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The body was found– either charred, or still ablaze, depending on the imagination of the local beat writer– just off the road near Cranford, New Jersey. Discovered in a snow bank, the corpse had a hole blown in its skull. The woman’s clothes had been soaked in gasoline.

No one, however, knew who she was. The morgue stored an unidentified body for six weeks.

Big Guns from Pinkerton

Pinkerton's National Detective Agency

Baffled NJ detectives needed help. They enlisted the aid of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, whose founder had foiled The Baltimore Plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, and whose agents had previously been hired to hunt down Jesse James, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid. Agent Wagner joined the investigation.

The remains were discovered on February 23, 1929, but even with Pinkerton’s on the case, they remained unidentified. On April 9th, that changed.

Police from Greenville, Pennsylvania telegrammed to Wagner that the victim might be Mildred Mowry. Wagner met with her associates. They provided him with a bundle of letters from a doctor, Richard M. Campbell whom, they said, Mowry had married. Two days later, NJ police arrested not “Richard M. Campbell,” not “Henry Colin Campbell,” but “Richard Henry Campbell,” all of which were aliases for the man born as Henry Campbell Close.

Close confessed to murder after an hour of questioning by Wagner, who then spent two months developing a case for the prosecution and uncovering the story of a truly bizarre little man responsible for one of the “most revolting murders in New Jersey annals,” one which inspired a rash of gruesome copy-cat “torch murderer” kills.

The Victim

Mildred Mowry was no “little old lady from Peoria”– she lived in PA. Other than that, Mowry, a middle-aged nurse, fit the cliché. Today, she might answer emails from would-be Nigerian Kings or continuously update her profile at eHarmony but, in those days, childless, widowed, she read “Miss Lonelyhearts” and chose a matchmaking agency.

Campbell used the same agency for years, although he still lived with his wife of over a decade, who would testify that they and their three children lived in “perfect harmony.” Henry Colin Campbell scoured bars and agency listings, hunting for his perfect prey: a widow, childless, with money. Such was Mowry, he thought.

A Killer Marriage

Debt led Close to the notion of bilking a bigamous wife for her savings. He ad been trying to lure another wife for years. After he married Mowry, the bride returned to her PA home, but first deposited money in a savings account jointly owned with the man she thought she married: Doctor Richard M. Campbell, of Baltimore.

Mowry returned to PA, presumably expecting to move to Baltimore soon thereafter. Police did, in fact, match records between a real estate transaction in Baltimore and Close’s purchase of a house in NJ.

Tit for tat: Close selected Mowry for her “small fortune” but soon found that her nest egg was but $1000.

Henry Colin Campbell, Torch Murderer, Possible Serial KillerHe picked her up in PA for a drive to Philadelphia. Their car had engine trouble. They had to drive until very late in the evening. His wife grew tired. She “kept pestering me,” he said in his confession, to “turn the car around and stop somewhere for the night. I suddenly decided to get rid of her because I could not support two homes. She was dozing in the back seat and I shot her in the head, took the body out of the car, and set fire to it.”

Character Revelations

At trial, the Court learned more about Henry Collin Campbell.

He wasn’t a doctor, although he played one in Montclair, NJ. Criminal records revealed that “Doctor” Close had operated a “private insane asylum.” A Columbia graduate, he’d been a civil engineer, a writer, an educator, and a well-paid advertising man. He adored his children, and “never used a cross word,” according to his wife Rosalee, who had no idea that police believed he had as many as three other wives, at least one of whom died under mysterious circumstances.

He loved grotesque dolls; they were strewn all around his room. For grand larceny, he served six years in Sing Sing prison. Testifying, he claimed that his “mind was wracked” from morphine abuse. He was suicidal.

Francis A. Gordon, Campbell’s attorney, mounted a defense based on his client’s drug addiction, insanity, and amnesia. Defense retained Dr. Ambrose Dowd, a psychologist from the NJ State Board of Institutions, with support from a skilled roentgenologist. Prosecution argued that Campbell was sane, sober, and his memory was fine. He had, after all, lucidly confessed.

The jury spent just four hours in deliberation. Henry Colin Campbell, the Torch Murderer, was sentenced to death.

Rosalee was the last wife to see him. She spent a tender half hour with Close on the day of his electrocution.


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Selected Sources

“Campbell Sentenced to Die on July 15.” Lewiston Daily Sun 14 June 1929: 19. Google News. Web. 6 Apr. 2010.

“Defense Prepared- Alienist Retained by Attorney for Campbell.” Pittsburgh Press 18 Apr. 1929: 2. Google News. Web.

