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Solebury Friends Meeting Cemetery Tour 2013

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Solebury Cemetery Tour

Next weekend I’ll be leading a tour at Solebury Friends burial ground. It was a big hit last year, with about 80 people in attendance. The press release is below. Hope to see you there!

Quaker Cemetery Tour

WHEN: Sunday, October 27, 12 noon to 1:30 p.m., rain or shine
WHERE: Solebury Friends Meeting Cemetery
2680 North Sugan Road
New Hope, PA 18938

Local historian Jesse Crooks will lead us through the fascinating stories of those buried at Solebury Meeting Cemetery, which opened in 1809. Along with seeing the burial plots of many locally famous Quaker families like Reeder, Eastburn, Paxton, Ely, Comfort, and Kitchen, we will visit the plot sites and learn the histories of freed slaves and the unknowns in Stranger’s Row. Insightful points of Jesse’s talk cover daily elements of people’s lives and how they dealt with the great issues of the Civil War, slavery, pacifism, and the poor.

Please join us for this very popular, free event. Donations, however, are welcome!

Light refreshments will be served.

QUESTIONS? Call 215 297 5091 or email info@soleburyhistory.org.

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Written by Moses Doan

October 18, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Solebury Friends Meeting Burial Map

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SoleburyFriendsMeeting-Burial Map-1907(small)

This map of the Solebury Friends Meeting graveyard was drafted in 1907, based on an earlier map from 1866. Unfortunately the 1866 map has suffered some damage and it’s difficult to make out most of the handwriting. The handwriting matches that in the burial book in the Swarthmore archive, which also dates to 1866. That book makes reference to a previous burial chart used as a reference for the 1866 map. It cites “extracts from the old chart” about decisions the meeting made about laying out the graveyard. There are also sections in the list of graves in which the writer of the 1866 book omits names, stating that they were illegible on the old chart.

Illegible on Old Chart

In all likelihood this original map no longer exists, and the names omitted on the 1866 map are probably lost forever.

The 1866 and 1907 maps were almost lost as well. My great-grandfather used them as a reference when creating the modern burial map in the 1960s. Apparently he never returned the maps to the meeting, and I found them in a box of maps that had been stored in my family’s barn.

I deposited them in the archive of the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College along with the rest of the meeting’s original records. While there, I used their excellent overhead scanner to digitize the maps. Click on the map above to see the full image.

Written by Moses Doan

October 8, 2013 at 1:37 am

A Trove of Documents Saved from Destruction

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Petition to Congress

A few months ago my grandfather decided to a do a little spring cleaning. There was a storage unit in our barn that hadn’t been touched in years, full of mildewy furniture and worthless miscellany. He came across a metal container full of maps, mostly showing local topography and zoning. My aunt suggested that I might want them, so they escaped the trash heap.

When I got down to the barn I found a pile of mostly junk, covered in a plastic tarp because we were expecting rain. I found a few items worth keeping: the sled my great-grandmother had when she was a little girl growing up in Battle Creek, Michigan, a wooden tricycle that belonged to my grandfather, and a few plastic trucks for my son to play with. I found the box of maps and popped open the latch, and immediately knew that the contents were far more important than my grandfather had realized.

There were dozens of maps, but among the rolls of paper I recognized a draft of the map my great-grandfather made for the Solebury Friends Meeting burial ground in the 1960s. Then I noticed another roll that was clearly a much older material. With the box sitting in the gravel driveway, I rolled the map out a few inches and discovered that it was in fact two maps rolled together.

SoleburyFriendsMeeting-Burial Map-1907(small)

The first was from 1907.

The second was from 1866.

They were the original maps that by great-grandfather used as a reference for the modern map, and they’d been sitting in our barn for decades, totally forgotten.

I called the person currently in charge of the graveyard to tell him about my find and offered to bring it to the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College to deposit it with the rest of the Meeting’s original records, and I held on to them for a few months until I had time to make the trip.

