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

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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

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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.


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“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.


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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.


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Canes, Guns, and Fisticuffs in the Halls of Congress

Recently the world watched with shock, or perhaps with humor, at the recent debacle in the Ukrainian Parliament when lawmakers literally got into a brawl with each other over an election. Fists were flying and punches landed on many a member that day in December of 2012. Though many viewers within the United States have seen, heard, or read many of the verbal salvos or accusations being hurled between members of the Senate or House of Representatives in the current political climate of Congress, they have not come to physical blows. However, this was not always the case as the following examples will attest.

On January 30, 1798, Federalist Roger Griswold of Connecticut verbally abused Democratic-Republican Matthew Lyon, a native of Dublin, Ireland, who was serving from Vermont at the time. Lyon promptly spit in Griswold’s face, thus earning the epithet of the “Spitting Lyon.” He thus became the first member of Congress to have an ethics violation charge filed against him. Not to be outdone, Griswold retaliated by beating Lyon on the Senate floor some 20 times with a hickory cane. Undeterred, Lyon then took a pair of tongs from a fire pit and began to attack Griswold. The two men had to literally be pulled apart by their fellow Congressmen.

In April of 1832, William Stanbery, a U.S. Representative serving from Ohio, made some questionable accusations on the floor of the House against the soon-to-be-famous Sam Houston. Later the two men met on Pennsylvania Avenue where Houston, like Griswold, proceeded to beat Stanbery with a hickory cane, earning him the nickname of “Old Hickory.”  During the incident, Stanbery attempted to shoot Houston with a pistol pressed against his chest but the gun misfired. Houston was only reprimanded for his actions.

Prior to the Civil War on May 22, 1856, one of the most famous altercations in Congress transpired. Two days previously, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts had made a passionate speech against slavery and also verbally denounced Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina. A nephew of Butler, Congressman Preston Brooks, confronted Sumner in the Senate and began to beat him with a cane topped with a golden metal head until Sumner lapsed into unconsciousness. It would take him three years to recover from the blows before he could return to the Senate. Naturally, Sumner became a Northern martyr while Brooks became a hero in the South.

Last, but certainly not least, we come to the “fire-breathing” anti-Lincoln Democratic Senator from Delaware, Willard Saulsbury, who was serving in the 37th Congress in Washington. Sidney George Fisher, a prominent Philadelphian, in his diary entry for January 28, 1863, stated: “A disgraceful scene has occurred in the Senate. Mr. [Willard] Saulsbury of Delaware, an extreme Democrat, became so violent in his denunciations of Mr. Lincoln and the government that he was called to order and at length arrested by the sergeant upon whom he drew a pistol. So we go.”

The speech and actions of Senator Saulsbury made national headlines. Congressional records state: “Whereas, Willard Saulsbury, a Senator from the State of Delaware, did on the 27th instant bring into the Senate of the United States a concealed weapon, and then did then and there, in the Senate, behave in a turbulent and disorderly manner, and when called to order….did then and there make threats to use said weapon upon the said Sergeant-at-Arms, in the presence of the Senate, did draw the said weapon upon the said Sergeant…and threatened to shoot the said Sergeant….and behaved in a manner disgraceful to the Senate and destructive of all order and decorum…”

Senator Willard Saulsbury would be censured for his actions and faced with expulsion. He later apologized however his attitude remained vehemently anti-Republican. He was not in favor of the Emancipation Proclamation and liked to refer to President Lincoln as “an imbecile” and as the “weakest man ever placed in high office.” Regardless, he would serve again in the United States Senate from 1864 to 1871, dying in 1892 at Dover, Delaware. Many of his letters, and of those individuals mentioned above, can be found here at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


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Abraham Lincoln Before the Emancipation Proclamation

January marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, one of the most important documents in American history. Popular history often portrays Abraham Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator,” as most recently seen in the Stephen Spielberg film Lincoln. As a film review in the City Journal states, actor Daniel Day-Lewis “gives us Lincoln as we wish to see him.” The notion that Lincoln was an abolitionist who always wished to free African Americans from bondage is “fictory” rather than “history.”

On December 22, 1860, two years before the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln sent a private letter to Alexander Stephens of Georgia, future vice president of the Confederate States of America. He wrote: “Do the people of the South really entertain the fears that a Republican administration would, directly or indirectly, interfere with their slaves, or with them, about their slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears. The South would be in no more danger in this respect, than it was in the days of Washington.”

During the Civil War on August 22, 1862, President Lincoln declared to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Daily Tribune: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

Lincoln also stated: “I will say…that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races…in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people…I as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race….Send them to Liberia, to their own native land. But free them and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit this.”

Sidney George Fisher, a prominent Philadelphian, remarked in his diary on January 15, 1862, that there were abolitionists within the Republican Party who were attesting “that as slavery caused the war, so it will forever prevent harmony and peace between the sections…therefore slavery should be destroyed by right of war…Mr. Lincoln, on the other hand, contends that we have offered to the South protection in all their rights if they will return to their allegiance, and therefore to destroy slavery would be a breach of faith.”

The military disasters of the Civil War caused Lincoln to change his policies in order to save the Union. On August 9, 1861, theNew York Times recommended that the enslaved be emancipated as a war measure in order to end the conflict. However, once the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, it freed only those residing within the seceded states of the Confederacy. It did not free anyone residing in the border states of Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, or in certain sections of Louisiana, Virginia, and the entire state of Tennessee! TheNew York World on January 7, 1863, reported that President Lincoln “…has proclaimed emancipation only where he has notoriously no power to execute it.”

Northern sentiment on the subject was largely divided and remained so after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. William Nelson Lanham of the 30th Illinois Infantry remarked: “When word was received of Lincoln’s freeing the slaves, many of the soldiers were ready to lay down their arms and return home…They didn’t like the idea of the Negroes being made freemen…I pleaded with them….that Lincoln’s attitude was the proper one to take…as a war measure. Anything to weaken the enemy was right I told them. They called me an abolitionist and heaped abuse upon me. Some of them even declared that, if we were going into battle, they would shoot me.”

Freedom for enslaved people did become a war measure and brought about many changes. There was a gradual reduction, at least among soldiers, in prejudice toward the recruitment of African American soldiers in the Union Army, and, most importantly, the eventual destruction of slavery. When discussing the Emancipation Proclamation or any part of history, it is important to examine all of the varied aspects, regardless of how events are portrayed by academia or Hollywood.


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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.