provide for, and he was compelled to meet it himself. I preserve the paper as a memento. As burgess he was soon confronted with a situation out of the ordinary.
Two bruisers, Bradley and Sloan, anticipating the modern achievements of the negro Johnson, representing the two cities of Philadelphia and Baltimore, came to town, followed by the plugs who were financially interested, and fought a prize fight on the grounds of Nathan Pennypacker to the north of the borough. By baffling movements in different directions they succeeded in finishing their fight, but were afterward very properly thrown into jail.
Taylor, in 1847, went away to New York to be an editor upon the New York Tribune. From among his numerous letters to my father I select the following as an indication of their relations and as having a local interest:
Tribune Office, Sept. 14, 1850.
I was more gratified than you would perhaps imagine, on receiving your kind letter, a day or two ago. I did not suppose you had forgotten me, but I was afraid you might have thought me estranged by the years which have elapsed since I left Phœnixville. Your words brought all the old time back, and I half fancied I was looking down the Schuylkill Valley from your avenue of cedars, or pulling up the dam in our capacious “Sankanac”.
It is true I have lived through a great deal since then, the smallest half of my life seems to lie behind that time, so deep and varied have been the experiences of these latter years. My duties have vastly increased, and with them, my individual responsibility; but I fancy I have grown stronger by intercourse with the world, and am ready to fight its toughest battles.
You may readily imagine how exacting is the task of editing a daily journal, on so large a scale as ours, and that my times of leisure are indeed far between. The theft of a day, now and then, which is about the extent of my absence, I consider it my duty to spend at home — my Chester County home, of course.
Even my trip to California, harum-scarum as it may seem, was but one department of my business. The fact is, I am one of the galley-slaves of the Press, and can only take comfort in the thought that my fellow-laborers in the office are congenial minds, and that the harmony of our intercourse is never disturbed. In a few years, when I shall become a little freer in money matters, and not obliged to work quite so hard, my situation will be all that I could wish.
I had already noticed in the West Chester papers the death of your little daughter. It must have been a severe blow. Though I am not married (as you seem to suspect), and, of course, have been spared any such sad experience, I can truly understand and sympathize with it. I hope, however, your fine little boys are as strong and hearty as when I last saw them. John must be grown out of my knowledge, and as for the young Henry Clay, I can only conjecture his features. I do not expect any of them would recognize me, for my friends tell me I have changed considerably in appearance.
Why do you never visit New York? It would be an easy matter to come here for a week or two during our concert and opera season, and you have never yet fairly seen our great American metropolis. I have seen and heard a great deal of Jenny Lind since she came. She is all that has been said and more.
I must close. I write this at my office desk in the midst of business. I must not forget to say, however, that in a few weeks I expect to complete the redemption of the note held by Moses, and so release you of the only remaining responsibility. Foster has acted even worse than I anticipated after my experience of him. He is now editing an old Hunker paper in western New York.
With kindest regards to Mrs. Pennypacker, Dr. Whitaker and your father-in-law's family, I am.
- Faithfully yours,
- Bayard Taylor.
- Faithfully yours,
Among his other correspondents were Thaddeus Stevens, Josiah Randall, Dr. Joseph Carson, Dr. George B. Wood, Joseph R. Ingersoll, and Watson, the annalist.
When I was about ten years of age I took part in a local dramatic performance in the Temperance Hall, given by the “Youths' Improvement Society” and made my first public appearance.