“Henry Colin Campbell Trial: 1929- Fit to Plead.” Law Library – American Law and Legal Information. Jrank.org. Web. 8 Apr. 2010.

“Henry Colin Campbell Trial: 1929- Scathing Prosecution Attack.” Law Library – American Law and Legal Information. Jrank.org. Web. 8 Apr. 2010.

James, Christian, Daniel Lewis, and Ariel W. Simmons. Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency. Bethesda, MD: UPA Collection from LexisNexis, 2007. Print.

Sanders, Bruce. Murder in Lonely Places. London: Jenkins, 1960. Print.

“Torch Slayer Is Guilty; to Die in Chair.” Daily Times [Beaver, PA] 14 June 1929: 1. Google News. Web. 5 Apr. 2010.

Yes! FootNotes Since the Wilderness has made the United States History section of Cliopatria’s History Blogroll at the category-leader, the celebrated History News Network. Thanks to HNN for linking to us! Placement on the HNN blogroll has become a milestone among aspiring historians.

I want to thank all the readers who have come to FootNotes via HNN, and especially those who have sent in the encouraging notes. I truly appreciate your support.

Since we’re talking about links, here are a few more:

FootNotes now has its own Facebook page. I hope you will visit and “like” it, or add it to your page’s favorites. I am always happy to swap appropriate blogroll and fan page links.

My hunch is that teachers are preparing handouts for upcoming US history units, because the stats for three of my recent articles at Suite101 have been high. Then again, perhaps we just can’t get enough of the inimitable Edmund Andros. To see why, follow these:

(NEW): The Dominion of New England, Edmund Andros & Leisler’s Rebellion

Mercantilism, Navigation Acts, and the Dominion of New England

The New England Confederation United Four English Colonies

Saturday, August 21
10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Ephrata Cloister, among America’s earliest and most highly revered religious communities, was founded in 1732 by German settlers who worked to reach their spiritual goals rather than reap earthly rewards. Some of the earliest brethren resided in solitary homes- even caves in the woods- but, over times, the members gathered in unique European style buildings. At the outset, the core Ephrata community consisted of celibate Brothers and Sisters; from the commune’s earliest days, however, it welcomed a married congregation of families, although their households were located apart from the celibates.

At the zenith of the community in the 1740s and 1750s, about 300

ephrata_bethania_brothers_house

Bethania, the Ephrata Brother's House

members worked and worshiped at the Cloister. Today, the National Historic Landmark is open for tours, special programs, and on-going research opportunities.

Families have always played an important role in life at the Ephrata Cloister, and this is the chance for your entire household to discover the local heritage. From childhood through grandparents, there were jobs for everyone to keep families supplied with food, clothing and education. Here’s just a sample of some of the great things you can try on this special day:

  • become an apprentice
  • break flax
  • weave tape
  • help with colonial chores
  • draft a family tree with a quill pen
  • search for building clues
  • explore gravestone designs
  • learn about baking bread and make butter
  • try-on clothing from the 1700s
  • play games from long-ago
  • discover a different type of family in the Sisters’ House
           

 All activities are included with regular (low!) admission to the grounds.

For further information, see Ephrata Cloister’s site. It’s outstanding.
You might also enjoy these articles:

Ephrata Cloister, a Heretical Commune in Early Pennsylvania

Celibate, pacifist, vegetarian, Conrad Beissel’s Rosicrucian Pietists made Ephrata Cloister the longest-lived and the most successful commune in America.

Pacifist Rosicrucians Nursed the Continental Army Troops

Sister of the Roses of Sharon

Sister of the Roses of Sharon at Ephrata

German Pietists at Ephrata Cloister provided the principal hospital and nursing assistance for the Continental Army troops after the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown.

They approached from different angles, but the radical mystic Protestant theosophists of Ephrata and the evolving Enlightenment Age politicians of the emerging United States met at meaningful points.

George Washington Pardons Traitor Michael Widman

Reverend Peter Miller of the Ephrata Cloister taught George Washington a lesson in charity and the humane treatment of prisoners and criminals.


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Irish settlers in colonial New Jersey made wampum belts, pipes and beads until the late 1800’s. John Jacob Astor traded the wampum for Plains Indian furs.

Much of today’s lower Bergen County, New Jersey was purchased from Hackensack area Native Americans, the Lenni Lenape of the Algonquin, for, as Ralph Kramden might say, “a mere bag of shells.” To the Lenni Lenape, or the “Delaware Indians,” to the nearby Iroquois and Susquehannocks and, later, westward to the “Plains Indians,” including the Comanche, wampum beadwork was no “mere” shell collection.

