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Found in Collection

Found in Collection (144)

by Michael Green

In retrospect over one hundred years ago, there existed a significant debate in the country among Americans over women’s suffrage. Although suffragettes who were advocating for the vote had been organized since 1869, there emerged anti-suffrage national and state organizations which formed in 1911. 


One has only to read the bulletin issued below by the Pennsylvania Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage to understand the basic argument and platform on which the group stood. This appeared in program for the Fourth Annual Corn and Fruit Show in Norristown in December, 1917.

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In May, 1915, the Philadelphia Civic Panel held a debate at 1300 Spruce Street on “the pros and cons of women’s suffrage.” Mrs. Wilfred Lewis who was the president of the Equal Franchise Society argued for the vote. Mrs. Horace Brock, President of the Pennsylvania Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage argued against it. Mrs. Imogene Oakley argued for “limited equal suffrage.”

As we look into this time in history, we see that state and local positions were reflective of a national movement led by Josephine Dodge, the founder of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. On the other hand, Reverend Doctor Anna Howard Shaw was honorary president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She was also both a medical doctor with a degree from Boston University in 1886 and an ordained Methodist minister.  The Woman Suffrage Party of Pennsylvania had a Montgomery County chapter headquartered at 17 East Penn Street and chaired by Mrs. A. M. Snyder of Ardmore in 1917.

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As we know, on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified and granted American women the right to vote. This right was and is known as woman suffrage thus the position of Dr. Anna Shaw and her organization prevailed. In closing, Dr. Shaw’s life reflected a lifetime of achievement, dedication, and commitment to humanity and women’s causes that should not go unnoticed.

Thursday, 16 March 2017 20:56

Too Cold to Blog!

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This week has been a little crazy, and our headquarters was closed for two days.  So, no blog today.  But isn't this a great picture of some kids on Butler Ave. in Ambler.  Taken around 1898, notice the sleigh going past the kids.

Thursday, 09 March 2017 21:39

The Plymouth Meeting Controversy

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A headline from the Norristown Times-Herald.

Lately, one of our tireless volunteers, Dick Mardi, has been processing our church collections. Among the church bulletins, anniversary booklets, and newspaper clippings, he came across a small green booklet called “The Plymouth Meeting Controversy.” I guessed it was some kind schism in the meeting house, but it was much more interesting. In 1954, McCarthyism came to Montgomery County.


First a little background. William Jeanes Memorial Library (now in Whitemarsh Township) was founded by Mrs. Mary Rich Jeanes Miller, who left $75,000 to Plymouth Monthly Meeting in her will for the founding of the library. She died in 1926. The library opened in a private home in 1933, and moved into its own building two years later. As time went on, the library committee (appointed by the Monthly Meeting) approached Plymouth and Whitemarsh Townships for support. Each township offered $500 annually, and Plymouth asked for and received two seats on the committee.


Now, in 1953, the librarian, Edith Sawyer, broke her hip and was unable to work for 3 months. So, the library board began to look for a replacement. They contacted the employment chairman was the Special Libraries Council of Philadelphia and Vicinity, and he suggested Mary Knowles who had just moved from Massachusetts to Wayne, Pa.

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Mary Knowles in a photograph published by the Times-Herald on August 2, 1955.


In her first conversation with Lillian Tapley, chair of the library committee, Mary Knowles said that she had been fired by her previous employer, Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts, because she had invoked the Fifth Amendment while being questioned by the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. As she explained to Morrill Memorial Library:


“This past week I appeared under subpoena before the Senate Sub-committee on Internal Security headed by Senator [William] Jenner in Washington, in both secret and open hearings. In both instances I answered only questions as to my name, address, and employment in the Library. Al other questions I declined under the privilege granted by the Fifth Amendment, which says: “that no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Lest this would seem not to apply, I would like to explain further. In the first place I have committed no crime… in the second place, the investigating committees no longer uphold the validity of the First Amendment, and recourse to that Amendment…could very easily lead to contempt of court citation and ensuing jail sentence. In the third place, if, under compulsion I testified concerning my religion and politics, but refused to answer questions about others, I would also be held in contempt of court…Fourth, if I refused to answer questions on moral or ethical grounds without invoking the Fifth Amendment, I would also be held in contempt of court and again face a jail sentence. Fifth, and last, I feel very strongly that these committees and their methods are highly unconstitutional; that they represent a deep threat not only to the strength of the United States, but also to the very form of government itself; that through such investigations lies indeed the path of the United States into totalitarianism and the police state.”


