Feudin’ and Fightin’ Friday: The Great Hopewell Frog War

FF_TrainWhile doing some family research last week, I came across something called a “frog war”.  What’s a frog war?  I’ve done some “frog” stories, one called “The Battle of the Frogs” and one about an old horned toad named Rip, but this one isn’t about an amphibious creature or a lizard.  This one had to do with railroad lines.

Hopewell Frog War

In the late eighteenth and into the early nineteenth century, the fledgling new American government began building a series of turnpikes, toll roads and canals to facilitate transportation of goods, as well as westward expansion.  A Revolutionary War veteran, lawyer and politician by the name of John Stevens III experimented with steam in the early 1800’s and was the first to construct a steam-powered locomotive in the United States, testing it on a track which ran around his Hoboken, New Jersey estate.

The railroad boom between 1830 and 1860 saw numerous long-distance and regional rail lines established, accompanied by fierce competition for business and less dependence on waterways for transporting goods.  New Jersey, on the eastern seaboard, was an important launch point to transport goods westward.

In April of 1846 the Pennsylvania Railroad, or “Pennsy” as it was sometimes called, received its charter to begin the process of surveying and laying track.  Its main objective was to provide a link between Philadelphia and the West, as well as compete with the likes of the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O).  By 1852, the Pennsy was on-line and doing well – revenues greatly exceeded expectations.

In 1850 the Pennsy had also become the first railroad to operate its own coal mining operations in northeastern Pennsylvania.  Steadily the Pennsy would grow to be one of the largest railroads in the country, with an operating budget exceeding that of the United States government, according to Pennsylvania Railroad History. With control of ten thousand miles of track and affiliations with hundreds of other rail lines, the Pennsy was one mighty railroad – considered by some to hold a monopoly.

The Delaware and Bound Brook Railroad (DBB) was established in 1874, a year after New Jersey had passed a law allowing smaller lines to challenge the likes of the Pennsy and compete for routes taking passengers from Philadelphia to New York.  The Delaware and Bound Brook would connect Jenkintown in Pennsylvania to Bound Brook, New Jersey and then connect with the New Jersey Central line to Jersey City and beyond.

The Pennsy had a branch in the Hopewell, New Jersey area called the Mercer & Somerset Railway, lying directly in the path of the right-of-way for the Delaware and Bound Brook.  To accommodate the “conflict”, the DBB would need to construct a “frog”.  In simple terms, a frog refers to the common point where two rails cross, or as the Scotch Plains Times described it in a 1963 article: “an intersection whereby trains on one line cross the tracks of another.”

That shouldn’t have been a big deal, as the newspaper continued, “normally frogs could be laid with no more noise than the sound of sledges striking spikes.” This frog was different because it audaciously challenged the Pennsy monopoly in western New Jersey.  On the morning of January 5, 1876 the DBB would lay down the gauntlet, so to speak – but not without a show of Pennsy might.

The Pennsy had little regard for the law passed in 1873 and sent a train to sit idling at the exact spot where the frog was to be installed.  When the 7:15 a.m. southbound Mercer & Somerset was approaching (an affiliate of the Pennsy), the Pennsy train was backed onto a siding.  However, DBB workers had been watching from surrounding bushes and suddenly ran out toward the sidelined train.

GreatFrogWarDBB workers placed steel rails and wooden ties in front of the Pennsy train,  chained it to the tracks, and erected a barrier to prevent other trains from coming through until they were able to lay down the frog.  Pennsy headquarters got wind of what was happening and sent their own men to board a locomotive at Millstone, proceed to Hopewell and ram through the barricade.

The train from Millstone headed west to Trenton and then turned northward toward Hopewell at an incredible speed for that day – thirty-one miles in thirty minutes!  A DBB locomotive had been pulled up to protect the area where the frog was to be installed, but the Millstone train, seeing no impediments at all, rammed through the barricade and into the DBB train.  As you might imagine, this little “frog war” caused quite a stir in the surrounding area.

Both railroads sent reinforcements, the Pennsy sending a train which could feed up to six hundred men if necessary.  Seeing hundreds of railroad workers facing off, with hundreds of spectators and the press watching, the Mercer County sheriff called on New Jersey governor Joseph Bedle to send the militia.

