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The Book of Philadelphia

By Robert Shackleton

©1918

The Penn Publishing Company

Philadelphia

 

Chapter XIX

 

THE BATTLE STREET OF A VILLAGE.

 

 

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ERMANTON’S long main street was the scene of the battle which bears the name of the town, and quite a number of the old stone houses that look out upon the traffic and life of to-day, looked out upon the struggle and the death of the battle day of the long ago.  In spite of the many new buildings that have been put up, as the place has grown, the ancient houses at once attract the eye and vividly around the memories of the past.

 

Germantown Avenue, as it is now called, Germantown Lane as it used to be, leads out, a narrow road with crooks and bends, from old Philadelphia beside the Delaware, to Germantown, which was a long a separate village but now is part of Philadelphia; and for most of the miles of distance that the road traverses on its way to Germantown, it passes through the uninteresting.

 

But one should note, several miles out on its way,

 

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the spot were it is intersected by Rising Sun Avenue, for the name of Rising Sun, curious to fine in a city, antedates the coming of William Penn.

 

Two years before Penn landed, two young Palatines had settled beside the Delaware, at where now is the foot of Arch Street.  They were Henry Frey, a carpenter, and Joseph Plattenback, a blacksmith, and beside the river they build a combined carpenter and blacksmith shop, and they made a specialty of making and repairing tools for the settlers who even in those early day had come straggling along the river.

 

One day, a superb young Indian stopped at their door and silently watched them work.  They asked him in, they showed him the use of tools; day after day he remained and day by day he learned from them.  With a few words in common, and the universal language of signs, their friendship increased.

 

When one day, he asked them to accompany him to his father’s encampment, they went with him; and the camp was where Rising Sun Avenue now crosses Germantown Avenue; and they found his father to be the mighty chief, Tamenund, Tammany!  For Tammany, the Patron St (or Sinner!) of New York, was a Pennsylvania Indian, with his headquarters near the present Doylestown.  The name of Chief Tammany’s son was MINSI USQUERAT, meaning Gentle Wolf, so says the old German account; but the young man probably found that too difficult, for they called him Joseph!

 

After feasting and smoking with the great chief

 

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and his warriors, the young men gave Tammany one of their two precious flint-lock smoothbores, and went to sleep on heaped up beds of bearskins in the central wigwam. In the first dim light of morning, before the sun-rising, Tammany awoke them, and led them to a little hillock, and, with his warriors gathered approvingly around, he pointed out broad boundaries of trees and brook, and formally made them a present of the many acred domain! And as they looked in admiration, at the extent of the gift, the sun rose gloriously, and they named their land the "Aufgehende Sonne," the “Rising Sun."

 

They sent letters home, telling of their success and good fortune, and just after the coming of Penn their parents sailed and joined them, bringing with them the sister of Frey and the sister of Plattenbach. In the face of the increasing number of whites, Quakers and Germans and Swedes, the Indians mean­while had ceased their visits, vanishing farther back into the inland country

 

It was natural that Plattenbach should fall in love with the sister of Frey, and Frey with the sister of Plattenbach; and one day, when a German preacher chanced to come up the river, and stopped where he saw the little shop, they piloted him to Rising Sun, and in a few days there was  a double wedding there, and as the ceremony was concluded, it was noticed that many Indians, in full ceremonial costume, had gathered about the house, and the young men recog­nized their friend Joseph, the son of Tammany, now himself a powerful chief, who had come with his war-

 

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riors when the news of the intended marriages reached him.

 

The long-while separate village of Germantown merges crowdedly and imperceptibly into the city of which it is now a part, but its beginning may be said to be at Stenton, a mansion put up about 1728 by James Logan, a scholar, a philosopher, a man of affairs, the secretary of William Penn, and afterwards personal representative of Penn himself and the Penn family, and Chief Justice of the Colony. A very important man indeed was Logan, and liked and trusted by all who knew him. He was one of Franklin's friends, and was the author of a book which was highly considered in its day: "Experimenta et Meletemata de Plantarum Generatione," which was published—delightful touch!—at ancient Leyden, in 1739.

