Category Archives: Uncategorized

Supernatural Lore in Fleming County, KY

I recently had the privilege of visiting my childhood Kentucky home to conduct research, visit important sites, and speak at the Fleming County Public Library on “Supernatural Lore in Fleming County, KY.” We had a great turnout. The local paper wrote up a piece in advance of the event.

The Ledger Independent

FLEMINGSBURG | Author Daniel Rolph will be at the Fleming County Library on Thursday, Oct. 30 at 6 p.m. to talk about the Supernatural Lore of Fleming County.

Rolph has many family connections in Fleming, Mason and Lewis counties, as well as an extensive knowledge of local folklore, much of which has never been published. He is also the author of My Brother’s Keeper: Union & Confederate Soldiers’ Acts of Mercy During the Civil War, available as a Kindle book, but currently out-of-print. In addition, he is the author of a blog called History Hits and Hidden Histories.

Rolph is originally from Maysville, but his father was raised in Rolph Hollow near the Beechburg/ Mount Carmel/Foxport area. The senior Rolph served in the 36th Infantry Division in World War II and received two Bronze Stars for “Heroic Achievement in Combat. “ Rolph’s mother, now 90 years of age, was a Eubanks from Bald Hill.

Rolph is currently the military and frontier historian and head of reference services at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. He is also a senior lecturer in history at the Montgomery County Community College where he teaches early American history, the American Civil War and Western Civilization, as well as many other academic level courses during his 27 year career in four local colleges and universities.




A Philadelphia Connection to the Wild West

Though most people are familiar with Wild West characters such as showman Buffalo Bill Cody and sharpshooter Annie Oakley, far fewer have heard of famed theatrical promoter Gordon William Lillie, known as Pawnee Bill, and his Philadelphia connections. Lillie was born in Illinois, but he spent time living in Philadelphia and organized numerous Wild West shows in Harrisburg. (Officials in Harrisburg recently sold off a number of artifacts related to the Wild West.) Lillie, along with various tribes of Native Americans, Bedouin Arabs, and gauchos from Argentina, thrilled crowds with their own version of Wild West heritage.

While residing in Philadelphia, Lillie married 17-year-old Mary Emma May Manning at her parents’ home in 1886. May Lillie became an extremely significant part of her husband’s show, acting the part of sharpshooter and equestrian rider, similar to the famous Phoebe Ann Moses or Annie Oakley.

Lillie recruited Indians to participate in his shows, and this was not without controversy. During August of 1891, Lillie, who was living in Philadelphia at the time, wrote several letters to Herbert Welsh, corresponding secretary of the Indian Rights Association, concerning 14 Winnebagoe Indians from Wisconsin.  According to some accounts, the Winnebagoe Indians had worked for Lillie for 10 weeks without pay, and they complained Lillie was retaining “beads and clothing belonging to them.” However, Eagle Eye, an interpreter for the troupe, remarked how certain members of the group were paid regularly and given a receipt but “would go out and get drunk, and would be unable to perform their work in the show.” Incidentally, those accused did not reside on a reservation like the others but were citizens of the United States.

The Sixty-Second Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1893 (pictured at left) criticized the use of Indians as actors. According to the report, “the Indians are taken permanently from their reservations to travel through the country and give entertainments to fill some man’s pockets with money.” The report remarked how some young Indians of the Kaw tribe of Oklahoma had been “taken away for show purposes” and returned as “victims of loathsome diseases contracted among vicious whites.” However, Pawnee Bill (or the Hero of Oklahoma as he was also called) continued to receive authorization from the government to take Indians off the reservation for show purposes.

On March 20, 1894, Lillie received authorization to take a group of Indians from Rosebud Reservation or Lakota Sioux from South Dakota to the Antwerp Exposition in Belgium. The Red Star Line steamer Illinois took 25 Sioux Indians to Belgium on April 25, 1894, and arrived back in Philadelphia on August 17 of that same year. Records listing the names of the party are found in the passenger arrivals, available at the Mid-Atlantic Branch of the National Archives in Philadelphia. However, not everything went as planned.

The Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1895 (pictured at right) stated that the Indians, upon their return, brought “unfavorable newspaper comment as to the treatment they had received abroad.” Local newspaper accounts such as those printed inThe Philadelphia Inquireron August 1, 1894, remarked how an Indian papoose named Red Star was born at sea soon after the vessel left port to an Indian named Walking Woman. The mother became sick and died, and was quietly buried at sea despite her husband’s belief she would be taken back to “the Western country” upon their return from Europe. Another account dated August 18 stated how an Indian named Squaw Holy Blanket was forced to abandon her sick 6-year-old child and return to the United States due to her own failing health.