Many Native American peoples prized the formed, ground and polished product of clam and conch. Wampum was the coin of

Exchanging Wampum with Native Americans

Exchanging Wampum with Native Americans

the realm, a status symbol, the documentation of truth, honor, and understanding, a conduit to God. The exchange of wampum belts and hair pipes was, in certain situations, worth every penny of the signature of the king of any European nation, the finest large cut diamonds, or the work of the most celebrated Old World smiths in gold or silver. At other times, wampum was simple currency, worth x number of pelts, knives or yards of cloth in barter exchange.

The Dutch and Swedish settlers of seventeenth century New Jersey immediately recognized the true value of wampum to the Lenni Lenape. To the northeast, by mid-century, Roger Williams had documented wampum manufacture and protocol among the Narragansett in Rhode Island; towards the end of the 1600’s, to the west, Conrad Weiser and William Penn grew fluent in the language, ceremony and currency of wampum. On the Pennsylvania frontier, traveling with a pocket full of wampum could save one’s life.

Testament to the importance of wampum within Native American society, demand for its production rose steadily from the 1650’s until it peaked in the 1850’s. Recognizing the market opportunity, cottage industries producing wampum sprang up in shore communities on Staten Island and Long Island, New York, and in south Jersey, such as in today’s Cape May and Egg Harbor. Inhabitants of south Jersey shore were quite familiar with the Lenni Lenape, who migrated down the shore each summer, returning inland and north for the remainder of the year.

The most important and productive locale for wampum production was set well back from the Long Island and New Jersey shores, however. Numerous families in the Pascack Valley of today’s Bergen County, New Jersey worked for the most prolific and important of all wampum producers, the Campbell family. For over a century, the Campbell family was the primary producer of high quality wampum given or traded to the Native Americans and, thereafter, between Native American peoples, if a given piece was to circulate as currency, rather than represent a social, political or spiritual bond.

Campbell Wampum Factory

The Campbell Wampum Factory

William Cambell emigrated from Ulster, Ireland in the 1730’s. Family members- at least one of whom married into the locally notable Demarest family- bought and sold properties in Teaneck, New Milford and Montvale, New Jersey. Their property in what is now Park Ridge, however, a purchase of 58 acres formerly the Wortendyke Farm, became the site of the first true factory for the manufacture of wampum in America and, perhaps, the world.

Native American Wampum Beads, Belts and Hair Pipes

The Campbell family wampum factory, or mint, as it was sometimes called, produced wampum in two colors: white and “black.” The black wampum was actually purple- the deeper the shade, the greater the value. Black wampum was worth twice the white. Black wampum was made from quahog clams, and white wampum from conch and periwinkle shells.

The shells were processed into two primary shapes: relatively flat saucers, called “moons”; and tubes, or “pipes.” The conch and periwinkle yielded the white and often pink-tinted moons, while the thick-shelled quahog produced the finest black wampum for the tubes. Holes were drilled in each form so that they could be strung with hemp. The hemp was dyed red to string a concentric stack of moons of graduated size, from the center of which the red tassel would dangle. Moon stacks were worn like pins or badges. The tubes were sold as “hair pipes,” or beads through which the wearer would string his hair; the Comanche, however, became fond of stringing the pipes together in a webbing to form breastplates. Pipes were also strung as necklaces and chokers.

Wampum Moons and Hair Pipes

Wampum Moons and Hair Pipes

The wampum factory also produced small round beads, like today’s seed beads. To a lesser extent, the Campbells also manufactured smaller moons, inventoried as “Chief’s Buttons”; large ovular beads, called “Iroquois”; and the occasional pendant shape for earrings. Product derived from other shell types, such as blue mussel and abalone, failed to gain market traction, and were discontinued. Product dyed red and green met similar fates.

Gathering What Other Men Spill- The Industrialization of Wampum Manufacture

The cottage wampum industry on Long Island and in south Jersey never progressed much beyond that, unlike the Campbells operation, which grew by networking Pascack Valley cottage workers to form a supply chain, by exploiting their skills and knowledge as mechanics and blacksmiths, by automating the manufacturing process, and marketing on a large scale as wholesalers to trading merchants in New York City, including John Jacob Astor and the federal government.

Profit margins were high. Raw material cost was nominal. Periodically, Campbell workers, in the early years of the business, would row from the wharf in New Milford down the Hackensack River all the way to Newark Bay, and cross over to Rockaway, Long Island, where they found the clam beds best suited for wampum. The row was roughly 40 miles, but the digs were bountiful. Upon return to New Milford, locals residents were treated to a clam feast: all you can eat, free, just leave the shells. After shucking, the shells were collected and carted by wagon to Park Ridge for processing.

