Backstories are backstories for a reason—and they were the focus of my Retrospect column, which ran monthly in Main Line Today from 2003 to 2019. One that really stuck with me was the tale of Nathaniel Wyeth, which is included in this collection. An engineer who spent his career with DuPont, he invented the plastic soda bottle in 1973. I found an exquisite irony in the fact that the brother of Andrew, an artist famous for his depictions of unspoiled landscapes, was also the person perhaps most responsible for marring those scenes (and many others). It’s not a story you’ll hear at the Brandywine River Museum of Art.
Another of my favorites didn’t make the cut here. It’s the story of Phillis Burr, whose rage practically screams off her tombstone at Great Valley Baptist Church in Devon. Likely born in Guinea, Burr was kidnapped into slavery in 1800. In the “white” narrative, she was rescued by the U.S. warship Ganges, which seized the American-owned slave ship carrying her to market in Cuba. Slavery was still legal at the time, but slave trading with U.S.-flagged vessels was not.
The Ganges’ captain sent Burr’s ship to port in Philadelphia, a city with strong anti-slavery sentiment. But returning her to Africa was not in the cards. Instead, the 10-year-old Burr was signed to an indenture with John William Godfrey, a Philadelphia ironmaster who promised she’d learn “housewifery” and receive an education in exchange for eight years of labor.
Many white Philadelphians were proud of their roles in keeping free those intended for slavery. But the reality was that these unfortunate souls never again saw their homes and were assigned to unpaid labor. Burr’s attitude is reflected in her epitaph: “Brought to America in the warship Ganges and sold into slavery to pay for her passage.”
There is, remember, always another point of view.
Trust No One
There are few unmixed blessings. This was especially true 150 years ago, when “In God We Trust” was first placed on United States coins at the suggestion of a certain Delaware County minister. Looking back, one must embrace the circumstances under which it was done. It was a package deal—one of national devastation and 750,000 dead. It was all about religion.
In 1861, Reverend Mark R. Watkinson was pastor of Ridleyville’s First Particular Baptist Church (now Prospect Park Baptist). That year, he wrote to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase. Fort Sumter had fallen, and Union forces had been defeated at First Bull Run. Prospects for restoring the country seemed dim.
Watkinson’s remedy: Add the words “God, Liberty, Law” to the national coinage. “You are probably a Christian,” he said to Chase, asking how the United States would be remembered if Confederate secession was successful. “Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation?”
Chase bought the logic, if not the wording. Raised by Episcopal bishop Philander Chase, he’d made a name for himself applying his religious views to the cause of abolition. Before joining the Lincoln cabinet, Chase regularly defended runaway slaves, and the white citizens who helped them, while denouncing fugitive slave laws. Within the week, he wrote to James Pollock, director of the U.S. Mint. The director of the mint was, according to his 1890 obituary, “always eager to do the Lord’s business.” Other than his proposal to the treasury secretary, Watkinson left remarkably few historical footprints. He was born in New Jersey and prepared himself for the ministry at the University of Lewisburg (now Bucknell University) and Columbian College (now George Washington University). He was active in the American Baptist Missionary Union.
In 1850, Watkinson was living in the Spring Garden section of Philadelphia. He came to Ridleyville the following year, and he seems to have remained at First Particular until about the end of the Civil War.
As for the wording on the coins, Congress gave the treasury secretary carte blanche. “In God We Trust” fit best. The phrase went first on one- and two-cent coins, and eventually on everything. In 1956, during the Cold War, Congress passed a joint resolution that made it the official national motto, also adding it to paper money.
By the time the phrase first appeared on coins, however, evangelical political fervor was falling out of favor. The carnage of war had made Americans more skeptical of evangelical enthusiasms. In 1861, both sides had marched off sure that God was on their side. A Louisiana woman described the conflict as “a Battle of the Cross against the modern barbarians.” In the North, thousands responded to Julia Ward Howe’s new “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which urged Christ-like martyrdom: “As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.”
But, by 1864, Confederate chaplains were struggling to explain how they were losing if God gave victory to His chosen people. “At the beginning of the war, every soldier had a Testament in his pocket,” lamented one. “Three years later, there were not half dozen in each regiment.”
It was a belief that God did not, after all, have His hand in the bloody war. The soldiers, and the country, just wanted to finish the job and go home. They’d rejected the package deal.
Originally published in the February 2014 issue of “Main Line Today.”
Time and circumstances change how we look at things. In the 1870s, a man who consorted almost exclusively with other men—traveling and sleeping with them, speaking of his love for them—would be about average. What choice did a guy have? Victorian convention made relationships with women formal and artificial. Only male relationships could be close and casual.바카라사이트
Today, though, it all seems rather, well, gay. That’s the posthumous predicament of Chester County’s Bayard Taylor. In 1870, he published the not-so-successful novel, Joseph and His Friend: A Story of Pennsylvania. Some historians have since declared it America’s first gay novel. As evidence of Taylor’s sexuality, they point to his six-year engagement to high-school sweetheart Mary Agnew. “The engagement, like all suspicious engagements, was a long one,” observed Philadelphia writer Thom Nickels. “What forced the marriage was Mary Agnew’s coming down with tuberculosis.”
The couple had only been married two months when she died in December 1850. Quite convenient—except that Taylor later remarried a woman with whom he then lived for 20 years.
Born in Kennett Square, Taylor was the product of an English-German family. His father, Joseph, was a prosperous farmer. Farming didn’t interest Taylor, so it was his good fortune when, in 1837, his dad was elected Chester County sheriff. The new job required that the family relocate to West Chester, where young Taylor attended Bolmar’s Academy, a private school probably several notches better than any available near the family farm. While studying in West Chester, he published his first article, an account of a visit to Brandywine Battlefield, in the West Chester Register. His first poem ran in the Saturday Evening Post the following year. He was just 16.