Why was Knowles questioned by the senate committee in the first place? She had worked at the Samuel Adams School in Boston, a school that was one of several operated by the American Communist Party.


The committee didn’t think Knowles’ past disqualified her for the position. They contacted her references and they all gave excellent reports. The committee hired her for a temporary, six month position. The two representatives from Plymouth Township were not at the meeting when the committee voted to hire her, but the booklet points out that they never voiced any opposition during that initial six month period.

blog300 Plymouth Meeting House in 1943.


At the time, loyalty oaths were a bit of a craze in America. Pennsylvania had a loyalty oath, and a Plymouth commissioner suggested Knowles take the oath, but she declined. She did sign a statement declaring her support of the United States, its founding documents, and stated that she had no connection to any left-wing groups since leaving the Samuel Adams School.


When Edith Sawyer’s hip healed, she returned to work briefly, but resigned in September of 1954. The committee looked around for a new librarian, but didn’t find one they liked as much as they had Mary Knowles. The booklet points out several times that attendance and circulation had increased when Mary Knowles took over. Since Knowles had not yet found another job, she was rehired.


This led to a standoff between the two representatives of Plymouth Township and the Monthly Meeting. The township demanded that Knowles had to sign the loyalty oath, and the Monthly Meeting decided that requiring the loyalty oath was counter to their Quaker beliefs.


Plymouth Township and its school board both withheld their annual contributions, and the local American Legion post and the Daughters of the American Revolution declared their opposition to Knowles’ employment without the oath. Plus, a new group, called Alerted Americans Group popped up to voice opposition to Knowles. According to “The Plymouth Meeting Controversy” the “group” was largely the effort of one person, Helen Payson Corson of Plymouth Meeting, Pa. A letter from the group read:


“Should we accept such a person of doubtful loyalty in a position of public trust and esteem when to do so requires us to repudiate the long, agonizing ordeal of a man like Herbert Philbrick? Should be thank God for dedicated patriots like him and vigorously support him in every way? Doesn’t he deserve our gratitude just as much as our men in uniform do? Let’s honor the F.B.I., not the F.A.U. (Fifth Amendment Users).”


Herbert Philbrick was an advertising executive who infiltrated the Communist Party in the 1940’s for the F. B. I.

blog301 Herbert Philbrick testifying about Communist recruitment in the United States.


The Monthly Meeting continued to support Knowles, stating “Should an accusation of association with the Communist Party eight years ago be disqualification for employment? We think it should not. Certainly, in a Christian and democratic nation, the individual has the right to be judged on the merits of his particular case.”


The following year, 1955, the Fund for the Republic, an organization interested in matters the concerning the Bill of Rights, awarded Plymouth Monthly Meeting $5000 for “courageous and effective defense of democratic principles.”


This more than offset what the library was losing from Plymouth Township, but it also brought even more attention to the case. Mary Knowles was again called before the Senate Internal Subcommittee. She again stated that she was not a Communist. At this hearing she did not invoke the Fifth Amendment “since any association that I had had with an organization on the Attorney General’s list was so far in the past, that I would no longer be privileged to claim the Fifth Amendment.” She still refused on answer questions about her association with both individuals and organizations. She was convicted of 58 counts of contempt of Congress and sentenced to a $500 fine and 120 days in jail.  Her conviction was overturned in 1960.


In summer of 1956, a sub-committee of the House Committee on Un-American Activities opened hearings in Philadelphia. Lillian Tapley was subpoenaed along with the minutes of the Monthly Meeting. The Monthly Meeting refused to comply, citing the First Amendment, and the sub-committee backed off on the matter of the minutes. Tapley and several people opposed to the employment of Mary Knowles testified. Letters from members of the meeting, both supporting Knowles and in opposition to her, were also sent to the committee.

