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Desertion, Murder, and Cannibalism on the Colonial Frontier

Gottlieb Mittelberger immigrated to Philadelphia from Germany in 1750 in search of the “American Dream.” He returned to Germany late in the year 1754, never to return. Afterward he published his memoir of his sojourn in America1. From the start, both his voyage to the New World, as well as his life in the American colonies, did not turn out the way he’d expected. Nor was he particularly thrilled with events he learned of during his stay in Pennsylvania.

For the year 1754 (though 1752 is the correct year), Mittelberger gives details of what he calls “French deserters,” two of whom eventually arrived in Philadelphia with a horror story to relate. Purportedly with the intention of leaving their regiment on the Ohio on their way to the Carolinas, seven soldiers had become lost and disoriented, only to run out of provisions. This caused them to subsist on venison, rattlesnakes, and eventually–each other, once their powder was all gone. After crossing “many forests and swamps, crossing large rivers and small, they became so exhausted…and were fully convinced that they were doomed to…perish of hunger. They then agreed to cast lots to determine which of their number was to die first. They would kill him and consume his flesh.”

Accounts of cannibalism have always fascinated readers, but regrettably, many such acts have actually occurred under horrendous circumstances. One such circumstance was the fate of most of the Irish passengers from Belfast bound for Philadelphia in July of 1741, on board the ill-fated ship, the Seaflower2. Other early settlers such as the famed Donner Party of 1846-47 have gained much notoriety, though more recent evidence appears to reveal that this particular party of pioneers perhaps did not in reality devour one another3. Yet on film and screen the subject, as portrayed in such movies as Ravenous, a fictional frontier portrayal of an isolated army post in California resorting secretly to cannibalism, continues to generate interest in this macabre genre of history.

To return to Mittelberger’s story, various newspapers such as theNew York Gazette & Weekly Post-BoyPennsylvania Gazette,Maryland Gazette, and others for March and April of 1752, relate a more detailed account of what exactly transpired in the forests of early America during the winter of 1752. All versions attest that two soldiers, John Cadogan, and Michael Finn, at Oswego, New York, on February 22 gave their affidavit concerning the events distorted in part by Mittelberger. Mittelberger perhaps has conflated two different accounts, since in the Pennsylvania Gazette for June 13, 1754, there is the description of 21 French prisoners who’d been on the Ohio, but were then in Virginia, all of whom had “for some time past,” been “in great want of Provisions….”

According to Cadogan and Finn, all the deserters had purportedly been members of Capt. Rutherford’s Company who’d left Fort Oswego, New York, on January 22 on their way to a French fort or Fort Caderaghway (Cataraque). Four of their number became so “fatiqued and Frost-bitten,” that they were unable to carry out their plan as designed. Thus, Mark Sampson was ordered by Corporal William Barry “to be shot…then the Corporal obliged them to draw lots [as Mittelberger had attested] who should be Executioner…The execution being over, they eat, and took with them, the Hind Quarters only of the deceased….”

As the days transpired and they became more destitute and famished, one by one lots were drawn, and men were executed. Eventually, the Corporal began attempting to murder individuals, or tried ordering others, such as Cadogan and Finn, to do so. Refusing to obey his orders, Barry “took up his Fire-lock and perform’d the bloody deed himself” on a private James Read, who was shot by the Corporal, after which his body “was cut into Pieces in the like manner as the two others had been.” The account is quite graphic, detailed, and lengthy, giving the names of each man killed, and the various ways in which the individuals were eaten. The narrative describes how Barry eventually became crazed, attempting to kill and eat all he could. He eventually disappeared, but Cadogan and Finn made it back to Fort Oswego, appearing “like Skeletons,” their report taken “verbally from them” upon their return.

Interestingly, Benjamin Stoddert, in a letter from Oswego dated March 25, 1752, related how “some Indians within a few miles of Cataraque…saw some remains of the most horrid scene…mangled Carcase and Bones of Others, with the Skule of Mark Sampson…,” and also “ found their [sic] had been Two and one of them Murer’d, as they found the Hands, Head, and Other Bones with the Flesh Cut of also a Piece of Flesh roasted…they came to where there had been Three and One Kill’d and used as the formers….” [original spelling retained]

Fort Oswego had been plagued by a number of problems for some time according to many accounts. Mutiny, misuse of rum given to the Indians and garrison, etc., being only a few of the irritants culminating in desertion. Interestingly, during the summer of 1752, another group of individuals from New York had gotten lost in the woods in an attempt to “view the Land called the Great-Patent, at the Head of the Delaware River.” Though they were “almost starved” and were reduced to eating a few “wild Herbs” and “a piece of raw Deer-skin” they’d found inside an old Indian hut, they never resorted to cannibalism.