The militia arrived around midnight and you’d think things would calm down and no further challenges from either side would be made.  However, the next morning it became apparent that the locals were standing with DBB when they helped ripped up Pennsy track, forcing the Pennsy engineer to head out over a trackless area – the crowd cheered at the departure.

The courts, enforcing the law on the books, quickly ruled that the Pennsylvania Railroad had no right to interfere with the frog-laying by the Delaware and Bound Brook.  The Pennsy agreed to abide by the law, and the militia made a regal affair out of their “victory” by dressing up in full uniform and reading the court order at a ceremony.

The_New_York_Times_Sun__Jan_9__1876_The Pennsy wrecks were hauled away, and as the crowd watched, the frog was put in place at 2:00 p.m. on January 8.  DBB Locomotive No. 37 was the first train to cross the frog.  The “Great Hopewell Frog War” was thus concluded and had brought an end to railroad monopolies in New Jersey.  Perhaps the Reading Railroad liked the DBB’s “moxie” – in 1879 they leased the Delaware and Bound Brook for 999 years, essentially merging the two lines.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Book Review Thursday: The Battle Hymn of the Republic: A Biography of the Song That Marches On

BattleHymnOfTheRepublicWhen I saw the title of this book I thought it sounded interesting, and I was not disappointed, although a little overwhelmed with the history covered in this John Stauffer and Benjamin Soskis work.  Stauffer also co-authored another book reviewed here.

If you think this is just a book about how a popular and distinctly American hymn was written, then you are underestimating the breadth of the research and accompanying history.  The hymn was a rallying point for the Union troops during the Civil War, and would come to be used again and again in the ensuing decades when the nation faced times of crisis and peril.

The most recent example of the hymn being used to rally the country was the attacks carried out on September 11, 2001.  The song struck just the right chord when it was sung at the memorial service held at Washington’s National Cathedral three days after the attacks.  But as the authors point out in the book’s preface:

It conjures up and confirms some of our most profound conceptions of national identity and purpose.  And yet ever since it was first published in the February 1862 edition of the Atlantic Monthly, the song has also exposed the fragility of those ideals.  For if it has celebrated the sense of mission and national exceptionalism that have bound Americans together in times of trial, it has also highlighted, and even deepened, the fractures running through those ideas.

Indeed, the song was written at a “supreme moment of disunity” – perhaps implying those fighting for the Union were the “good guys” and the Confederates, “as diabolical serpents to be crushed underfoot.”  But, the song didn’t just arise out of the conflict between the slave and free states – its roots went back several decades, traced to revivalist camp meetings in the early nineteenth century.  More recently, the song was linked to the tune of the popular song, John Brown’s Body, and the authors believe that Julia Ward Howe composed her poem “in an effort to provide more elevated lyrics for the ‘John Brown’s Body’ tune.”

So, don’t expect a short, concise history – get ready for a detailed and fascinating read which covers a lot more ground than would be expected.  At one point, Congress considered making The Battle Hymn of the Republic the nation’s anthem.  The tune, sung with different lyrics, would become a rallying cry for progressives and socialists in the early twentieth century as well.

The book is almost four hundred pages in length, which includes an extensive bibliography and notes section.  It’s obvious the authors have taken great pains to research their subject and relate it to various aspects of American history – to me this alone makes it all the more interesting.

Rating:  ★★★★★

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Ghost Town Wednesday: Sveadal (McPherson County, Kansas)

GhostTownWednesday  I’ve been reading a series of books about Swedish immigrants who came to America and settled in central Kansas beginning in the late-1860’s.  According to the Kansas Historical Society, eastern immigration companies sent agents to Europe to encourage settlement in the western part of America.  For many Europeans it was seen as an opportunity to have access to good farm land and a chance to make a better life for their families.  Many of those Swedish communities that sprung up in central Kansas are still around today and thrive.  Today’s ghost town, obviously, was one that didn’t make much of itself.

In 1868 Major Leonard N. Holmberg, a man claiming to have royal Swedish blood coursing through his veins, came to the area in Kansas which would later become McPherson County.  The story goes that he had been a lieutenant in the Swedish army and had been given the position of Major in the Union Army during the Civil War.  Thereafter, he preferred to be referred to as “Major”.

