From an Intern – My Summer of 2015

I’m Kelly and I’m a summer intern here at Pennsbury Manor. Over the course of my three months here I’ve become a blacksmith’s apprentice, brushed a two thousand pound bull and spent a large portion of my days dressed as a 17th century Quaker women. While some may consider these experiences wild, the craziest part of my internship was my summer research project.

It started off as a normal day; I had spent several hours doing research for my project on the blacksmiths here at Pennsbury. I sat down for lunch and made small talk with one of the other volunteers who preceded to tell me the most outrageous story I had ever heard. Apparently back in 1686, John Smith one of the blacksmith’s indenture at Pennsbury Manor, wanted to leave his indenture two months early, however James Harrison, the steward of Pennsbury would not let him go. Their disagreement escalated into a brawl that ended with Smith wounding Harrison and fleeing Pennsbury. Smith was gone for several days, but returned in the middle of the night with a cannon. He planted that cannon on Bile Island in the middle of the Delaware River and aimed it right at the Manor House, all to seek revenge on James Harrison.

I had been researching for a few days at this point and this was the first I had heard of any cannon, so naturally I had to find the primary source documentation. I thought it would be easy enough to find, it’s not every day that a disgruntled employee threatens his boss with a cannon. If this happened, surely there is some primary source documentation to prove it. What I thought would only take thirty minutes would end up taking several weeks, consuming all my free time at Pennsbury. I started my search at the first logical place, the bound copies of the William Penn papers that are kept in the Museum Library. I looked under every search term I could think of: Harrison, Smith, Cannon, but to my surprise nothing yielded results. I realized Smith’s actions must have resulted in some sort of discipline, so I checked all Quaker Meeting minutes from that date, and once again I found nothing! Having consulted every source I could think of, I was now convinced that I was the victim of some practical joke.

I was venting my frustration to another intern and telling him I wasn’t convinced that this letter was even real. To my surprise, he led me to my next clue. He told me that a reference to that letter could be found in the footnote on an obscure page of a larger guide book. I checked the footnotes and found that there was a letter that referenced cannon, and that this letter was dated September 17, 1686. The reason why I had not found it in the William Penn papers was because his archive was too vast to be contained in four bound volumes; the full archives were available on microfilm. I dusted off the microfilm reader, and after about twenty minutes of trying to figure out how it worked, I began combing through decades worth of letters. Much to my dismay there was no letter dated September 17, 1686. The following week I had some down time in between tours, and decided to try my luck with the microfiche again. All of the slides seemed to blend together, when suddenly something caught my eye. The transcribed copy of the letter I had just finished reading was dated 7 (September) 1686. THE QUACKERS HAD A DIFFERENT CALANDER! If September was considered the 7th month, that means that the 9th month was November. I quickly scrolled over to the records from November of 1686 and I saw the word I had spent about a month looking for: Cannon.

After reading through the letter a few times, I’d concluded that the original story I had been told was a bit exaggerated. There was no physical altercation, James Harrison went to Burlington for a few days and John Smith took his absence as an opportunity to go AWOL. He did come back a few days later with a cannon, but he did not put in on Bile Island, he put it off to the side of the Manor House. Hearing of the cannon, James Harrison returned to Pennsbury and found that John Smith had been staying with a friend, William Bile, the man from whom Bile Island is named. Smith confessed and was sentenced to jail, he completed the final two months of his indenture after his jail time was up.

I consider this search the craziest thing I’ve done during my internship at Pennsbury. I knew when I applied for the internship that I wasn’t signing up for a typical intern job like getting coffee and filing papers. I at least knew to expect the unexpected. When it came to this letter, I had no expectations. I had no idea where my next clue would lead me. I had no idea if this letter was even real until I actually found it. Though frustrating at times, my little cannon adventure was a great introduction to the world of historical research. Every other time I’ve taken on a research project, my primary sources have come from a database. The difficulty was in crafting the information from that document into a broader argument. This time around the difficulty was physically locating my source among the hundreds of documents we have here at Pennsbury Manor. Whether I was searching for the cannon letter, or even telling people about what I consider the most interesting part of internship, this summer has showed me that the wildest tales are found in the most unlikely places.

Kelly White, Intern Summer 2015


There’s a cemetery at Pennsbury Manor?