Such were the dangers, depravity, murder, and mayhem which the early inhabitants, settlers, and soldiers of colonial America were at times forced to contend during our nation’s history. Our past is filled with both heroism and atrocity, but no one can ever say American history is boring!

Mittelberger, Gottlieb, Journey to Pennsylvania. Trans. Oscar Handlin & John Clive, (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1960). See particularly pp’s 92-93.

See “A Cannibal Cruise Liner of 18th-century Immigration,”Hidden Histories, April 7, 2009

3 See “Donner Party Ate Family Dog, Maybe Not People,” November 27, 2012.


This post originally appeared at

My Civil War Book now on Kindle

Ten years ago, Stackpole books published my book on the civil war called, “My Brother’s Keeper.” The book is now available on the Kindle as an eBook. I made a few changes/updates in a few places in the book, the most significant is the subtitle, “The Unfamiliar Civil War.” You can purchase it for $5 or check it out for free (Amazon Prime members only) by clicking here.

A Chinese Soldier Killed at the Battle of Gettysburg

When one thinks of the Civil War and its participants, most individuals are aware that thousands of foreigners, such as the Irish, Germans, English, and other non-citizens were involved on both sides of the conflict. Ella Lonn’s classic work, Foreigners in the Union Army (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1951), reveals a host of persons from various European countries who filled the Federal or Union ranks. However, few are aware that a number of men from Asia or China were also engaged in the “War Between the States.”  One such person was John Tommy.

The Daily Evening Bulletin of Philadelphia on July 10, 1863, published a somewhat lengthy article titled, “China at Gettysburg,” (which originally appeared in the New York World) stating how among those “killed at Gettysburg was a young Chinamen, known as John Tommy…the only representative of the Central Flowery kingdom in the Army of the Potomac.” The next day, the Easton, Pennsylvania, paper, the Daily Evening Press, remarked that John Tommy “seemed not to know what fear was…He had not been wounded up to Gettysburg, but in Friday’s fight he was struck by a shell, which tore off both legs at the thighs, and he shortly bled to death.” Frederick Phisterer, in his compilation, New York in the War of the Rebellion: 1861-1865, (Vol.1, Third Edition, Albany: J. B. Lyon Co., 1912), also stated that Tommy lost both his arms as well as his legs on July 2, 1863, at Gettysburg, and that he “died of his wounds October 19, 1863…a good and brave soldier” (p.70). There are conflicting reports between the official New York record and his service record as to the date of death. What is certain is that he succumbed to his injuries sustained during the battle of Gettysburg.

John Tommy served in Co. D of the 70th New York Infantry, or First Regiment of the famed organization known as the “Excelsior Brigade” commanded by Col. Daniel E. Sickles. The former chaplain of the Second Excelsior or 71st Regiment in his oration given at Gettysburg after the Civil War remarked how “It is deserving of remembrance and record that in one of our regiments, is a Chinese, and he a true soldier and a brave man, who, at the battle’s close, will be counted with the dead.” (See, New York Monuments Commission, For the Battlefields of Gettysburg and Chattanooga. Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg, Vol.II, of 3 vols., Albany: J.B. Lyon, Co., Printers, 1900, p.577).

John Tommy’s military records show him enlisting at the age of eighteen on June 21, 1861, at Camp Scott on Staten Island, New York, with Captain Benjamin Price being his company commander. He is described by newspaper accounts as being “bright, smart, and honest,” and soon became a favorite of his fellow Union troops at Red Hook, Staten Island.

During the War, while his regiment was serving in Stafford and Prince William counties in Virginia, he was at first captured by the Confederates in March of 1862, paroled and later captured once again at Manassas in August of the same year. He was sent to meet Major-General John Bankhead Magruder, who had been placed in charge of the left wing of the Confederate Army stationed at Richmond. Gen. Magruder asked Tommy what it would take for him to join the Confederate Army. Tommy replied in jest: “Not unless you make me a brigadier general!”

Tommy soon became a favorite of the Rebel forces in the area, and was later sent to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where his picture was taken and published in the local newspapers. He was incarcerated for a time at Libby Prison along with his commanding officer, Captain Benjamin Price, who had been taken prisoner at the battle of Williamsburg, Virginia.

Tommy was paroled at Newport News and made his way back to New York City. While living in New York, he served as a medical nurse for his sick and wounded commander and is also said to have “spent his little means in providing delicacies for his sick fellow-soldiers.” He eventually returned to his regiment, having been promoted to corporal in February of 1863. He was involved in the famous engagements at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and last of all at Gettysburg. His company went into the fray with twenty-eight men, twenty of whom were killed or wounded.

Other Chinese served in various Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War, such as Hong Neok Woo, of Co. I of the 5th Pennsylvania Infantry, who was originally from Antowtson, Yanghuhsien District of China. Such individuals reveal the complexity of the Civil War, and the role that various individuals played, from a host of diverse ethnic and racial groups, which continues to aid in the popularity and interest in America’s most famous conflict.

