History Stories

Shipwreck

Lost at Sea: James and Josephine Stewart

The words “lost at sea” are the most melancholy, and often the most mysterious, inscriptions on gravestones at Gloria Dei. In those cases, the stones are merely markers for a person who never came home and never saw their loved ones again.

Mr. & Mrs. Dunn

Jack and Margaret Dunn

Jack and Margaret Dunn were a wonderful couple from Southwark who had long family histories in the community. The Dunn’s lived on the unit block of Fitzwater where they raised their twin sons before their home was demolished for I-95.

Francis and Margaret Moock

Frank and Margaret Moock both grew up near Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church in Philadelphia. Although they were not parishioners of this church, Gloria Dei held a special place in both of their hearts. Here Margie Moock Schernecke shares stories about her parents and their love for Old Swedes’.

Reverend Simes

Reverend Snyder Binns Simes And His Wife Eleanor

The Rectorship of Mr. Simes holds a unique place in the record of the Gloria Dei Church’s ministry. During his long tenure, the congregation grew, developed and prospered. He was the spiritual guide of more than a generation of affectionate parishioners.

Catharine Marett And Her Family

Before her death in 1998, Catharine Marett donated the bulk of her life savings toward the 300th anniversary historic restoration project at Gloria Dei Church. Thanks to her generous endowment, the congregation was spared from financial ruin.

Isaac V. Culin

Descendants of Isaac V. Culin trace their lineage to Johan van Cöln, an early European settler who arrived on the Delaware around 1662. For most of his adult life, Issac made his living as a tailor, residing and working in the neighborhood of Southwark.

Old map of Central America, 1870

A Story From The Grave: Catharine, Wife Of Sea Captain Peter Cruse

The inscription on Catharine Cruses’s gravestone leaves a message for her “dearest man.” This message in stone might reflect the final words that Catharine would have liked to say to her husband if he had been with her at the end.

A portrait of Jacob Jackson.

Jacob Jackson: A Navy Man In The War Of 1812

Jacob Jackson, whose body rests near those of his wife Catharine and several of their children, was a U.S. Navy veteran of the War of 1812. He was an active supporter of Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church, elected as a member of the vestry in 1842.

The passenger pigeon

Sven’s Woods: Bringing More Wildlife To Gloria Dei

By Michael Schreiber The proposal to restore a portion of land at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church in Philadelphia to help attract wildlife is very timely. Its status as a National Historical Park and location within a big city can help make Gloria Dei a prominent example of ecological land management others can copy.

Kalmia latifolia

A Peach Of A Botanist

By Amy Grant Many local residents may not realize Queen Village is actually older than the City of Philadelphia. “Philadelphia’s First Neighborhood” was settled by Swedish immigrants in 1654, 28 years before William Penn founded Pennsylvania.

Jenny Lind

Jenny Lind

By Michael Schreiber Jenny Lind was the first international superstar of the musical world. The frenzy over her visit to the United States in 1850 even surpassed that of the “British Invasion” of the Beatles a century later. Yet those who met the “Swedish Nightingale” described her as being incredibly modest and generous. She gave large […]

Captain Joseph Blewer

Rev. Carl Magnus Wrangel married Joseph Blewer and Sarah Lindenmeyer at Gloria Dei Church on September 26, 1759. Joseph Blewer being a ship captain assumed an active role in the War of Independence. In November 1775 Captain Blewer was in Cambridge, Massachusetts and was directed by General George Washington to deliver a letter to John […]

Adelaide Celestis Delormerie

By Michael Schreiber Slightly over 200 years ago, Philadelphia was devastated by recurring waves of yellow fever. The epidemic of 1793 wiped out a tenth of the population of the city and adjacent areas, and thousands more died from outbreaks of the disease throughout the next decade.

Johan Olofsson Stille, Supporter of the Swedish Lutheran Church (1646-1722)

Johan Stille, Olof Stille’s youngest son, was born in 1646 in Techoherassi, New Sweden. He moved with his father to Moyamensing by 1664 and owned his father’s quarter interest in this property by 1685.

George Ord, Ship Chandler

George Ord, Sr. was born in England in May, 1741 and settled in Southwark. He married Rebecca Lindmeyer on January 17, 1767. They lived in a three-story brick house with a large garden at 784 South Front Street, between Catharine and Clymer Streets. Prior to settling in Philadelphia he was a successful ship captain.

