Renewal and Restoration at Old Swedes’ Historic Graveyard

Renewal and Restoration at Old Swedes’ Historic Graveyard

After over three hundred years of continuous use, the churchyard at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church was in desperate need of repair and restoration. Trees and shrubs had overrun the burial ground and needed pruning and thinning. Gravestones were badly broken, headpieces were missing or had sunken into the ground. Family tombs had been sealed for decades and were in danger of collapsing. When The Rev. Joy Segal became the rector at Gloria Dei in 2006, she encouraged regular clean up events to help beautify and restore the churchyard. Parishioners worked many hours trimming healthy plants, removing tree stumps and overgrown bushes, and planting grass seed. Sadly, the beautiful Biddle family commemorative boxwoods — which were planted like a maze throughout the graveyard — were afflicted with root rot and could not be salvaged. But, as volunteers removed the brush, they made a fantastic discovery; several gravestones, long thought to be lost or stolen, were found underneath the overgrown shrubbery. . Gravestones dating back to 1721 . Surprisingly, the gravestones were in excellent condition as the boxwoods had provided years of protection against the elements. Unearthing these well-preserved stones inspired the parish to start a churchyard restoration program in 2010. An annual fundraiser was created and support for the project was gained through private donations and proceeds from church events. Thanks to these efforts, over forty severely damaged stones have been repaired and restored and a number of others have been raised, leveled, and cleaned. Every summer, master artisans from Materials Conservation Co., Inc. work with Gloria Dei to identify stones in need of repair. The restoration process involves assessing the condition of the stones, testing and analyzing the materials, and performing conservation treatments. Repairs are made, such as reattaching missing decorative pieces, often found buried nearby. When the process is complete, the stones are restored to their original vibrant colors. . Sons of Andreas Sandel, Church Minister from 1702-1719 . Segal encourages members of the community to visit the churchyard during the restoration process. Those fortunate enough to observe the work in 2013 witnessed the opening of the Justus family tomb, which was in remarkably good condition despite being located adjacent to an underground stream. The following year, the Stille family tombstone, which dates back the early 1700s, was repaired and restored. Johan Stille (1646-1722), the family patriarch, had served as one of Gloria Dei’s earliest churchwardens. Although the churchyard restoration project has made great strides so far, it will take many years to raise the funds needed to restore the entire graveyard. Burial records indicate that the church has over six thousand interments, though the locations of many of these graves have been lost over time. By...

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The Bankson Scandal of 1767

The Bankson Scandal of 1767

Andrew Bankson (1705-1786) was a Swedish shopkeeper who owned approximately 35 acres of marsh “lying adjacent to Weccacoe and Moyamensing lands” from 1751 to 1770.  This plot of land was a portion of a larger plantation that had been granted to Bankson’s grandfather, Anders Bengtsson, by William Penn in 1682.  While conducting research on the Bankson family, I discovered this interesting series of newspaper articles published in the “Pennsylvania Gazette” which tell the story of a public scandal involving Andrew Bankson and the Swedish Church in Philadelphia in 1767.  All of these articles are available to read at GenealogyBank, a resource that I have found to be extremely valuable while learning about Philadelphia’s history. Andrew Bankson, like his forefathers, was actively involved with Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church, which was then called Wicaco. In 1751, he and several other members of the congregation were appointed trustees of land that was rented to parishioners in order raise funds for the church. After actively serving in this role for 7 years, Andrew Bankson was publicly accused of embezzling these funds by the minister of his own church. These allegations were brought to light in a letter to the public that was published by Andrew Bankson on May 21, 1767 in the Pennsylvania Gazette.  In the letter, Bankson claimed that he was falsely accused of “unjustly” detaining “certain money arising from the rents and profits of [the] church lands, amounting to a considerable sum.”  Bankson also claimed that he “made application to the vestry of the said church for a settlement of [his] account; and accordingly a committee was appointed for the said purpose, who met” and cleared him of any wrongdoing. .. On June 17, 1767, the minister published a response in which he recounts privately approaching Bankson about the matter almost a year before.  He acknowledged that the church conducted an internal investigation but did not find any evidence of impropriety.  The minister claimed to have put the matter aside, though he may have mentioned his “suspicion to one or two particular friends.” He also noted the incident in the official church records and called for the Committee of the Vestry of Wicaco, Upper Merion, and Kingsessing to review the matter now that the allegations have been made public. . On June 25, 1767, the Wardens of the Vestrymen of the Incorporated Swedish Churches in the County of Philadelphia published a response to “defend the injured reputation” of their “worthy and much beloved minister.” The letter also describes the circumstances in which the minister began investigating the accounts managed by Andrew Bankson.  Apparently, the “management of the valuable estate, purchased for the use of [the] churches” had been overseen by “the hands of a few men...

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Andrew Bankson (1640-1705)

Andrew Bankson (1640-1705)

Below is a brief sketch of the life of Anders Bengtsson (called “Andrew Bankson” in the English language). Andrew Bankson (1640-1705) was one of the earliest Swedish settlers in Southwark and owned a large plot of land located between Wicaco and Moyamensing where his family operated a plantation.  Today, that land makes up the southern portion of the bustling neighborhood we call Pennsport.   Anders Bengtsson, known as Andrew Bankson in English records, was born in 1640 in Fåxarn parish, located northeast of Gothenburg in Sweden. At age 16, he was amongst the earliest Swedish settlers who arrived in New Sweden, or present day Delaware, on the ship Mercurius in 1656. On November 22, 1668, he married Gertrude Rambo, an 18 year old resident of Kingsessing, New Sweden. He and Gertrude eventually settled just north of Moyamensing in present day South Philadelphia where they raised nine children. Andrew Bankson very active in the local Swedish church, called Wicaco, where he served as a church warden, trustee, and lay reader. He was a faithful supporter of the clergy and was very likely involved in raising capital to erect a brick building to replace the log cabin the church had been using for worship. The efforts of the congregation were eventually successful and Andrew Bankson was present for the dedication of Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church in 1700. Andrew Bankson became politically active when William Penn settled Pennsylvania and personally known by the Governor. He served as a justice of the New Court at Upland from 1681-82, 1693, and again from 1701-03. He was also elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1683, 1686, and 1698 and witnessed the charter of Pennsylvania on April 2, 1683. By the time of his death in 1705, he owned over 50 acres of land adjacent to Moyamensing, where his family had a plantation, as well as 500 acres in the Swedes’ tract at Manatawny in present day Bucks County. Andrew Bankson drowned in the Delaware River in 1705 and was buried at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church on September 14th of that year. He was survived by his descendants who maintained the family plantation near Moyamensing for another 65 years. By Amy Grant (This article was originally posted at the Southwark Historical Society) ....

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