White Slavery in the ante-Bellum South and Civil War Era: A Little Known Phenomenon

When one researches primary source material for the 19th-century American South, occasionally one finds enigmatic references to ‘white slaves,’ or individuals who were in reality Caucasians, but were sold or held in bondage, by crooked masters or slave-dealers, for a variety of reasons. A number of publications exist on the subject today, but one wonders exactly how many whites were in reality enslaved, since cases or accounts of such incidents are numerically significant.

For example, the abolitionist newspaper, the National Anti-Slavery Standard, published in New York City, for March 9, 1861, printed an incident of a slave being sent back to Tippah County, Mississippi, from Illinois, who according to the Cairo (IL) Gazette, “claimed he was actually white, and had every appearance of being so.” The individual’s name, was Henry Lee, alias Henry Jones, the property of a Mr. W.C. Faulkner.  The above article declares:

“Mr. Lee…thinks he is a white man, and if the matter were to be determined wholly by color and appearance, some folks might join him in the conclusion. He says that his parents were white, that they dying, when he was very young, left him in the charge of a slaveholder in Alabama, who raised him in slavery, and taught him to believe that he was a mulatto. He further claims that his name was changed so that his relatives might never seek to reclaim him from bondage.”

Such assertions as above may seem to be distortions of the truth, but it was the case in some Southern states, that children who were products of Black fathers, but White mothers, often obtained their freedom once they reached a certain age. Thus, many African-Americans attempted to ‘pass as partial Whites,’ or went to court attesting that their mothers were White and not Black, when the issue became a source of contention between the person enslaved, and his or her master or mistress.

The Philadelphia (PA) Public Ledger, for December 27, 1860, reprinted an article from a Natchez, Mississippi newspaper, entitled, “Painting a White Girl to Make Her a Slave.”  It was stated how a man from Natchez was on a steamboat on its way to Greenville, Mississippi, when he noticed a young girl, “aged about nine or ten years,” with black hair and “yellowish brown skin.” He was told she belonged to a gentleman on board who was taking her to New Orleans to be sold for $160.00. Talking to the young girl alone, the inquisitive passenger was informed by the girl, how “she was an orphan, and had been taken from an asylum in New York,” and that her hair had been light originally, but her ‘master’ had a barber dye her hair black, and also put “some yellow dye on her skin.”

Soon after the above confession, the young girl was taken by the ship captain, who after using potash, soap and water, removed “the dyes…and the light hair and light complexion {were} brought to light.” The pretended “master was seized by the excited passengers,” who caused him to be locked up in a state room until the boat should land.  The young girl was eventually placed in an orphan asylum in New Orleans.

Interestingly, such cases of ‘white slavery’ in the Southern states was not limited only to the ‘ante-bellum’ or pre-Civil War period of history. During the ‘War Between the States,’ in 1863, a correspondent of the Cincinnati (Ohio) Gazette (reprinted in the Philadelphia Daily Evening Bulletin), related that within the 78th Ohio Infantry Regiment, was a man who was taken, “as a runaway slave,” into the Union lines in Tennessee. His features and skin color denoted “Anglo-Saxon” ancestry, while his eyes were also “blue, his lips thin, and his hair light.”  His former Tennessee master had admitted to Colonel Mortimer D. Leggett, “that there was not a drop of African blood in the veins of his slave,” and that he had purchased the man in Richmond, Kentucky years before, and that he’d been “sold into slavery, out of some charitable institution to which he had been committed as a vagrant.”

The Lebanon (PA) Courier, for April 9, 1863, contains a remarkable tale of a white man held as a slave. The account states how a planter’s daughter in Mississippi was seduced, and to “hide her shame” after she became pregnant, her female child was given to a slave woman, along with a certain amount of money, in order to “bring her up as her own.” The child eventually became the “mistress of the planter’s son, who succeeded to the estate. She had by him five children, and among them the man…Charles Grayson. This was in Calhoun County, Mississippi, three miles from Paris.”

Eventually Charles was sold to William Steen, and soon after he learned of his true parentage. Running away, he was “captured and treated with harshness. He was made to do more work than any slave.–The object was to break him down. He proved to be strong and able to bear all the burdens put upon him.”

On December 17, 1862, the Third Michigan Cavalry came into the area, and Grayson procured a horse and rode into their encampment. There he was employed as a cook for one of the non-commissioned officers, Theodore Reese, of Company ‘F.’ He wished to move North, and was thus aided by Lt. Col. G. Rogers as well as citizens of Jackson, Tennessee, who assisted Grayson in carrying out his plan. Not long after he took up residence in Cass County, Michigan, where by 1870 he was working as a farm laborer for a Peter Scofield and his family of Cass County.