The United States agent in charge of the Rosebud Reservation later made an official report dated December 27, 1894, attesting that “all of the Indians claimed to have been badly treated, improperly and insufficiently fed, underpaid, and abused by the man in charge of them; and that they all emphatically refused to go again with Pawnee Bill.” Still Lillie attempted once again and applied to the government to take Indians abroad for show purposes. This time he was refused.

Though Pawnee Bill and his Wild West Show was popular for a number of years, Lillie eventually retired to Pawnee, Oklahoma, where he died on February 3, 1942. His wife became an ardent supporter for the preservation of the buffalo and starred in her own movie.

Wild West shows, like the American frontier, eventually became a thing of the past. However, they helped maintain an interest in the history of Western America and its inhabitants that has never waned.


This post originally appeared at

A Little Known Activity of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society

***The original post can be found here***

The Pennsylvania Abolition Society was founded in 1775 by a group of mostly Quaker men in Philadelphia. Originally called “the Pennsylvania Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage,” the group’s primary mission at that time was to render aid to free people of color who had been wrongfully enslaved.

The papers of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society are on deposit at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. One can assume that the collection solely concerns the freeing of African Americans during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, there is a relatively unknown portion of this collection that describes the actions of the Barbary States in North Africa. Preying on European vessels for centuries, pirates from the Barbary States began capturing American ships and their crews during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

On July 30, 1785, Algerian Muslim pirates captured the Philadelphia ship Dauphin and enslaved its crew. The Dauphin’s crew, along with thousands of other enslaved Christians from Europe and America, suffered death, starvation, and abuse in North Africa for many years. Additional incidents with the Barbary pirates escalated to such a degree that in 1788 members of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society appointed a committee to: “Consider reports on the Case of our fellow Citizens now in Captivity in Algiers…that this subject calls for the attention of every friend of liberty and humanity and particularly of this Society whose declared objects are the mitigations of the rigours of Slavery, and the total abolition of that unjust and cruel practice…”

The Society’s minutes continue that a “Committee of thirteen Persons be appointed to endeavor to obtain information concerning the American Prisoners captured by the Cruisers, of any of the States of Barbary…” The thirteen members of the committee (a “Who’s Who” of the day) were published in the Philadelphia newspaper, the Pennsylvania Journal, on July 8, 1789 (pictured). They were: James Pemberton, Jonathan Penrose, Tench Coxe, Richard Wells, Nicholas Collins, William Rogers, Samuel P. Griffiths, Thomas Harrison, Francis Bailey, Thomas Wister, John Oldden, Caleb Lownes, and Casper W. Haines.

The minutes of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society go on to emphatically declare that: “proper measures be immediately taken by this Society, to obtain information of the late places of abode, names, numbers, and real situation of the Citizens of America now in Captivity in the States of Barbary…Subscriptions under the care of this Society be opened in the several States in the American Union for the purpose of obtaining the Funds which may be necessary to administer such relief as their Situation may require….”

Among other correspondence concerning the acts of the Barbary pirates is a letter dated May 24, 1789, written in Salem, Massachusetts, which recounts the tale of crew members of the New England Brigantine Success who were captured by a Turkish Galley and later escaped. This can be found in the Loose Correspondence, Incoming: 1784-1795 of the Society’s papers. Additional material can also be found in letters from July 1789 written by John Skey Eustace, who had served as a Major Aide-de-Camp to a number of American generals during the Revolutionary War.

The Pennsylvania Abolition Society worked toward the permanent destruction of slavery in all its forms, not only for those Africans enslaved in the Western Hemisphere, but also for those white Americans taken by the Barbary pirates. Subsequent actions in North Africa would later be referred to as the Barbary Wars, or “America’s first war on terror,a conflict carried out under three American presidents. Many references exist within the Pennsylvania Abolition Society Papers on this important issue and should be examined in greater detail by scholars who continue to examine the broad subject of slavery in American and world history.

The Pennsylvania Abolition Society is still an active organization today. To learn more about the Pennsylvania Abolition Society Papers, please see the edition of Pennsylvania Legacies magazine on the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and HSP’s Digital History Project on the PAS Papers. To learn more about the Barbary Wars and their Philadelphia connections, read Dr. Daniel Rolph’s Hidden Histories blog post.

