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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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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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History often tangles us up in battles, polemics and gods. Not so the story of the Wistar family, from their colonial Philadelphia and West New Jersey businesses through the DNA passed today between lab rats. Although the family lacks its former “household name” status, the Wistars remain among the most celebrated families to have called the middle colonies and Mid-Atlantic States home. Wistar genealogy and social circles spin you through names like Franklin, Bache, Trist, and Jefferson, to name but a few. Family members built fortunes though business, rose to international prominence for medical and scientific achievements, received accolades for their philanthropy, chaired learned societies, ascended the ranks of Freemasonry and exposed social injustice, becoming particularly vocal during abolition and prison reform debates.

 

Caspar Wistar and America‘s First Profitable Glass Factory

 

glass factory

A Furnace at the Glass Factory

Caspar was the first Wistar to emigrate from Germany to America. He arrived in 1717, virtually broke, with nine pence and a rifle, and settled in the area between Berks County and Philadelphia. Caspar, always industrious, made soap, and bootstrapped and brokered real estate deals to save enough to purchase a furnace and, next, a forge in Berks County. With the forge, Caspar built a very profitable business, manufacturing high quality brass buttons, a staple of period apparel.

Wistarburgh GlassThe rising young businessman joined the Society of Friends and married wisely, wedding a wealthy Quaker, Catherine Jansen. Associating with the Society of Friends would prove opportune, especially during the middle years of operations at the Wistar Glass Works in Wistarburgh, in Salem County, New Jersey. At Wistarburgh, Caspar built the very first glass factory in America to achieve sustained profitability.

Caspar opened a retail store on Market Street in Philadelphia, quite close to the home of Ben Franklin, with whom he became good friends. Caspar died one of the leading merchants and wealthiest men in the middle colonies, thanks to the button and brass works, sagacious real estate speculation, the landmark Wistarburgh glass business, and family operated retail outlets in New Jersey and New York. Caspar’s brother, Richard Wistar, ran the New York store.

Caspar Wistar, Wistarburgh, Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin's Electrostatic Generator

Wistarburgh pane glass and bottles were common in homes and businesses throughout the middle colonies. Wistar glass also enjoys the historic and scientific honor of having been made to specification for Benjamin Franklin, who incorporated Wistar glass in a variety of devices he designed for his experiments in electricity. Franklin tested his first lightning rod at Caspar Wistar’s house.

More on the Wistarburgh Glass Works


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Caspar Wistar M.D. is the grandson of the Caspar who built the glass business. His medical training was first rate: University of Edinburgh. The family could clearly afford the best. Following graduation, he returned to Philadelphia where, in 1789, he succeeded the esteemed Benjamin Rush as the chemistry professor at the College of Pennsylvania, known today as the University of Pennsylvania. Caspar Wistar also taught midwifery and, most importantly, anatomy. In fact, Doctor Caspar Wistar wrote the seminal American anatomical textbook, the two-volume A System of Anatomy, published in 1811 and 1814.

Caspar the M.D. was a highly respected member of numerous of the most learned societies in the humanities and sciences, and sat on the boards of numerous schools and hospitals. His expertise earned him worldwide renown, which helped him to recruit medical students from Europe to study in Pennsylvania. Doctor Wistar was among the earliest advocates of the benefits of vaccination against disease.

Thomas Nutall, the botanist, named the familiar vine Wistaria for Caspar. Watchful eyes studying the Lewis and Clark Expedition may recall the name Wistar, too. As Stephen Ambrose reminds us, “Dr. Caspar Wistar was the last of the Philadelphia savants” Meriwether Lewis consulted while preparing for his journey through the Louisiana Purchase territory. Thomas Jefferson, Doctor Wistar’s close friend, as revealed through Jefferson’s correspondence, recommended the doctor to Lewis. Ambrose cites Wistar as the “foremost authority on fossils in America.” Wistar and Meriwether Doctor Wistar, America's Premier Anatomist, and the First American DinosaurLewis discussed Megalonyx and the mastodons Jefferson and Lewis thought might still be stomping Midwestern prairie. Lewis sent Wistar specimens for identification.

Bill Bryson unearths a chance for Doctor Caspar to have had another claim to fame, however. In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bryson relates the 1787 disinterment of a huge leg bone, likely a femur, from the banks of Woodbury Creek, in Gloucester County, New Jersey. American Scientist points out that the “distinguished physician and anatomist Caspar Wistar” presented a paper to the American Philosophical Society in which he described a very large thighbone, too large to belong to any of the animals indigenous to the region at that time. American Scientist further notes that Woodbury Creek is quite close to the marl pits at Haddonfield, New Jersey, where, “70 years later, the first associated remains of any dinosaur were excavated and described by Joseph Leidy as Hadrosaurus…we can be reasonably sure that the femur [described by Wistar] was the first discovery of an American dinosaur.”


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With Henry Wister, the family saga twists away from the stolid towards the curious. Henry Wister’s legacy is also the easiest to illustrate, so we’ll indulge.

Dr. Wistar's Balsam of Wild CherryBesides Richard, Caspar “Glass” Wistar had another brother, John. John’s line spelled the family name with a penultimate “e” rather than “a.” Henry descends from John, as does Sarah (Sally) Wister, the author of Sally Wister’s Journal, a chronicle of a young woman’s life during the British occupation and later evacuation of Philadelphia.

Circa 1840, Henry Wister developed a nostrum, Dr. Winstar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry, a heady mélange of cherry bark, alcohol and opiates. Sales were enormous. Dr. Winstar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry was on the market for over 100 years. Its bottles- made long after the Wistarburgh glassblowers last fired the furnace near the dawn of the Revolutionary War- remain highly prized by glass collectors.