Charles Grayson was a ‘slave’ for seventeen of his twenty-three years, but his “straight, light hair, fair blue eyes, a sandy beard,” revealed that he was indeed a Caucasian and not of Black ancestry.

The above accounts are only a few scattered renditions of one little known aspect of the institution of slavery within the Southern States prior to and during the American Civil War. Such incidents reveal that ‘slavery’ is a much more complex issue than anyone has imagined, affecting individuals, both White and Black in a very diverse manner.

Such accounts, like so many other topics included within this blog, may be found here, within the collections at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

A Nineteenth Century Christmas in Words and Illustrations

This appeared in the December HSP email publication, History Hits: Collecting & sharing the stories of Pennsylvania. For a free subscription, enter your email here

The Christmas holiday season has generated much interest from both a personal and commercial perspective within the United States for many years. What is considered to be the first illustration of Santa Claus descending a chimney with a bag or sack full of toys was printed in the January 1841 issue of the New York City weekly newspaper, the New York Mirror (1823-1842). The picture below, drawn by Dublin-born portrait-painter Charles Cromwell Ingham, was then made available in print through the efforts of a wood engraver, Robert Roberts, an immigrant from Wales.  
Christmas cards have been around for quite some time. William Egley Jr. of Great Britain has received credit for creating the oldest card in 1843, though many early versions appear to stem from Valentine cards, whose origins can be traced as far back as the 15th century. Poems or verses, along with graphic illustrations, have been a major part of Christmas cards, as demonstrated by the one below, printed in 1855.   
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Christmas is a time that brings families together.  In a letter written in 1842, a woman named Mary in Montrose, Pennsylvania, recalled to John, how “… (Christmas Eve), you know, when St. Nicholas fills the stockings of good little children, Bubby held the candle while I drove a nail by the fireplace, he then hung up his stocking, and went to bed…As soon as he was awake this morning…I wish you could too could have seen him as he drew parcel after parcel, from the stocking–carefully inspected the contents, and then laid it aside for the next.”
William R. O’Donovan, writing to his sister from New York City on Christmas Day in 1871, stated: “This is Christmas night…A night that brings to all our minds the recollections of our childhoods, with what a keen zest we all used to look forward to Christmas for weeks before, with anticipations of what Santa-Claus would bring us. And how our eagerness to see the contents of our stockings, drove all sleep away.  It may seem foolish, at this time of life to recall such reminiscences. But I am glad…I am still able to recall with pleasure the halo of brightness that always lent to this day such a sweet enjoyment to our youthful minds. May none of us ever grow old enough in Spirit to forget these early, happy, times in the morning of our lives….”
Mr. O’Donovan later writes to his mother on Christmas Day in 1876 lamenting the plight of the poor in New York City. “I have seen fair young girls, who have never known the want of a luxery, {sic} in filthy tenements, ministering to poor sufferers, with the self forgetfulness, and gentleness of angels…How then can I call this a hard and heartless world? It is full of beauty, and truth, and love; if we will but try to find it….”

In the 19th century and today, Christmas has brought joy to many souls, in both picture, poetry, and memory, much of which is available within the collections at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

The American Frontier: Romantic Portrayal vs. Reality

Today’s culture is permeated with so-called ‘reality’ television shows, which in some ways are no doubt ‘mirror-images’ of at least a portion of our society, while others are blatantly more fiction than fact, characters and events simply ‘staged’ for the camera and a gullible public that thrives on sensationalism.  The same was true for the frontier period of American history, with its stark ‘reality’ of scalpings, murders, death by wild animals, disease, accidental misfortunes on farm or within the forest, as well as fictional renditions of persons and events (though occasionally based somewhat on ‘fact’), as rendered in such popular novels, as those by famed author, James Fenimore Cooper.

Luckily, many primary sources exist describing ‘life on the Frontier,’ by which one can at least gain a semblance of the perils and harsh reality that our ancestors endured, as well as an almost nostalgic yearning for a time long past that could prove to be either ‘Edenic’ or ‘Hellish,’ depending perhaps on one’s perspective.

Elias Pym Fordham, describing the frontier of Illinois Territory in 1817, remarked:

To be at an unknown distance from the dwellings of man…and then to lie at night in a blanket, with your feet to a fire, with your rifle hugged in your arms, listening to the howling wolves, and starting at the shriek of the terrible panther: This it is to be in a wilderness alone.

One visitor to a Kentucky pioneer station or fort, during the time of Daniel Boone in the late 18th-century, stated how:

The whole dirt and filth of the Fort, putrified flesh, dead dogs, horse, cow, hog excrement and human odour,” coupled “with the Ashes and sweepings of filthy Cabbins, the dirtiness of the people, steeping skins to dress and washing every sort of dirty rags and cloths, will certainly contribute to render the inhabitants of this place sickly.” One visitor to Boonesborough itself, remarked how its residents were, “a poor, distressed, half-naked, half-starved people,” while another settler lamented how there was “no bred, no salt, no vegetables, no fruit of any kind, no Ardent sperrets, indeed nothing but meet {meat}.

