When people think of the melding of faith and business, companies like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A usually come to mind. However, like all things, the history of this type of partnership has a deeper history. Host John Fea reaches into early America to discuss the complicated integration of faith and business among Philadelphia’s Quakers. They are joined by historian Nicole Kirk (@Prof_in_Chicago), author of Wanamaker’s Temple: The Business of Religion in an Iconic Department Store.
For the past decade I have been teaching a course on Pennsylvania History at Messiah College. The class meets several requirements. Some history majors take it for a 300-level American history elective. Other history majors take it as part of their concentration in public history. Non-history majors take the course to fulfill their general education pluralism requirement.
I have to make this course work for all of these students. For the public history students, we do a lot of work on the relationship between “history,” “heritage,” and “memory.” We also feature some training in oral history. Each student is required to do an oral history project in which they interview and interpret someone who can shed light on a particular moment in Pennsylvania history. As a pluralism course, Pennsylvania History must address questions of religion, race, ethnicity, and social class in some meaningful way.
This year, I split the class into four units:
- “History, memory, and the social history of early American Philadelphia.” We read Gary Nash’s book First City and students took a field trip to the city.
- “The Conestoga Massacre (Paxton Boys riots).” We read Kevin Kenny’s excellent history of the Paxton Boys and students were required to write an essay on a document at the Digital Paxton website.
- “History and memory at Gettysburg.” We read Jim Weeks’s book Gettysburg: History, Memory, and an American Shrine. I put together a “memory” field trip of Gettysburg that focused on race, reunion, and the post July 3, 1863 history of the battlefield.
- “Harrisburg’s City Beautiful Movement and the fate of the Old 8th Ward.” We read multiple articles and utilized the amazing resources at the Digital Harrisburg Project. Students took a field trip to the Capitol Complex, the site of the Old 8th Ward.
After several tries, I think I have finally found a pedagogical formula that works. The students take their two-hour final exam on Friday. Here are the questions they are preparing:
In preparation for the exam, please prepare an answer to one of the following questions:
In each of our four units this semester, we spend considerable time talking about the idea of race and race relations in Pennsylvania History. How do issues related to race play out in the following periods and places in state history:
- Early 19th-century Philadelphia
- The Pennsylvania frontier in the 1750s and 1760s.
- The way the Civil War has been interpreted at Gettysburg
- The City Beautiful movement in Harrisburg
- The Centennial celebration in Philadelphia (1876)
- The Paxton Boys Riots
- Gettysburg as a “sacred” site
- The portrayal of Harrisburg’s Old 8th Ward by reformers affiliated with the City Beautiful movement.
Good luck! Or as I like to say to my Calvinist students: “May God providential give you the grade you deserve on this exam.”
“They are dying on our right hand and on our Left; we have it opposite us, in fact, all around us, great are the number that are called to the grave…To see the hearse go by is now so common that we hardly take notice of it;…we live in the midst of death.” While Isaac Heston penned these words to his brother on September 19, 1793, yellow fever claimed the lives of about 70 Philadelphians each day. “When I see the Metropolis of the United States depopulated,” the 22-year-old moaned, “it is too distressing and affecting a scene for a person young in Life to bear.” A mosquito carrying the virus bit Heston about the time he wrote the letter; he died 10 days later.
It all started in late July 1793 in a brothel near a pier in the northern part of the city. Two mariners, mostly likely from the ship Hankey or one of the other vessels that had arrived a few days earlier from the West Indies, had rented a room at the “disorderly house.” A violent fever quickly killed one of the sailors. An English boarder in the house shivered with an elevated temperature, vomited a black substance, and died a few days later. Mrs. Parkinson, an Irish lodger (or prostitute), suffered with sunken eyes, jaundiced skin, and blood trickling from her nose and mouth for a week before she expired. Both brothel owners died, as did the second mariner and several next-door neighbors.
All these fatalities in such a brief time attracted the attention of Dr. Benjamin Rush, the most distinguished physician in the new nation. After visiting a few of the sick people in the neighborhood, he announced in late August that yellow fever now stalked the city’s streets. During the next three months, the disease killed more than 5,000 people—one out of every 10 Philadelphia residents. Not until the late 19th century did physicians understand that infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were the source of all this human misery.