Taylor wanted to go to college, but his family had no money for that. Instead, he apprenticed for four years with a West Chester printer. He lasted 12 months, quitting when Philadelphia magazine editor Rufus Griswold suggested that he write a book of poetry. Taylor wound up selling Ximena; or the Battle of the Sierra Morena, and Other Poems by subscription. He made enough from Ximena that he could afford to buy out his apprenticeship and travel to Europe.
The European tour lasted two years. When he returned, Taylor republished his newspaper columns in book form: Views A-foot; or Europe Seen with Knapsack and Staff, written to appeal to the would-be traveler of modest means. The book sold well, and Taylor received congratulations from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and John Greenleaf Whittier, both of whom met with him on a visit to Boston. Heady stuff for a 21-year-old.
Needing a steady income, Taylor bought a newspaper in Phoenixville. After a year, he sold the paper and moved to New York to work for $5 a week at The Literary World, the first important American weekly devoted to discussion of current books. In 1848, Taylor began a life-long association with the New-York Tribune, which soon sent him to California to write about the Gold Rush. That trip resulted in Eldorado, one of his best and most popular travel books.
Back in Kennett Square, Mary Agnew was dying. While her fiancé bustled about in New York, her life had become a search for relief from a nagging cough and physical decline. She was buried in December 1850. Eight months later, Taylor was off again, this time to the Middle East. In Egypt, he met August Bufleb, a German businessman. Both became enamored of the other. Bufleb wrote home to his wife that Taylor was “a glorious young man.” “If it were not for you, I would go with him. He has won my love by his amiability, his excellent heart, his pure spirit, in a degree of which I did not believe myself capable,” he said.
Of Bufleb, Taylor told his mother, “When we speak of parting in a few days, it brings the tears into our eyes.”
Taylor built a mansion, Cedarcroft, which still stands in East Marlborough Township, and used it to entertain lavishly. In his career, he wrote 10 travel books and was known as the “Great American Traveler,” but travel interested him less and less. Taylor’s first novel, 1863’s Hannah Thurston: A Story of American Life, is set in Chester County, which he clearly loved, though with mixed feelings.
Taylor’s opinion of women seems to have declined still further by the time he published Joseph and His Friend in 1870. It’s prefaced by a dedication to “those who believe in the truth and tenderness of man’s love for man, as of man’s love for woman.”
The novel was not popular, and Taylor’s defense of the book was mostly muted. “What I attempted to do,” he wrote, “was to throw some indirect light on the great questions which underlie civilized life, and the existence of which is only dimly felt, if not intelligently perceived by most Americans.”
Was Taylor gay or just worldly? It’s hard to say for sure. His attitudes differed from those of his contemporaries. He was fond of the Middle East, where male friends still walk hand-in-hand in public. He was also religiously tolerant—even of phallic worship, which he said offered “profound philosophical truth.”
Perhaps he was merely a traveler who, after a long time away, returned to his native land and saw it for the first time.
Originally published in the August 2014 issue of “Main Line Today.”
The Other Wyeth
Odd pairings are legendary. There’s Bill and Hillary. Jimmy Carter and his beer-drinking brother, Billy. And then there’s Andrew Wyeth and his brother, Nat. One is an artist famed for his depictions of the parched winter landscapes of Maine and Chadds Ford. The other was responsible for much of the litter that mars those landscapes—and most others, as well.
Nathaniel Wyeth, an engineer who spent his career with DuPont, invented the plastic soda bottle. That’s the bottle, patented in 1973, whose manufacture requires 1.5 million barrels of oil annually and has only a one-in-five chance of ever being recycled.
During his career, Wyeth invented or was the co-inventor of 25 products and processes in plastics, textile fibers, electronics and mechanical systems. The third child of Carolyn and Newell Convers (N.C.) Wyeth, he was initially named for his father. But the boy’s parents went to court before he reached age 5 and had his name legally changed. It was their habit to put toddler Nat out on a sunny, enclosed porch in a baby carriage for his daily nap. But his hands were always greasy when they got him up. “One day, they kept an eye on me,” Wyeth said later. “Then they noticed me lean over the side of the coach, reach down and move the wheels with my hands.”
By turning the wheels, the little boy made the coach move from one end of the porch to the other. Back and forth, over and over, dirtying his hands in the process. “I don’t know why we should encumber this boy with an artist’s name when he’s undoubtedly going to be an engineer,” said his father. “Look at his understanding of those wheels and the way he’s moving that coach!”
So, Newell Convers Wyeth Jr. became Nathaniel Convers Wyeth, a name he shared with an uncle who was an engineer. Throughout his life, Wyeth dismissed the notion that his father might have been disappointed that he didn’t paint. “The only thing he insisted on was that whatever we did, we should do it with all our hearts, with all our might,” he said.
Wyeth earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, a school recommended by another engineer-uncle, Stimson Wyeth. After college, he joined Delco, a Dayton, Ohio, auto-parts company recommended by his namesake, Uncle Nathaniel. At Delco, he made a good impression early on by solving a production problem in the manufacture of Sani-Flush, the toilet bowl cleaner. One of the ingredients kept plugging a valve in a machine that mixed the cleaner. The valve crossed from one side of a pipe to the other, but sometimes couldn’t close entirely because the gritty, acidic material was in the way. Wyeth replaced the single-gate valve with a two-door version. 온라인카지노