 A Mr. Andrew Boggs, along with his wife Margery Harris, were the first settlers in what is now Centre County, Pennsylvania, at a place called ‘Bald Eagle’s Nest’ (the site of Milesburg) in 1769. Boggs ran a ‘Trader’s Inn,’ which was visited on one occasion by the Rev. Philip Vicars Fithian, of Greenwich, New Jersey, who was on a tour of the frontier in the spring of 1775. The good parson relates how the pioneer post was located in a “pleasant spot,” with a “broad creek running by the door.” However, his appreciation for his lodgings ‘soon soured,’ since he then remarks that,   

Soon after we had dined, two Indian boys bolted in (they never knock or speak at the door), with seven large fish–In return Mrs. Boggs gave them bread and a piece of our venison. Down they sat in the ashes before the fire, stirred up the coals, and laid on their flesh. When it was roasted, they eat in great mouthfuls and devoured it with the greatest rapacity…

I sat me down on a three-legged stool to writing. This house looks and smells like a shambles–raw flesh and blood, fish and deer, flesh and blood in every part–mangled, wasting flesh on every shelf. Hounds licking up the blood from the floor…naked Indians. Ten hundred thousand flies. Oh, I fear there are as many fleas. Seize me soon, kind sleep, lock me in they sweet embrace…as I lay me down let me…lose my senses! 

Stop! oh, stop! sleep to-night is gone. Four Indians came droving in, each with a large knife and tomahawk…For all this settlement I would not live here–for two such settlements–not for five hundred a year.

Lucy Watson, who had lived on the frontier in New Hampshire in 1762, recalled in later years, how as a child her family “could hear the wolves howling near them every night. The Foxes could be heard to Bark by day as well as by night. The Panthers too, were several times heard. They cried like the voice of a woman in distress, and would deceive Persons so as to incline them to go after them…

Lucy goes on to relate how her family had went “to work to cutting down Trees, to burn them away and get the Land clear. This they did themselves, for they could not get any hired help.–The wild wooden state was such, that formerly a Mrs. Pritchet, with her infant Son, got lost therein–She wandered about till the child died and she buried it under a Tree root, where the ground was broken by the blown over tree. Hunger and anxiety bewildered her mind and when she was found after many days of search…she was so wild she fled from them. Her clothes had been nearly torn off by the bushes and brakes.”

Many early frontier families, floated down the Ohio River on ‘flatboats,’ from Redstone, located in what is now Fayette County, Pennsylvania, to Limestone (now Maysville, Kentucky my home town), where many such would-be settlers were waylaid, captured, or murdered before ever arriving at their intended destination. One such family was that of Jacob Greathouse, and his party of sixteen, in the spring of 1791. Other pioneers in their group had previously arrived at Limestone, but the Greathouse family had not appeared as expected. Thus, a relief party of frontiersmen went to search for them, and soon found them all, from the youngest to the oldest, scalped and tortured.

Jacob Greathouse and his wife “had been tethered each to a sapling…Their bellies had been opened…and a loose end of the entrails tied to the sapling. They had then either been dragged or prodded around and around so that their intestines had been pulled out of their bodies to wind around the trees as they walked…Greathouse himself had stumbled along until not only his intestines but even his stomach had been pulled out and wound into the  obscene mass on the tree. They had been scalped and burning coals stuffed into their body cavities before the Indians departed.”

Such accounts as the above were quite often the realities of ‘life on the Frontier.’ Yet, still there literally hundreds of thousands of pioneers who ventured westwards. Frederick Jackson Turner, an historian and son of early Wisconsin settlers, would write a seminal essay, entitled, “The Frontier in American History,” wherein he would vividly recall the ‘hybrid’ culture created on the frontier, with the merging of Native-American and Anglo-American societies. Though he advocated that American democracy had originated as the result of the frontier experience, later scholars such as Ray Allen Billington, would challenge his thesis, but admit that Turner’s theory held true in that “the frontier environment” did indeed heighten or intensify democratic institutions, rugged individualism, and independent thinking.

It is appropriate to close this blog entry with a famed quotation, taken from Turner’s essay, which contains much truth as well as ‘romance’ of the frontier experience in America. He states:

The wilderness masters the colonist. It finds him a European in dress, industries, tools, mode of travel, and thought. It takes him from the railroad car, and puts him in the birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization and arrays him in the hunting shirt and the moccasin. It puts him in the log cabin of the Cherokee and Iroquois and runs an Indian palisade around him.

