History Stories

Alexander Wilson

Posted by on April 6, 2017 in History Stories | Comments Off on Alexander Wilson

Alexander Wilson

Teacher, Father of Ornithology

(1749—May 24, 1831)
Buried at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’)

Alexander Wilson was born on July 6, 1766, in Paisley, Scotland. At the age of 13 he apprenticed in the weaving trade spending ten years as a weaver. He then began traveling about Scotland as a peddler and writing dialect poems, which he published. Discouraged by poverty and by political persecution because of some satires he wrote, he immigrated to America
in 1794.

Entirely self-educated, Alexander Wilson, supported himself as a teacher in the Philadelphia area. In 1802, he took charge of a school at Gray’s Ferry, near the home and gardens of William Bartram. William Bartram helped Alexander Wilson learn to draw birds. Bartram offered the use of his library so Wilson could study illustrations of American birds. Wilson was convinced that no single work on American birds was free from defect, and he decided to publish a book illustrating all the North American birds. He traveled widely, watching and painting birds and collecting subscribers for his book. The result was a nine volume American Ornithology which illustrated 268 birds, 26 had not previously been described. Wilson’s health broke down while he was preparing the eighth volume of American Ornithology for publication, and he died in Philadelphia on Aug. 23, 1813. His friend George Ord completed the eighth and ninth volumes from Wilson’s manuscript notes and saw them through publication in 1814. Charles Lucien Bonaparte published the four final volumes in 1825-1833.

American Ornithology is noted for the elegance of the essays on individual birds and for the excellent illustrations, which Wilson did himself. Although skilled as an artist, he needed the help of Alexander Lawson to translate his drawings into the plates from which the illustrations were printed. American Ornithology was acclaimed by both American and European scientists as the best work on American birds, and it went through two subsequent editions

Alexander Wilson’s tombstone is one of the tombstones which were restored in our graveyard.

Peter Cruse

Posted by on April 6, 2017 in History Stories | Comments Off on Peter Cruse

Peter Cruse

Ship Captain

(1828 first conveyor of rubber in America)

Peter Cruse was a captain in the old merchant man service, and traded in the West Indies and South American ports. He was born in Gothenburg, Sweden, and was at first in the Swedish Navy, having run away to sea, as so often the Swedish lovers of the Great Deep were apt to do. Being Anxious to go to America, his mother, who taught him the love of the Bible, which he learned to read at her knee, urged him if he went to America, to go where her cousin, Rev. Nicholas Collin, had long since settled. So Captain Cruse came to America, and Philadelphia. He at once attached himself to “Old Swedes'” Church. In Philadelphia the Captain fell in love and married Catharine Simpson, daughter of James Simpson, a builder of vessels.

After one of his voyages from South American he landed in Philadelphia, with what he called “a queer cargo,” for it was composed of clumsy rubber shoes in the rough. The virgin rubber had been melted, and before hardening, the feet of the natives had been presses, after cooling, into the soft substance, and they were to have the outside rough edges pared off with knives after reaching this country.

When the vessel reached Christian Street wharf, many of the prominent shipping men of Philadelphia were invited to visit the ship, and inspect the cargo. Among these shipping men one recalls the names of Thomas Earp, John F. Ohl, the Bernadous, and many others, all of whom were enthusiastic over the then mysterious substance in the vessel’s hold, which they were told was to be converted into shoes which would resist rainy weather. Peter Cruse, was the first conveyor of rubber in America. The local papers of that period made many favorable comments on the value of the cargo, and in the practical utilization of the product of the rubber tree.

In these days of motor cars, and the necessary rubber tires, what great strides have been made since Captain Cruse came up the Delaware River with
his “queer cargo.”

John Douglass

Posted by on March 8, 2017 in History Stories | Comments Off on John Douglass

John Douglass

Ship Captain

(1747—July 8, 1840)
Buried at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’)

Captain Douglass was born in 1747. Soon after the Battle of Lexington he began his military service. On June 3, 1776, the Continental Congress resolved “that a flying camp be immediately established in the middle colonies.” The definition of the Flying Camp Battalion is a Reservist or a Home Guard. Their duties were to serve and protect citizens of the state in case of an invasion. They acted like a police force guarding barracks and government buildings. For its part, Pennsylvania was called upon to provide a force of some 6,000 men. Delegations of one officer and two enlisted men from each of Pennsylvania’s fifty-three associated battalions met in Lancaster, on July 4, 1776, for the purpose of selecting this force.

Captain Douglass was appointed Captain in the Flying Camp, Company G, on July 3, 1776 by order of the Pennsylvania State Convention. He served in the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment, taking part in the Battle of Brandywine where his regiment took heavy loses and wintered in Valley Forge. He resigned on December 7, 1777.

In 1805 he was appointed an alderman of Philadelphia and was elected High Sheriff of the city and county in 1825. His office was located in the west wing of Independence Hall.

He married Ann Jones at Christ Church on August 10, 1772. Ann Douglass died on September 22, 1826. Captain Douglass was a chair and cabinet maker. Captain Douglass died on July 8, 1840 at the age of 94 years old. The notice in the Philadelphia Public Ledger on July 10, 1840 is headed “Another Revolutionary Character Gone!”