About this time there came a great change in the lives and fortunes of the family as I have heretofore depicted them. The addresses made by my father — professional, political and didactic — had drawn attention to him beyond the immediate neighborhood. Among other things, he was, as I have already written, the first to urge publicly the preservation of the camp ground of Valley Forge by the nation or state, as a park. His reputation as a physician extended widely. At this time the Philadelphia College of Medicine was about to be reorganized. Among its professors were Doctors Henry Hartshorne, James L. Tyson, Joseph Parrish and B. Howard Rand. One of them, Dr. Henry Geiger, who afterward went into the wholesale grocery business and street railways and became very wealthy, came to Phœnixville and urged my father to take the leading chair of Theory and Practice. He concluded to make the venture. His Phœnixville house was rented to David Reeves, the iron master, and in 1854 the family, which then consisted of my father and mother, my brothers, Henry C. and Isaac R., aged eight and two years respectively, and myself, aged eleven, moved to the city and boarded with John J. Phillips and his wife, old-fashioned Quaker people, on the south side of Wood Street between Seventh and Eighth. I had only been in Philadelphia once before and it meant to me a confused noise, fruit stands at the corners of the streets, and advertising signs which read in one way from a certain point, but mysteriously changed to something else as you passed them. I had only one acquaintance in the town, James Henry Workman, a boy about my own age, who was later a member of the shipping firm of Workman & Co., on Walnut Street, and a captain in Rush's Lancers during the war, grievously wounded and a prisoner. Boarding in the house, however, were two of my cousins considerably older than myself, Edmund L. Whitaker and Nelson E. Whitaker, the latter of whom is now president of the Whitaker Iron Company of Wheeling, West Virginia, has been a state senator and urged for the United States Senate. They were sons of my great-uncle, George P. Whitaker, who lived at Principio Furnace in Maryland, and who, in partnership with my grandfather, owned that furnace and a tract of about twelve thousand acres of land, being the most extensive landholders in the state. He was rich, intensely proud, with a will of iron hidden beneath a bearing of soft courtliness. It was a delight to me as a child and young man to visit at Principio, as I frequently did. The boating, fishing and gunning about the head of the Chesapeake Bay and the streams flowing into it and the warm hospitality of the home with its plentiful larder, were attractive, and Aunt Eliza, a good-hearted motherly woman, always found something in the store associated with the iron works to give to me. In their lives his family presented sharp contrasts and many vicissitudes. The successful career of his son, Nelson, has been mentioned. His daughter, Caroline, a beautiful girl who sang sweetly “A little boy went out to shoot one day,” married Joseph Coudon, a wealthy representative of the Cecil County aristocracy and a grandson of one of the early rectors of the Episcopal Church who bore the same name. One son, Henry, while driving at night fell out of a buggy and his neck was broken. Cecil, the youngest son, started one day to cross the Chesapeake with some companions in a boat, in the face of a fierce storm. That they had a desperate experience of some character was proved by the fact that the bodies of all of them were found, one here and one there, as the boat had been driven on in its course.
The life on Wood Street was very monotonous and almost painful to a boy accustomed to the country. However, the volunteer fire department was then at the height of its development. The Fairmount Engine Company and the Shiffler Hose Company, representing up-town and the Protestant faith with a touch of Whig politics, and the Moyamensing Hose Company with the redoubtable “Billy” McMullen, whom I afterwards came to know, representing down-town, the Roman Catholic Church and the Democratic party, often met for a fierce street fight. If a fire was needed in order to give them a chance, willing hands were ready to start it and there were fires every day. Around the corner, not a square away from us, was the house of the Empire Hook and Ladder Company. When a fire occurred the State House bell with the strokes one, two, three and four, for the points of the compass, with their combinations, told the direction, and frantic men in their stiff hats and red shirts shouted as they ran out the long ladders and hurried away.
In the fall of 1854 my father bought a four-story brick house on the north side of Chestnut Street, the second door west of Eighteenth Street, and there began practice as well as attending to the duties of the college. The house which cost him about ten thousand dollars has since sold for a hundred thousand dollars, thus justifying his financial judgment, although, as often happens, the crop was not gathered by him who sowed the seed. He furnished it handsomely and fitted up an office in the front basement. He was popular in Philadelphia as he had been at home. He went to the Wistar parties of the day and gave parties at his home to the students, professors and others. He was one of the founders of the Philadelphia City Institute, which has since grown to great importance, and its president, and likewise of the Howard Hospital. A publisher named Wilson made an engraving of him which he sold to the public. Root, the most skilful daguerreotypist of the time, made several daguerreotypes and had two portraits made in crayon, one of which he retained to exhibit in his store. On the opposite side of the street, in a large double brownstone house, lived Robert Truitt, then very wealthy, but the house has since passed into the ownership of McCreary, the coal man, father of George D. McCreary, member of Congress Next door, also in a brownstone house, lived the Balls, and they had the steps ornamented with two large carved stone balls Both families were among his patients. S. Henry Norris, a hopeful young lawyer, recently married, lived opposite, on very friendly terms. A few doors away, on our side of the street, lived a widow named Thomson, who had a parrot and to whom William B. Reed was then paying devoted attention. Edwin Greble had a marble yard to the eastward of Eighteenth Street and much of that square was without buildings. On the north side a baker named Wernwag, a nephew of the famous bridge builder, had his shop.
