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By Bob Wood
For Journal Register News Service
Primary source documents are the gold standard of historical research. These are documents written not by historians, but by people living during the old times. Documents, letters, diaries, journals, business records, and art work created during that early time are the most trustworthy sources.
As I have noted in these columns, the Dutchmen around here wrote almost nothing, so it is the occasional traveler to this region whose journal provides some detail of the early days. Of course, these sources were never plentiful and most have long since been unearthed and published. So it is exciting when a “new” one turns up with details about the early days around here.
Such a journal has turned up, and we have historian, researcher, and author Del-Louise Moyer to thank for it. Utilizing a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a selected group of manuscripts from the Henry Stauffer Borneman Pennsylvania German Collection are now being conserved and digitized by the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia. Ms. Moyer, working for the Free Library of Philadelphia which owns the Borneman collection, has been charged with this task.
Henry Stauffer Borneman, Esq., (1870-1955) was the founder and first dean of the School of Law of Temple University. He was the son of Dr. Joseph Borneman, a dentist and pharmacist who ran the Eagle Drug Store in Boyertown. His mother Esther L. Stauffer Borneman was born and raised in Bally. Henry was named for his grandfather Henry Borneman whose wife was Barbara Herstein of Limerick Township.
From an early age, Henry Stauffer Borneman was a collector of all sorts of early Germanic documents from this region. The Free Library of Philadelphia purchased Mr. Borneman’s extensive collection of Fraktur, manuscripts, and imprints in 1955. Among the collection was the diary of a Moravian missionary, Theodor Schulz, who stopped here in 1799 on his way to Surinam. Born in Gerdauen, East Prussia, Schulz joined the Moravian community in 1795 and spent his life with them in many capacities.
In his diary, Schulz recorded what personally interested him, and reflected on matters close to his heart: the contemporary landscape, customs of the land, architecture, crops, commerce, weather and the daily spiritual life of the Moravian communities he visited. Excerpted here are selections taken from Ms. Moyer’s October 12 presentation at the 3rd Bethlehem Conference on Moravian History and Music.
“6 August At 6:00 a.m. we received permission from the quarantine medical doctors (There was a yellow fever outbreak in 1799, and their ship was in quarantine at Mudfort just north of Chester, Pa.) that we continue our journey for which we were very grateful. At three o’clock in the afternoon, to our delight, we dropped anchor in front of Philadelphia. Brothers Meder and Boller picked us up, and the Philadelphia Moravian congregation warmly welcomed us….
“10 . Philadelphia is a lovely well laid out large city. The houses are almost all built of brick. The city itself lies on the Delaware river. The plan reaches as far as the Schuylkill River but is not yet built up…Brick sidewalks for pedestrians are laid out on both sides. After sweating profusely—for it is exceedingly hot—and a most pleasant stay with the local Brethren there, we set out early on the tenth in the stage for our trip to Bethlehem, which is 565 American miles away from here. We thought the area would be empty and desolate, but it was just the opposite. We drove the entire day through plantations, small towns, and the beautiful forests of mighty oaks, beeches and walnut trees in between. We were especially impressed with the fine roadways and excellent taverns—the mannerly and fine service being quite unexpected. …At 6:30 we arrived in Bethlehem, and got out in front of the Brothers House where everyone warmly greeted us….
“This lovely place is built on a mountain, at the foot of which the Monocaqcy and Lehigh flow by. Over the latter is a high bridge about 200 feet long. The beautiful mountains on which magnificent oaks and nut trees are growing, delight the eye with a charming prospect, and provide some pleasant promenades for local residents. …Especially unusual for us were the field fences, which are unique to America, and which consist of eight or nine foot long split wooden logs, lying end on end on top of one another. Because of this one loses at least six feet of land on both sides. The mill building is beautiful. . A lot of maize, field corn and buckwheat, along with other European fruits, are grown on the rather good local farmland here. Locally it is bound to rain with an East wind, just like the Northwest winds will always bring good weather. Among the various trees were thirteen different types, oaks, walnuts, hickory, nut trees, good tasting chestnuts, sassafras trees that produce berries, sugar maple, catalpa trees with long shadelike fruits,--the leaves are similar to the maple’s, two kinds of hickory (shagbark and shellbark), that also remain green in winter…”
Courtesy: Pennsylvania German Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia Transcription/Translation: Del-Louise Moyer, Theodor Schulz Diary (forthcoming publication)
Preservation of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania German Manuscript Collection has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: because democracy demands wisdom. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Continued next week