Sometime after 1813, when the famous Washington Market debuted off Fulton Street in New York City, the Campbells bought

The Campbell Wampum Mill

The Campbell Wampum Mill

the fish market garbage- empty shells- for next to nothing. They chipped off the “black hearts” on the spot, and loaded a wagon with as much as ten or twelve barrels full of nothing but the choice dark chips. After 1858, they took the new Northern Railroad to Rockland County, offloaded their barrels to a wagon in Nanuet, and drove home to Park Ridge, shortening their horse-drawn journey.

The conch shells, the raw material for the white wampum moons, were also inexpensive. When cargo ships from the West Indies, for example, entered port at New York and emptied their holds, the ship no longer had need for its ballast. Conch shells were commonly used as disposable ballast. The captains amassed their conch shell ballast for next to nothing, if anything at all, and were happy to sell what was otherwise garbage to the Campbells, who were equally happy to recycle the spill at extremely low cost.

The Campbells- who remained farmers themselves- established a network among farmer’s wives and daughters in the Pascak Valley, to whom they sold shells. Workers in this extended, freelance enterprise would chip off the choice portions of the shells, creating wampum “blanks.” The Campbells, in turn, would either repurchase the blanks directly, or from the proprietors along a route of regional country stores that accepted the wampum blanks from the farmers as barter for store merchandise. It wasn’t unusual for twentieth-century Bergen County land developers to discover otherwise inexplicable mounds of clam shells on their inland properties.

quahog for wampum

Quahog Shell for Black Wampum

The Cambells kept their manufacturing secrets close to the vest; they called the factory a mint for a reason: they literally operated a money machine. As the business grew, they moved its center of operations from their house to what had been a mill for making wool. Still later, they constructed an entirely new mill on the banks of the Pascack Brook, which feeds the Hackensack River. This new mill became a true factory. Following technological improvements, production rose dramatically- tenfold on the high ticket hair pipes. Water power drove grinding and polishing wheels. They had ample space for a team of workers deploying their automated tools, using the fine, clean sand imported at no cost from Rockaway for smooth finishing, and bleaching the white wampum with buttermilk.

The most dramatic improvement in wampum manufacture was an invention by David and James Campbell: a wampum pipe machine. The tool drilled holes in the tubular wampum to create the pipes for hair adornment, necklaces and breastplates. Drilling holes in narrow pieces of brittle shell had forever retarded production and ruined many blanks. The drilling process with spindly hand tools was tedious and tricky. The Campbell’s new machine could bore deep holes in six pipes simultaneously, with far less waste of stock, at a much faster pace. It was the only machine of its kind, although they may have created another for themselves. A single example survives in the local historical society collection. The wampum pipe machine sparked a new and virtually cornered segment of the wampum industry: producing the hair pipes prized by some of the more northern Plains Indians, and the upper Missouri in particular.

John Jacob Astor and Wampum Marketing

The Campbells did not sell their finished pieces directly to the Lenni Lenape, other Algonquin, or the Plains Indians. Ironically, thanks in part to the European settler’s ability to trade wampum for land, there were virtually no Native Americans left in New Jersey during the tenure of the Campbell’s production. Of the few hundreds who remained, some were lured in the mid 1750’s to New Jersey’s only- and the nation’s first- reservation: 3,000 acres alternately known as Brotherton, Edgepillock, Shamong or Indian Mills. Others scattered about the Pine Barrens, working in the local lumber mills or iron forges, or as farmhands; the rest were acculturated to the ways of the European settlers, considered citizens but, on day laborer wages at best, could not afford to buy wampum, even if they retained the desire.

Wampum, native american

Native American Attire

Rather than retailers, the Campbell were manufacturers and wholesalers, suppling goods to the Native Americans west and north of New Jersey via merchants and agents in New York City, such as for John Jacob Astor. The federal government, through the New York agent for the Superintendent of Indian Trade, a key Campbell customer, found the Campbell wampum especially useful to facilitate land deals as the nation marched west.

Bergen County locals used to boast that John Jacob Astor built his fortune with Pascack Valley wampum. The notion is silly; Astor had plenty of irons in the fire. That said, Astor and the government were likely the Campbell’s best customers. Campbell wampum traveled west, and to Canada, on expeditions to open the fur trade for the American Fur Company. Astor, however, was only one of a number of merchants to whom the Campbells wholesaled. Extant business records indicate that various merchants bought and spread Campbell wampum to the northern and then the southern Plains Indians. Randolph Barnes Marcy brought the Comanche Campbell wampum on his 1852 Red River Expedition. Lewis and Clark’s records reveal that they, too, toted wampum hair pipes as “Sundries for Indian Presents.”