The Fort that Saved America

***The original post can be found here***

For six weeks in the fall of 1777, the British fired upon Fort Mifflin along the Delaware River in an attempt to drive out American troops. This was one of the largest bombardments of the war and a pivotal moment in the American Revolution.

Construction of Fort Mifflin on what was referred to as Mud Island began in 1771. Funding and political issues caused delays, and the fort was not completed until 1775 by the Continental forces.  It was named in honor of Major General Thomas Mifflin of the Continental Army, who later became Pennsylvania’s first governor.

Beginning in late September 1777, British forces under General William Howe began amassing forces on the mainland and islands near the fort. Fort Mifflin was under the command of Lt. Col. Samuel Smith, a native of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who had previously served with distinction at the famed Battle of the Brandywine.

In early October, the fort’s garrison of approximately 300 American troops engaged the British. British naval forces unleashed a heavy cannonade of artillery, largely from the five batteries located on Province Island some 400 to 500 yards away. Fighting continued for five weeks with neither side achieving a decisive advantage. During the siege, Gen. George Washington was in Whitemarsh Township, Montgomery County, with few troops or supplies to spare to aid the beleaguered fort.

With the weather turning colder, General Howe needed a decisive blow. Beginning on the 10th of November, the British batteries hammered Fort Mifflin with 18-, 24-, and 32-pounders demolishing the barracks, blockhouse, and artillery pieces.  American casualties were high, and Lt. Col. Smith was knocked senseless at one point by falling debris from a chimney. Writing from the fort on November 11, Smith still was hopeful that he would be able to hold out for another five days.

However, an American deserter carried intelligence to the British regarding the sad state of the fort’s reserves, and that news strengthened British resolve. With daylight on the 15th, the sounding of a bugle announced the incessant bombardment from both land and sea batteries of a barrage of missiles upon the fort. The sound was so loud that it reportedly shook buildings in Philadelphia and South Jersey.

In the first hour, it is estimated that more than a thousand cannon balls were fired, which practically leveled the fort. On the evening of the 15th, with the American flag flying overhead, the survivors of the battle escaped across the river to Red Bank, New Jersey. When British forces entered the next morning, they found Fort Mifflin abandoned and destroyed.

Although an American defeat, the battle of Fort Mifflin demonstrated the tenacity and patriotism of the American forces. Delaying the British for six weeks allowed Washington and his tattered army to reach and encamp at Valley Forge. Without the actions of the troops in the fort, it is quite possible that British forces would have attacked Washington’s army, and the outcome of the Revolution could have been very different. This battle earned Fort Mifflin the moniker, “The Fort that Saved America.”

In 1795, Fort Mifflin was rebuilt and remained an active military base until 1954. It functioned as a prisoner-of-war camp during the Civil War and was part of Naval Ammunition Depot during World War I & II. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1915. Fort Mifflin still stands today on the Delaware River, at the mouth of the Schuylkill, as a testament to the will and determination of the American spirit.

The Legend or Haunting of the Hounds of Colebrook Furnace: Lebanon County, PA

***The original post can be found here***

On April 28, 1842, the Perry County (PA) Democrat remarked that “if the ghosts of starved-to-death animals were permitted to haunt the men who have so cruely [sic] used them, we have some men in our mind’s eye who would have little quiet sleep about these days.”

The above statement is pertinent in relating for Halloween the account of an iron-master and his abused hounds. Now largely forgotten, this tale was told concerning the Colebrook Furnace built by Robert Coleman in 1781, in what is now Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. The legend is recounted in a number of publications available here at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The collection also contains the original ledgers for the Colebrook Furnace and many others, which were once scattered about the state.

The “Legend of the Hounds” has sometimes been confused with another similar tale involving Peter Marmie and the Alliance Iron Works, located in present day Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Marmie is said to have committed suicide “by plunging into the mouth of a heated furnace” after he had first thrown his hound into the roaring or blazing “Alliance Furnace and jumping in after him.” This appears to be merely legend as the Holker Papers reveal Marmie was still alive after the furnace “went out of blast” in 1814.1

The “Legend of the Hounds” tale of Lebanon County was largely popularized by the famed poem penned by George H. Boker as early as 1869 and reprinted along with a work by Henry C. Grittinger, “The Iron Industries of Lebanon County,”2 According to legend, “Squire” Jacobs, the manager of the Colebrook Furnace, was  famous for his cruelty, greed, and mean disposition toward both man and beast. Like most bullies, he was also a braggart, and in an age of foxhunting he consistently swore about the tracking abilities of his pack of hounds led by Flora, his prized dog. A heavy drinker, Jacobs, frequently became angry and violent when under the influence of alcohol.