Marker 130

Captain Lodge Colton, Master’s Mate

Being a riverfront Church, Gloria Dei has a rich history that involves many people who were involved with maritime related occupations. Captain Lodge Colton was no exception. At the age of 14 he became a mariner on the clipper barque “James Cornor.” (sp. Corner?) He served the CSN being appointed in Baltimore, Maryland. Lodge Colton […]

John C. Hunterson, Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient

John C. Hunterson was born on August 4, 1841 in Philadelphia. He entered the Union Army on July 23, 1861, where he was mustered in as a Private in Company B, 3rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry. He was awarded the CMOH for his bravery June 5, 1862, a few days after the Battle of Fair Oaks. […]

Captain Morris Sheer

During the 19th century, Philadelphia’s waterfront was lined with wharves which were operated by numerous shipping lines. Smaller vessels designed for domestic use, called packet boats, carried mail, packages, and a limited number of passengers to major cities across the Eastern seaboard. Morris Sheer, a parishioner at Gloria Dei, was one of the first captains […]

Alexander Wilson, Father of Ornithology

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 […]

John Douglass, Revolutionary Soldier

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 […]

Amandus Johnson, Swedish-American Scholar

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 […]

Gustavus Hesselius, Swedish born painter (1682-1755)

The leading artist in the mid-Atlantic colonies during the first half of the eighteenth century, in 1712 Gustavus Hesselius 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 […]

Renewal and Restoration at Old Swedes’ Historic Graveyard

By Amy Grant Southwark Historical Society 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 […]

Gloria Dei Women Help Design Old Glory

By Bob Josuweit 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 […]

More on the Parsonage

By Bob Josuweit History Committee 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.” […]

Churchyard Work

By Bob Josuweit History Committee Each year the Church sponsors one or more Church clean up days. The help is appreciated by all involved. Did you know there was a period of time when yard work was required? During the early years of the Church a pastor would spend all of his money to travel […]

Thomas Windsmore, Member of the Vestry (1884-1916)

By Bob Josuweit History Committee A native of Milford, DE, Thomas Windsmore moved to Southwark with his family as a young child. As an adult he worked in the shipping industry and had a schooner named after him. He was a prominent member of the Board of Port Wardens, the State Quarantine Board and served […]

Arvid Hernbom, Lay Reader

By Bob Josuweit History Committee Arvid Hernbom, who served as chaplain at the Swedish embassy, came to America around 1719. He was licensed to preach by Bishop Jesper Swedberg. Swedberg, who was one of Sweden’s most notable churchmen, had ordered Rev. Andreas Sandel to ordain Arvid Hernbom to the priesthood to serve the Wicaco congregation […]

George Ord: Naturalist, Ornithologist, Writer

By Bob JosuweitHistory Committee Although George Ord was a devoted naturalist, ornithologist, and writer, he is also noted for his animosity towards famous ornithologist John James Audubon, who he called a “impudent pretender” and “neither a scholar nor philosopher.” He became interested in the study of science and literature at an early age. Following in […]

The Battery

By Bob JosuweitHistory Committee Did you know that there are historical markers on the Church property that have no direct connection to Gloria Dei? One of the closest is on the outside of the front of the building just opposite the alter. In part it says “About 300 yards downstream from this marker stood the […]

Erik Leidzén, Composer

By Bob JosuweitHistory Committee While walking through the graveyard I noticed a marker with the name Erik Leidzén, Composer. I was not familiar with the name, but a bit of curiosity sent this writer on a search to find out who this person was.

Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church at Wicaco, Southwark, Philadelphia

By Bob JosuweitHistory Committee “At a special Court held by the Governor at New Castle in Delaware River the 13th and 14th days of May 1675, it was ordered, that the Church, or place of worship in this Town and the affairs thereunto belonging be regulated by the Court here, in as orderly and decent […]

A Look At Money In The Colonies

By Bob JosuweitHistory Committee Philadelphia was a major seaport in colonial times. Sailors would come in from many ports, not only on the east coast but from around the world. Native Americans were in the area. They exchanged wampum for goods and services. Can you imagine all of the ships coming from in cities along […]

Member by Subscription

By Bob Josuweit History Committee In writings about the early days of Old Swedes, it is said that the Church was built mostly by subscription. Some paid in money and others in work and materials. In less than 4 years after the church was built the walls “had perceptibly given away.” A committee determined that […]

Wiccaco – in the Beginning

By Bob JosuweitHistory Committee The land around Old Swedes is not what the Swedes saw in the late 1600’s. Let’s step back in time and take a look. The southern part of Philadelphia that included the Swedes’ Church was owned by the Swedish family Sven. In May, 1664 the land began at the area known […]

It Started With A Plan

by Bob JosuweitHistory 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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Old Swedes and the Apple

Ahh! Thanksgiving. The smell of pumpkin and apple pies. A little cinnamon or a scoop of ice cream. We’ll all indulge in having some dessert. Well if you choose a piece of apple pie think of the role a founder of Old Swedes had in growing apples. Peter Gunnarsson Rambo, 27, came to the area […]

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. The end of August had a lot of rain. The streets were muddy. It […]

A Spot Sacred to Peace and Solitude

Standing outside Old Swedes you will probably hear the sound of cars and trucks traveling on I-95 or Delaware Avenue. Step back in time and think of the church yard as a “spot sacred to peace and solitude, whither the charms of nature might invite the steps of the votary of the muses, and where the birds
might sing over his grave.”

SS Poet

Disappearance of the SS Poet

By Bob Josuweit Baseball….It’s red hot. The Phillies had just won the 1980 World Series. The explosive celebrations were noticed on the docks and by 34 crewmembers of the SS Poet. Nine of the crewmembers were from the Philadelphia area. The 36-year-old bulk carrier SS Poet was being loaded at Girard Point with a cargo […]