The formula rights passed to various hands during the product’s market Dr. Wistar's Balsam of Wild Cherrytenure. In 1855, a spin-off hit the pharmacy shelves: Winstar’s Cough Lozenges. Dr. Winstar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry was allegedly the cure for “consumption,” or tuberculosis, and its popularity no doubt stemmed from the fact that up to 25% of the adult population during the middle of the nineteenth century through WWI was thought to have died of “consumption.”

Heavily advertised, Dr. Winstar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry was often featured in large placements in newspapers up and down the US eastern seaboard and throughout Canada. In its heyday, the Balsam was the best selling nostrum on the market.

 

“No Quackery!  No Deception!

The Physician may boast of his skill in many diseases, the Quack may puff his wonderful cures, but of all the remedies ever discovered for the diseases of the Pulmonary Organs, it is universally admitted that nothing has ever proved as successful as that unrivaled medicine-  Dr. Winstar’s Balsam of Wild Cherry, which has effected some of the most astonishing cures ever recorded in the history of Medicine.”

 

So ran a sample ad. At a buck a bottle, it was worth a shot, even if just for the buzz.


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Isaac Jones Wistar is the great nephew of Dr. Caspar Wistar the anatomist. Despite establishing an endowment to fund what became America’s first independent medical research facility, Isaac was not a man of medicine. He was almost everything but.

Isaac Jones Wistar

Isaac Jones Wistar

Seduced by the gold rush in 1849, Isaac made money mining after moving to San Francisco, where he studied law in addition to veins of ore. Between 1857 and 1861, Isaac returned to Pennsylvania, where he practiced law before the Supreme Court of Philadelphia. During this period, Isaac lead quite a varied life, working not only as an attorney, but also as a farmer, a trapper for Hudson’s Bay Company, and mountaineer. Later Isaac, like several of his ancestral Wistars, would become a noted advocate for prison reform.

As the Civil War flared in 1861, Isaac Wistar raised roughly 1000 volunteers for a unit to go to battle under his command. Wounded several times, he served with distinction in the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, at Gettysburg, and at Antietam. By 1864, he made Brigadier General, but soon retired from the military and returned to his home in Philadelphia, where he assumed the roll of vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and managed its coal shipping and canal divisions. Isaac prospered.

Isaac’s great uncle Caspar, the anatomist and teacher, developed an

Anatomical Model by William Rush for Caspar Wistar and the Wistar Horner Museum

Anatomical Model by William Rush

extensive collection of fossils, anatomical models and teaching aids, representing both human and animal forms. A core holding within the collection were the models made to spec for Caspar by William Rush, the founder of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and widely considered America’s first important native sculptor. William Rush became famous for his grand-scale public sculptures, and is remembered by military historians for the figurehead carvings featured on four of the US Navy’s first six frigates, but Rush also finished 21 large anatomical models for Caspar Winstar, using carved wood and papier-mache. Rush’s large anatomical structures, combined with an array of lesser models of varied provenance, formed the cornerstone of the first anatomical museum in the United States: the Wistar and Horner Museum.

William Horner, the physician appointed by Doctor Wistar to curate the early phase of the collection, added considerably to its holdings. When Joseph Leidy, the respected parasitologist and paleontologist, took over for Horner, he further developed the anatomical museum to include groundbreaking dinosaur specimens. The holdings grew so large, and were so well used, the University of Pennsylvania had trouble budgeting for its maintenance.

The Wistar Institute

Drawing for the Wistar Institute in 1894

Isaac Jones Wistar saved the collection. His endowment created the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology. The University of Pennsylvania transferred the holdings of the Wistar and Horner collection to the Institute in 1894.

Within a decade, the Wistar Institute became an important center for medical research. Its contributions to science include the eponymous Wistar Rat, the world’s first standardized lab animal, from which the Institute estimates that half of all today’s lab rats descend. The Wistar Institute developed vaccines against rubella and rabies (a good idea, with all those rats around) and is now considered among the world’s premier cancer research facilities.


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Tom Paine loved his home in bucolic, cozy Bordentown. Fellow patrons of The Washington House, Paine’s favorite local tavern, recalled, “Nothing but brandy and atheism ever passed his lips.” Had religious radical Tom still been around in 1856, he likely would have knocked a few back with his neighbors, but the topic of conversation would have veered from atheism towards what the newspapers denounced as “the blackest paganism.”

A story carried by the New York Times asked:

“Could the annals of middle-African fetish worship- could the darkest pollutions of Oriental Devil-worship- could the gloomiest delusions of the middle ages…show a more horrible picture of human madness and hallucination?”

Over 2000 residents of Bordentown and its vicinity attended the ceremony, quite likely making it the largest ceremony ever seen in the small town. The bride, just seventeen, was presumably lovely and the ceremony proceeded in the usual manner of the day, provided, of course, that you overlook the fact that the groom was a corpse.

The young man was dead before his wedding day began. To the “spiritualist” couple, the groom’s father, and a medium, the well-boxed groom presented but minor impediment, although the story is unclear about the manner in which the couple exchanged rings and vows.

Neither groom nor wedding guests who gave witness to this short circuit in the cycle of Bordentown life had to answer the question of whether they were wearing their “buryin’ or marryin’ suits.” The funeral for the groom took place immediately following his wedding.

The bride “raved and flung herself into the grave like one possessed by an evil spirit” during the funeral. She was “with great difficulty borne” from the spot, but shortly composed herself for the reception at her father-in-law’s home.

The “victims of demonism” set the groom’s spiritual body a chair at table, where he was remembered with a full place setting and all pertinent condiments.

Some time after the wedding, the bride left Bordentown. She moved to California.


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