Before long he has gone to planting Indian corn and plowing with a sharp stick; he shouts the war cry and takes the scalp in orthodox Indian fashion. In short, at the frontier the environment is at first too strong for the man. He must accept the conditions which it furnishes, or perish, and so he fits himself into the Indian clearings and follows the Indian trails.

Little by little he transforms the wilderness, but the outcome is not the old Europe…The fact is, that here is a new product that is American.

The ‘frontier’ is a massive subject in and of itself, in regard to our American heritage. Luckily, much of its past reality and romance can be found here, within the primary and secondary sources, available at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.

The Honesty, Patriotism, and Self-Sacrifice of some Civil War Soldiers: Examples for Thanksgiving Day

Since Thanksgiving Day is rapidly approaching, it is a credit to the citizens of our nation, to know that we have always had men and women who have willingly and valiantly served their country, though regrettably often resulting in battle-wounds leaving them physically maimed for life. As early as the Revolutionary War, Margaret Cochran Corbin (the first woman in the United States to receive a pension for military service), took her deceased husband’s place in battle at his cannon, receiving wounds which caused her to be partially paralyzed until her death, though she continued to serve within the ‘Invalid Regiment,’ performing what duties she was able, during the remainder of the War.

The Wounded Warrior Project of today, reveals how thousands of American soldiers, having served within Iraq and Afghanistan, gave both mind and body to maintain the freedom of our country, and desired to extend that liberty to individuals in those countries where they were stationed, even at the expense of their own safety and well-being.

Since this is the 150th year of the Commemoration of the American Civil War, it is only fitting to recall a few examples of soldiers of that era, who literally gave both life ‘and limb,’ to the service of their country. It is interesting as well, in opposition to our age of the ‘get-rich-quick-scheme’ and ‘cradle-to-the-grave-security’ mentality, that such individuals also at times, refused assistance from the Federal Government, though it was legally allotted to them for their service to the nation.

In an article entitled, “A True Patriot,” appearing in the Lebanon {PA} Courier, on January 20th, 1870, an account was given from the ‘Commissioners of Pensions,’ who had received a letter from a DANIEL K. WILD, former private in Co. ‘K,’ 84th Pennsylvania Volunteers, residing at Abbott Village, in Maine. The letter from Wild to the Federal government’s pension office, stated how, “the writer had regained his health, and can get along without his pension. He therefore requests that his name be stricken from the pension rolls.”

As one can imagine, such a denial of monies, drew the attention of the Pension Bureau, and prompted Commissioner Van Aernam to write Daniel Wild and let him know that his “request has been granted.” The Commissioner continued:

Living in an age when the honest impulses of the great mass of the people are blunted by an overweening desire for gain, this request with your services as a soldier in the field, shows that you are alike honorable and patriotic, and your name should go down to history as a worthy example for the coming generation. Permit me to thank you for your noble letter.”

During the Civil War itself, an article appearing in the Philadelphia Daily Evening Bulletin, for May 12th, 1863, entitled, “An Honest Soldier,” concerned that of Private JOHN MOHR, of Co. ‘E,’ Fifth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry (USA), who’d received $104.00 more than was due to him, though as far as ‘Uncle Sam’ was concerned, the amount was correct. However, Mohr insisted “that he had been overpaid, but failed to convince the paymaster, until he brought proof that a payment made two months previous had not been entered against him.”

Mohr’s case was investigated and it was found “that his statement was correct, and the Paymaster awarded him $5.00 for his honesty. He had every opportunity to pocket the money, and it never would have been discovered, but his heart was too large to be guilty of such a crime.” The article goes on to state, that “John is highly deserving of promotion for his honesty. Aside from this virtue, he is said to be an excellent soldier and has seen hard service.”

Such honor and devotion was also exemplified by certain Civil War soldiers, both during the war and afterwards as well. As early as September 28th, in 1861, the Lebanon {PA} Courier recalled within an article entitled, “Incidents of Battle,” how one wounded soldier, “with both his legs nearly shot off, was found in the woods singing the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ and “but for this circumstance, the surgeons say they would not have discovered him.”

Private WILLIAM LAMBERT, of Co. ‘D,’ Thirteenth New Jersey Infantry Regiment, participated in the ‘Battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, fought on May 3, 1863. According to the Germantown, Philadelphia {PA} Telegraph for August 5th, he appeared “the next day…at the regimental hospital, without either cap, coat, vest, or shoes, and with one arm gone…merely observing that the ‘Rebels had given him a devil of a rap.’ He had been wounded and taken to a hospital near the battle field, had his arm amputated, and then, disdaining to be idle, walked five miles to his own hospital.

Lambert was offered a ride in an ambulance but declined, preferring he said to “see the country.” As the above article states, “When such men grapple with the enemy there can be no doubt where the victory will lie.”

