Book Review: Journey: The Compelling Tale of a Journey to America, 1720

Journey: The Compelling Tale of a Journey to America, 1720; by Shirley A. Kitner Mainello; published 2013 by Anchor House, Bloomington: Indiana; ISBN 978-1-4817-2757-0; 5 inches b 8 inches softbound; 245 pages.


“If the weather cooperated and the captain was honest, the trip could take six to eight weeks.  If they met storms, high winds, bad conditions, or dishonest captains the voyage could last two to three months.  There are documented cases on record in which the trip took as much as twelve weeks.” – Journey: The Compelling Tale of a Journey to America, 1720, page 245.

Working in the library every day, gives one a different perspective on Berks County history.  The more you are here, the more you immerse yourself in the past.  Often, the genealogists who visit seem only concerned about collecting names and dates.  They sometimes forget that these names and dates were real people, who often had to overcome hardships, make life-changing decisions and struggle to survive in order to better their future.  Through extensive research, Journey: The Compelling Tale of a Journey to America, 1720 tells the story of three families and their decision to leave Germany and travel to America.  The author draws the reader into these families, and transports the reader along with them as they travel down the River Rhine and later over the Atlantic Ocean to Philadelphia.  The Journey was by no means easy and was fraught with sickness, death, greedy princes and uncertainty before they reached Rotterdam to begin their travels across the ocean.  While written for younger audiences, Journey: The Compelling Tale of a Journey to America, 1720, is a must read for anyone beginning their genealogical journey.  It provides perspective to a researcher, whose family made a similar journey and settled into Berks County.  It also lays the foundation to better understanding the immigrant ancestor and makes the more real than just names and dates.


Written by former BHC Archivist, Kim Brown.

Knights of the Golden Circle, Book Review

Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War; by David C. Keehn; published 2013 by Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; ISBC 978-0-8071-5004-7; 6 inches by 9 inches hardbound; 290 pages with black and white photographs.  

“Unlike secret societies that sought mystical otherworldly knowledge, the Knights pursued a real-world agenda of Southern Hemisphere expansion and promotion of southern rights.  The KGC’s secret knowledge was a practical program of Manifest Destiny expansion incorporated by true believers in the here and now.  Furthermore, the Knights focused on military drill and training in preparation for militant action.”  –Knights of the Golden Circle, page 188.

My first experience with the Knights of the Golden Circle, was reading the book, Enemies in the Rear, or the Golden Circle Squared, by Frances Hoover.  Enemies in the Rear and newspaper articles found in the Berks and Schuylkill Journal portrayed the Knights as a group of northerners, who supported the Southern causes of States’ Rights and expansion of slavery, and from a Berks County perspective, people who just wanted the government to leave them alone.  When David Keehn contacted me regarding his new book, Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War, I jumped at the chance to learn more about this organization.  What I read, pardon the cliché, blew my mind.  Forget what you think you know about Enemies in the Rear, what was passed down through whispers from generation to generation and really, what you know about the start of the Civil War.  The Knights of the Golden Circle, was a militant secret organization started by George W. L. Bickley, which up until the mid-1860s focused on American colonization of Mexico, eventually down into South America.   The Knights, while swearing allegiance to the United States and publically declaring they would not go against the Constitution, raised and armed militias that descended upon Texas, awaiting permission from the Mexican government to cross the border and claim their lands.  As the election of 1860 approached, the Knights had a philosophy shift and broke with Bickley.  The Knights had a key role in assisting the Southern Governors with secession, in some cases determining the outcome such as in Texas, the formation of the Confederate Government and the Army, and a few of the Knight’s militia units overtook some of the Federal Forts and confiscated arms in southern states.  Upper echelon Knights, became high placed advisors in the new government and commanded regiments in the field.  The extent and reach of the Knights was surprising and fascinating and I kept asking myself… “Why haven’t I heard of them before?”  Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War, should be considered by anyone wanting to know more about this organization and to gain a better understanding of how the American Civil War took shape.


Written by former BHC Archivist, Kim Brown.