Madame Rush, the leader of Philadelphia society, distantly related to us through the Richardsons, old, large and gross in appearance, daily waddled down Chestnut Street in the afternoon for a walk. She was ever the subject of gossip, of attention and of envy.
I was sent to the Northwest Grammar School, then under charge of Aaron B. Ivins, as principal, who, later, for many years was at the head of the Friends' Central School at Fifteenth and Race streets, and every morning Snyder B. Simes, a boy whose father had a drug store at Eighteenth and Market streets, and who for many late years has been rector of Gloria Dei or Old Swedes' Church, and myself trudged together to school with our leather satchels swung over our backs. Aaron Ivins — nobody ever thought of calling him Mr., as he was a Quaker — was a stout man with a twist to his mouth on one side who enforced a rigid discipline with an “Hour Line” of delinquents compelled to stand in a row for that length of time after school, and sometimes also with a window bar. He had an abnormal command of figures. He would set down on the blackboard, say, 9347698 and multiply it mentally by 6987 without apparently the least effort, much to the wonderment of all who saw him. It was his pride that he sent more boys to the high school every year than any other principal in the city and that no one of them had ever been rejected. The school was divided into five divisions of two classes each. Every three months there were written examinations. I was admitted into the first class of the fifth or lowest division, but was almost at once advanced to the second class of the fourth division. Being ambitious to excel, I arose in the early mornings before daylight to work at my lessons. At the first regular examination, along with two other boys, I skipped a class and entered the second class of the third division. At the next examination one boy went with me over the first class into the second class of the second division. Three months later I went alone into the first division. In nine months I had gone almost from one end of the school to the other and my heart was gleeful when called to march across the front of the school room to my new place and Aaron said aloud: “Boys, you remember when he was away down there, don't you?”
About this time Professor E. D. Saunders had established his West Philadelphia Institute, on what was then almost a farm, on Thirty-ninth Street a short distance above Market Street. He wanted to make it distinctively a school for education in French, and that language he required to be spoken in the school and on the playground. A native of Switzerland, Monsieur Subit, taught the boys. Professor Saunders, anxious to try the experiment to ascertain what length of time would be required under his methods to acquire a familiarity with the language — it may be for the purpose of advertising the school — went to Aaron in the search for a boy with some capabilities. Aaron recommended me. He then went to my father and offered to educate me free of charge. My father consented and so it happened that my course toward the high school came abruptly to an end. In the fall of 1855, at the age of twelve, I began my studies at the West Philadelphia Institute. Among the boys were Courtland Saunders, son of the Professor, who afterward, as captain in the Corn Exchange Regiment, was killed at Shepherdstown; Gregory B. Keen, who, while a rector of the Protestant Episcopal Church, went over to the Catholics, became Librarian of the University of Pennsylvania, and of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Alfred Driver, now a lawyer in Philadelphia; John E. Reyburn, not contemporary with me, now the mayor of the city, and Edward C. Loud, son of the maker of pianos, then in reduced circumstances, who walked out with me in the mornings over Market Street bridge, and who had a military record, afterward reaching the rank of a brigadier general in the National Guard. I acquired a pronunciation of the French, upon which I have been complimented since in Paris, and have been reading some French every year of my life; and, strange to say, established among the boys a great reputation as a shindy player. We played the game in a field of about twelve acres of land which was adjacent to the school. In selecting sides, a boy named Bicknell, about eighteen years old, was chosen first, because of the strength with which he could give the opening blow to the ball. The second choice usually fell upon me. I was known as a “picker.” I had a heavy crooked tree limb and earned my standing by the reckless abandon with which I rushed into a mêlée and thwarted the other side in its efforts to strike the ball. To Professor Saunders I proved to be a disappointment, due to two unavoidable causes — an attack of malaria interrupted my studies and I went to the Durham Iron Works in Bucks County, one of the oldest and most noted of the iron furnaces of Pennsylvania, which, with a tract of nine hundred and thirty acres of land, belonged to my grandfather and my uncles, and there, at the house of my uncle, George W. Whitaker, the manager in charge, spent some time. There my uncle, Joseph R. Whitaker, who was a skilled horseman and had a swift sorrel horse, taught me, as well as a couple of young ladies, to ride horseback. The furnace stood among wooded hills beside a creek flowing into the Delaware River, and not far away could be seen the famous Durham Cave, two or three of whose limestone chambers were still intact.