After returning empty-handed from a special hunt that was meant to show off his dog’s skills, Jacobs was particularly angry and embarrassed. According to an account published by Arthur C. Bining3, the disheartened ironmaster “drove the entire pack up the furnace road to the open blazing tunnel head” where he then, “with whip in hand,” forced each dog into the flames of the furnace. Flora, loyal to the last, even licked his hand but Jacobs threw her into the blazing heat while cursing the dogs aloud.

After murdering his faithful hounds one by one, the ironmaster was said to have been unable to sleep, lost what few friends he had, drank even more than before, and mostly stayed in bed. On many occasions, he’d rise up and declare that “the hellish pack were pouring from Colebrook furnace” in an attempt to obtain their vengeance. He was eventually found by his servants “seated upright in bed—dead, his hunting whip in his hand and his eyes set in terror.”  Soon after Jacob’s death, residents and workers at the furnace claimed to hear the “baying of hounds” on stormy, winter nights, and of seeing the cursed spirit of the ironmaster himself running before the pack in fear.

Boker concludes his poetic discourse by saying:

“The Squire and all his race are gone;
But this wild legend still lives on.
Christ save us from this wretched fate
Of him who dared his wrath to sate
On God’s dumb creatures, as of old
Befell the Squire of whom I told!”

1 E. Earl Moore, “An Introduction to the Holker Papers,” The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, Vol.42, No.3, September, 1959: pp’s. 225-339.

2 Paper Read Before the Lebanon County Historical Society, June 17, 1904, Vol.III, No. 1, pp’s. 33-50.

3 “Pennsylvania Iron Manufacture in the Eighteenth Century,” Publications of Pennsylvania Historical Commission, Vol. IV,  1938, Harrisburg, PA, pp’s. 42-43.

Cannonballs and a Skeleton: A Pennsylvania Mystery

***The original post can be found here***

On May 5, 1829, while digging in the Durham section of the Delaware Canal in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, contractors Porter & Hough uncovered a remarkable burial. Beneath three feet of earth, a “pile of 18 cannon balls was found, and directly underneath, the bones of a human being.” As can be imagined, such a discovery gained a significant amount of public attention, as reported in a number of local newspapers, including an account published in The Ariel, a Philadelphia periodical of the time.

Excavations of the Delaware Canal had begun as early as October of 1827 in Durham Township and continued periodically through 1830. That specific area of Durham was the site of the Durham Iron Works, which was built in 1848. Prior to that, Durham Township was home to the Durham Furnace, which predated the American Revolution. The forge produced cannon and shot in great numbers during the war.

Irish-born George Taylor, an ironmaster, militia colonel, member of the Continental Congress, and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, served as a superintendent of the Bucks County furnace. While living at Durham, he is given credit for being the first person in Pennsylvania to “make shot and shells for the Continental Army” from 1775 through 1778, as revealed in a number of early Pennsylvania colonial records.

In October of 1775, Taylor was producing 18-, 24-, and 32-pound cannonballs in significant numbers. As late as August of 1782, the Durham Furnace shipped 12,357 “solid shot” to Philadelphia by boat.

The mysterious 1829 discovery raises many questions. Who was the person buried there? Why did he have eighteen cannonballs lying on top of his remains? It was a common practice for centuries to drive a stake through the body of a deceased criminal after internment or weigh down a body after death, in an attempt to prohibit its spirit from rising up from the grave and haunt the living. Whether this was the case with the man found in 1829 will no doubt never be known.

There are surviving accounts of both British and German prisoners of war who had been impressed into hard labor at the furnace during the administration of Richard Backhouse. Some of these men became sick during their imprisonment. Perhaps one of these men perished during the Revolution and was buried at the site, with cannonballs placed upon his remains, for the reason mentioned above. This is one of many interesting archaeological discoveries throughout the Philadelphia area, ones that cry out for an interpretation. Perhaps a reader of this sketch may find the answer.


The Life and Times of an Adventurous Quaker

When one thinks of early Quakers or members of the Society of Friends, a common stereotype is that they were predominately pacifists, or non-aggressive in nature. Though this may be true to a large degree, like individuals of all faiths, there are those who fail to fit the prescribed behavior and instead exhibit characteristics quite distinct and independent of the norm. Born in 1799, Josiah Harlan, a Quaker from Chester County, Pennsylvania, was one such character.