They just let go 30% of their work force. Here is a taste of Stephan Salisbury’s article at Philly.Com:
Citing operating deficits and a lack of financial stability, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania announced Monday that it would lay off about 30 percent of its staff, trim programming and services, and focus on its role as a library and archive.
In a statement, board chairman Bruce K. Fenton said the hope was that by eliminating jobs, the organization would buy time for “a period of financial recovery and careful planning for its future.”
The society, at 13th and Locust Streets, has been seeking to partner with an academic institution for about three years. Extensive talks with the University of Pennsylvania did not bear fruit, but over the last year and a half, the society has been discussing affiliation with Drexel University.
Read the rest here.
Back in October 2017 I wrote a post about the skeletons found on the site of the First Baptist Church burial ground. In the last couple of years this story has been a staple of my tour of colonial-era Philadelphia. A luxury residential building now sits on the old Baptist graveyard, but the examination of the bones found by the workers continues.
Here is a taste of Laurel Geggel’s piece at LiveScience:
Thousands of people were buried at the First Baptist Church’s burial ground from about 1702 until 1860, when the cemetery was allegedly relocated. However, when the church moved its cemetery because it was turning into a local garbage dump, the Philadelphia Board of Health gave it only three months that year — from Jan. 1 to April 1 — to move the graves.
This was a tremendous undertaking, and although some of the graves were relocated, the majority were not, Moran said. The fact that the church left behind so many bodies wasn’t publicized, and it wasn’t until 2017 that the extent of the burials was realized, she said.
In all, the remains of at least 3,000 people were still buried there, according to historical records. Moran and her colleagues have since found about 500 of them where the luxury condominium now sits, at 218 Arch Street.
After visiting the site with Anna Dhody, a forensic anthropologist at the Mütter Museum of Philadelphia, Moran was given a box holding 113 bones, mostly long bones from people’s arms and legs. Dhody and Moran offered to help excavate or oversee the project, but they were politely brushed aside, Moran said.
But six weeks later, in February 2017, the developer, PMC Property Group, had a change of heart. Construction workers continued to find bones, and they didn’t know what to do with them. “We came back to the site, and we found very obvious voids in the soil that had wood sticking out of them,” Moran said. “It was obvious that this was a coffin that had been disturbed by the heavy machinery. And someone’s legs were sticking out.”
So, Moran, Dhody and Ani Hatza, a forensic anthropologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, struck a deal with the developer. The scientists would supervise the backhoe work, and if they saw any bones, the backhoe would stop so the scientists could excavate the spot. “It was pretty rough and ready,” Moran said. “They didn’t let us do a meticulous job or anything.”
Read the entire piece here.
Two new street names in Philadelphia. Here is a taste of a piece at Philly.com:
Two dozen people gathered outside the Independence Visitor Center for a ceremony christening Market Street between Front Street and Eighth Street as “Avenue of Our Founders,” in honor of the country’s founding fathers. At the same time Sixth between Race Street and Lombard Streets was renamed “Avenue of Freedom” to mark key sites of black American history.
Read the entire piece here.
On Saturday I took some of the students in my Colonial America course at Messiah College on a field trip to colonial Philadelphia. (I am taking the rest of the class this coming Saturday).
Here are some pics:
Today the 2018 Princeton Seminar hit the road. We spent the day in Philadelphia with George Boudreau, author of Independence: A Guide to Historic Philadelphia. George is fixture of the Philadelphia public history world and probably knows more about colonial Philadelphia than anyone else alive. The teachers got a real treat today!
Philadelphia has a new window into its past as a bustling and important location during the during the Revolutionary War era. This weekend the Museum of the American Revolution’s (MoAR) new discovery center, Revolution Place, will open a lens to Old City during the 1700s — where the American Revolution took root.
Revolution Place features four key recreated historical environments for younger visitors from 5-12 years old — a military encampment, a tavern, a home and an 18th-century meeting house.
Visitors can partake in the space’s experiential elements, interactive touchscreens, reproduction objects, and special programming set against colorful murals that evoke scenes from 18th-century Philadelphia, including a marketplace and a residential alley.