Cemetery _1There are a lot of great things to see at Pennsbury Manor. There is the Worker’s Cottage, the Kitchen House, and the animals at the stable. There is one attraction that is off the beaten path. To the left of the Manor House down by the river is a cemetery. There are several little tombstones with nothing but the initials of their first and last names and their year of birth and death carved onto them. Unfortunately, William Penn is not among those buried here at Pennsbury, he is buried in England. Two of the people buried here, James Harrison and his son in law Phineas Pemberton, where trusted  friends of William Penn. They had very prominent roles in Penn’s life at Pennsbury Manor. James Harrison and Phineas Pemberton immigrated to North America together in 1682. Pemberton also brought over with him his wife Pheobe and their children Abigail and Joseph. William Penn relied very heavily on James Harrison. Penn granted Harrison five thousand acres of land before Harrison even left England. He used that later on to acquire land in Upper Makefield, Newtown, and Wrightstown. Penn appointed him to Proprietary’s Commissioner of Property and the agent to manage his personal affairs. In 1685, Harrison became one of the three provincial judges. Unfortunately, he did not hold these positions long as he died in 1687. Pemberton was also very important to William Penn. Phineas Pemberton was the Cemetery_2first Clerk of the Bucks County Courts and he held that position until his death. William Penn thought very highly of Pemberton. So much so that after his death Penn wrote, “I will mourn for poor Phineas Pemberton, the ablest, as well as one of the best men in the province.” Phineas and Pheobe had nine children in all and several of them are also buried here at Pennsbury. Phineas would go on to outlive Pheobe, who died in 1696. Phineas lived for another six years dying in 1702. So next time you stop by for a visit to Pennsbury Manor, make sure you take a walk over to the cemetery!


Billy Lovering, Intern 2015

William Penn and The Liberty Bell

Liberty BellAs the 4th of July holiday approaches, we remember The Liberty Bell one of America’s most iconic symbols. It has served as a constant reminder of freedom for centuries. Abolitionists, civil rights advocates, Native Americans, immigrants, and war protesters have all used a Liberty Bell as a symbol for their causes. Originally the bell was simply known as the State House Bell, it wasn’t called the Liberty Bell until the 1830s when the abolitionists began calling it that. The abolitionists used the bell as their symbol because of the words inscribed on it from Leviticus 25:10, “Proclaim Throughout All the Land unto All the Inhabitants thereof.” The verse is referring to the “Jubilee”, or instructions to the Israelites to return property and free slaves every 50 years.

The Bell resides in Philadelphia at 6th & Market Street. The Liberty Bell is one of many nationally recognized sites in Philadelphia. The Bell was originally placed in the tower of Independence Hall. Independence Hall is of course iconic for being the building where the signing of the Declaration of Independence took place. The Document was declaring American independence from Great Britain. That is the reason why the Bell has become so iconic. It is part of the birthplace of American Independence. Many people don’t know without William Penn this bell may not have ever existed. The bell was cast in 1751 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Pennsylvania’s Charter of Privileges. The Charter granted religious freedoms, procedures for a democratic government, and fair treatment of criminals. Penn’s frame of government was very different from other colonies in North America at the time. It guaranteed freedom of speech and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. Penn had a 15 year absence from Pennsylvania and during that time many different governments were proposed but they all ultimately failed. When he returned in 1699 the assembly came up with a new frame of government. This frame of government became the Charter of Privileges. In the Charter of Privileges the provincial assembly would be the legislative authority. It would be self governing, have the ability to elect its own officers, form its own committees, propose and vote on legislation, and impeach government officials. The government would also be a representative government with members from each county being elected from the province. Penn was afraid of what the masses would do with large amounts of democratic power so he trusted small groups of elites to govern society. This relates back into the Liberty Bell because of Penn’s progressive thinking inspired the bell which made the bell the perfect symbol for all the progressive thinkers in history. It is this kind of forward thinking that inspired the bell to go from the State House bell to the Liberty bell and it may have never existed without William Penn.


Billy Lovering, Intern 2015

Beer for Breakfast?

10454931_809779355707555_3902493442719386944_oWhile this may raise an eyebrow today, in the 1600’s it was not uncommon for people to drink beer with every meal. It is often mentioned that even children would drink beer, and while this is true, the strength of the beer that they drank would not have been on par with what adults were drinking. It wasn’t alcoholic enough for them to become intoxicated, but provided them with necessary calories. In those days, polluted water in England caused such a distrust of water in general that the water in newly-colonized America wasn’t trusted either.

According to Penn’s own letters, there was a Brew House here at Pennsbury Manor, and he wrote that they made beer, cider, and perry (a pear cider), all with an alcohol content. While we don’t know how much they brewed here, it probably was a fair amount and was mostly for the workers. Penn also bought beer from brewers in Philadelphia, which would have been for his table and to serve to guests.

Today, the recreated Pennsbury Manor, has a Brew Room inside the Kitchen House where we demonstrate the 1IMG_40367th century beer brewing process. Each month April through October we offer a beer brewing demonstration and focus on a different type of beer. Come out and hopswatch as they discuss what they have brewin’. Make sure you wander into the Kitchen Garden to see our own hops plants growing along the Hops Wall. Check out the Calendar of Events for details.

On June 20th from 4 – 8 pm we will be holding our 3rd Annual Brews & Bites. Come out and Tap Into History and spend the day along the river at the 43-acre country estate. Enjoy beer, food, music, a 17th century beer brewing demonstration, and meet our own William Penn. For details please visit our website.

How to Raise Your (Colonial) Kids!

