Bernard Dahlgren

Bernard Dahlgren

By Michael Schreiber

This stone commemorates Bernard Ulrick Dahlgren, although his body no longer rests here. His remains, with those of his wife Martha and their infant son Washington, now lie in West Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Bernard Dahlgren
Bernard Dahlgren’s grave at West Laurel Hill Cemetery. He was originally buried at Gloria Dei.

Bernard Dahlgren was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on May 12, 1784. He was the son of Dr. Johan Adolph Dahlgren, chief physician of the province of Finland and friend and protégé of the great naturalist Linnaeus. Like his father, Bernard graduated from the University of Upsala. He grew into a large and powerful man, over six feet, four inches in height.

In 1804, Dahlgren fled Sweden after facing persecution for passing out pro-republican literature; the Crown quickly confiscated his property. Two years later, after travels around Europe, he reached Spain during the Napoleonic wars—and narrowly escaped with his life. Dahlgren briefly served as Swedish vice-consul in Barcelona until all Swedish subjects were summarily ejected from Spain. The expulsion order mentioned Dahlgren as a “turbulent republican.”

Dahlgren managed to find a vessel, the Hearts of Oak, sailing from Spain to New York City. In February 1807, he went to Haiti, where he worked as a cashier for Thomas Lewis & Co., but the tropical heat did not agree with him, and he soon sailed to Baltimore and then to Philadelphia.

On Nov. 9, 1808, Dahlgren married Martha Rowan (1789-1838). Martha was one of the four daughters of James Rowan, who had served as an American officer in the Revolution, and the former Jane McConnell, who ran a boarding school for young women after her husband’s death in the 1793 yellow fever epidemic. The Dahlgrens’ son John fondly remembered his mother as “a lady richly endowed with the best qualities of head and heart.” She had a great talent for inventiveness and design.

Although a staunch republican (and naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1812), Bernard Dahlgren retained patriotic sympathies for the Swedish Crown. His son Charles explained later, “My father refused to desert his King Gustavus to the interest of Napoleon, who placed Bernadotte on the throne.” As a reward for Dahlgren’s support, the monarchy appointed him Swedish and Norwegian consul at Philadelphia; he held the post until his death in 1824.

For some years, Dahlgren worked as secretary for the Board of Proprietors of the New Theatre (Chestnut Street Theatre), at Sixth and Chestnut Streets, with responsibilities in ticket sales, fundraising, advertising, renting space, and other business. By 1817 he had opened a store at 107 Front Street, in partnership with John Vaughn, which advertised the sale of Dupont’s gunpowder. Dahlgren soon diversified his merchandise—selling watches, paper, cloth, and other assorted items. He owned shares in a bank, and speculated in real estate.

Dahlgren, one source states, invested in the slave trade. However, when a Swedish ship, the Bonifacius, appeared in the Delaware River with a cargo of German indentured servants, Dahlgren used his office as Swedish consul to order the immigrants to be freed; the vessel was seized and sold.

Bernard Dahlgren was active in the Democratic Republican Party and the Masonic order, a co-founder of the Mercantile Library of Philadelphia, a governor of Pennsylvania Hospital, and he was a vestryman at Gloria Dei. He adopted the motto, “Candor and Fidelity,” which Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren, in her memoir of his son John, states, “indeed was descriptive of the rule which guided his upright life, as well as of his own prominent traits of character, and he was fortunate in transmitting to his son, John, the sentiment of loyalty to every trust.”

The Dahlgren family lived in a house at Third and Walnut that was torn down two decades later for the building of the Merchants Exchange. In 1817, they were listed at 22 Pine St. In 1820-24, they lived at 14 Sansom Street.

Bernard and Martha Dahlgren had four children—John, Charles, George Washington, Martha Matilde (known as Patty), and William Theodore. The parents designed a rigorous course of study for their sons, including Spanish, Latin, and mathematics. The boys were sent to study at the Quaker schoolhouse.

Tragically, Bernard Dahlgren died at age 40 in 1824. The Rev. Collin officiated over his funeral at Gloria Dei. Dahlgren left express wishes that his body was not to be moved from its resting place in the church yard at Gloria Dei unless it were carried back to his native city, Stockholm. Nevertheless, half a century later, his bones were removed to the family tomb at West Laurel Hill.

The Dahlgren family faced severe financial hardship after Bernard’s premature death. Not long after the funeral, the eldest son, John, at age 15, shipped out on the brig Mary Beckett, captained by Charles Sandgran (whose stone marker also lies in Gloria Dei churchyard). After his return from Trinidad de Cuba, young John wrote an article describing his sea voyage for the Saturday Evening Post. The article was published on Nov. 12, 1825.

John Dahlgren became a scientist and inventor, and went on to have a distinguished record in the U.S. Navy—appointed a Rear Admiral during the Civil War. He died in 1870 and is buried at the Washington Congressional Cemetery. His brother Charles, on the other hand, served as a general for the Southern Confederacy and made a fortune by supplying equipment for slave plantations around Natchez, Miss.

John’s second son, Ulric Dahlgren, also served with distinction in the Civil War and at age 20 was appointed a captain in the U.S. Army. He was wounded and lost a leg at Hagerstown; President Abraham Lincoln visited him in the hospital. On Feb. 27, 1864, Dahlgren was strapped onto his saddle to lead a raid on the Confederate prison camp at Richmond in order to rescue the Union soldiers there. Through treachery, he fell into an ambush; five shots pierced his body. President Lincoln brought the tragic news to Ulric’s father. In February 1865, Ulric Dahlgren’s casket lay in state in Independence Hall, and the following day it was buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

Conservation Assessment

Sacred
to the memory of
Bernard Dahlgren
who died
July 19th 1824
aged 54 years

Type of Marker:  N/A
Comments: Remains were moved to West Laurel Hill Cemetery

Marker Details
Inventory Number: 62A
Plot Number: 188
Cemetery Section:  4
Ledger Book Number: 87