“Revolution Place extends the immersive, hands-on experience of the Museum’s core exhibition to our younger visitors. The new center encourages playful discovery through a range of self-directed and facilitated experiences, all set within the historic spaces and places of the Museum’s own neighborhood,” said Dr. Elizabeth Grant, director of education at the museum.
Read the entire article here.
This is very cool:
Saturday Night Live nails it again:
NEW YORK – Ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl contest between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia have placed a friendly wager on the football game’s outcome.
Should the Eagles win, O’Malley has pledged to make a $100 donation to St. John’s Hospice in Philadelphia, which assists homeless individuals in finding stable residences.
If the Patriots win, Chaput has agreed to make a $100 gift to Catholic Charities of Boston, one of the major providers of social services in the archdiocese.
The two individuals are long-time friends, former classmates, and are both Capuchin friars. They also threw Boston lobsters and Philadelphia cheesesteaks onto their bets for good measure.
Read the rest here.
Whether you have or have not (I have not) visited the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, I recommend Caitlin Kelly‘s review of the museum at Pedagogy & American Literary Studies blog. Here is a taste:
Alas, while you can get t-shirts and trinkets emblazoned with quotes from Abigail Adams and Benjamin Rush, the Museum of the American Revolution largely avoids the fate of other such museums and historic sites and complements the story begun by the National Park Service down the block at Independence Hall. Its vivid, lush, multimedia exhibits color in the lines that the historical sites surrounding the museum provide. MAR weaves a complex and sophisticated narrative that includes not only the Founding Fathers but also women, foreigners, Native Americans, and people of color. The museum also does well to present these groups within their contexts both historical and geographical, paying particular attention to the divided loyalties among native groups and people of color, as well parsing the difference between experiences of colonists in New England, the Middle Atlantic, and South. To critics, this dedication to a more inclusive narrative is at the expense of American exceptionalism. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Edward Rothstein captures this feeling, complaining that the “exhibition tells us more about how the Revolution fell short than about how it transformed possibilities.” If there is any truth to that assessment, may we all be glad that the museum did “fall short.”
Read the rest here.
I first learned about Octavius Catto about ten years ago when we took our daughters to Philadelphia for a short vacation. During our visit we took full advantage of the city’s “Once Upon a Nation” storytelling benches. Professional storytellers at each bench–there are fifteen scattered around the Independence Hall area–tell stories about famous Philadelphians. I don’t know if the program has changed over the years, but when my kids were young they could get a free carousel ride and an ice cream cone in Franklin Square if they visited all fifteen benches.
I vividly remember one of the “Once Upon a Nation” story tellers (I think it was outside the National Constitution Center) telling my girls the story of Catto’s civil rights activism in Civil War-era Philadelphia
I was thus pleased to see that Philadelphia will be erecting a statue near City Hall to commemorate Catto’s contribution to the city’s history.
Over at Philly.Com, writer Jonathan Lai reports on a recent program for teachers on Catto’s life and his contribution to Philadelphia’s African American history.
Here is a taste:
Catto was murdered in 1871, at just 32 years old. He sought to protect fellow African Americans who were trying to exercise their right to vote, which had just been ratified by the states the year before. But his name had been largely missing from the modern discussion of civil rights, organizers have said.
As he has been brought back into popular consciousness — a sculpture is set to be placed next month on the southern apron of City Hall — the School District of Philadelphia, the Catto Memorial Fund, and the National Archives partnered for Thursday’s event, the first in a yearlong series aimed at helping teachers include Catto in their curricula, the educational counterpart to the physical memorial.
The statue is the first of a named African American on public ground in the city. The work, titled Quest for Parity, will feature the 12-foot-tall bronze statue, a stainless-steel ballot box, and five granite pillars symbolizing streetcars.
“The Catto story is the national story. It is part of the story of our Constitution. It is the story of how ordinary citizens work, some every day, to make the Constitution live,” said V. Chapman Smith, an organizer of Thursday’s event who works at the National Archives and who is on the board of the Catto Memorial Fund.
Read the entire article here.
I am glad that my work on the court evangelicals is finding its way into churches. Thanks to Rev. David Krueger of the historic Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia for referencing my work in yesterday’s sermon. Read it here.