A child’s life today is quite different from that of a 17th-century child. Having children was necessity for the survival of a family. It was common for colonial households to have large families, but there was also a high mortality rate. Charms and remedies were often made to try and protect babies from death. Children helped their parents take care of household chores and worked in their family’s store, workshop, or farm.
"Domestic interior with a family," Adriaen van Ostade, 1673

Just like today, there were many different theories on how to raise children properly. Some of their ideas seem outrageous by today’s standards. From birth the midwife would shape the babies’ head to smooth it out and the infant would be fully swaddled, for a time, to insure their limbs grew in straight. Babies were also considered savage creatures that must be civilized, so crawling like an animal was not allowed. Instead, they would learn first to stand upright, often using the popular “standing stool,” and then how to walk.

"The Virgin seated with the Christ Child on her lap before a small fire with a cat beyond, in a domestic interior," Nicolaes Maes, late 17th century
Thomas Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education published in the 1690s had many readers in Colonial America. Locke suggested regularly dipping your child’s feet in cold water, and having shoes so thin, water leaked in. Locke also suggested playing in open air and dancing as recommendation for good health of children. His suggestion of any sort of frequent bathing was a radical idea as the English rarely bathed. He also suggested a diet for children with regular milk, which would have been important added nutrition. Though some of Locke’s suggestions may not seem radical to us now, they were extremely radical for the times.
"O Rare Show," John Smith, late 17th century


By Amanda Rockwood, Intern

Animals and Art in the 17th Century

Every dog lover knows just how much our canine friends are part of our daily lives, and the 17th century was no different!

Animals have been included in paintings and drawings throughout history. Our research at Pennsbury involves looking at these images of the world that William Penn knew, concentrating on the years from 1670 to 1710. As we explore these images, our intern Jessica made a fun discovery.  She noticed the appearance of a certain dog again and again in many different paintings!   

The Children of Charles I of England, Anthony van Dyck, 1636?

In the past when monarchs have favored a specific type of dog, that breed would suddenly become the most fashionable pets and were kept by many aristocratic families. Look in the paintings featured here and see if you can find the same type of dog in each:

Mother Lacing Her Bodice beside a Cradle, Pieter de Hooch,1659-60

Upon further research, we’ve discovered the dog we found to be a Dutch Partridge Dog, which is a type of spaniel breed. Artists often used symbolic backgrounds, objects, and animals in art as clues to the identity and personality of the individual or idea being depicted.  For example, squirrels were symbols of obedience and dogs represent faithfulness.

Portrait of a Family, Jan Anthonie Coxcie, 1694

So next time you visit a museum or historic site, take a closer look at the paintings and see if you can spot the animals and guess what they symbolize! 

By Jessica McClaire, Intern

Historic House Cleaning

Spring Cleaning at Pennsbury Manor!

Every February, the staff here at Pennsbury Manor descends upon the Manor House with mops, buckets, brushes, vacuum cleaners, wax, and gloves. The once a year “spring cleaning” helps prepare the house for the many visitors that will come to Pennsbury Manor for a guided tour of William Penn’s 17th Century country home. Even though the house is dusted and vacuumed regularly, this gives us a chance to give it a once of year “thorough cleaning”.  It will take staff 151 hours and four days to clean all three floors of this Georgian style reconstruction of William Penn’s original home built in 1682.

Unlike a regular “spring house cleaning,” we are moving and cleaning objects that are over 300 years old. Special instructions on care are given to ensure that we do not damage or harm the objects in our collection. Gloves are used for handling textiles and wood, so as not to leave oils behind and gloves are taken off for glass and ceramics, so as not to have them slip and fall out of your hands. No butter fingers allowed here!

It is an impressive effort on the part of the staff to dust, vacuum, wax, mop, rinse, and repeat in each room of the house. The four bedchambers on the second floor take two people 3 hours and 27 minutes to clean. To vacuum all of the textiles on the first floor it takes two people a total of 2 hours. To clean all of the windows and Plexiglas covers it will take two people 10 hours. Phew!

The wear and tear of almost 30,000 feet takes a toll on our wood floors. To keep them looking good we will have to use ten 1-lb cans of butchers wax to hand wax all of the public areas and then buff the floors until the shine. Wow what a difference a newly waxed floor makes!

There isn’t any pledge found in our cleaning supplies. All wood is dusted with a clean, dry cloth baby diaper. We use around 60 diapers to clean the house. We then wash them and pack away for the next year. We try to be green! Textiles are a bit tricky. One must use a screen when vacuuming, to protect the fibers. Much care has to be taken while vacuuming these. Speaking of vacuums, it takes four vacuum cleaners and 16 vacuum bags to catch all the dirt and dust. Must be all of those feet bringing in lots of dirt!

It is an exhausting, but fun four days together getting dirty to get the house clean. Now we sit back and wait to show off the newly cleaned house to all of our visitors. Stop out to see us, we’ll be waiting!

By Tabitha Dardes, Director of PR & Marketing

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