By Amy Grant
Descendants of Isaac V. Culin trace their lineage to Johan van Cöln, an early European settler who arrived on the Delaware around 1662. van Cöln — which means from Cologne, Germany — probably made the journey across the Atlantic with his employer, working as a servant to help offset the cost of his travels. He likely worked off this debt by 1679. That year, Johan was granted 100 acres of land on the “east side of Crum Creek in Ammansland.” He lived at this property until his death around 1711. Although his burial site is unknown, records indicate that Johan was actively involved with the Wicaco church during his lifetime. Most of his children dropped the “van” from their surnames and became known simply as Culin.
About 80 years later, Issac V. Culin was born in Kingsessing. When Isaac was 10 years old, his father George developed a fever and died after eight days of suffering. George was only 39 years old but “had been sickly from his youth by some ailment in his breast” making it difficult to maintain employment as a shoemaker. According to church records, Isaac’s mother Priscilla (née Taylor) eventually remarried and relocated to Philadelphia. Little else is known about young Isaac’s formative years.
For most of his adult life, Issac made his living as a tailor, residing and working in the neighborhood of Southwark. Early in his marriage to Adriana Watters, he established his business on Meade (Fitzwater) Street. By 1831, he had relocated to the southwest corner of 2nd and Cedar (South) — many years later, Bridget Foy’s restaurant occupied this location until the building was destroyed by a fire. While working and raising his young family, Isaac became involved in local politics, serving as a local election commissioner. He also purchased an empty lot around what would be 16th and Sansom today, though it seems he never occupied the property.
Between 1837 and 1847, Issac’s name did not appear in Philadelphia city directories. He likely relocated to Huntington, Pennsylvania where his wife died in 1845. But, four years after this tragedy, he was living and working in Philadelphia again.
At this point in his life, Issac appears to have abandoned his lifelong trade of tailoring. Upon his return to Philadelphia, he was working as a pawn broker. Curiously, toward the end of his life, he would once again reinvent himself as a woodworker.
In his early 60s, Isaac reengaged with local politics and was elected delegate for the 5th ward of the first congressional district. It also appears that he married a woman named Elizabeth around this time.
Issac V. Culin died on Dec. 28, 1861 of marasmus senilis, a progressive emaciation of the body resulting from an enfeebled constitution. According to the Dollar Newspaper, the week that Issac died, there were a total of 286 deaths in the city; 9 were from marasmus. He was buried a few days later in the Gloria Dei churchyard.