A couple weeks ago I finally I finally had a day off, and decided to bring the maps to Swarthmore. My timing was fortuitous. That Monday I led a graveyard tour at Plumstead Friends Meeting. We assembled in the meetinghouse, and as I led the group outside towards the burial ground, a woman approached me with a box of documents about the meeting. At the time I was too focused on the tour to discuss it, and suggested that she talk to the clerk of the meeting. The next day, however, I was consumed by curiosity. I already had plans to go down the the Friends Historical Library that week, and thought I might be able to bring those papers as well. Luckily I ran into her in Doylestown a couple days later and proposed that I take them for her. She agreed.

When she dropped the documents off the next day, she brought a lot more than the Plumstead material. She also brought a collection of documents from Buckingham Meeting, and there was so much that it took her two trips to unload it from her car.

The Plumstead material turned out to be the notes and research prepared for a pamphlet published for the meeting’s 225th anniversary celebration on 1953, as well as notes about the ceremony itself. There were also two large photographs that were used in the pamphlet, one from c.1875, and one from 1953.

The Buckingham material was rather varied. One box contained about a dozen copies of the book published for Buckingham Meeting’s 225th anniversary in 1923, as well as a block print of the meetinghouse that was used for that book. There was a folder with newspaper clippings and other 20th Century material. Finally, there was a cardboard box that had been saved from Buckingham Meeting by the woman’s father. At some point a few decades ago, the members of Buckingham meeting had decided to indiscriminately “clean” their attic, and this box was a subject of the purge. Like the burial map from Solebury, these documents were almost destroyed.

When I opened this final box I got goosebumps. I could tell by looking at the parchment that they were old. Really old. Most of them were tied together with string into little bundles, with a few groupings of loose papers between them. I saw the date “1776” peeking out from one of the bundles. When I brought them home and examined them further I found that some documents dated back to the beginning of the 1700s, and in addition to material from Buckingham, a lot of the documents actually came from Middletown Monthly Meeting. Most of them were excerpts from annual conference of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and epistles from the yearly meetings in London and Philadelphia. Some were testimony against members of meeting, or letters from people willingly leaving the Society of Friends. There were a few more recent documents that dealt with the Civil War. Perhaps the most interesting document is a letter written from a Quaker aid mission during the British occupation of Boston. She had kept them in storage for years, hoping to eventually deposit them in the archive, and I was finally able to bring them for her.

Swarthmore Donation - Stack of Papers

For the sake of brevity, I will show the individual documents in separate posts:

Written by Moses Doan

October 7, 2013 at 2:50 pm

The Twice-Buried Murderer Joseph Blundin

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A man sharpens a cradle scythe, similar to Joseph Blundin’s murder weapon.

Today a house sits on the southern corner of Court & East Streets, as nice and unremarkable as any other house in Doylestown. Few would guess that 177 years ago a murderer was buried here. Even fewer would guess that 157 years ago they dug him back up.

This is the story of the executed murderer Joseph Blundin and Doylestown’s forgotten burial ground.

A Crime of Passion

Joseph Blundin was a farmhand with a young family at the time of the crime. He appears on the 1830 US Census living in Bristol with his wife, both in their 20’s, and three children, all under 5 years old. The account of the crime and the public support for Blundin in its aftermath paint him as normal man driven by his circumstances to commit a horrendous act.

The murderer and victim were harvesting oats on the farm of Samuel Headly, probably the S. Headly marked with a red “X” on this map from 1857. The murder occurred somewhere on the road from Headly’s farm to Bristol.

