Galoshes

Recollections About Peter Cruse, Ship Captain

In years past some of our parishioners have had an impact on the residents of Philadelphia. One of these people was Captain Peter Cruse. In 1918, Mary McCalla Evans, granddaughter to Captain Cruse, wrote the following article about her grandfather’s “queer cargo” for Old Swedes’ To-day. In the early 1900’s Old Swedes’ To-day was the monthly newsletter.  This article was republished in Down by the Riverside, Gloria Dei Church, November 2010.

My memory often reverts to many statements of my dear Aunt Isabella Cruse, as to the fact of my grandfather Captain Peter Cruse, being the first conveyor of rubber in America.

He 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, and was a devoted attendant when on land. It is said of him if his vessel was returning from a voyage, near the first of any month, he would speed his boat to the utmost so as to be on hand at church on the first Sunday of the month, as the sermon on that day was always preached in the Swedish language. He himself wrote and spoke seven languages.

In Philadelphia the Captain fell in love with Catharine Simpson, daughter of James Simpson, a builder of vessels. Her favorite brother, James Simpson, Jr., became the founder of the large shipbuilding firm of Simpson & Neil, who built the first floating dry docks in America at the foot of Christian Street wharf. Catharine was only seventeen years old and as her parents had other matrimonial ideas for her, she resisted them, and married the Swedish First Mate, afterward Captain Cruse, and later a ship-owner of quite great repute.

Galoshes, probably Central American, 1820-39. Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Brooklyn Museum Collection

After one of his voyages from South American he landed in Philadelphia, some ninety years ago, 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 pressed into the rubber, 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.

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.”

Written by Amy Grant

Amy Grant is a graphic designer and web developer. She is the founder of the Southwark Historical Society, a volunteer based group that studies the Southwark Historical District located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.