During the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, fought on December 13th, 1862, Color-Sergeant THOMAS PLUNKETT, of  Co. ‘E,’ Twenty-First Massachusetts Infantry, while “bearing the colors of his regiment,” bravely bore it to the front lines and “held his ground, until both arms were shot away by a shell.” In his official report of his regiment’s participation within the battle, Col. William S. Clark of the Twenty-First, confirmed how,

“Color-Sergeant Collins, of Company A, was shot, and fell to the ground. Sergeant Plunkett, of Company E, instantly seized the colors, and carried them proudly forward to the farthest point reached by our troops during the battle…about 40 rods from the position of the rebel infantry…a shell was thrown with fatal accuracy, at the colors, which again brought them to the ground wet with the life-blood of the brave Plunkett, both of whose arms were carried away.”

Interestingly, a number of the nation’s newspapers in January of 1864 related how when Plunkett left for the War, he was engaged. Once he returned without his two arms, he offered “a release to his betrothed, which was readily accepted.” However, her sister, a Miss Nellie Lorrimer, “was so indignant at this that she said she would marry the brave man herself if he was agreeable, and agreeable he was, and they married.” The wedding took place in Worcester, Massachusetts, and afterwards the citizens of that state, “raised a purse of $50,000 and presented it to Plunkett.” In 1870, during a parade of former Civil War soldiers, Plunkett was present, and “as he raised his cap with his artificial arm, was loudly cheered.”

There are many such inspiring and uplifting stories as those mentioned above, waiting and available to the researcher, on this and many other topics, located within the varied collections at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The Strange Insanity of Hannah Lewis, in 18th-century Philadelphia

Surprisingly, exactly two hundred twelve years ago today, the Gazette of the United States and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, for November 15, 1799, recorded the death of HANNAH LEWIS, an elderly woman from Philadelphia. For seventeen years, Mrs. Lewis resided at America’s first hospital for the mentally impaired, or the Pennsylvania Hospital, which began on May 11, 1751, by an ‘Act of the Pennsylvania Assembly,’ largely through the efforts of Philadelphia physician, Dr.Thomas Bond, and well-known resident and citizen, Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Rush, famed Philadelphia physician and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence wished for mentally impaired individuals to receive “humane and proper treatment,” and served as a physician at the Pennsylvania Hospital from 1783 until his death in 1813. Within his personal papers on deposit at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (but owned by the Library Company of Philadelphia), is a “List of Lunatics in the Pennsylvania Hospital,” for May 1, 1784, which states the “Disease, Causes, Mania,” of the respective residents, among which one Hannah Lewis is included, with “Grief” being the reason for her mental difficulty or imbalance.

The well-known female Quaker diarist, Elizabeth Drinker, recorded the death of Hannah Lewis on November 14, 1799, stating how she was “in the 87th year of her age…a native of this City, and for the last 17 years a pattient {sic} of that house.—I knew her when I was a Child as did most in this City, she being always look’d on as a person deranged.”

Yet just exactly what was her ‘derangement?’ The above Gazette and other Philadelphia papers describe it as the following: “Supposing herself to be a daughter of King George II, and having a mind to see her father {italics from the paper}, she made several attempts about forty years since to go to England, but was always detected and prevented by her friends. At length she eluded their vigilance and escaped to New York…There she concealed herself in a ship bound to London, where she arrived and remained about seven years, till her money and plate was all expended; her curiosity being gratified, she settled her ‘tribute money’ as she called it, at the rate of a heaped bushel of gold per annum, and returned to Philadelphia, supremely happy, in the idea of receiving punctual remitances every year.”

With this she supported the Hospital (which she called her own house), and allowed her domestics to “live in splendor, equal to the pre-eminent dignity and rank, she always imagined she sustained in the world.”

Samuel Coates (1748-1830), a Philadephia Quaker merchant, served on the Pennsylvania Hospital’s Board of Managers, and as both the Secretary of the Board for twenty-six years, and President of the Hospital for some thirteen years of his life. He was particularly interested in the insane, and actually kept a “leather-bound memorandum book,” in which he recorded his feelings, ideas, observations, and thoughts on madness. It is within this work, that we have the most detailed account of the ‘madness of Hannah Lewis,’ entitled, “Some Account of Hannah Lewis, A Lunatic, who died in the Pennsylvania Hospital.”

Coates states how Hannah was the daughter of early Welsh settlers of Pennsylvania and that her problems began or “commenced soon after the Death of her husband, and was attributed to that cause,” hence Benjamin Rush’s statement that her derangement came from ‘Grief,’ as stated.  However, her manifestations of instability took on a somewhat ‘different turn’ that one would naturally expect, if derived from sorrow or despair.