 

The mansion; and it is really a mansion; is maintained in the center of a tiny park. It is a little away from the line of Germantown Avenue, near the railway station of Wayne Junction, and is full of interest, from the first eight of its square-fronted hip-roofed and dormered exterior, of dulled brick with black headers, to the front steps of carving stone, through its door of simple dignity, into its brick-paved entrance hall (a feature of unusual interest) and throughout its charming interior. This house was among the most excellent houses, in an era of the excellent. Its hall, wainscoted in white, its splendid staircase, its beautiful wall-cupboard:—it is rich in points of interest.

 

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A great chief came eastward from the Ohio country, Wingohocking, and he visited, here, the powerful Logan, Secretary of the Colony and known to be a friend of the Indians; and Logan and he, in Indian fashion, exchanged names, that of Logan being given, to the stripling son of Wingohocking, and the name of Wingohocking being given to a little stream, near Stenton, with the idea that, as Logan expressed it, "Long after we have passed away it shall still flow, and bear thy name." The name is still known, in Germantown, as that of the little stream, and that of a railway station; and as to the stripling, henceforth known as Logan, he rose to great fame in the region of the Ohio,* as both statesman and warrior, and a speech which he delivered at a council has been rated, by no less an authority than Thomas Jefferson, as among the great speeches of the world:

 

"I appeal to any white man to say, if ever he entered Logan's cabin hungry and he gave him no meat," Logan begins; then, after telling of the killing, in cold blood, of his entire family, he goes on: "This called on me for revenge. I have sought it, I have killed many. I have fully glutted my vengeance;" and from this he continues, briefly, to the unforgettable end: "Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one!” all of which makes a most curious connection with Stenton.

 

General Howe had his headquarters here during the Germantown battle. Afterwards, under a general order from him to burn buildings owned by,

 

STENTON: AN HONORED MANSION

 

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*Transcriber’s Note:

For additional information on Chief Logan in Ohio see “Historical Collections of Ohio” by Henry Howe ©1888

 

 

 

 

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"obnoxious persons," two dragoons rode up with definite instructions to destroy Stenton, and at once went to the barn for straw. At that moment, up rode a British officer, with a party, seeking deserters, whereupon an old and devoted colored servant, ready of wit, told the officer that two deserters had just gone into the barn, on seeing him coming. At once they were dragged out and in spite of expostulations, hurried away: and the order to burn was not renewed. Seventeen houses, however, of American sympathizers, were burned through the order, between Germantown and Philadelphia.

 

Washington made his headquarters here on his way to the Battle of Brandywine, and he was silent, and more than usually grave. He was here again in 1787, when he was in Philadelphia on account of the Constitutional Convention: he rode out to Stenton because he had heard of Doctor George Logan, the then owner, as a progressive farmer, and wanted to see what he was doing, which was a customary thing with Washington, always interested, as he was, in good farming. He was especially interested, here, in the effects of land plaster: and he also spoke of his former visit there, in the gloomy times of 1777.

 

The battle that surged down Germantown Lane, only to go swinging back again, was at least well planned and, although a defeat, the audacity of it and its nearness to a success deeply affected the English. Indeed, its effect was much like that of Lexington and Bunker Hill, for it gave a realizing sense of the formidable character of the Americans

 

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and their leaders; and it also created a profound impression upon the French. It was an effort to drive the entire British army out of Philadelphia, and it came so near success that Howe actually gave orders to prepare to leave the city and retreat to Chester.

 

The battle took place on October 4, 1777. Germantown was held by the British (who had their main army in Philadelphia) as an outlying post, with Washington's army hovering still farther to the northward. Washington had recently been defeated on the Brandywine, he was outnumbered, and the British troops were trained fighters, so that no serious attack from him was looked on as possible. The Americans advanced in the early morning. The thunder of cannon was heard in Philadelphia, and reinforcements were hurried off, the grenadiers and Highlanders actually running for most of the several miles. At eleven the noise of battle suddenly ceased. The Americans had been sorely hampered by a heavy fog which had settled on Germantown and which was deepened by the powder smoke. As they swept on, a party of more than a hundred of the English took possession of the Chew house. Washington stopped, to attack this house, following thus the urgent advice of General Knox; and he was so delayed here that his advancing troops were beaten and driven back, and then his main body was also caught in the tide of defeat, a drum sounding for a parley at the Chew house being an important factor, as many, in the fog, took it to be a signal for retreat and were seized with panic.