Holmberg named the town he proposed to build on his property “Sveadal”, a derivative spelling of his homeland Sweden, and built a general store.  In 1869 he was appointed as both the postmaster and justice of the peace, but according to Ghost Towns of Kansas, “the latter was a dubious title since he always carried a gun and often used it to scare his farm laborers, just to ‘get ‘em going.’”

His neighbors on the other side of Smoky Hill River weren’t too happy about how he treated his fellow man – some claimed he was “possessed of the devil.”  His reputation didn’t earn him any high marks and he eventually lost his government positions.  In addition to the general store, Holmberg had built an odd-looking eight-sided house with a wooden tower which he used to watch his farm laborers and keep an eye out for Indians.

JudgeHolmbergHouse_SveadalKSThe general store would also become the first court house and on March 6, 1870 a meeting was held there to organize McPherson County.  Even though there wasn’t much to Sveadal at that time, it was named temporary county seat after an election held on May 2.   That summer a military company was organized and Major Holmberg took command of the unit.

SveadalCourtHouseSettlers were still streaming to the area, but by 1871 Sveadal showed little sign of growth or the promise of future growth.  Whether that was due to the behavior and reputation of its “leading citizen” is not clear.  Nevertheless, the post office was closed that year and the county seat was moved to nearby Lindsborg.  Lindsborg, another Swedish settlement, and perhaps built on more solid values and reputation, would thrive and Sveadal would fade away.

For the 1875 Kansas census and the 1880 United States census, Leonard Holmberg was enumerated as a farmer and resident of the Smoky Hill township.  In the late 1980’s when Ghost Towns of Kansaswas published, the courthouse/general store was still standing and being used for a tool shed, situated on the outskirts of Lindsborg.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Tombstone Tuesday: Benajah Spelman Phelps (1800-1903)

TombstoneTuesday  I was trolling through Vermont cemeteries looking for a subject for today’s article when I came across four graves in the Alburgh Tongue Cemetery in Grand Isle County, all children of “B.S. (or Benajah S.) and Asenath Phelps” … hmm.  The children were:  Belinda, Cynthia, Horace and Ruth.  The grave stone pictures are hard to distinguish as far as dates but it appears that at least three of their children were very young when they died.  Their parents Benajah Spelman and Asenath (Fletcher) Phelps are buried, however, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin… double-hmm.

I found that Benajah lived a very long life, dying at age one hundred and three in Colorado Springs, Colorado – again with the “hmm”.  Talk about an intriguing history to investigate — so off I went on the search for more about Benajah.

Benajah Spelman Phelps was born on March 24, 1800 on South Island, Grand Isle County, Vermont to parents Abel and Mary (Pelton) Phelps, their second son.  His fourth great-grandfather, William the immigrant, was born in 1599 and Benajah’s great-grandfather Captain Abel Phelps was a Revolutionary War veteran.  Benajah’s father was a veteran of the War of 1812.  In fact, the island where the family lived was in the middle of Lake Champlain, scene of  significant battles which occurred in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

GrandIsleVTIn 1901 a New York magazine called The Outlook provided the details of the September 11, 1814 battle through the eyes of Benajah, just fourteen years old on that day.  Eighty-seven years later Benajah well-remembered the day, “just the same as if it was yesterday.”  His father, a farmer was an “orderly sergeant in the milishy”.  Abel knew the British had intentions to attack Plattsburgh, New York just across the bay, so knowing he must go and serve with his company he left Benajah in charge of the farm.

On the morning of the September 11, the family arose early, and seeing the British ships in the distance, hastened to leave their home and proceed to a hill about two miles away where they could have a better view of the action.  Benajah gave a colorful account in his interview for The Outlook – you can read it here.

One of the things he remembered most was the blood – blood everywhere.  After the fighting had ended, he took his family home so he could perform his evening chores.  The family was, of course, concerned about Abel and his safety, but he eventually returned to his family and the British had retreated something during the night following the battle.  In 1901, Benajah surmised that the British had intended to take Plattsburgh and keep on marching all the way to Washington.  Eighty-seven years later he was still elated with the American defeat of the British:

You know General Prevost started from Montreal with thirty thousand soldiers. He calc’lated to go straight to Washington and burn every town and city he came to. That’s what he was calc’latin’; but – here Mr. Phelps indulged in a chuckle of intense satisfaction – he didn’t even git through the first county!  No sir!  He didn’t. Lost five hundred men, too, and all his shippin’. The British wanted the lake the worst kind. If they could git control of it, it would be very handy for transportin’ men and supplies. But they didn’t git it.