Book Review: Powwowing Among the Pennsylvania Dutch

Powwowing Among the Pennsylvania Dutch: A Traditional Medical Practice in the Modern World, by David W. Kriebel; published 2007 by The Pennsylvania State University Press; ISBN 978-0-271-03213-9; 6.25 inches x 9.25 inches hardbound; 295 pages, black and white images.  $30.00 in the Museum Store at the Historical Society of Berks County.

Being new to the world of the Pennsylvania Dutch, I am always eager to read something that will help me understand the history of this area.  My volunteers love throwing “new” words at me with a little smile however, the one word they have not successfully explained was the Pennsylvania term Powwow.  Even my parents assumed, as did I, that it had something to do with the Native American Tradition in Pennsylvania.  David Kriebel’s book, Powwowing Among the Pennsylvania Dutch: A Traditional Medical Practice in the Modern World is an historic look at this early form of medicine.  Kriebel not only provides descriptions of actual powwow doctors, but also provides an in depth look at the rituals used through successful cases.  Kriebel relies on past histories, oral tradition and personal experience to bring understanding to the practice of Powwow.  The reoccurring theme is that this practice is not medical based, but faith based and if one truly believes, it will be successful.  In an age where we are turning to a holistic model of medicine, and look for natural remedies for our ailments, the Pennsylvania Dutch Powwow is ahead of the curve.  While many tout this practice as old or uneducated, Kriebel makes a case for the relevance of Powwow in today’s society.

Powwowing Among the Pennsylvania Dutch is an interesting analysis on a practice that was once believed to be dead in today’s society.  Anyone interested in learning more about this practice should definitely read this book.

Written by former BHC Archivist, Kim Brown.

Book Review: Manhattan Railway Company

Frank K. Hain and the Manhattan Railway Company: The Elevated Railway, 1875-1903; by Peter Murray Hain; published 2011 by McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson: North Carolina; ISBN 978-0-7864-6405-0; 7 inches x 10 inches hardbound; 163 pages, black and white images.

“…No other railroad system in the world, great or small, carries so many passengers and probably none other carries them so safely….  In the 16 years that Colonel Hain [was in charge], the roads carried 2 ½ billion people, and not one passenger has ever been killed in a train on the system.” – Railway Gazette, May 15, 1896 in an editorial regarding Frank K. Hain’s death.

Like some people in Berks County, who have never ventured outside the county boarder to visit Philadelphia, not every New Yorker has traveled to “the City”.  I however, have made several trips to NYC to visit my best friend, and anyone who has ever gone there used the “trains” at one point or another.  Passengers relying on the mass transit system of trains (the terminology used for the Subway), cross-town busses and taxies have probably put very little thought into its development.  In Frank K. Hain and the Manhattan Railway Company: The Elevated Railway, 1875-1903, author Peter Murray Hain chronicles the birth of the elevated railway in Manhattan from a succession of failed companies to the conglomeration of tracks united under the Manhattan Railway Company, which went from receivership to a successful corporation, until it was replaced by the Subway (the last elevated car stopped running in 1958).  Juxtaposed against the rise of the Manhattan Railway Company is the story of Frank K. Hain, who rose through the ranks, starting with the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad to become the General Manager and Vice-President of the Manhattan Railway Company. Born in 1836 in Stouchsburg, PA, Hain’s life, while difficult, was extraordinary.  As an engineer, Hain served in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War.  His ship the U. S. S. Iroquois, after barely escaping fire from the C.S.S Louisiana is credited with capturing New Orleans in 1862.  Through hard work, foresight and luck, Hain met and became friends with Jay Gould and landed the job and responsibility of running the then failing Manhattan Railway Company.  Under Hain’s determination and dedication, the company rose to prominence and Hain and his wife rose as well and became part of the elite society in New York City.  While his status within the company came with certain obligation, Hain never got caught up in the lifestyles of the rich and famous and worked hard to keep his working class passengers safe and moving through the City.  Frank K. Hain and the Manhattan Railway Company: The Elevated Railway, 1875-1903, is a story of constant struggle and defying adversity in order to succeed during a time when the world was modernizing in a city that is never satisfied and constantly on the move.  This is a must read for anyone interested in the rise of mass transit transportation.

Written by former BHC Archivist, Kim Brown.