On the day of the crime Joseph Blundin and his victim, Aaron Cuttlehow, were working together harvesting oats on the farm of Samuel Headly near Bristol. J.H. Battle recounts the details of the crime as revealed during the trial:

The prisoner and deceased were at work on Sunday, July 27th [1834], with other men, five or six, engaged in cradling oats. At dinner one of the hands ran out of doors with a pie, deceased and the prisoner chasing him. In their playfulness a shoe was thrown which hit the prisoner. Shortly afterward the deceased came into the house crying, and said the prisoner had hit him on the head with a stone. This disturbance was settled, and they all went to the field to cradle oats. When nearly done a quarrel arose between the prisoner and the deceased, and the prisoner was thrown down and received several blows from [the] deceased in the face. The deceased with another then helped him upon his feet, and his knees giving way under him, they assisted him up a second time. The prisoner then took his cradle and started for home. He was asked to ride twice, but refused, and said, angrily, he would walk. From fifteen minutes to half an hour later he was overtaken by the wagon, walking slowly. He was asked to get up and ride. The prisoner made no reply, but raised his cradle from his shoulder and struck at the deceased hitting the cradle of the deceased, which he raised to guard the blow; the deceased at the same time losing his cradle from his hand, which fell upon the ground. The deceased (Cuttlehow) then sprang from the wagon to make his escape, but stumbled and fell as he reached the ground. When he had crawled a few paces the prisoner came upon him with his cradle uplifted and struck the scythe through the neck of Cuttlehow. The latter cried, “Take it out, take it out!” sank on the ground and died in one or two minutes. Some one said to the prisoner: “He will die,” who replied: “Let him die.” Liquor had been used in the field, but there was no satisfactory evidence that the prisoner was intoxicated. The jury was out eleven or twelve hours, and returned a verdict of murder in the first degree.

We don’t know who started the fight, but it’s clear that the dead man had seriously beaten Blundin in the earlier scuffle, and that Blundin was emotionally distressed by the fight. Instead of escalating the conflict he attempted to walk home alone, only to be confronted again. After being pushed one last time by the other farmhands, he lashed out and killed Cuttlehow with the tool he happened to be carrying. All of this evidence portrays the crime as a temporary lapse by an otherwise decent man rather than the premeditated work of a cold-blooded killer.

After he was sentenced to die by hanging, the public rose up in support of him. While the facts of the crime were not disputed, the death sentence issued seemed harsh and unnecessary. Battle reports that even Charles E. DuBois, the Deputy Attorney-General for the Commonwealth, “was overcome with emotion in reading the indictment to the unfortunate man.” The citizens of Bucks County appealed to the government for mercy, petitioning the Governor Goerge Wolfe and both houses of the State Assembly in an attempt to have his sentence commuted to life in prison. They attempted to save Blundin through multiple avenues, begging for the Governor and legislature to take action in his case specifically as well as attempting to change the state laws regarding criminal sentencing by giving the governor the power to commute death sentences to life in prison or by abolishing the death penalty altogether.

The general thrust of their appeals can be seen in the debate that took place on the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where a representative named Harrison introduced an amendment:

…in accordance with the wishes of a large number of constituents; men of the highest respectability who believed, and honestly believed what is set forth in petition to the legislature, that at the time Joseph Bliindin committed the act for which he has been sentenced to death, he was not in a sound state of mind. The unfortunate individual was born and brought up in his vicinity; he has a family consisting of a wife and several children, and a general feeling pervades that community, that he should become the object of legislative mercy. In addition to these wishes in of Joseph Blundin, a general feeling was manifested in favour of the abolishment of capital punishment in all cases…

Unfortunately, Blundin’s supporters failed in their attempts. Those opposed to the measures claimed that any action in his case was unconstitutional, either by violating the separation of powers or because such a law would affect one man instead of all people under their jurisdiction. Finally, after multiple stays of execution, Blundin was scheduled to die on Friday, August 14th, 1835 between noon and 3pm.

Blundin made one final attempt to save his own life by escaping from the Doylestown jail. Battle describes the failed escape as follows:

On a Sunday in May Blundin attempted to make his escape from the jail. He managed to cut off the rivets of his hopples, burn a hole through the floor, and, after gaining the jail yard attempted by means of a rope formed of his bedding, to scale the outer wall. The fastenings gave way when the prisoner was near the top and he fell to the ground, where he lay in a bruised and helpless condition until found in the morning by the sheriff. Such was the sympathy of the public that a rumor that the sheriff left the means of escape within reach of the prisoner and then left the building to give him an opportunity to use them, obtained general credence and no marked disapproval. The unfortunate man was carried back to his cell and on the day appointed by the governor’s last respite was executed in the yard of the jail. The prisoner was unable to stand on account of his injuries, but he met his fate with resignation and courage.