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The booklet was written in 1957 and it summed up the controversy this way, “we have no black and white situation, rather gray, with sincere opinions expressed on both sides…Frequent silent periods have shown us that none of us is above censure or error, and have helped us to speak less hastily and less often.”

Mary Knowles continued to work for the William Jeanes Memorial Library until her retirement in 1979.  Today, the library's technology fund is named in her honor.

Thursday, 02 March 2017 20:22

Tiny Books for Tiny People

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The Little Golden Books series turns 75 this year. If you’re like me, you remember the adventures of the Poky Little Puppy and other characters very well.  The Golden Books were sold in 1942 for 25 cents each, and they were meant to be affordable for every family.  Of course, children’s book existed before then, and last week, I found a few in our upper stacks.  They were donated by Mrs. Anna Bergman of Philadelphia in 1955.

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The first group I’d like to share have no publication information at all. I don’t know where or when they were made.  Three give an author at the very end of the text as Edric Vredenberg, a British writer and editor a several children’s books.  He was active as a writer from about 1890 to 1930.  Based on the illustrations in the book, I would guess these were produced during the earlier part of his career.

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Looking inside the books, you can see there is a lot of text compared to modern children’s books. They all have wonderful illustrations in both black and white and chromolithographs, a popular form for children’s books in the 1880’s and 1890’s.

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As you can see the stories all feature cute children and animals.

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In addition to these books we have this tiny children’s Bible from 1834. It was sold by M. R. Wills in Norristown and even has a few small illustrations.  The book was written by “A Lady of Cincinnati.”  The Bible was donated by Martin Connelly in 2001.

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By Michael Green

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This cemetery in the King of Prussia area contains not only the burial remains of the Roberts family members but also some 190 departed souls from the Mount Zion AME Church in Norristown, Pennsylvania.  The burial ground was established by Jonathan Roberts, a United States Senator early in the nineteenth century.  He died in 1854 and was buried there.  Senator Roberts made provision for the indigent to be buried in the area surrounding the central family plot.  It is in this context that we embark on the journey of those of Mount Zion who were buried or reburied in this cemetery.

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The journey those Mount Zion parishioners was a long one beginning in 1832 from the early days of the founding of the church.  According to the “History of Mt. Zion Church Anniversary Booklet” the church was organized by Mr. and Mrs. John Lewis.  The church parishioners were reportedly “runaway slaves” who liberated themselves from the South and migrated to the Norristown area by way of the Underground Railroad.

These early church pioneers established their first building at Airy and Walnut Streets in a dwelling house in 1832.  This period of self-determination of reportedly interrupted by slave owners arriving to abduct escaped bondsman and use the legal system to force their return South.  As the story goes, two escaped slaves were to be transported South after capture.  However, the local black residents and two white citizens protested.  The latter paid the enslavers $600 and $300 respectively and successfully procured the men’s freedom.  According to the church record, it was during this disruptive time for the Norristown community that a number of the church members fled Norristown to Spring Mill, some even leaving for Canada.  Members John and James Lewis held meetings and services in their residences in Spring Mill, near Conshohocken during this time.

In 1845, the church members regrouped in Norristown, purchased land, and built a one story church on Lafayette Street between Chain and Pearl.  It was from this location 190 burials were reinterred at the Roberts Cemetery after the property was sold.  The church moved in 1853 to Basin Street and again in 1915 to its current location on Willow Street.  To this day this edifice exists at the same location.

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Once the church congregation moved and with restrictions on where blacks could be buried, the bodies at Mount Zion Cemetery were removed and reinterred at the Roberts Burial Ground in the 1870’s.  It should be noted that a number of black Civil War veterans were buried there as late as 1894.  Moreover there were many Civil War veterans who were active members of Mount Zion.