On November 7, 1824, Benajah married Asenath Fletcher, daughter of Calvin and Lydia (Dixon) Fletcher in South Hero, Grand Isle County.  The first census record (1850) listing all family members enumerated their children as:  Abel (21); Sarah (16); Frederick (14); Charles (12); George (10); Marietta (7) and Lydia (5).  Their oldest child, Calvin, was married in 1850 and living in Clinton County, New York (same county as Benajah) with his wife and young family.

I’m guessing that there were two or three children born between Calvin and Abel, and those may have been some of those listed at Find-A-Grave as the infant children of Benajah and Asenath.  Benajah was likely a farmer, among other things.  A Vermont geology report indicates that in 1834 Benajah and a business associate named Horace Wadsworth built a hotel called the “Mansion House” in Alburgh.  The reason the hotel would be mentioned in a geology report, I presume, is because Alburgh was known for its “medicinal waters”.

In 1836, records of the Vermont legislature indicate that Benajah was “inspector of hops” for Grand Isle County.  I presume that had something to do with the business of brewing spirits.  According to early New England history, hops was an important crop during colonial days and became more commercially important in the late eighteenth century.  This may have been a trade or skill passed down in Benajah’s family because hops had been a major crop in the Tewksbury area of England where his ancestors lived.

BenajahPhelps_youngThe next public record I found for Benajah was a notice in the Burlington Weekly Free Press on December 2, 1842 – apparently Benajah had declared bankruptcy, so perhaps he had over-extended himself with the hotel.  By 1850, he had moved his family across the bay and into New York’s Clinton County where oldest son Calvin also resided.

In son George’s obituary years later it was noted that George and his family moved to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin when he was a young boy, so perhaps Benajah moved his family west not long after the 1850 census.  In 1860 he was a farmer in Fond du Lac and five of his children were still residing at home: Frederick, Charles, George, Mariette and Lydia.

On June 1, 1865, Asenath died at the age of sixty-two and was buried in Fond du Lac’s Empire Cemetery.  After her death, it appears that Benajah lived with his children at various times until his death.  No record could be found of him in 1870, but it’s likely he was still in Fond du Lac because his children and their families were enumerated there (his name was often misspelled on census records).

In 1880, Benajah was living with George and his family in Taylor County, Wisconsin, eighty years old and a gardener.  Sometime between 1880 and 1900, George moved west to Colorado Springs, Colorado and was the proprietor of Phelps Hotel in 1900.  His one hundred year-old father Benajah was living with him and his family.  The following year, Benajah would become somewhat of a celebrity as articles began to be published about his amazing longevity.

The Outlook article published in 1901 began by introducing Benajah to its readers:

On a typical New England March day, seven months more than one hundred and one years ago, in an island on Lake Champlain, Benajah Phelps first opened his eyes on scenes of earth. It seems as if there entered his physical constitution that day something of the ruggedness of the New England winter and of the strength of his native hills, for still he abides among us. Perhaps when in accord with the pious custom of New England, he was named Benajah, after him of Kabzeel, the captain of David’s guard, there came upon him something of the superb physical endowment of this son of Jehoiada, who slew a lion in the pit in time of snow and laid low “an Egyptian, a man of great stature, five cubits high; and in the Egyptian’s hand was a spear like a weaver’s beam; and he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spare of the Egyptian’s hand, and slew him with his own spear.” However this may be, Mr. Phelps is not only living but very much alive.

The_Weekly_Gazette_Thu__Dec_3__1903_     He was interviewed on his one hundred and first birthday, and when asked about his health, declared that it was “toler’ble, toler’ble.  I don’t eat much meat. I’m gettin’ old. My teeth ain’t as good as they was.”  He was described as an observant and intelligent man and was proud to have voted in the last presidential election in the “woman-suffrage State of Colorado”.

On November 21, 1903, Benajah Phelps “passed away very quietly, the lamp of his life merely flickered out”, according to his obituary in the Colorado Springs Weekly Gazette.  By that point in his life, he had “no property to dispose of, but in his dreams and fancies he often imagined that he was on the farm and that he must sell portions of it for one purpose or another.”  He was taken back to Fond du Lac and buried next to Asenath.