I have spoken at Arch Street United Methodist Church (though not on Sunday morning). It is a progressive congregation doing good work in engaging the city of Philadelphia. I am sure my views on the court evangelicals resonated with much of the congregation.
I am not sure what a sermon on court evangelicals (or something similar) might look like in an evangelical congregation. I sympathize with pastors who are opposed to Trump, but don’t want to divide their congregations. Today I appreciated the way my pastor, without delving into politics, talked about the church’s role in having a prophetic voice in the culture and the importance of speaking truth to power when necessary. Other pastors might be more overt. Others less so. It probably depends on the congregation.
Whatever the case, I hope the church does not cease to be the church in these times of great political and cultural change.
Yesterday the 2017 Princeton Seminar spent the day in Philadelphia. Our host for the day was the legendary George Boudreau, the man who I consider to be the greatest Philadelphia history tour guide of all time!!
George gave us a phenomenal introduction to the colonial city. We made several stops along the way:
- Welcome Park: George oriented us to the layout of William Penn’s city.
- Christ Church: The teachers got their photos taken in George Washington’s pew and we paused at the gravestone of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson where George told us about her life and taught us about the vulnerability of women in colonial America.
- Betsy Ross House: George told us about George Washington’s visit to “Mr. Griscom’s upholstery shop.”
- Arch Street Quaker Meetinghouse: George told some gruesome tales of Philadelphia Quakers building this meetinghouse atop the meeting’s graveyard.
- Benjamin Franklin’s Court: The teachers spent some time in the museum, George signed copies of his book, and George and Ben Franklin sang us a song.
- First National Bank: This was not part of our “colonial” tour, but all the teachers are obsessed with “Hamilton” so we had to make a quick visit here.
- Carpenter’s Hall
- The site of Anthony Benezet’s school for women and African Americans,
- The American Philosophical Society: George rattled off several dozen collections held by the society.
We ended the day at the Pennsylvania State House. In the early 19th-century people started calling this place “Independence Hall.”
We are back in the lecture hall today.
What happens when you put a historian on flight #1793 heading to Philadelphia for a history conference on the early American republic.
The Philadelphia Voice has it covered, but this tweet explains everything:
— Caleb McDaniel (@wcaleb) July 20, 2017
So many great new museums and so little time! I still need to get to Philly to see the new Museum of the American Revolution.
Here is a taste:
In 1818, John Adams reflected on the founding of the nation, asking, “But what do We mean by the American Revolution? Do We mean the American War?” His response signaled otherwise: “The Revolution was in the Minds and Hearts of the People.” According to Adams, the people put aside their natural allegiance to Britain once it was clear that their liberties were under attack. “This radical Change in the Principles, Opinions Sentiments and Affection of the People,” affirmed Adams, “was the real American Revolution.”
Today, notions of liberty and equality are enduring reminders of the American Revolution in the collective consciousness of Americans. Yet these ideals have never been without limits and contradictions. At Philadelphia’s new Museum of the American Revolution, this disconnect between principles and experience lies at the heart of its exhibits, which take seriously both the power of ideas and the ways in which they fall short. Dedicated to telling the most complete version of the revolution’s history, the museum offers both popular and lesser-known perspectives on a historical moment that many Americans still find deeply resonant. The museum’s engaging and interactive exhibits challenge visitor assumptions at every turn, perhaps leading some to leave with an altered view of the events and the significance of the nation’s founding. For, as the brochure promises to visitors: “You don’t know the half of it.”
Read the rest here.
I am in Philadelphia today. This morning I was interviewed for a documentary film on women, religion, and anti-slavery in the early American Republic (1789-1848) titled “The Daring Women of Philadelphia.” The Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmakers at History Making Productions are producing the film.
I don’t pretend to be a historian of women in the early republic. There will be many other historians in the film who will speak authoritatively on this topic. I was asked to participate for the purpose of providing general background information about the Second Great Awakening, benevolent societies, and the religious impetus behind moral reforms movements in the early 1800s. I have no idea if anything I said was useful or will make the cut, but it was fun talking about Charles Finney’s visit to Philadelphia, the Orthodox-Hicksite Quaker schism, Lucretia Mott, “moral suasion,” and the American Bible Society (of course).