Then, by way of the gallows, Joseph Blundin found his temporary resting place in the now forgotten potter’s field.

The Doylestown Potter’s Field

In the first half of the 19th century this plot of land was the county potter’s field, a burial place of last resort for the indigent and a site to inter the unclaimed bodies of strangers and prisoners. Very little is recorded of the Doylestown potter’s field. Like the almshouse, the courthouse, and the county jail, the potter’s field probably came into being around the time that the county seat moved from Newtown to Doylestown in 1812. I could only find the potter’s field on one map, W.E. Morris’ 1850 atlas of Bucks County:

The only mention of those buried here comes from W.W.H. Davis’ History of Bucks County, Volume II:

The old “potter’s field,” where several persons were buried, including one Blundin, of Bensalem [actually Bristol], hanged for murder about 1838, at the corner of Court and East streets was sold several years ago by authority of an act of Assembly and now belongs to a private owner.

I was able to act of Assembly that Davis mentions. Passed on May 7th, 1855, the act instructs Bucks County to remove the bodies and sell the land, stating:

…it shall be the duty of the commissioners of the county of Bucks… to remove or cause to be removed to the burial ground of the Bucks county almshouse, the remains of all persons now interred in the public burial ground, situate at the corner of Court street and East street, in the borough of Doylestown, and known as Potter’s Field, and that the same shall no longer be used as a place of burial.

The almshouse opened in the spring of 1810, and the first inmate to die there was a black woman named Dinah, allegedly 115 years old. According to almshouse records (List of Paupers in the Almshouse 1810-1833, p.31, available on microfilm at the Spruance Library), Dinah died on April 20th, 1810, and the almshouse supplied her with a “cape shirt hankercheif and coffin” for her burial. While I haven’t been able to find any information about the almshouse burial ground, it preceded the Doylestown potter’s field by at least a couple years and was probably used concurrently.

At some point, the almshouse stopped using their own burial ground and began interring inmates at Doylestown Cemetery. I talked to Kat Landis, whose family oversees cemetery, and she said that the back row of the cemetery was laid out as a “Strangers Row” with inexpensive plots. According to her, this area became the burial ground for inmates from the almshouse, prisoners from the county jail, and people who died at the Doylestown hospital. This “back row” is now in the center of the cemetery near the main gate, since Hope Cemetery was added next to Doylestown Cemetery and the two were later unified. My guess is that when these cheap plots became available there was no more need for a government maintained burial ground. I have found some written evidence of this in the Almshouse and Hospital Register 1872-1889, which reports that inmate Henry Puff was buried at Doylestown Cemetary on the November 29th, 1883.

Doylestown Cemetery was founded in 1849, and probably wasn’t in operation yet when the 1850 map was made. By 1857, however, the cemetery is presented in the atlas published by Khun & Shrope. You can see that the Dolyestown Cemetery has been added to the map, but the potter’s field is gone:

Whether Joseph Blundin and the others buried in the potter’s field were actually disinterred may be up for debate. The graves in potter’s fields are usually unmarked, and the success of disinterment would depend on how systematically the graves were laid out and how well the locations were recorded. I’m sure they made their best effort to clear the land of bodies before selling it to a private owner, but after 20 years in the ground did the county remember the location of Blundin’s grave? He probably lies on the almshouse grounds, but every time I pass the old potter’s field I wonder if any graves remain.


(The house now standing on the potter’s field.)