A few months later, on the 13th of February, 1856, my father died from an attack of erysipelas and typhoid fever. He was attended by Drs. Tyson and Brinckle. There were poems written and editorial regrets. Dr. Clark preached a sermon in the Baptist Church, called The Tabernacle, on Chestnut Street west of Eighteenth, and Dr. Roach another in St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church, upon the untoward event. Dr. Hartshorne delivered a memorial address to the classes, in which he said: “To this school especially he gave all his great mental energies with the pride of a founder, which, in a certain sense, as it now stands, he was; it seems to us now like an edifice whose foremost column has fallen down or a tree whose topmost bough is broken off.”
There were sales of his interest in the college, which soon afterward became blended with the Pennsylvania College of Medicine and later with the Jefferson Medical College; of his house in Phœnixville to John Vanderslice for one-half of its value; of the house on Chestnut Street and of my mother's farm in Chester County, and when they were all over, she had just seven thousand dollars upon which to depend. She had four children, of whom I was the oldest, and my brother, James, had been born only in December. She had character, met the situation with courage and fortitude, took her family to the home of her father at Mont Clare and there kept house for him.
The house, capacious and impressive, built of stone, plastered outside, with a porch in front, approached by a flight of marble steps and another in the rear, with massive doors and high ceilings, a large and unusual parlor, partly separated by Doric columns, and a wide hall running from porch to porch, stood on a crest sloping toward the Schuylkill. It had, however, a basement kitchen and dining-room, and perhaps from this cause my mother became a prey to rheumatism, suffering with it for thirty years. With the death of my father came to me an abrupt change not only in the manner of life but in those influences which affect the currents of thought. Up to that time my life had been that of a Pennypacker and the career which had been proposed for me, and accepted with no sense of uncertainty, was that I should pursue a course at college and then read law. The Whitaker point of view was thoroughly practical. My grandfather had large means, but to provide gratification for idle and unproductive people was no part of his philosophy. In truth, even thus early in life I felt a great sense of responsibility and the need which had come to me to be up and doing. My mother came to me with her confidences and to a great extent began to lean upon me. She continued to do so through the whole of her long life and we were not thereafter for any length of time separated. Temporarily I went to the public school in Phœnixville on the south side of the creek in a yellow building at the corner of Church and Gay streets, the teacher being Joseph Addison Thomson, one of a local family, all of whom possess more than ordinary intelligence. Both boys and girls attended the school. We sang geography. We had spelling bees and spelled each other down. One of the duties of every teacher at that day was to write a head line on each page of each scholar's copy book, which he or she endeavored to imitate for the acquisition of good chirography. I remember on one occasion writing in my book, as a venture of my own, the line:
“An Austrian army awfully arrayed,”
and being surprised to find that the next copy given me by Thomson was the following line:
“Boldly by battery besieged Belgrade.”