Call to mind William Penn, Conrad Weiser, John Jacob Astor, Lewis and Clark- it’s guaranteed that the word wampum would not be in the first sentence you’d write about any of those men. Then again, one probably wouldn’t imagine that a tiny inland town in northern New Jersey with its glorified trickle of a brook would have become the defacto capital of North American wampum production, either.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010 – 4:00 to 8:30 pm

The Bergen County Historical Society will celebrate the ancient Algonquin festival of Winu Gischuch, marking the Corn Moon, from 4 to 8:30 PM on Sunday, August 15th. Come tour the Campbell-Christie House, Demarest House, Steuben House and Jersey Dutch Out-Kitchen!

The Dark Moon of August, Winu Gischuch, was associated with ripened corn- ready to roast. At the Dark Moon, native farmers pulled cornstalks that produced no ears and sucked out the sweet sap or syrup. Fresh ears of corn “in the milk” were roasted.

SEE YE! @ 4 pm: In partnership with the American Revolutionary War Roundtable, there will be a special

Baron von Steuben

Baron von Steuben

advance showing of “Lafayette: The Lost Hero,” at 4 PM in the Steuben House. “Lafayette: The Lost Hero,” is a new one-hour PBS biography of the great French officer who served the Revolutionary cause.

HEAR YE! @ 6 pm: Historian and author Kevin Wright will speak on “The Circuit of Seasons” from his book 1609: A Country That Was Never Lost, describing the cyclical movements of Native communities from one food source to the next.

At the tavern in the Campbell-Christie House they’ll serve pie and lemonade, and folks just as nice will demonstrate open hearth cooking in the Jersey Dutch Out-Kitchen.

The giftshop will be open.

Don’t miss this opportunity; it’s not often you can go inside these historic buildings, and see some of the outstanding artifact collections. Some of this weekend’s special displays have not been seen for decades.

Cost? Nominal: by donation: $7 adult, $5 children. BCHS members: free.

For more info about the event, visit Historic New Bridge Landing.

Click here for some excellent background on General von Steuben

About the Steuben House

The Steuben House, courtesy Bergen County Historical Society

The Steuben House, courtesy Bergen County Historical Society

Built in 1752 by merchant Jan Zabriskie, the Steuben House witnessed the crossing of General George Washington and the American garrison of Fort Lee across the Hackensack River during their infamous November 20, 1776 retreat. Because of this strategic position on the banks of the river at the New Bridge, the Steuben House survived throughout the American Revolution and was used by both Colonial and British soldiers.

The confiscated mansion once served as a military headquarters for General Washington and was later presented to Major General Baron von Steuben as thanks for his efforts during the War for Independence.


This Weekend’s Special Exhibits at the Steuben House
:

  • For the first time in 15 years, the New Bridge Charleville Musket will be on view. The musket was pulled out of the Hackensack River in 1903 by a nine year old boy while fishing from the bridge.
  • The Burdette Frying Pan said to be used by Rachael Burdette to serve George Washington Indian cakes in Nov 1776. General Greene used the Burdette’s home as his headquarters. It is on exhibit for the first time in a quarter of a century. The bottom of the pan was painted with a portrait of Washington.
  • Stone tools, projectile points and pottery made by the Original Inhabitants of Bergen County.
  • 18th century artifacts associated with the Revolutionary War in Bergen County and early artifacts associated with the Steuben House, including the original front door box lock.
  • Photographs taken at New Bridge in the 1950s, including the opening of the 1956 new New Bridge Road Bridge. Say that 5 times fast!
  • See the Elsie Heiss Button Exhibit and the 15 ft Hackensack Dugout Canoe (hint: it’s really old!)
  • A Hackensack pie plate, imprinted with a likeness of Lafayette, made at Henry Van Saun’s River Edge pottery in 1825 to celebrate the French hero’s return visit to Bergen County as part of his national tour.

See you there?


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Rosicrucian Digest claims that, “the Rosicrucian Order was the only society of its day which offered the services of its total membership to the shaky cause of liberty…Ephrata was the only American community to mobilize exactly 100% for the rehabilitation of the fallen.”

The Continental Congress pressed various religious communities to provide medical assistance during the Revolution. Unlike other groups, Ephrata did not ask for any reimbursement for their contributions and sacrifices, including the destruction of their homes and tabernacle; depletion of food stores, clothing, blankets, medical supplies, and trade inventories; the loss of priceless works of art and, in several cases, their lives. Steadfast pacifists, the brethren and sisters of Ephrata abhorred the war and refused to take up arms but, by acquiescing to the request from George Washington to tend to the wounded and dying of the Continental Army, they exposed themselves to the deadly typhus and smallpox infecting the troops.

battle of brandywine

Battle of Brandywine

Although the medical facilities at Ephrata became, per Army records, the “principal hospital for the sick and severely wounded at Brandywine,” the Pietist and Rosicrucian cloister’s participation in the Revolution neither begins nor ends with dressing the wounds suffered at the Battle of Brandywine.

Several among this commune of pacifist monks and sisters were not long out of hermetic caves in Cocalico or along the banks of the Wissahocken. To understand why Ephrata ultimately not simply accepted its fate, but embraced its role in the Revolutionary War, we have to look at why Ephrata was founded and, similarly, why its predecessor, Woman in the Wilderness, America’s first commune, crystallized around Johannes Kelpius.

Cynics might point out that Ephrata became a hospital because George Washington said it must and, indeed, he did. He offered Peter Miller, Ephrata’s spiritual leader, no true choice. The cloister was commandeered. Community members, riled, objected; some of them had been hermits but, when the topic turned to religion or government, they proved tenacious and argumentative. Intellectually, they were neither meek nor mild. They debated. Passively resisting the war machine, they insisted that the army take what it needed by force. They knew they would suffer severe material loss, and sacrifice the routines of their spiritual lives to tend to the immediate physical needs of others. They knew such service might kill them. In the end, the commune embraced its role. What looked from outside the commune like a seizure of property and the conscription of a hospital staff was transformed by the adepts of Ephrata into the work of the spirit, until it became, from within, an offering and a devotion to holy service.

As one soldier, grateful for the healing and soothing from the sisters of Roses

woman_wilderness_View_on_the_wissahickon_james_peale

View on the Wissahickon by James Peale

of Sharon said,

“Until I entered the walls of Ephrata, I had no idea of pure and practical Christianity. I knew it in theory before; I saw it in practice then.”

William Penn, Heretics, and the New World

In New Atlantis, Sir Francis Bacon writes of Bensalem, a place where “generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendour, piety and public spirit” will reign. Bensalem inspired the founders of the Royal Society of London. At roughly the same time, the mid to late seventeenth century, Quakers in England were deported, imprisoned, or worse.

William Penn, a pacifist Quaker, was more or less paid off by King Charles II to round up all the heretics he could, haul them away from England and, for good measure, everywhere else in Europe, and drop them in America. Between what Quakers already owned and controlled of East and West Jersey, and the new grant to settle the debt of the Crown, Quakers controlled West Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Upon receipt of his charter, Penn wrote, “It is a clear and just thing, and my God who has given it me through many difficulties, will, I believe, bless and make it the seed of a nation,” a major tenet of which would be spiritual tolerance and the freedom to worship as one sees fit. Penn’s promotional literature, proselytizing tours through Europe, and Frame of Government emphasized religious freedom and open discourse, offering, at least in theory, the power to the populace to actively influence government.

Among Penn’s favorite regions in which to recruit were the Rhinelands and Lowlands of Germany. Penn extended invitations to all German Quakers, and he proved especially attractive to the Pietists. Francis Daniel Pastorius secured land from Penn, and the two collaborated on a plan for a “Germanopolis”– Germantown. Pastorius soon led a modest wave of Pietist immigration from Germany to Pennsylvania.

Aside from escaping persecution, the Pietists came because they thought that Europe and the Church were suffering the death rattles of unregenerate and irreversible spiritual decay. The Pietist groups were attracted by the promise of a true New World, one in which Christianity could be recalled from the profligate, restored, purified to the point that Christ, the Bridegroom, would return. Casting their eyes upon the old world, the Pietists marked the signs of the Apocalypse. Divine Judgment was imminent. The Pietists, like Noah, built an ark and sailed for a new land in which they could live rightly and be spared holy retribution. Distancing themselves from the old world, full of sin, they congregated in dens of peace and brotherhood to facilitate rediscovery of the truth long trampled by moral decline.

Cocooning in the Wilderness

Ten years after the founding of Germantown, a group of Pietists, who were also third-degree Rosicrucian adepts, took root in huts and caves on the ridge above the Wissahickon. Johannes Kelpius and his followers thought of themselves as the Chapter of Perfection. By “perfection,” Kelpius was referring to their task of “completing” a spiritual journey. In no way did the “monks of the ridge” regard themselves as “flawless.” Today, we refer to Kelpius’ group as Woman in the Wilderness. The study of the history of communes and intentional communities in America is incomplete without an understanding of Woman in the Wilderness.

woman_in_the_wilderness_Johannes_Kelpius

Johannes Kelpius

Johannes Kelpius left the Old World to find an unspoiled place in which, via study and prayer, he could prepare for the New Era. Mathematicians, theologians, astronomers, Kabbalists- Johannes Kelpius and forty fellow university scholars settled in the wilderness, on the spot, and during the year in which, they expected the Second Coming. By day, Kelpius and his brethren studied, worshiped, taught school, and plied trades: physician, architect, bookbinder, clockmaker. By night, they scanned the skies, eyes intent on the Millennium. The Bridegroom never arrived. However, the members of Woman in the Wilderness, learned men early in the Age of Enlightenment, were aware that they had come to a place of pure potential, a place where they could find the religious freedom and political rights essential to the world they wanted to inhabit and for which they were prepared to sacrifice.

In “The Messenger of the Magi,” published in the 1951 Rosicrucian Digest, Harold Preece writes,

Whatever the unrevealed purposes of the Masters, their intention had been clear choosing this young, new nation of the West as the place where majestic teachings would flower in august greatness. Here, eventually, free institutions would permit the free dissemination of noble, redeeming principles kept carefully guarded in older countries wracked by tyranny and torture. Here, truth would be left forever unchained to combat error through reason and logic. Here, seekers of the truth could be informed of the great Order, which waited graciously to serve them.

The hermits of the Wissahickon, the Pietists and Rosicrucians of Ephrata, all devout, skilled, intelligent, learned people, believed just as deeply as George Washington or any other of the founding fathers that America was a destination promised to the deserving. Like Washington, Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson, the “monks of the ridge” and the later cloister sensed that the power to determine history, the capacity to influence the evolution of humanity was in their grasp.

They approached from different angles, but the radical mystic Protestant theosophists of Ephrata and the evolving Enlightenment Age politicians of the emerging United States met at meaningful points.


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Reverend Peter Miller of the Ephrata Cloister taught George Washington a lesson in charity and the humane treatment of prisoners and criminals.

  

Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands.
— George Washington, 1776

 

The Patriot cause and the Continental Army received incalculable wartime aid from a commune of pacifist Rosicrucian scholars, the German Pietists of the Ephrata Cloister, beginning with the publication of the Declaration of Independence and lasting through the aftermath of the battles at Brandywine, Paoli, and Germantown. The men of Ephrata’s Brotherhood of Zion and the women of the Roses of Sharon furthered the Revolutionary efforts in various meaningful ways. Footnotes Since the Wilderness will look at several, but begin with an encounter between George Washington and Prior Jaebez, the Reverend Peter Miller.

Although a minor character in the Commander’s career, Peter Miller had- just perhaps- a profound impact on Washington.

George Washington

George Washington

A relatively arcane event may help explain one or more pardons Washington granted during the Revolution and, perhaps, his Presidency. Washington, by 1775, had documented his predisposition to treat enemies per the parameters of the humanitarian ideals evolving in the minds of the leaders of the young nation. That doesn’t mean that, a few years of disillusions, frustration, bloodshed and scattered betrayals down the road, the man didn’t require a little reminder of his own principles.

Peter Miller taught George Washington a lesson in forgiveness and charity when Miller petitioned the Commander in Chief to pardon the Cocalico tavern owner and convicted traitor, Michael Widman. Widman had been a vocal Patriot. After the colonies declared independence, Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County had formed a Committee of Safety, and Michael Widman spearheaded that Committee from inception.

Following the nearby Battle of Brandywine and the British occupation of Philadelphia, General Howe dispatched two men, traveling in cognito, to gather intelligence near the Ephrata Cloister because, by that time, the cloister had become the principal hospital for Continental soldiers wounded near Brandywine. The men stopped for supper and lodging at Michael Widman’s tavern, a short ride from Ephrata. Widman spoke of General Howe in an uncomplimentary manner. His guests were murderously perturbed. Enemy pistol to his chest, Widman managed to break through the window to his rear, and escape into the black night. Fearing that his life depended upon finding refuge from his pursuers, he hid in the attic of the brother’s house at Ephrata. All Germantown knew that Widman, a prominent, combative member of the Reformed church, had serious issues with the heretics at Ephrata. The cloister was the last place the townspeople would expect to find Michael Widman.

Widman crouched behind the chimney in the attic of the Brotherhood of

Ephrata Brother's house

Ephrata Brother's house

Zion for three days. Hungry, sleepless, at wit’s end, he grew convinced he would be executed if discovered by the British. He resolved to leave Ephrata and head for Philadelphia, request an audience with General Howe, apologize for his loose tongue and beg for clemency. Widman stopped home to tell his wife of his plight. When he reached Philadelphia, Widman saw Howe. Widman offered General Howe the locations of the Rebel munitions stores.

The men of the scouting party at the tavern recognized Widman, and reminded Howe about the event. Widman was petrified. To save his neck, he offered every conceivable service to the British. General Howe, disgusted by the whimpering Widman, summarily dismissed him, unharmed. “Such a cowardly and contemptible man,” said Howe “could never be trusted in the Royal cause.”

Widman couldn’t even claim the honors due a rat. Meanwhile, his wife had told the authorities of his plan to betray the Continental Army. As soon as he emerged from behind British lines, militia seized and hauled him to the Block House in West Chester. At court-martial, he was convicted for treason.

Peter Miller was the only person who spoke on Widman’s behalf, not at his trial but, after walking overnight from Ephrata to Valley Forge—quite a hike- he spoke directly to George Washington. Washington received Miller with respect and grace. They knew one another. Washington was fully cognizant and heartily appreciative of the service that Ephrata, and Peter Miller, provided the Patriot cause.

Miller interceded between the Commander and his prisoner not, as Washington first assumed, because Widman and Miller were friends. To the contrary: Widman was Miller’s admitted “worst enemy,” and had treated the gentle, if intellectually aggressive mystic quite roughly over the years, as they frequently crossed one another’s path.

Years before, Peter Miller had been the minister at the German Reformed church at Goshenhoppen, in Germantown. Under the influence of Conrad Beisell and the Dunkers, Rosicrucians, Pietists and Seventh Day Adventists at Ephrata, Miller rejected the more conventional principles of the Reformed Church. Michael Widman became the new minister. He took Miller’s defection personally. Widman spat in Miller’s face whenever they met, tripped him on the local footpaths, and at least once punched the saintly Peter Miller, who was wont to thank Widman for any abuse.

Washington, like numerous other leaders and scholars in the colonies, revered Peter Miller. Moved by the teacher’s argument, that Jesus had done as much for him, Washington granted Widman pardon and, with tears in his eyes, in front of his men, the Commander thanked Peter Miller for the lesson in charity. So did Widman. He and Miller walked home together.

Here embellished, there diluted, the story has been distorted  so many times over the years it feels a little like the cherry tree fable, but has more factual basis. Colonial records do not indicate that Widman was hanged; they do, however, show that he was punished. His property was seized and sold. Michael Diffenderfer bought four tracts of Widman’s land during March 1780.

Peter Miller taught George Washington a lesson in forgiveness, charity, and non-attachment to the desire to punish and avenge, even during wartime. Ephratan scholars preserved the story for a reason or, maybe more accurately, two reasons. One was to illustrate the extent to which Peter Miller would sacrifice personal safety and welfare to perform an unselfish act of human kindness towards even his most bitter enemy. The second reason was to memorialize the kind of contribution that the men and women drawn to Ephrata could make to a Revolutionary cause that required bloodshed to complete.

Above all a teacher, Peter Miller left home that night to forgive his enemies in a Christ-like manner; he also left home to teach another extraordinary man, one perhaps ‘chosen’ in a secular sense, the wisdom to do the same. Miller went out to sear a message into the spirit of George Washington and, by extension, into the Patriot cause and everything into which America had the power to evolve.

 

The lesson in forgiveness and charity taught by Peter Miller may have influenced Washington’s decision to honor the requests made by friends and Mary Ball Washington’s extended family to pardon a far more notorious and bloodthirsty traitor, Joseph Bettys, just a few years later. Washington took the noose from Joe Bettys’ neck following “pleas from the family and others,” “solicitations of influential and respectable Whigs,” and the “humble petition of his aged father.”

Bettys promised to reform. He didn’t, and was eventually executed, but that’s not relevant. At the moment when Washington pardoned Bettys, he pardoned a man who, multiple times, had proven flagrantly unregenerate, notoriously disloyal to the Patriot cause, embarrassing to the Ball family, and who was making a living robbing, raiding, and killing colonists. Betty’s was clearly an enemy of the state, but was pardoned.

Perhaps Washington had the example set by saintly, humble Peter Miller in mind.

Not only your Officers, and Soldiers have been treated with a Tenderness due to Fellow Citizens, & Brethren; but even those execrable Parricides whose Counsels & Aid have deluged their Country with Blood, have been protected from the Fury of a justly enraged People.- George Washington to Lt. General Gage, 1775


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