BenajahPhelps_GraveAsenathPhelps_Grave

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Military History Monday: The Battle of Middle Creek

BrigGen_JamesGarfield I’ve been reading an excellent book about James Abram Garfield, the twentieth President of the United States (look for a book review soon).  I didn’t really know that much about him, except that he was assassinated not long after he was inaugurated in 1881.  Not a lot of books have been written about him, but he lived an amazing life, rising from poverty to the presidency.

One event that caught my attention, and made him famous, was the Civil War Battle of Middle Creek in eastern Kentucky.  The description provided by author Candice Mallard reminded me of the Bible story of Gideon and his rout of the Midianites.

James Garfield had been pursuing an academic career as a professor, and later president of the Eclectic Institute, when an Ohio state senator died unexpectedly.  Garfield was asked to take his seat and later won it outright.  When the Civil War began, he was eager to enlist, although Ohio Governor William Dennison, Jr. convinced him his service in the legislature was needed more urgently at the time.

In the summer of 1861 Garfield entered the Union Army as a lieutenant colonel, and after reaching the age of thirty in November, was promoted to full colonel.  His first task was to assemble the 42nd Ohio Regiment which he would command.  Defending Kentucky, a strategic border state, from Rebel advances, was his first assignment.  Kentucky was also the birth home of President Abraham Lincoln, who emphasized, “I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.”

As it turned out, however, Garfield and his regiment were outnumbered (not to mention inexperienced) and faced an Confederate general, Humphrey Marshall, who had graduated from West Point in 1832, one year following Garfield’s birth.  Garfield, an academic, was up against Marshall, a seasoned military tactician.

Still, Garfield didn’t hesitate to take on the challenge – his first step was to pour over maps of eastern Kentucky so he could familiarize himself with the area his troops had been tasked to defend.  The battle for eastern Kentucky, however, would come down to one decisive campaign in early 1862.

Garfield and his troops (which included not only the 42nd Ohio Infantry but the 14th and 22nd Kentucky Infantries) departed on their mission in November of 1861.  In the early days of January 1862 they were approaching Paintsville, Kentucky where Marshall’s troops were encamped.  The Rebels, although outnumbering Garfield’s troops, were low on both supplies and morale.  At that time Garfield was about eighteen miles away, so instead of advancing on the enemy, Marshall decided to stay put, hold Paintsville and see what transpired.

Marshall must have realized that it would have done him little good to attempt a direct attack because of the lack of supplies.  Garfield also knew that he, with mostly “green” recruits, was not only outnumbered but “out-experienced” – plus the fact that the Kentuckians weren’t all that well-armed or likely predisposed to be fighting their fellow Kentuckians in the first place.  Like Marshall, Garfield could have decided to just sit and wait.

Instead, Garfield, according to Garfield: A Biography by Allan Peskin, “a strong believer in ‘vigorous and well directed audacity,’ was eager for action.”  His staff was far more cautious and advised he wait, but instead Garfield was determined to advance.  At the time, the 40th Ohio had not yet caught up to the 42nd and the Kentuckians under Garfield’s command.  Considering that, his plan going forward was indeed audacious – Garfield chose to divide the small force into three detachments and try to deceive the Rebels into believing they were facing a much larger force.

There were three roads leading into Paintsville and Garfield began by sending the first detachment down the river road.  Marshall had already stationed Confederate pickets along each road leading to the town, so it wasn’t surprising when the two sides met.  Garfield’s troops made a lot of noise, which after the Confederates reported back to Marshall, brought more Rebels to defend the river road.

About an hour later Garfield sent the second detachment up the second road, also making lots of noise.  Marshall sent reserves not already fighting the first Union detachment down that road.  Garfield’s last detachment was sent down the third road, and in the ensuing skirmishes, Marshall’s forces became convinced (wrongly, of course) that they were facing an overwhelming force.  Already low on morale and scurrying about to respond to Garfield’s “advances”, the Rebels instead decided to flee from the area, leaving Paintsville deserted.

From this point on, the Rebels were forced to continue retreating toward Prestonsburg and the Middle Creek area.  In the meantime the 40th Ohio arrived under the command of Colonel Cranor.  Cranor wanted his men to rest before continuing on, but Garfield wanted to seize the opportunity to pursue Marshall.