In closing, the journey of those interred at Red Hill Cemetery is truly a remarkable one.  The story of the Mount Zion Church is crowned by many achievers and achievements to advance voting rights in the 1870’s, Civil Rights in the 1880’s led by Pastor Amos Wilson, as well as improvements in education and the health and welfare of citizens.  Not to be forgotten in this story is the commitment to humanity exhibited by the Roberts family whose leader years ago dedicated his land to the benefit of all.

Thursday, 16 February 2017 19:49

Quakers

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Everyone in Pennsylvania knows that Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn. Penn was a member of a religious minority which called itself the Society of Friends, but was more commonly known as Quakers. When Penn founded his colony in 1681, he meant to create a haven for his fellow Friends where they could live out Quaker values in peace.


The Society of Friends was founded by George Fox in the early Seventeenth Century in England. As a young man he had become dissatisfied with the existing denominations and came to believe that all individuals had God within them, something he called the “Inner Light.” Fox became an itinerant preacher, encouraging others to find their Inner Light. He and his followers believed that all individuals were called to be ministers, and all people, men and women, slave and free, were equal. Friends lived simply, foregoing luxuries and committed themselves to non-violence.


Almost immediately, George Fox was at odds with the law (it was actually a judge who gave the group the nickname “Quakers”). The group refused to pay the tithe to the state church (the Church of England) and refused to take oaths. They also stood out in the dress and actions. Here’s a description of an early Quaker from a 1916 booklet called “The Quaker of the Future Time” by George Albalton:


“He dressed without ornament, used the language of common life to all, doffed the hat to no man, no matter how high his position, became scrupulously honest in worldly business, refused oaths, avoided military service, contributed money liberally to help Friends in need, and with his time, counsel and energy, sought to relieve human distress.”

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Merion Monthly Meeting House in 1912


Reading this description, Quakers sound like a nice enough group. In fact, they were widely hated in England. And that’s why, William Penn, founder of our commonwealth, crossed the ocean to establish a place where Quakers could be free.
Many early settlers of Montgomery County were Quakers, who started meeting for worship in people’s homes before building early meeting houses in Plymouth, Abington, Gwynedd, and Merion. Those early Quakers did stand out from other settlers in how they spoke and how they dressed.


Quakers rejected ostentation in a very ostentatious time. Here is King Charles I by Van Dyck:

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And here is his subject, George Fox:

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Both these images and the one of William Penn at the beginning of the post are from Amelia M. Gummere’s book The Quaker: A Study in Costume.


Quakers did not wear wigs or lace or feathers in their hats. They wore plain wool and linen clothes in muted colors. The black, wide brimmed hat (think of the guy on your oatmeal) that characterized the male Quaker was never removed in the presence of his “superiors” because, to the Quaker, all people were equal. For the same reason, they did not use titles when addressing others.


In our modern times, men don’t wear hats and millionaires wear blue jeans, so these Quaker peculiarities don’t seem controversial to us. The Quaker “Plain Speech” no longer seems shocking either. If you ever read or watched Shakespeare, you’ve probably noticed that English used to have formal and informal forms of “you” as Spanish, French, and several other languages do. Quakers addressed everyone as “thou” instead of the more formal “ye.” Today, most Quakers speak like everyone else, but a modern person might wonder why this was ever considered a big deal.

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But it was. In our collection at the Historical Society, we have an 1819 reprint of a letter originally written in 1710 by Henry Moore, a minister of the Church of England to William Penn. The letter is an excellent example of polite disagreement. He begins by praising Penn’s book No Cross, No Crown. The better part of the letter, which runs to 36 pages in printed booklet form, concerns the Quaker rejection of baptism and communion (the Lord’s Supper, as Moore calls it). In the last few pages, Moore addresses what he calls “Cap-honour and Titular respects.” He writes (I’ve retained his capitalization):


“If the apostles could comply with the Jews in some Mosiacal rites, that the coming of Christ had abrogated, that they may not give offence to the Jews,; how much more ought christians, for the avoiding of offence, comply with one another in such customs as no law, neither human nor divine has yet abrogated?”