In Summer 2015 the American Bible Society moved from New York City to Philadelphia. It currently rents two floors in the Wells Fargo building at 5th and Market streets. And according to this article at Philly.com, it is ready to move forward with its $60 million dollar Faith and Liberty Discovery Center.
Full disclosure: At a very early stage of this project I served as a historical consultant. I attended one meeting and offered some suggestions. I am no longer involved in the project.
Here is a taste of the Philly.com article:
This $60 million project seeks to help explain the influence of the Bible on American history. It also hopes to activate the ground floor of the fortress-like Wells Fargo building, improving its interactions with its surroundings.
At Wednesday’s Art Commission’s conceptual review of the project, the managing director of the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center, Patrick Murdock, laid out the Society’s vision with an assist from the project’s architects.
The Center will seek to enliven the underutilized mid-block pedestrian path just to the north of the Wells Fargo building, which connects 4th and 5th streets.
The public space will feature a new 14,100 square foot building, a restructured garden, wood benches, and a stage area will cover the delivery ramp that trucks use to access the building’s basement. It could be used for performances or gatherings, open to the public, even when it isn’t being put to official use.
All told, the new project covers a total of well over 50,000 square feet.
I wrote about this project in the Epilogue of my book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.
Here is a taste:
This brings us to the recent ABS decision to leave New York City after 199 years and move the organization to Philadelphia, where it now occupies two floors in the Wells Fargo Building on 401 Market Street, just steps from Independence Hall. The move was driven by financial concerns. The 1865 Broadway Bible House needed 25-50 million dollars’ worth of repairs in order to meet the city building code. The ABS owned both the twelve-story building and thirty-seven additional stories of New York City airspace. For [CEO Roy] Peterson, the decision to sell the building and move to another location was a matter of Christian stewardship. He imagines what the ABS will be able to do with the money from the sale in terms of promoting its agenda of scripture engagement….
Peterson has also managed to do some revisionist history to help justify the transition to Philadelphia. He suggests that despite the ABS’s 199-year presence in the city, New York was never the Society’s true identity. On one level, Peterson is correct. The ABS was founded in New York because of the hospitality of the New York Bible Society, which supported [founder Elias] Boudinot’s plan for a national Bible society and agreed to host the meeting that established it. While it was certainly possible that the ABS might have ended up in another city, the fact remains that it did end up in New York and it remained there for two centuries. It is hard to dismiss two centuries of history. If, as Peterson notes, the ABS “inadvertently” made New York its identity when “it was never supposed to be our identity,” the fact remains that between 1816 and 2015 the American Bible Society was a New York City institution.
Peterson is quick to note that Philadelphia was Elias Boudinot’s hometown. According to his will (a copy of which Peterson, at least at the timer he was interviewed, had sitting on his desk), Boudinot had left land to the city. The new ABS president is not willing to go any farther with this argument other than to note that an ABS move to Philadelphia, at least as history is concerned, may not be as random as some would like to make it out to be. Peterson, however, is more certain about how the transition to Philadelphia will allow the ABS to connect itself once again to the story of the United States. What better place for the ABS to celebrate its bicentennial in May 2016 than the place where America was born? This was a place where God and country came together in 1776, and with the ABS only a stone’s throw away from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, Peterson is hoping that the Society can help middle-class Americans remember that fact.
Peterson wants to the ABS, with a soon-to-be constructed Bible Discovery Center highlighting the history of the Bible in the United States, to become a Philadelphia tourist attraction. He estimates that after three years in Philadelphia over 250,000 people will come to the Bible Discovery Center to “hear the story of the Bible.” Peterson wants the “best of the best” to help him in the construction of this Discovery Center, and that is why he has turned to the Green family, the owners of the retail craft store Hobby Lobby. The Greens made national headlines in 2014 when the Supreme Court ruled that they did not have to violate their conscience by conforming to a part of the Affordable Care Act that would have forced them to provide certain contraceptives to Hobby Lobby employees. In the last several years, the Greens have been active in a host of philanthropic activities on behalf of the evangelical community and are currently a major ABS donor. Peterson is excited that the Greens have been willing to help the ABS Bible Discovery Center get off the ground by sharing some of the intellectual property it has gathered in the process of building their soon-to-be-opened Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C.