Around noon on January 9, about eleven hundred men with three days of rations, started in the direction of the fleeing Rebels.  As they drew closer to Marshall’s position it became apparent they were about to encounter the enemy, so Garfield sent word back to Paintsville to send reinforcements.  That night his troops spent the night shivering in an icy cold rain, too near enemy lines to risk camp fires.

As it turned out, Marshall’s troops on the very same night had become dispirited enough to demand retreat from Kentucky.  At three o’clock on the morning of January 10, Garfield rallied his troops and an hour later were again advancing toward their target.  Garfield thought Middle Creek would be a good place for his troops to entrench themselves, thinking that Marshall was a few miles upstream at Abbot’s Creek.

Instead, as they approached Middle Creek, shots were exchanged with the Rebels.  By midday they had seized one prisoner.  Garfield paused at one spot and could see enemy positions in the distance.  His plan had been to cut off Marshall’s retreat, but instead realized he was now facing most of Marshall’s troops.

Again, however, Garfield chose audacity.  He sent two companies to clear one side of the valley of Rebels, and then instead of waiting to see the results, he ordered the rest of his troops into a battalion drill, marching as if they were on parade – “for the sake of bravado and audacity”.

Very recent history would be repeating itself, because his intention again was to make the Rebels think they were facing a more overwhelming force.  It worked because Marshall later related that he was convinced that Garfield had at least five thousand men.  Even with the deception and ensuing confusion, it wasn’t an easy victory, with each side advancing and falling back throughout the day.  As Peskin wrote:

This was the pattern of the day’s fighting: a succession of uncoordinated charges and withdrawals, with a great deal of shooting and very little bloodshed – a “regular ‘bushwacking’ battle.”  Garfield handled his troops with little imagination or enterprise, flinging them against the rebel line in driblets, never committing more than two or three hundred at any one time. . . Marshall, for his part, fought a completely passive battle, content, by and large, merely to maintain his original position.  At various times during the afternoon a well-directed charge could have sent Garfield’s disorganized men reeling down the valley, but Marshall did not really want a victory.  He was satisfied to continue his retreat in peace.

As Civil War battles went, this one wasn’t particularly bloody, although there were casualties –  and more on the Confederate side.  After the battle ended, however, both sides greatly exaggerated the others one’s casualties – Garfield was sure at last 125 Confederates had been killed and Marshall thought his troops had killed 250 and wounded another 300.  Who knows what would have happened, for either side, had Marshall and his troops not been confused and dispirited by Garfield’s deceptive tactics in the first place at Paintsville.

For James Garfield, it earned him a reputation for “bravado and audacity” and a promotion to brigadier general.  That’s not to say his triumph didn’t give him pause.  As author Candice Mallard related in her book, Destiny of the Republic, Garfield, upon seeing the enemy mortally wounded and strewn about, realized he was responsible for the carnage.  She continued:  “It was in that moment, Garfield would later tell a friend, that ‘something went out of him . . . that never came back; the sense of the sacredness of life and the impossibility of destroying it.’”

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

WPGo to www.historydepot.net for more information

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Hymnspiration: The Love of God

FrederickLehmanToday’s hymn had its roots in an ancient (eleventh century) Jewish poem called the Hadamut.  The poem was originally composed in Aramaic, consisting of ninety couplets or verses, by Rabbi Mayer, son of Isaac Nehorai, a cantor in Worms, Germany.   The poem is most often read in a responsive manner in some synagogues during the Jewish holiday of Shavuos (Feast of Weeks) – the Torah reader singing two verses and the congregants singing the next two and so on.

The Jewish poem begins by extolling the greatness of God and then goes on to describe a miracle, although opinions vary as to what the actual miracle was (or if there really was one at all).  Some have interpreted it to mean that the Jews were facing extermination if a non-Jewish priest was successful in defending his beliefs.  However, the Jewish priest triumphed and the Jews in Worms were spared.

Fast forward about eight hundred years or so when the third stanza of this epic poem was found penciled on the walls of an insane asylum:

Were the sky of parchment made,
A quill each reed, each twig and blade,
Could we with ink the oceans fill,
Were every man a scribe of skill,
The marvelous story, Of God’s great glory
Would still remain untold; For He, most high
The earth and sky Created alone of old.