As early as 1826, Harlan was firmly entrenched within the political and military conflicts transpiring between India and Afghanistan. In 1838-39 he was the Aide-de-Camp to Dost Mohammed Khan, the Emir of Kabul and in command of a division of the Afghan army whom he trained in European-style warfare. It is believed that Rudyard Kipling’s famous short story, The Man Who Would be King, was based in part upon the life and experiences of Harlan while he resided in the border area of the Punjab in India and what is now Afghanistan. Harlan aligned himself for awhile with the native ethnic group known as the Hazaras, who agreed to declare him the Prince of Ghor, an Afghan province.

Map of Cabul [Kabul] and the Vicinity by General Harlan

When the British army arrived upon the scene in the 1830s, Harlan was very critical of its policies in general and had no amiable relations with its forces or military personnel. Though he had resided within the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent for some eighteen years, he eventually returned to Philadelphia. Here his father, Joshua Harlan, had worked as a broker merchant.

For sometime Harlan became involved in a variety of ventures, from grape agent to mill operator, and  attempted to introduce camels as transportation animals within the armed forces. In 1855, Jefferson Davis (then Secretary of War for the United States, later the President of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War) allocated $30,000 dollars to purchase camels for American forces to be used in the Southwest. Harlan advocated the camels be obtained from Afghanistan while the U.S. government opted for those from Africa. Regardless, the American Camel Corps was short-lived.

After the outbreak of the Civil War, Harlan raised the 108th regiment, also known as Harlan’s Light Cavalry. He was eventually commissioned as a Colonel in the Union army, but was forced to retire because of ill health on August 20, 1862. Prior to this, in 1849, he married Elizabeth Baker, also a Quaker from Chester County, by which he had one child.

Harlan later obtained employment as a physician, after he’d made another geographical move, this time to San Francisco. There he would die of tuberculosis on October 21, 1871.

A few years ago Harlan was the subject of a biography by British author Ben Macintyre, titled, The Man Who Would be King: The First American in Afghanistan (2004). Harlan was an established author as well, and one can read his work, A Memoir of India and Avghanistaun… (Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1842), at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Harlan also wrotePersonal Narrative of General Harlan’s Eighteen Years’ Residence in Asia, a manuscript that was never published. Truly “truth is stranger than fiction,” and much of this truth is available within the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.


This post originally appeared at

“Levellers” in American Politics

As one of the last surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson was invited to attend and speak at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of American independence in Washington, DC. Though Jefferson failed to attend because of ailing health, he wrote a poignant letter to Washington’s mayor, Roger C. Weightman, on June 24, 1826. This letter, written a few weeks before Jefferson’s death, has been called “his last formal statement on democracy to his countrymen.” In the letter, Jefferson remarked how “the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.” 

The above statement was almost a verbatim reiteration of the last speech of Col. Richard Rumbold, who was executed after a trial in Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 26, 1685. According to some accounts, while at the scaffold, Rumbold remarked “tho I am sure there was no man born marked of God above another, for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him.”

Rumbold, who served under Oliver Cromwell against King Charles I during the English Civil War, was known as a Leveller. Levellers were individuals who had been prominent in their denunciation of the Crown and in favor of equal treatment by the law, as opposed to appeasing the wealthy or aristocratic class in England. One of their major spokesmen was John Lilburne, who had been tried as early as 1649 for high treason, and though acquitted, died in exile in the Netherlands.

One should not believe that Lilburne and others were advocating of the need for the equal distribution of wealth within society. Rather, they believed that all men (and some argued women as well), regardless of their origin, birth, or social class, should have the opportunity to experience social mobility or be able to own property, serve in public office, vote, etc., at a time when the British Empire was rigidly class-based.

The personal libraries of many of our Founding Fathers include publications advocating the Levelling ideology of John Lilburne and his associates. Perhaps it is no accident that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America are truly “Levelling” documents. They’re designed to equalize American society on many levels, to have a government that truly represents all the people, and that the consent of its citizenry should be the top priority of the established legal body.

Thomas Jefferson, an avid student of English law and history, was very familiar with the English Civil War of the 17th century and the ideology for which it had largely been fought. These concepts can be found reflected in the history of the American Revolutionary War and the government that it spawned. Thus, the idea in the Declaration of Independence that all men were born free and equal, to some extent, owes its legacy and debt to the minds, lives, and sacrifices of those individuals we refer to as the Levellers of 17th-century Britain.


This post originally appeared at