Others were less respectful than Moore in their disagreements with Quakers. Even after the Toleration Act was passed in England in 1689, Quakers were widely disliked in England. The New World outside of Pennsylvania was not much kinder. Massachusetts Bay Colony imprisoned and banished Quakers as heretics. Roger Williams (founder of Rhode Island and champion of religious liberty) famously challenged George Fox to a debate. Fox did not respond to the challenge, though other prominent Quakers did. Williams also wrote a book titled, George Fox Digged out of His Burrowes attacking Fox’s idea of the Inner Light.


As the centuries went on, however, people came to admire Quaker honesty in business dealings and generosity in charity, and came to see their habits as merely quirky instead of heretical.


Today, few Quakers will address you as “thou” and fewer still wear the plain dress of their ancestors. Although you can still find a few who continue these traditions.  You can check out this blog by Quaker Jane for more information.

Thursday, 02 February 2017 20:56

Matsonsford Bridge

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One of Conshohocken’s landmarks is the Matsonsford Bridge, seen in its 1872 iteration in the photo below.

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This was not the first bridge over the Schuylkill River at Matsonsford (or Matson’s Ford).  Peter Matson built a ford of stones and planks across the river near his farm in the 18th Century.  A couple of decades later, Washington’s pickets, under General James Potter, exchanged gunfire with British troops out of Philadelphia foraging for food.  A small skirmish resulted.  Meanwhile, American troops under General John Sullivan had built a rough sort of bridge so the men could cross the cold river (it was December 11, 1777).  Unfortunately, the battle was not an American victory.  When scouts reported that the American militia had retreated chaotically, Sullivan pulled the troops back and destroyed the makeshift bridge.  The Continentals moved a few miles upriver to cross at Swede’s Ford, while the British left the area to continue foraging.

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A covered bridge was built by the Matsonford Bridge Company in 1833, but I don’t have a picture of that.  It fell into disrepair after a few decades and was replaced by the steel bridge at the top of the article in 1872.

By the 1920’s, traffic over the bridge had changed from horses and carts to automobiles and a new, more modern bridge was needed.  The new Matsonsford Bridge opened in 1921.  With its dramatic arches, the bridge had a graceful and memorable look.

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But the speed and volume of 20th century traffic proved too much for the bridge and it was again rebuilt in 1987.  I guess we’ll see how long it lasts.

 

 

Sources:

Coll, Jack, Remembering Conshohocken and West Conshohocken, Arcadia Publishing, 2010.

McGuire, Thomas, J. The Philadelphia Campaign, volume II Germantown and Roads to Valley Forge, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pa., 2006

Thursday, 26 January 2017 20:51

Dancing

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Dancing.   Is there a more controversial subject?  Ok, prehaps there a million topics more controversial than dancing, but, really, does anyone out there want more controversy?

The folks of Montgomery County have long enjoying dancing.  In 1830 a Mr. A. Bonnaffor advertised that he would offer dancing lessons two evenings a week in Norristown.  There would be live music and cotillons every other week.  The lessons apparently caught on.  One year later, the Norristown Contillion Party was organized by leading citizens of the borough.  According to Norris (Edward Hocker), many dances were held at the various assembly halls and later country clubs in Norristown and sponsored by different groups.

It all sounds like a good time, but not everyone was having fun.  Today, while looking through a box of material related to local Presbyterian churches, I came across this small booklet:

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The Reverend Heckman was not a fan of dancing.  He's not against all dancing.  He writes, "The peasant-dances of sunny France and Spain and Italy are performed upon the greensward and under the pure exhilerating atmosphere of heaven."  

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Dancing even Rev. Heckman could approve?

Dancing in modern (1876) America, however, was done in stuffy rooms and at night when people ought to be resting.  In addition to that, he writes, "The movement is unnatural, violent especially for women, producing unhealthful nervous excitement, quick inhalation of impure air..."

I don't have any pictures of dancers from the 1870's, but I have some from the early 1960's.  We should look at these for signs of unhealthful, nervous excitement:

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Hmm, I'm not seeing it.  Let's see what else Heckman has to say.  "This amusement awakens and indulges some of the worst propensities of the unrenewed nature, and interferes with intellectual and moral improvement....Hence dancing is one of the propeling forces which plunge men and women down to profligacy, ruin, and death."