An evangelist in the late 1890’s concluded his message by quoting these scrawled verses.  At the meeting, and making notes, was songwriter Frederick H. Lehman.  Lehman, born in Germany in 1868, immigrated with his family at age four and lived in Iowa.  At the age of eleven, he made his commitment to Christ.

Lehman studied at Northwestern College in Naperville, Illinois and later pastored churches in Iowa, Indiana and Missouri.  However, he devoted most of his career to writing hundreds of gospel songs.  In 1911 he helped to found the Nazarene Publishing House in Kansas City, Missouri.

Apparently, Lehman had tucked away the memories of the words he jotted down years before.  In 1917, inspired by the Jewish poem’s third stanza, he wrote two additional stanzas and a chorus to accompany it.  In a pamphlet written in 1948, Lehman described the experience of writing the song:

While at a campmeeting in a mid-western state, some fifty years ago in our early ministry, an evangelist climaxed his message by quoting the last stanza of this song.  The profound depths of the lines moved us to preserve the words for future generations.

Not until we had come to California did this urge find fulfillment, and that at a time when circumstances forced us to hard manual labor.  One day, during short intervals of inattention to our work, we picked up a scrap of paper and, seated upon an empty lemon box pushed against the wall, with a stub pencil, added the (first) two stanzas and chorus of the song. . . Since the lines (3rd stanza from the Jewish poem) had been found penciled on the wall of patient’s room in an insane asylum after he had been carried to his grave, the general opinion was that this inmate had written the epic in moments of sanity.

The key stanza (third verse) under question as to its authorship was written nearly one thousand years ago by a Jewish songwriter, and put on the scorepage by F.M. Lehman, a Gentile songwriter, in 1917. (101 More Hymn Stories by Kenneth Osbeck)

The song, written and published in 1917  (his daughter Claudia arranged the music) by Frederick M. Lehman, a German Gentile, remains a beloved hymn of the Church today:

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

Refrain
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When years of time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
Posted in Hymnspiration | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Surname Saturday: Brinson

BrinsonCrest  I don’t usually write about surnames from my own family tree, but I’ve been researching this line a bit and there are some pretty interesting characters – so why not?  One of my ancestors appears to be perhaps the first Brinson to immigrate to America in 1677.  But, first a bit about the origins of the surname.  This one has several theories and they are as follows:

House of Names - The Brinsons lived in the village of Brinton in County Norfolk.  The name was first found in Herefordshire where a family seat had been held from ancient times, and well before the Norman Conquest.  Interesting, because another source believes the name actually had French (Normandy) origins and came to England as a result of the Norman Conquest.

Internet Surname Database – Brinson is of Old French origin, originally a locational name from “Briencun” in Normandy.  Presumably following the Norman Conquest, a family assigned a place name as “Brimstone Hill” in County Essex.  This source also adds that the name may derive from a form of the Middle English word “brem(e)” or “brim(me)” (vigorous or fierce), which was originally derived from an Olde English word “breme” – add “-son” to it and you get “Brimson” (close).  For more information click the link above.

4Crests – This was a locational name ‘of Branston’, a parish in a Lincoln diocese.  If so, the name might have originally derived from an Old English word “Branstun” which mean someone who lived where broom grew.

Like the Internet Surname Database, both Ancestry.com and New Dictionary of American Family Names believe the surname origin is French, which of course, was likely introduced in England following the Norman Conquest.  Interestingly, none of these sources mentions County Devon in England, which is where my ancestors hailed from.

Daniel Brinson (1653-1696)

Daniel Brinson was born on September 8, 1653 in County Devon, England to William and Margaret Brinson.  Records show that Daniel arrived on these shores in 1677, according to The Philadelphia and Bucks County Register of Arrivals:

Daniel Brinson of membury parish in ye County of Devon – arived in this River the 28 day of the 7th month 1677 in the Willing mind of London of m[ast]er Lucome.  maryed to ffrances green land of East Jersey the 8th day of the 8th month 1681.

In early records, the family name was sometimes referred to as “Brunson”, “Brynson”, “Brymson” or “Brimson”.  One reference, the Somerset County Historical Quarterly (Volume III, 1914), has quite a bit of information on the Brinson and Greenland families, although I believe some of it to be incorrect based on more recently located historical records (more on that below).