Written by Moses Doan

June 8, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Bristol, Crime, Death, Doylestown, Graves, Maps

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The Origin of Strangers Row & The Removal of Monuments

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It’s been almost a year since I first discovered Strangers Row, the section of Solebury Friends graveyard dedicated to paupers and non-Quakers, and I finally found some written documentation of its existence. In 1906, Solebury Friends Meeting celebrated its first centennial, and a pamphlet was printed commemorating the event. Out of the many interesting pieces it contains, perhaps the most valuable is Eastburn Reeder’s account of Solebury Friends history, which he read before meeting at the centennial event. Below is an excerpted portion pertaining to the creation of the graveyard, abstracted from the Monthly Meeting minutes:

 Third-month 25th, 1808… the Friends appointed to enclose the burying ground, report the service nearly performed, and a committee was appointed to consider proper directions to give the grave digger and in what manner the dead shall be interred in our grounds.

Fourth-month 26, 1808. The committee appointed to consider the proper mode for the interment of the dead in our new burying ground, and also to particularaize who shall be interred therein, report:

“We the committe [sic] to take in view what method we shall bury in, and who may be admitted in our burial grounds, are free to propose, the following: First, That the whole ground to be ocupied [sic] shall be laid out in 84 squares, each to be 8 feet by 20 feet, 8 inches, and to begin at the upper corner of Moses Eastburn’s [property] line, and each family taking their square in succession as occasion calls for it. Servants and apprentices belonging to Friend’s families may be admitted, and such as are descendants of Friends and their families within the limits of this meeting; those of other description not included.”

Ninth-month 27th, 1808. Finding some difficulties to arise from this plan for burying, Friends reconsidered it, and decided that all transient persons who may have liberty to bury in our grounds, and not properly claiming a square, ought to be interred in a row on the east side of the burying ground, beginning at the northeast corner. This is the origin of the strangers row. The grave-yard has been twice enlarged. The first time in 1830 by the purchase of 80 perches of Aaron Paxson, Jr. The second time in 1877 by the purchase of one and a half acres of Merrick Reeder, making the whole amount of land now owned by the meeting over 5 acres.

Thanks to Reeder we have the original plan for the allotment of the graveyard, and we can appreciate the sympathy of these original Friends who set aside a burying place for people who had nowhere else to turn.

Reeder’s history of Solebury Meeting also illuminates another intriguing aspect of Quaker history: the shifting opinions within the Society of Friends with regard to the recognition of the deceased with grave monuments. In keeping with the testimony of simplicity, early Friends erected plain, unmarked headstones or no stones at all. At Solebury Meeting, you’ll find these simple brown slabs of local stone in the oldest section, located in the northwest corner. Eventually initials or names were added, but it wasn’t until the  second half of the 1800’s that engraving the name of the deceased with their dates of birth and death (and consequently the use of marble and other easily engraved stone) became standard practice. Viewing the list of graves at Solebury Meeting (available here), the recording of dates seems to begin in the 1860’s. I can’t help but think that the Civil War transformed the Society’s views on death and remembrance.

Below Reeder recounts the controversy over grave monuments that occurred when Friends began erecting marked headstones at Buckingham Meeting. (Note: Before Solebury Meeting was constructed in 1806, Solebury Quakers commuted to Buckingham Meeting.)

Monuments. The committee appointed to unite with a committee of Buckingham Monthly meeting on the subject of monuments in our grave-yards, made the following report in writing: “The committees appointed by Buckingham and Solebury Monthly meetings to unite in considering the subject of monuments of deceased persons agree to report, that they are of opinion that all fixtures to graves with inscriptions thereon in order distinguish one grave from another, is contrary to the direction of the discipline; and as a great variety of such have been placed in our grave-yard at Buckingham, some of them by members of Solebury, we believe it would be proper for the monthly meetings to attend to the removal of them. But as this departure may have been generally from a want of a perfect knowledge of the discipline, great tenderness toward the survivors ought to be exercised. We, therefore, suggest the propriety of using persuasive measures to be used to induce such surviving relatives to remove, or consent to the removal of these monuments.”

After consideration fo the report was adopted, and Moses Paxson, Oliver Hampton, Oliver Paxson, Aaron Eastburn, Hugh Ely, Aaron Paxson, and John Comfort were appointed to use their endeavors to induce such of our members as may have placed monuments to graves, to remove them, or consent to their removal.

Written by Moses Doan

February 17, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Corpse Thieves in Plumstead

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If you visit Plumstead Friends Meeting, you’ll find it pleasantly sedate. The meetinghouse seems unconcerned with the passing of time (it’s only heat source is a wood stove in the center of the room), and there’s a simple graveyard enclosed by a plain stone wall, containing graves as old as the nation itself. But the graveyard has not always enjoyed this state of placidity. In the summer of 1856, some of the cemetery’s occupants were torn from their slumber in a daring grave robbery. The following advertisement appeared in the Intelligencer in the August of 1856:

Notice to Trespassers.

All those persons who, regardless of law and good order, recently trespassed on the premises of the Society of Friends of Plumstead, by abruptly driving into the Grave Yard with wagon and horses, disfiguring some of the graves, and opening others, and disinterring several coprses, and taking them away without consent of the Sexton or any of the Trustees, are hereby requested to come forward and render satisfaction for the same without delay, which may save cost, prevent exposure, and oblige the undersigned.

                                                                              ABRAHAM MICHINER, Committee

                                                                             THOMAS STRADLING, } of Trust.

                                                                             DAVID CARR, Sexton.

           Plumstead, 8th month 26th 1856 -3t.

           N. B.—Notice is also hereby given to all other persons not to commit the like depredations.

(The Spruance Library has a filing cabinet full of news clippings sorted by municipality and topic, which is where I found this little gem.)

An old grave, but maybe not that old. This etching may be the work of a vandal.

The inquisitive guest will find that this cemetery has another secret. If you climb over the far wall and search through the brush, you’ll find the last resting place of the burying ground’s most ignominious residents, Abraham and Levi Doan. They were part of the Doan Brothers gang (brothers Moses, Aaron, Mahlon, Levi, Joseph, and cousin Abraham) who gained notoriety first as Loyalist spies during the Revolution, and then as outlaws after the war. All of them were eventually captured, but Aaron, Mahlon, and Joseph escaped and fled to safety. Their leader, Moses Doan, was the victim of an extrajudicial murder at the hands of a vengeful posse, and is buried in a hedgerow somewhere in Plumstead. The other two, Levi and Abraham, were captured and hanged on September 24th, 1788, and buried at Plumstead Meeting, where they once were members. They lie outside the graveyard wall, forever branded outlaws:

Written by Moses Doan

February 16, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Posted in Crime, Death, Graves, Plumstead

Stolen: The Restless Headstone of Lizzy M. Aingle

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image

In the winter of 2003, some hooligan stole this headstone from a cemetery in the Point Pleasant area and threw it in a ditch on the side of River Road in Tinicum Township. Bill Moser found it there and had to pour boiling water on it to release it from the frozen mud. He tried to track down its rightful home, researching county death records and contacting local churches, but hit a dead end. Today, it sits in the office of his auto repair shop in Point Pleasant, but he’d like to return it to the grave site if he can find it. It reads:

The Resting Place

of

Lizzie M. Aingl[e]

daughter of

Alice Otto

Born [illegible date] 1869

Died August 18, 1870

Aged 1 Year

[?] Months And [?] Days

It’s followed by a long inscription, mostly illegible. Bill told me I could come back and do a grave rubbing, so hopefully we can reveal enough to find what it says. So far I’ve checked the 1870 US Census and Mortality Schedules for the Plumstead, Tinicum, and Kingwood Township searching for Lizzie and her mother Alice, but haven’t found anything. Bill thinks it stood against the graveyard wall because the back of the stone is clean and unworn, while the front was eaten away over the 130 years it stood outside. He also suggested that Lizzie may have been born out of wedlock, since her mother has a different surname.

Written by Moses Doan

June 17, 2011 at 4:59 pm