Being a Quaker, we’re told she commenced preaching in the “Friends Meeting, at the old Courthouse Steps, and in the open streets.” Owen Jones (1711-1793), an early Quaker leader, visited her in an attempt to “dissuade her from preaching.” In response, Hannah “invited him to sit down and accept a glass of wine and a bisquit,” then said a prayer, but afterwards reproved him “as an unfit person to treat with her, he having just taken the Sacrament against the very principles he professed as a Quaker…” She soon denied her parentage, as well as her own children, describing them as “brats” which had been “imposed upon her…because she was rich.”

It is this latter remark which brought to her, a “claim to fame,” since she emphatically declared herself “to be a Member of the Royal Family, and eldest daughter of George the Second.” Eventually arriving in England, she roamed the Royal Gardens, but “was permitted to range” according to Coates, since she was considered to be a harmless character. Eventually accruing a debt of several hundred pounds which she was unable to pay, she returned to Philadelphia. However, she came back to America “as she said,” with “Tribute Money” from “her Father, the King of Great Britain,” consisting of gold, silver, and copper coinage, believing she applied such funding “to the support of the Pennsylvania Hospital, which she called her Palace.”

Samuel Coates further states, that among her friends, he was “one of the unfortunate ones that lost her affections,” since he claimed part-ownership “in her Palace” or the Hospital. She thus accused him of stealing such things as her “silver tankard,” of robbing her of “a bushel of gold and silver,” of drinking “the Milk of her Nine Cows, swallowing 3 gallons of it at one time,” and among many other accusations, also informed Coates of her displeasure in removing the pavements “she had laid with Jewels, Sapphires, and Diamonds, and replaced them with common bricks and Stones…”

If the above wasn’t enough, Hannah informed poor Coates that he knew he “had murdered all her Children in Cold Blood, entered her Chamber in the Night, cut her into pieces, and carried off her back bones, till she bent like an Old Woman, pressed down by the Infirmities of Age,” all of which were crimes, not only against her person, but also “her Kingdom.”

On one occasion, Governor Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania visited and conversed with her, a conversation which Samuel Coates witnessed and recorded within his memorandum book as follows:
   “Governor: How do you do Mrs. Lewis?
   Hannah: You make very free–Who are you?
   Governor: I am the Governor of Pennsylvania–don’t you know me?
   Hannah: And I am the King’s daughter, You say, you are the Governor, do You?
   Governor: Yes, I am.
   Hannah: The Devil you are!  I think you have a great deal of impudence to tell me so. Where did you get your commission? I never signed it…From the people did You? They were hard put to, when they made you a Governor…You are a very ill looking fellow…
   Governor: Mrs. Lewis, why you know me very well, and I have known you, ever since I was a Child.
   Hannah: That may be…What do you do with that fellow {meaning Samuel Coates}, he is a great Villain, and ought to have his Ears cutt off!”

Samuel Coates goes on to relate how Mrs. Lewis believed herself to be the most brilliant individual, and described “Newton was but a Child to her in Astronomy…She having lived seven thousand years in the Moon. Had direct communication with every Star…She also knew the Sea better than Neptune, who was but a fool, skimming the surface of the Water, while she was swimming nine thousand years in a fishes Eye, exploring the Deep..,” where she spoke with whales, fish, etc. When asked in what language she addressed the denizens of the ocean, she replied: “In the Oyer and Terminer Tongue,..which a fool like You, known nothing of!”

Coates records how Hannah Lewis “would eat almost anything,” stating how he had caught her “eating mice…that she cut her hair off, when it grew long, and plaited it in the form of a pincushion, curiously wrought.”  For the last twelve years of her life, Coates stated she “required an allowance of rum,” which she consumed “till within a few days of her death.”  Perhaps it was this regular allotment of ‘rum’ that Hannah Lewis received that was in reality the deciding factor that brought about her bouts of insanity, rather than any psychological or emotional condition!

Coates states how from her father she had received a substantial inheritance, but which disappeared by her “roving about” and from her time spent in England. When found dead in her bed, she had upon her chest, carefully placed, “a few pieces of Glass and Pebbles,” which she “valued as Jewells,” plus “the heads perhaps of One hundred thousand Flies and Misquitoes, which she had been in the habit of de-capitating for Many years, as a punishment for their presumption, in biting the King’s daughter.”

One naturally feels sadness for the disturbed life of a woman who at one time had been quite sane. Regrettably, to my knowledge, nothing to date has been found as to what caused her “Grief,” whether it was in fact tied to the loss of her husband. If so, the question becomes, who was he? How and when did he die? Such traumatic losses of loved-ones can cause depression and often psychological and emotional instability.

Perhaps a current reader has previously uncovered the background to the insanity of Hannah Lewis, if so, I invite their remarks to this blog entry. If not, hopefully some future researcher will someday shed light on the origins of the insanity of Hannah Lewis. Schizophrenia, early psychiatric accounts, are only a few of the diverse topics or subject matter awaiting the avid reseachers, who visit The Historical Society of Pennsylvania and utilize its varied and diverse collections.