About this period an unusual and interesting series of events occurred at Mont Clare. To understand them there need be added nothing more to the description of the house than to say that from the center of the hall a narrow entry led to the top of the stairway to the kitchen. In this entry, near the ceiling and far out of reach, hung the door bell from the front door. On the other side of the entry a crooked stairway, used by the servants, ran to the third story. The occupants of the house were my grandfather, who was often away upon business; my grandmother; my two aunts, Elizabeth and Gertrude, then unmarried; my mother and her children; my Aunt Sarah, whose illness prevented her from leaving the upper floor; Patrick Orr, a stableman; Fanny, a very black girl of about twelve years of age, whom Aunt Sallie daily and diligently tried to wash white and comb straight; and two girls in the kitchen. Across the road which ran by to Norristown lived “Auntie Jacobs,” a nice old Quaker lady with her two old bachelor sons — John and Benjamin. Prior to the Revolution the Jacobs family had been one of the most influential families of the Province, having their part in every important movement, but the lapse of time had lessened the nervous force and energy. John and Benjamin lived on the ancestral acres, cleanly and upright, full of anti-slavery traditions, a little given to science and chess, a little prone to adopt all of the advanced notions that came floating along, and without much of the vigor which leads to achievement. At Rochester, in New York, spirits had disclosed themselves to some women by rapping in mysterious ways and moving tables and chairs. Why they should so behave no one could explain, though the subject was talked about all over the country. John and Benjamin Jacobs came across the road to sit with my aunts about a round table with the hands of all four on the top of it, in an effort to get it to move, and listening for the raps which ought naturally in sequence to follow. After a few weeks of unresponsive endeavor the thing started with a vengeance in such a way as not only to discommode the family and make them uneasy but to disturb the neighborhood. The happenings always occurred at night. The bells rang long and loudly when there were no visitors, rappings were heard all over the house and there were tappings on the window panes, both up and down stairs. Blows were struck upon the doors as though with a club. Oftentimes the sounds seemed to be made in the very presence of those who were watching. On one occasion Pat stood with a club at the back door, with the door ajar, when a loud thump happened at his side. “Bejabers, I've got ye now!” said Pat as he threw the door wide open. Darkness there and nothing more! On another occasion Fanny and I had our heads out of a third-story window on the watch when a loud noise in another part of the house startled all in it and called us there. One evening, a member of the family coming up the stairs stumbled over a large gilt mirror of great weight which had hung for years in a room in the third story. Another night the wife of my uncle, William P. C. Whitaker, then on a visit to the household, going up the broad stairway in the dark, was confronted by some obscure figure and fainted. Naturally the members of the family thought that somebody in the neighborhood played these pranks, and their suspicion fell upon a woman who occasionally came to the house and knew its arrangement. Every effort was made to catch this person in the act. Flour was sprinkled over the porches so that traces of the footsteps would be left. John and Benjamin Jacobs hid behind the shrubbery on the lawn and waited for hours. Relays were stationed at the upper windows. It was labor in vain. The manifestations continued at intervals for perhaps three months and then ceased temporarily. After about three months they began again to be followed by a period of quiet and by a third recurrence, altogether covering over a year's time. Outside of the house and near to it stood a frame structure used for the purpose of storing wood and as a receptacle for cast-off material. On a dark night a member of the family going to this house found a lot of wood gathered together with paper, and dry chips underneath, and the black girl, Fanny, with a box of matches in the very act of setting it on fire. The secret was out and she told her story. She had rung the door bell by running up the narrow back stairway and pulling out a brass stair rod which enabled her to reach the bell. She had various devices to produce the rappings. She had a supply of tinder under the carpet of the stairway ready to set the mansion on fire, if successful with the outer structure. She was hurried away in order to have her escape the severe thrashing which grandfather would surely have given her had he been at home, and the house thereafter had no more communications from the spirits. She was such a dull, thick-witted, stupid little creature that a consensus of opinion, based upon knowledge of her and recollection of occurrences which apparently she could not possibly have produced, attributed outside assistance to her.
One morning my Uncle Joseph, a bachelor, masterful, brusque, generous and rich, upon whom had devolved much of the direction of our future, came to me and said:
“Sam, you are now old enough to get to work; what do you want to do?”
I knew well enough what I wanted to do, but it seemed to be beyond the range of possibility and of what was within that range I had not the slightest idea, and so I rather feebly answered:
“I should like to do as you do.”
“Humph!” he said. “My fortune is made and yours is yet to be found.”