 

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Both of Washington’s favorite generals, Wayne and Knox; the two most picturesque figures of the war, next to Washington himself, were at Germantown, and neither of them distinguished himself there; Wayne not advancing as promptly as was expected, and Knox giving unfortunate advice by which, unfortunately, Washington was impressed. And here it is worth while noting the similarities between these two remarkable men. Knox was twenty-five when the war broke out, and Wayne was thirty. Each died at an age between fifty and sixty. Each was a handsome man, holding himself with the confident bearing that verged closely upon a swagger, without being a swagger. Each did one superlatively good thing in the Revolution: Knox got the needed cannon at the siege of Boston, and Wayne captured Stony Point. Knox was given land, as a reward for his war services, in our most northern possession, Maine; and Wayne at the farthest possible southern point, Georgia. Each did so many excellent things that it is odd that at Germantown both failed their chief.

 

After the battle, the British did not pursue; and the Americans continued to harass them with active scouting, and by cutting off supplies. The remarkable McLane was particularly active, and tried to enter Philadelphia in the disguise of a farmer, in an effort to get needed information, but was arrested at the city's edge, and sharply questioned, but acted and answered so well that he was released: at which he off and, returning with a party of his own

 

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men, captured the officer and his entire command at their post.

 

The long and bending street gives an effect of houses of gray-plastered stone, rather than the reddish or pinkish aspect of old Philadelphia. There is also a permeative effect of ivy and box and dormer windows, in spite of the intrusion of much of unattractive modern. The admirable remaining houses of the olden time are set close to the sidewalk, and it is a street of wonderful doorways.

 

At the junction of Germantown Avenue, or Main Street as it is here often referred to, and East Logan Street, is a little graveyard where not only are early residents of the village buried, but also the British General Agnew, who was killed in the battle. Near here, on the main street, stood the house of the Cunard family, who fled to Nova Scotia as Loyalists; and a son of the family, born in Nova Scotia in 1787, went to England and founded the Cunard Steamship Line.

 

The house numbered 5106 adds another to the already long list of Philadelphia's important associations with the navy, for here lived that Commodore Barron who killed Commodore Decatur in a duel; an act that did not deprive him of standing with the Government, for he was Commandant of the Navy Yard when he lived here, many years after the tragic duel.

 

The broad-fronted, dignified old house at Number 5140 was for several years the home of Gilbert Stuart, and here he painted his famous portraits of Washing-

 

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ton.  One would like to believe that a building of rough stone, in front of the house, an odd-shaped narrow building with an outside stairway, was his studio, but it seems certain that he worked in a barn which has been burned.

 

These paintings of Washington, by Stuart, are among the most distinguished of the memorials of Philadelphia; of those portraits the city has reason to be immensely proud, even though it did not retain the best, but let it got to Boston, to the Athenæum.

 

Gilbert Stuart was seen by a friend, on day, carrying a Turkey rug into his studio.  “You extravagant man! Why don’t you get a Kidderminster?”  To which Stuart replied: “Just wait and see to what I shall put this.”  The use being, for Washington to stand on, for a full-length.

 

Every one of that time was interested in what Stuart was doing, and when the Comte de Noailles heard that a dress sword was to be picture he sent, as a gift, to Stuart, a fine silver-hilted one.  But Mrs. Stuart, after the portrait was done, took an ill will to the sword ,and one day had the silver hilt thriftily made over into spoons!—which  a little later where stolen by a servant.

 

One morning, Stuart was out when Washington came to his studio, but he returned a few minutes after the President’s arrival, just in time to see Washington, in towering anger, thrusting a man, a servant, from the studio.  Stuart walked discreetly by, and when in a few minutes he entered, he found Washington sitting very composedly.  But the Pres-

 

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ident  must have seen him pass, for he said that, contrary to Stuarts's order, this man had turned the unfinished portrait face outward, and had then raised a great dust, by sweeping, "and perhaps he has ruined the portrait!"

 

When Gilbert Stuart painted him, Washington had just had a set of false teeth inserted, which gave a constrained look to the mouth, and made it difficult to paint him properly. For Washington, great, man an he was, suffered from prosaic but painful tooth troubles, and as late as 1798 we find him writing to his dentist, about making new "bars" for him, and not to return the old bars because "I have been obliged to file them away so much as to render them useless to receive new teeth." The picture of the Father of his Country filing away at his false-teeth "bars" is not without pathos.

 

At Number 5203, on Germantown Avenue, a now done-over old house, Owen Wister, the novelist, the grandson of Fanny Kemble, was born; but the real Wister house of Germantown is Number 5261, a broad-fronted house of rough gray stone, plastered in front, with a notable recessed and pillared door. It was in this here that Sally Wister wrote her delightful "Diary."

 

A meeting-house, Iarge but not old, stands at the corner of Coulter Street; with monarchs of trees, tulips and buttonwoods, about it, and a peaceful brick-paved path, and a peaceful graveyard shut in by a shingle-topped stone wall, and a pervasive air of peace, with vines and box bushes and gentle shade.

 

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Diagonally across the street—for all of this comes in our progress up Germantown Avenue, or Main Street—stood the house where lived for a time that man of striking idiosyncrasies, Bronson Alcott. He taught school for a time here, but neither his profound talks, nor such charming and advanced methods as taking his pupils on walks along the Wissahickon (not then a park) with the intent of gaining, through natural beauty, a happy influence upon their imaginations, nor any of his methods of developing the growth of mentality, were successful in gaining friends, nor was it appreciated that in his school-room there were busts of Christ and Socrates, of Shakespeare and Newton and Locke. He was a remarkable man; and his daughter, Louisa M. Alcott, once wrote, after meeting him at a train on a bitter day, that "he looked cold and thin as an icicle, but serene as God."

 

Alcott was another of the New Englanders who did not gain a footing in Philadelphia; and yet, his was a successful stay, here on Germantown Avenue, for here it was that Louisa M. Alcott was born. In his diary, Alcott noted the birth, and quaintly added, "This is a most interesting “event”; as indeed it proved to be to the vast number who, in later years, came to love “Little Women." The family returned to New England when Louisa was, about two years old.

 

Facing into the old Market Square is what is, known as the Morris house, built shortly before the Revolution, and used by President Washington, for

 

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portions of 1793 and 1794, as his residence. It is a house of plastered stone, with two dormers with curved and interlaced lines, with a pillared door in a paneled recess, with windows of twenty-four panes, with exquisite cornice, with vines growing prettily across the front—in all, a house quite fitting for a great President's temporary occupancy. The house gains reserve through being set back some six feet from the sidewalk, small though six feet seems; and it is given an air of complete peacefulness by a great garden beside and behind it.

 

Washington came in 1793, on account of the yellow fever scourge, with his secretary and several men-servants, and kept bachelor's hall. The house had not then become a Morris house. It was at that time owned by a wealthy Hebrew named Isaac Franks, who rented it to Washington, making as precaution a careful inventory of the furnishings and household belongings; and one notes such items as andirons and tables and decanters and "elegant wine glasses," and a china punch bowl and some girandoles, and a double set, of seventy-two pieces of Nankin china; and in the stable, some hay and fowls and ducks.

 

Particular to a degree was Franks when he came to make out his bill, for he claimed that one fork was missing and that a japanned waiter was damaged to the extent of six shillings; also, three ducks and four fowls were listed as not answering to roll call and charged for as fourteen shillings and six pence. Franks also charged the expense of two trips, to Germantown and back, one to see about getting the

 

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house ready and the other to see how much longer Washington was going to remain: and it seems rather humorous that he found that the mighty George had gone!

 

But when it came to keeping accounts no one, of whatever race, was superior to the master of Mount Vernon. He was a free spender and a generous man; but he always knew to a penny where his money went. And so he questioned the bill of Franks and after some months came to a settlement for not more than half of the total that Franks had claimed.

 

It was a battle royal, or at least a sharp duel between two experts at financial fencing, and as Washington won he was magnanimous enough to express a willingness to rent the same house, for a time, the following year, and the defeated Franks acquiesced.