Some content from www.11thpa.org/History.html and http://www.emmitsburg.net/archive_list/articles/history/rev_war/ flying_camp_battalion.htm

Amandus Johnson

Posted by on March 8, 2017 in History Stories | Comments Off on Amandus Johnson

Amandus Johnson

Swedish-American Scholar

(1877–1974)
Buried at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’)

In 1908, Johnson was one of the co-founders of the Swedish Colonial Society, whose members traced their ancestry to the pre Revolutionary War Swedish colonists. Johnson served as instructor and later assistant professor of Scandinavian Languages at the University of Pennsylvania from 1910 to 1921. After serving as President of the Historical Section of the American Division of the Gothenburg Exhibition in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1921 Johnson accepted the post of Director of the African Educational Expedition to Angola, during 1922-1924. In the years after the expedition, Johnson published a Kimbundu English Portuguese dictionary and a narrative about his travels.

Starting in 1926, Johnson was corresponding secretary of the Swedish American Tercentenary Association which conducted an endowment campaign to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Swedish settlement in North America and to endow the American Swedish Historical Museum. In 1938, Prince Bertil of Sweden dedicated the American Swedish Historical Museum in a celebration which also included the dedication of Fort Christina Park in Wilmington, Delaware.

Johnson was museum director and curator from 1928 until 1943. Johnson conducted extensive research both in the United States and in Europe into the Swedish American Colonial period. He wrote numerous books and spoke extensively regarding the subject. He continued to take an active interest in the activities of the American Swedish Historical Museum and the Swedish Colonial Society throughout his life. In 1961, Amandus Johnson was selected by the two Swedish District lodges of the Vasa Order of America to be Swedish-American of the Year.  He is most associated with his epic two volume history The Swedish Settlements on the Delaware 1638- 1664, which was also published in Swedish as Den första svenska kolonien i Amerika (1923).

Gustavus Hesselius

Posted by on March 8, 2017 in History Stories | Comments Off on Gustavus Hesselius

Gustavus Hesselius

Swedish born painter

(1682 – May 25, 1755)
Buried at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’)

The leading artist in the mid-Atlantic colonies during the first half of the eighteenth century, in 1712 he arrived in Philadelphia as a trained artist. For several years after 1719 or 1720, he lived in Maryland but then returned permanently to Philadelphia. In addition to portraits, his chief subjects, he is known to have painted religious scenes, which number among the earliest colonial examples. Similarly, his two surviving mythological subjects may have been the earliest classical works executed in North America.

Born in Falun, Sweden, Hesselius lived in also Folkarna and Uppsala before spending several months in London on his way to America. Quite remarkably for their time, his best portraits transcend physical description to capture the individual personalities of his sitters.

In 1735 he painted bust-length images of the careworn Delaware Indian chiefs Tishcohan and Lapowinsa (both Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia), who had come to Philadelphia to negotiate a land dispute. Thought to be the first objective renderings of America’s indigenous peoples, these dignified portrayals capture an inner life as well as respectfully observed details of physiognomy and costume.

About five years later, Hesselius painted unostentatious half-length pendants of himself and his wife, Lydia (both Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia), in middle age. His thoughtful visage reflects the character of a man known to have been devoutly religious, as well as interested in science and music. As she alertly appraises the viewer, his visibly intelligent and warmhearted spouse gives a hint of a mischievous smile. Probably no other painter in the colonies at this time could so effectively have rendered a fleeting expression. Hesselius was apparently inactive as a painter after about 1750, perhaps entering retirement so his son could take over the business.

Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site: Honoring Swedish roots in Philadelphia

Posted by on July 5, 2016 in History Stories | Comments Off on Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site: Honoring Swedish roots in Philadelphia

Gloria Dei Church National Historic Site: Honoring Swedish roots in Philadelphia

Founded by the Swedes in the mid-1600s, this church boasts one of the oldest continuous congregations in the U.S.

By Karen Langley / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PHILADELPHIA

Before there was Pennsylvania, there was New Sweden.

In the 1600s, Sweden was one of the powers of Europe, and when dissatisfied members of the Dutch West India Company suggested that Sweden launch its own venture in the New World, the nation’s leaders were receptive. In 1637, the New Sweden Company sent two ships to North America, where they arrived at the Delaware River and established an outpost where Wilmington, Del., now stands.

Their colony lasted fewer than two decades, from 1638 until 1655, when it was overtaken by the Dutch. But the settlers left their mark on the land that is now the United States, says the Rev. Kim-Eric Williams, a descendant of Swedish settlers who has served as a Lutheran pastor and taught the Swedish language at the University of Pennsylvania. Read the rest of the story – click here!

Renewal and Restoration at Old Swedes’ Historic Graveyard

Posted by on March 3, 2016 in History Stories | Comments Off on 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.

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The Bankson Scandal of 1767

Posted by on March 3, 2016 in History Stories | Comments Off on 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.

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Andrew Bankson (1640-1705)

Posted by on March 3, 2016 in History Stories | Comments Off on 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.  

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More on the Parsonage

Posted by on April 6, 2015 in History Stories | Comments Off on More on the Parsonage

More on the Parsonage

In the book, Swedish Annals, Rev. Jehu Curtis Clay, writes that Dr. Collin said the “parsonage on Passyunk was bought by or from Andrew Bengtson, containing eighty acres of land, whereof seventy are situated near the minister’s house, and ten on Ponskon-hook. It cost in all sixty pounds in 1698.” (more…)