Here's some more prom pictures:


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Interestingly, while Heckman claims, "I myself like to be amused and am easily amused," he does admit towards the end of his address, that he has never danced.  "By the gentle, patient, firm restraints and instruction of parental piety I have been preserved from the indulgence of this amusement, for which my manhood and maturer judgment give a devout mother sincere and loving gratitude.  Thus though without personal experience, I am sure these statements are right."

By the way, the prom pictures were taken by Marsella Studio, but the pictures aren't identified.  If either of these proms look familiar to you, let me know at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Last fall, I started watching a time travel show on NBC called Timeless. It’s a fun, if silly, show about an historian, a scientist, and a former soldier, who chase bad guys through various moments in American history while trying not to alter the timeline too much. They discover that what they’re really after is an evil organization known as “Rittenhouse.”

Rittenhouse, I thought sitting on my couch with my husband and my dog, could they mean David Rittenhouse?

David Rittenhouse was born in Philadelphia, but his family had a farm in what is now East Norriton. It was there that Rittenhouse observed the transit of Venus (when the planet Venus appears to cross drectly across the sun). He was the first person to do so from North America. He used the data he collected during the transit to calculate the earth’s distance from the sun as 93 million miles.

Surveyors Level watermarkDavid Rittenhouse's surveyor's level from our collection.

A typical Enlightenment thinker, Rittenhouse was self-taught from his family library. He showed great aptitude for math and science from an early age. Rittenhouse surveyed the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania (Mason and Dixon built on his work), was professor of astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania, and was the first director of the US Mint. Rittenhouse was a friend of Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson and worked as a military engineer during the American Revolution.

Or was he really secretly plotting against democracy?

IMG 2646The David Rittenhouse tall case clock in our meeting room.

No, of course he wasn’t, but that is the premise of Timeless (I said it was silly show). In the midseason finale, our band of time travelers discovers that the founder of the evil group called Rittenhouse was indeed David Rittenhouse, played here by Armin Shimerman. In the show he’s a Loyalist and a clockmaker (one of those is true), seeking to secretly control events. I don’t want to spoil the episode for anyone with a DVR backlog, but I’ll say that it looks like the US Mint might be in trouble.

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Now, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy this show, but episodes like that one serve to show why institutions like the Historical Society of Montgomery County are so important. We can provide the true stories behind the fiction.  You can read more about our David Rittenhouse collection in this blog post from a few years by our former curator, Susan.

Thursday, 12 January 2017 17:44

Commonwealth vs. Daniel Boyle

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By Michael Green

 blog286From the original indictment in HSMC's collection.

The holiday season can be a time of much joy, happiness, and good cheer. It can also be a time of sadness and tragedy. The latter seems to be the case in the matter of Daniel Boyle and Peter Betson of Upper Merion Township. On the evening of Saturday, December 24, 1825, Christmas Eve, Peter Betson lost his life to violent blow inflicted by Daniel Boyle. This citation is according to the Wednesday, December 28, 1825 issue of the Norristown Herald newspaper.

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Records discovered in the Historical Society of Montgomery County reveal the actual indictment for murder file with the Montgomery County Court. Both the newspapers article and indictment reveal that the two men were highly intoxicated. Further, they report that Mr. Boyle struck Mr. Betson with a large stick or club over a dispute of some sort. The recorded testimony of witnesses reveals the individuals knew one another locked in a moment of heated argument resulting in a tragic loss of life, much as it happens today some one hundred ninety years later.

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A jury of Mr. Boyle’s peers on August 23, 1826 found him not guilty. The verdict is documented in the records of the Montgomery County Clerk of Courts.

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As a final post script, during the 1700 and 1800’s the Norristown Jail/Montgomery County Prison house defendants indicted and held on charges such as the foregoing. In 1851, the structure which still stands in Norristown was constructed. It is believed that it stands on the same grounds of the original jail. In September, 1986, the Montgomery County jail was closed in this Norristown location and the new facility was opened. Again, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

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