 

During this second occupancy, in the summer of 1794, Mrs. Washington was with him, and her two grandchildren, Eleanor Parke Custis and George Washington Parke Custis.

 

For this second season Franks charged something over two hundred dollars, and I do not find that Washington a second time disputed with him.

 

The house, in spite of andirons and china, needed much more furniture for Mrs. Washington's presence, and two loads were sent out from Philadelphia at a charge of six dollars; but the charge to haul the same things back to Philadelphia was seven dollars. And such things are delightful to know. They do so humanize it all.

 

A little away from the main street, but a few

 

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minutes' walk from the Market Square, lived one whose name, to those who remember back for some forty years or more, is among the most familiarly known of aII American names; for here lived Charlie Ross,* of the tragic and unexplained abduction.

 

The ancient Germantown Academy is at School House Lane and Greene Street, and it has a worn stone sill which is doubtless the same upon which Washington stepped when he visited here. The Academy is a long-fronted building of roughish gray stone, topped by a quaint little belfry tower, and with balancing little stone houses an either side.

 

An. unusually picturesque old house, understood to be the oldest. house in Germantown, stands at the corner of Main Street and Walnut Lane. With its gable end to the street, and its long low white front, trellised with ivy and roses and honeysuckle, it is a place of great attractiveness.

 

A house at Number 6043, with a fluted-pillared doorway, a house of admirable lines, a Shippen house in the old days, has some association with pillagers and General Cornwallis, who told Mrs. Shippen that he had saved a sofa for her by sleeping on it, Cornwallis being in command in Germantown, under Howe, immediately before the battle; and on the day of the fight there was some of the very bitterest of the struggle close around this house, which long showed marks of, it; but another interesting connection has to do with a later war, or at least a later warrior, for in time a school occupied this house, and its, head-master was afterward head of Washington

 

THE CHEW HOUSE OF GERMANTOWN

 

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*Transcriber’s Note:

The kidnapping of four year old Charlie Ross on July 1, 1874 is the first kidnapping in the United States where the victim was held for ransom.  The kidnappers were two New Yorkers, William Mosher and Joseph Douglas, and a former Philadelphia Police Officer, William Westervelt.  Mosher and Douglas were killed during a burglary, and Westervelt was arrested but Charlie was never found because only Mosher knew where Charlie was, and he was already dead.

 

 

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and Lee University, and one of his daughters became the wife Stonewall Jackson. A little farther, and one comes to the old Mennonite Meeting-House built a few years before the Revolution: it is a little building of stone of irregular sizes, and its interesting-looking little graveyard is a little above the present level of the street.

 

Still farther, and the most important house of all is reached, the old Chew house, standing far back from the street, within its acreage of an entire city square, and looking out just as it looked out on the battle day. The British made this so successfully into a fort that it caused the defeat of the Americans; and it still bears marks of cannon balls and musketry. It is a dignified building of much distinction; a building of light gray stone, with pillared door, and dormers with odd little curvings at their base, and a pair of stack chimneys, and a gable above the front door which is matched by a slightly larger gable in the center of the cornice, and a pair of little stone lions at the door, and great urns on the roof; and with small balancing-buildings on either side of the main structure. And its interior, beginning with a splendid pillared hallway, satisfactorily bears out the impression gained from the outside.

 

The Chew who owned the house at the time of the Revolution was Benjamin Chew, Chief Justice of the Province, who, as I notice in a recent and elaborately Philadelphia publication, was "fortunately, not home at the time of the battle." One would never suspect, from this discreet phrasing, that

 

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Chew, on account of disloyalty to the American cause, had some time before been placed under arrest and carried down into Virginia as a prisoner.

 

A young Virginia lieutenant was among those who vainly attacked the Chew house; a lieutenant who was to become famous in later years in civil life, and who at length died in Philadelphia; and it is vastly interesting to know that this lieutenant, who gallantly joined in the gallant attack upon the home of the Chief Justice, was himself the afterwards immensely distinguished Chief Justice of the united States for more than thirty years; for he was John Marshall.

 

 

[Washington’s Germantown Home]

 

Chapter XX

 

Chapter  XVIII

 

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