Dr. Benjamin S. Anderson, a first cousin of my father, with whom he had read medicine, and with whose father mine had read medicine, had recently purchased a drug store at the southwest corner of Frankford Road and Wood Street, in Kensington, Philadelphia. He wanted a boy. I went to him upon an agreement that I should receive my board with thirty dollars for the first year and fifty dollars for the second year. My services began in the summer of 1857. His wife, also somewhat related to me, though more distantly, never approved of his leaving his practice to start a drug store, and she displayed her disapproval by refusing to fit up the house. In my room a basin and pitcher stood on a washstand; there were a bed and two chairs, but no other furniture and no carpet. I opened the store at six o'clock in the morning and swept it out and my hours ended at half after ten at night, when the store was closed, except on Saturday night, when they were extended to half after eleven. We sold glass as well as drugs, cutting it to the required size with a diamond, and mixed paints and varnishes. I learned the business, even to putting up the prescriptions of the doctors. Hydrarg. Chlor. Mit. is firmly fixed in my mind and the information there acquired has proven to be of value to me through my whole life.
Quinine cost seven dollars an ounce; arsenic, bought at the rate of ten cents a pound, was sold by the grain at the rate of two dollars per ounce. I cleaned the bottles. I furnished the transportation for the supplies secured at the wholesale stores of Ziegler & Smith, at the corner of Second and Green streets, and John M. Collins, on Fifth Street above Market, and often I carried home twenty pounds of putty. Generally I rode with the driver of the omnibus, a lumbering affair with two horses, and with steps leading up to the door in the rear. A strap fastened to the leg of the driver gave the signal to stop. About this time the first railway cars drawn by horses were started on Fifth and Sixth streets and were regarded as very wonderful.
On one occasion I went to the cellar at night with a fluid lamp to mix some paint for a customer, and while I was busy at my task the lamp exploded and the flame ran around. I well knew the danger. The cellar was full of paint, varnish and hay which came around the glass. I pulled the fragments of the lamp away, threw them behind me and succeeded in putting out the fire in front, burning my hands considerably. Then, on turning around, I found that I had thrown the lamp into a pile of hay and the fire was spreading over the cellar. That disturbed me and I called for help. The kitchen girl came to the top of the stairs and, seeing the trouble, concluded it was safer to stay where she stood. It was a closed cellar with no means of exit save by a narrow stairway. I succeeded in fighting the fire, finally got it stamped out, and saved the house.
A door opened from the rear of the store into the dining-room and another door from the dining-room into the kitchen. One afternoon I was tending the store, the girl in the dining-room was cleaning off the table, while the baby lay in the cradle beside her, and on the stove in the kitchen the doctor was trying a dubious experiment in the way of boiling some varnish to reduce its consistency. Suddenly the girl threw open the door from the dining-room and came rushing through the store, holding in one hand a napkin and in the other a knife and fork, followed by a volume of black smoke. In her terror she ran across Wood Street and took refuge behind a long box which there stood on the pavement. A moment later the doctor appeared at the door, his red hair and beard blackened and scorched. Suddenly the thought of the baby, abandoned by the girl, occurred to him and turning back he rescued it from its dangerous berth. The varnish had taken fire. Everything in the kitchen was burned up, but the fire engines and hose, soon coming upon the alarm, put out the fire before greater harm had been done. For two weeks the doctor remained unable to attend to business and I had entire charge of and responsibility for the store. At the end of the year his wife had her way and he sold the store to a man named Rex. I remained with him two weeks to enable him to learn the locations of the drugs and to introduce him to the customers, and then, having taken care of myself for a year and earned thirty dollars, I returned to Mont Clare. My entering the store was not altogether a wise movement, but, like most of the unwisdom of life, had its compensations in added experience and in ways we are not always able to measure.