As mentioned in the register of arrivals record above, Daniel married Frances Greenland on October 8, 1681.  Frances’ father Dr. Henry Greenland was a prominent citizen, said to have been the first to settle in Princeton, New Jersey.  According to Princeton history, Dr. Greenland built a “house of accommodation” (tavern) there in 1683 and part of it still survives as part of the Gulick House, an historic landmark.

GulickHouseDaniel settled along the same highway around 1685 on land that is the site of another historical site known as “the Barracks”.  That house was built by Richard Stockton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and may have been used during the French and Indian War to house soldiers.

Daniel may have had a violent temper and abused Frances, according to Riots and Revelry in Early America:

While court records for seventeenth-century New Jersey are relatively sparse, we do know, for example, that in 1694 Doctor Henry Greenland appeared in the Middlesex Court of quarter sessions on behalf of his daughter Frances to complain that she had been abused by her husband, Daniel Brynson.

In 1693, Dr. Greenland patented four hundred acres of land about a mile from what is today Princeton University, on the Millstone River, and on this plantation Daniel Brinson lived until his death in 1696.  The children that Daniel and Frances had were: Barefoot, Margaret, Mary and Anne.  According to Patents & Deeds & Other Early Records of New Jersey 1664-1703, an nuncupative (oral) will was recorded on June 9, 1696:

Nuncupative Will of Daniel Brymson of Milston R. declarede before Mary Davis, Sarah Gannett, Jonathan Davis and Samuel Davis. Wife Francis dau. of Dr. Greenland, son Barefoot, eldest daughter Ruth and apparently other children, Real and personal property. Proved Sept. 15, 1696.

After Daniel died, Frances married a Quaker, John Horner.

Barefoot Brinson

Barefoot Brinson was born in 1686 and said to have been named after his grandfather Henry Greenland’s friend, Dr. Walter Barefoote (who is also mentioned in Henry’s will).  The Somerset County Historical Quarterly described Dr. Barefoote in this manner:

. . . Dr. Walter Barefoot (or Barford, as the name is given in England) who came to Kittery, Maine, in 1656 or 1657, and for thirty years till his death, 1688, was said to be the most litigating and scandal-raising personage connected with the Piscataqua region, whether as doctor, captain, prisoner, prison-keeper, Deputy Governor, land speculator or Chief Justice.  He was well-educated and wrote a good hand.  He was a churchman, but a sturdy and quarrelsome supporter of the Stuart policy, while most of his neighbors were Puritans. . .

I couldn’t locate an exact marriage record, but most family researchers believe Barefoot married Mary Lawrence (or Marritje Laurence Popinga) around 1721.  At least two children, John and Ruth, were mentioned in his will.  I believe, however that the Somerset County Historical Quarterly record was incorrect in saying that John married a woman by the surname of Arrowsmith, although I suppose she could have been a first wife.

Our research indicate that Barefoot’s son John married Hannah Anne Stout.  Barefoot’s will was written in 1742 or 1743 and one of the witnesses was Joseph Stout, probably Hannah’s uncle, so John marrying into the Stout family seems more likely.  It is presumed that Barefoot died sometime in 1748 because his will was proved on May 13 of that year.

On November 21, 1748 Mary Brunson (an alternate spelling) advertised about three hundred acres of land for sale in the New York Gazette.  Executors for Barefoot’s will were Mary Brunson and Thomas Lawrence (her brother I presume).

Barefoot was also sheriff of Somerset County, New Jersey and according to History of Princeton and Its Institutions, Volume 1, serving until his death in 1748.

The Brinson family eventually made their way to Pulaski County, Kentucky and intermarried with the Earps, the family of my grandmother Okle Emma Erp (family changed spelling of name, as the legend goes, to distance themselves from their infamous relative Wyatt Earp).  Just as I was concluding research for this article, I found a record that indicates that Daniel Brinson bought land from Thomas Budd on February 10, 1685, who it looks like may have been the grandfather of Mary Budd.  Mary Budd married Joshua Earp, who is the common ancestor I share with Wyatt Earp, my third cousin three times removed.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

WPGo to www.historydepot.net for more information

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
Posted in Surname Saturday | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment