It started with a plan

by Bob Josuweit
History Committee

When Rev. Andreas Rudman arrived from Sweden in 1697, he found the church at Wicaco “decayed and scarcely habitable.” He immediately began to prepare a plan to build a new church. On October 20, 1697, he wrote home to Sweden ” In order to build our church, we are about to raise the sum of four hundred pounds sterling, but that will not be difficult. They are so very glad to have us among them. They look upon us as if we were angels from heaven. Of this they assured me with many tears, and we may truly say that there is no place in the world where a clergyman may be so happy and so well beloved, as in this country.”

There was disagreement on the location of the church. “Wicaco” or “Passyunk.” On May 17, 1698, the congregation settled the dispute by placing each name on a piece of paper. They were folded, shaken in a hat, and thrown on the ground. “Wicaco” was selected.

A stone foundation was laid cellar deep. When completed the interior of the church would be sixty feet long, thirty feet wide, and twenty feet high at the eaves. Work began in late May, 1698 and was completed on July 2, 1700.

The building was dedicated by the Rev. Eric Biork. He said “Thus through God’s blessing we have completed the great work…..superior to any built in this country.” It was at this service that the church was named “Gloria Dei,” meaning Glory of God.

The Swedes lived far apart and traveled a great distance to church. Each Sunday they would make their way up and down the river in boats to attend church. The service began with the morning hymn “We praise thee, O God.” The first sermon was preached between the first and second ringing of the bell, and during the summer the sermon was repeated at the second service. Those in attendance were examined on what had been said at the first sermon. Teachers would go through the aisles catechizing the congregation. After the service the young people returned to their homes while the adults lingered about talking about religion or discussing the last letters from home.

Gloria Dei Women Help Design Old Glory

by Bob Josuweit
History Committee

We’ve all grown up with the story that Betsy Ross designed the first flag of the United States. Betsy’s grandson, William Canby, told his account of how General George Washington, George Ross and Robert Morris of the Continental Congress, had met with Betsy Ross in 1776, with a request to produce the first stars and stripes flag based on a prepared drawing they gave her.

It was reported that she recommended some minor changes be made to the proposed flag design, such as making the six-pointed stars, suggested in the prepared drawing, five-pointed stars. There is little documentation to prove this claim. In fact her family never claimed that she designed the first American flag. There is no doubt that she produced flags for the newly formed government.

The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, listed the genealogical record of Goran Kyn, one of the first Swedes to settle on the Delaware. It says “Miss Sarah Austin, a great-great-grand-daughter of Kyn, with other women of the Gloria Dei church at Philadelphia, made the first flag under the direction of the marine committee after pattern adopted by Congress June 14, 1777. It was presented by the women to John Paul Jones, who hoisted it on his ship, the Ranger. This flag was rendered historic because it was the flag that received the first salute granted the Star-Spangled Banner in Europe. It was flown in the first action between, the Ranger and the Drake, which later became the Serapis of the Bon Homme Richard.”

A separate account in the History of the Flag of the United States of America: and of the Naval and Yacht Club Signals is similar. Mrs. Patrick Hayes was told by her aunt Sarah Austin, that the patriotic ladies of Philadelphia met at the Swedes’ Church in that city, and under the direction of John Brown, Esq., secretary of the new Board of Marine, formed or arranged a flag, which was presented to Jones by Misses Mary and Sarah Austin in behalf of the patriotic ladies of Philadelphia. Captain Jones was so delighted and enthusiastic, that after the presentation he procured a small boat, and, unfurling the flag, sailed up and down the river before Philadelphia, showing it to thousands on shore.” Sarah later became the wife of Commodore John Barry, U.S.N.

Since Betsy Ross and the women of Old Swedes were involved with the making of the first American flag in June of 1776, it can be assumed that Ross at least visited Old Swedes. Based on her being around Old Swedes it would seem natural that this was the reason
she chose to be married in the Church to her second husband Joseph Ashburn. The date
June 15, 1777.

We Are Still Worshipping Here

By Bob Josuweit
History Committee

This congregation has a rich history, but our place of worship has its origin in a lowly block house. Three hundred thirty years ago in 1677 worshippers came to a block house not far from where the current church stands to hear the first Christian sermon preached. It happened on the First Sunday after Trinity, eight weeks after Easter, and was delivered by Reverend Jacob Fabritius.

Rev. Fabritius was called from New York to assist with the ministerial duties of growing population in Wicacao, what is now Philadelphia, Wilmington and New Castle, Delaware, and Salem, New Jersey. One reason he was pressed into service in this area was that he was able to officiate in many languages. He was born in Germany. Others have said that he was born in Poland. The first sermon was preached in Swedish, although he mainly preached in Dutch. The Dutch had disbanded the colony in 1655, but the Swedes knew the Dutch language.

Fabritius became blind five years later, but continued to preach for nine more years. He lived in Kensington, which at the time was north of Philadelphia and traveled by canoe to Wicacao, Wilmington, and even as far away as Maryland. Fabritius continued to care for his congregation, despite the failings of his own body as he aged. When he walked, a person went in front of him with a staff. Many of the church leaders of the time considered Fabritius to be an admirable and blessed preacher. Charles Springer, a leader in the early Swedish church, said “He is also an admirable preacher, but, God’s blessing on him, he is so aged, and has lost his sight for so long a time, yet he is one who has taught us God’s pure and true word, and administered the holy sacraments among us.”

If the Walls Could Talk

By Bob Josuweit
History Committee

Did you ever wonder what buildings were like in colonial times? To find the answer you only have to look at the outside of the church. By looking at the brick patterns on the building you can almost imagine how the church was put together. Let’s start with the simple glazed brick diamond patterns on both sides of the door as you enter church. The design is a decorative technique used by 17th and 18th century English brick masons in the Delaware Valley country brick houses. Remember the Church was in the country in 1700.

If you look at different parts of the church building you will notice different types of brick work. Gloria Dei’s first pastor, Andreas Rudman, who directed the construction of his church, noted the use of glazed header bricks in the Flemish bond brickwork. There are three bonds found in the church walls. According to Historical Architect Penelope Batcheler Flemish bond (alternating headers and stretchers in each course) is the bond most used in the principle facades of early Philadelphia houses. A second bond used is the English bond (alternating courses of all headers and all stretchers) is also found in Philadelphia facades. The third bond, Common bond, is made up of three to seven stretcher courses and then a header course is inserted to tie the brick wall together. In 1803 masons used six stretcher courses between each header course.

Take a look at the southwest corner of the church. You will notice the use of the English bond brickwork in the western wall and glazed header Flemish bond in the south wall. Continue around the church to the south and look at the corner of the church and extended porch or entrance. You will notice that the English bond bricks (1704) do not line up with the Flemish bond bricks (1700). In 1803 the brick tower was completed. Return to the church entrance and look up about 26-28 feet and you will notice an English bond. Above that point Common bond was used to complete the tower. So if you want to impress your friends just bond with the walls. (Info from Penelope Batcheler, 3/18/2000)

Yellow Fever Strikes

By Bob Josuweit
History Committee

In the early years of Philadelphia the city had known the Declaration of Independence, the devastation of war and occupation, and serving as the nation’s capital. Yet an especially cruel epidemic paid a visit in 1793.

Arch Street Ferrry
Rush traced the source of the epidemic of 1793 to rotting coffee on the Arch Street wharf

The end of August had a lot of rain. The streets were muddy. It was damp along the docks and nearby streets. Coffee and other foods were rotting on the docks. It was a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes and disease. The disease which began near Market Street quickly worked its way along Water Street. By September 1st it was spreading at an alarming rate. Thomas Jefferson thought there would be 200 deaths by the end of the week.His estimate was low. On Sunday, Sept. 1st (17 died), Sept. 2nd (18), Sept. 3rd (11), Sept. 4th (23), more than 20 burials each day for the rest of the week.

On  Sunday, Sept. 8th (42). The following week had about 30 deaths a day and by Sept. 14th, forty-eight had died. By November when the disease slowed down, over 6000 people one-tenth of the city’s population had perished. Over 17,000 had fled the city. An additional 4000 people (total) died of the disease during outbreaks in 1797, 1798 and 1799.

Government leaders quickly fled the town. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton all left town to get away from the disease. They left lesser-known people in Philadelphia to deal with the disease the best they could. Benjamin Rush, the famous doctor, would treat up to 120 patients a day. As the city expanded in size and population other outbreaks of the disease occurred along Water Street. By 1805 the docks on Water Street reached Southwark. In fact yellow fever broke out between New Market and the Swedes Church. The Church death records tell many stories of the deceased’s last days and how yellow fever was the cause of death. Nicholas Collin’s wife succumbed to yellow fever in September 1797. Rev. Collin said Hannah “in her 49 year, on the 9th day of her illness in the epidemic fever. The God of consolation give me support under this dispensation.”

There were other cities besides Philadelphia that had yellow fever epidemics. As doctors learned more about the disease they were able to treat it and prevent it with better sanitary conditions. While yellow fever has been eradicated in the United States, the mosquito can still be a carrier of serious diseases.