At this time Rev. Joel E. Bradley, a preacher of the Baptist Church, had opened a school for boys and girls in my old home, the house built by Wernwag in Phœnixville now called the Grovemont Seminary. A man of extensive acquirements, he aided in the translation of a revised version of the Scriptures from the Hebrew and Greek, and he had had long experience in teaching. It was a good school in the sense that those pupils who wanted to learn had the opportunity presented to them. On the other hand, he had a very kindly disposition and exercised little impelling force or restraint over those who were idle or indifferent. Under the tuition of Mr. Bradley I began preparation for the Sophomore class at Yale college and continued in the school for about two years. He told my mother that I was the most apt pupil he had ever known in his long experience. The ablest boy in the school was Samuel Sower, a descendant of the famous Germantown printer. He had the power to reason analytically and constructively and moreover had an unusual gift of speech. I expected for him a brilliant future. We worked together, and together solved rebuses and enigmas and were very intimate, but one day we had a personal combat ending in ill feeling, and never renewed our relations. His life was without result and closed in failure. Every man, I take it, has certain sensations which verge upon the superstitious, and in fact we none of us know to what extent traces yet remain in our mental processes of what, with our ancestors in the dark ages, were fixed beliefs. So many men who have stood in my way in life have perished from before me, three of them having committed suicide, that I am at least able to understand why generations ago there was faith in and dread of the “evil eye.” When, years afterward, a friend of both quietly said to me in commenting upon the career of Sower: “He never seemed to do any good after his quarrel with you,” it made me solemn and sad. Another boy, Singleton M. Ashenfelter, a little in the rough, but with vital energies and good-hearted, afterwards the United States District Attorney for New Mexico, became my closest associate. The principal had two sons in the school. Joel, whom everybody liked, was killed in the Wilderness. A wounded comrade cried aloud for water and Joel went back and was shot while standing over him holding a canteen as he drank. The other son, William H. Bradley, studied medicine, became the editor of a paper in Wilkes-Barre and influential and then for some years was employed in the business department of the Weekly Press in Philadelphia. Quarreling with Cooke, the general manager, he was charged with embezzlement and convicted. I always doubted the justice of the result. Two of my first cousins, Benjamin R. and Andrew R. Whitaker, were also among the pupils. Benjamin, now dead, served throughout the war in the 104th Pennsylvania Regiment, and then, studying medicine, was surgeon to the ill-fated Collins expedition to Brazil. Andrew has ever been not only a relative but a staunch friend, and is now, by my appointment, a member of the Pennsylvania Fish Commission. Among the girls a sly little dark-eyed minx named Annie M. Taylor, pretty to look upon, caught the fancy of all of the boys, and another girl with dark eyes and red blood to color her lips and cheeks, more sedate but with a piece cut away from the top of her dress, as was then a fashion, caught mine. Her name was Virginia Earl Broomall. The games of the boys consisted of hand ball, corner ball, duck on davy and shindy; those of the girls jackstones and mumble-the-peg. We had occasional public exercises in the Temperance Hall, at which I usually delivered an address in French which indicated the erudition of the school but did very little good to the audience. I continued my French at Grovemont and so far progressed that I not only read the facile Telemaque of Fenelon but also a French translation of Cooper's Pioneers, a much more difficult matter. In Latin I read a reader made up of Æsop's Fables and other materials, Caesar's De Bello Gallico, The Aeneid, Vergil's Georgics and Bucolics, Sallust, Horace and Livy. The classes were required to read, scan and translate fifteen lines of the Aeneid as a daily task. I read a hundred lines, because interested. Four books were all we were expected to complete and all that were demanded at Yale. I lay flat on the floor in the garret at Mont Clare and finished the whole twelve books and likewise all of the Georgics and Bucolics. I read in Greek, a reader, the Anabasis, the Testament, Herodotus and four books of Homer. The strength and precision of the Latin pleased me and it has never been forgotten. The elaboration of the Greek with its detail and profusion of form and dialects seemed to me to indicate a lack of force and Greek has meant little in my life but a recognition of scientific terms. In my fancies Homer fell far below Vergil. It may be unorthodox, but I am of the same opinion still. In mathematics I finished Euclid and Greenleaf's Algebra and went along with philosophy, chemistry, history, grammar and English composition.
In 1859, at the age of seventeen, I had finished my education so far as schools were to give it to me, but the door to the learning of the world, as it is contained in printed books, had been opened to me and I have never permitted it to be closed. A college is a great opportunity, but after all it is only the beaten path. Where the journey ends depends upon the traveler. With the ending of my school days I consider that my youth ended and at a period in life where many men are only beginning, I had for years felt the responsibility of a burden.
- ↑ Now called Cape Chelyuskin, the northernmost point of Siberia.