The Treaty Elm: A Symbol of Peace

Treaty Elm Box
The Treaty Elm Box was found in the Berks History Center Museum Collection during the Collections Management Initiative

The “Treaty Elm” was an enormous tree which stood near the present day neighborhood of Kensington in Philadelphia. Tradition holds that William Penn pledged an oath of friendship with the Lenape Indian Chief Tamanend at the treaty elm in 1682. While there is no definitive documentation of this meeting, the Treaty Elm came to symbolize Penn’s desire to live in harmony and peace with Native Americans.   After the tree fell during a storm on March 5, 1810, relic hunters salvaged pieces of its wood in order to create mementos of the famous tree.

Today, artifacts crafted from this wood can be found in the collections of several museums.  However, it was with some surprise that we recently discovered a treaty elm box in our collection. While we are not exactly sure of its connection to Berks County, it is inscribed by its maker, a Philadelphia merchant named Benneville D. Brown (1779-1863). Brown was related to several Berks County families including the Keims and Bertolets.

Researched & Written by Bradley K. Smith

Boy’s Skeleton Suit from the Museum Textile Collection


Charles Dickens once described the skeleton suit as “An ingenious contrivance for displaying the symmetry of a boy’s figure by fastening him into a very tight jacket… and then buttoning his trousers over it so as to give his legs the appearance of being hooked on just under his arm pits”.  
In his inventory of the Berks History Center’s Museum Collections, Curator Brad Smith recently uncovered a very old child’s outfit.  The outfit is known as a skeleton suit because of its close fit and high waist line. It was a popular boys style from about 1790 to 1830. While the history of our suit is not fully known, it is marked with the owner’s name.  The script is mostly illegible, however it might say “A.W. Yeager”.  Our hope is that with additional research, we can determine the suit’s exact owner and further narrow down its age and history. Considering that is is approximately 200 years old, this piece of our collection is in remarkably good condition.  Textiles dated to the 1700s are rare as they are prone to degradation.

Lincoln’s Hidden Berks County Roots – Are You Part of the Family Tree?


In a letter to a relative, Abraham Lincoln once wrote that his family “had a vague tradition” that his great-grandfather was a Quaker who migrated from Berks County, Pennsylvania to Virginia.   Lincoln’s family tradition was indeed correct, and modern historians are well aware of the time his great-grandfather, John Lincoln (1716-1788), spent in what would later become Berks County.   However, what is less well known is that some members of his great-grandfather’s family remained in Berks County.

Inventory of the Berks History Center recently uncovered a shaving mug which belonged to one of these family members, Roswell S. Lincoln (1866-1950) – the third cousin, once removed, of the President.  Roswell Lincoln lived at 220 North 9thStreet in Reading and worked as an agent for the Reading Railroad.  His attractive shaving mug, engraved with the initials “R.L.” was donated to the Berks History Center in 1967.   At the time of the donation, it was assumed that Roswell was the last of the Berks County Lincoln’s – since neither he nor his only sibling had children.   Preliminary research suggests this is not the case, however, and Lincoln relatives probably live in Berks County to this day.

Scholla: Catherine Larisch July 31, 1942

Catherine Larisch Indian Captive 7/31/1942

Piece by piece the story of Berks colonial history is taking shape. After nearly two centuries of neglect a revived interest on the part of many persons has begun to retrieve the scattered fragment to place them in the record. One of the unique findings came to light a few weeks ago when Miss Edna Albert of Gardners, translated an inscription written in German on the reverse side of an old Taufschein. The discovery of the inscription was made by William Allen Wood, of Indianapolis, the owner of the old birth certificate. He sent the message to Miss Gardner for translation and the following story came to light.

During one of the Indian outrages which occurred in the Blue Mountains of northwestern Berks in 1755 a beautiful maiden named Catherin Larisch was carried off by the Indians. The girl’s mother was slain in the massacre and a brother and sister were taken captive as well as the oldest daughter of the house. After a time the other children were released and returned to the settlements but, because of her unusual beauty, the Indians refused to set Catherine free. The girl acted as the servant of the chief until she was rescued by a group of men who were surveying the Ohio country.

One of the surveyors made the captive girl his ward and brought her to his home in Philadelphia where she lived the life of a refined young lady of leisure, as a member of an aristocratic family. Her benefactor had hopes of making a match by having his ward marry his own son. But Catherine Larisch had never forgotten her childhood romance with a lad named Peter Schaeffer of Fort Dietrich Snyder, Berks County. Ever solicitous for the girl’s happiness, her guardian set out to find the Schaeffer boy. The Schaeffer family meanwhile had joined the trek to Penn’s Creek in present day Snyder County. Peter was located and the happy reunion culminated in marriage in Philadelphia.

Eight children were born to the union. One of the daughter’s married George Boyer who moved to Haines Township in Centre County, Ohio, in 1805. Mrs. Peter Schaeffer spent her declining years in the home of the Boyers in Ohio and died there in August, 1818, aged 75 years.

Historical Marker for Fort Dietrich-Snyder located off Route 183 near the Appalachian Trail. Courtesy of Luke David Sutliff.
Historical Marker for Fort Dietrich-Snyder located off Route 183 near the Appalachian Trail. Courtesy of Luke David Sutliff.

Scholla: Conestoga February 18, 1942

2/18/1942            Conestoga

There is no object more than symbolic of the growth and development of the United States than the covered wagon, known universally as the Conestoga wagon. It is not surprising that the boat shaped bodies and the convex tops, covered with white linen should have earned the fantastic name of “Ships of Inland Commerce” as they moved through the green hills of Pennsylvania, westward bound. On the western prairies they were called prairie schooners, but their constant and abiding name is Conestoga wagons, derived from the place of their construction, on the banks of the Conestoga Creek, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Also there is no other word as American as the word “stogie.” It refers to an American product and derives its name from Conestoga. The drivers of the six-horse teams that set out over the mountains, westward-bound, wanted a good, long smoke of rich Lancaster tobacco.

What is the meaning and origin of the Indian word, Conestoga?

In 1608, one year after the first English settlement in America, Capt. John Smith explored the lower reaches of the Susquehanna River and drew a map of the region. His explorations carried him as far north as the Octorara Creek in Maryland, but he did not reach the present boundaries of Pennsylvania.

In 1670 Augustin Hermann, one of the patentees of the settlement of German Mystics at Bohemia Manor, explored Susquehanna and constructed a map on which the creek is shown and its name spelled Onestego. The Bohemia Manor settlement was similar, in some respects, to the Ephrata community. It was located in present day Maryland, not far from Chesapeake City. Bohemia River, Maryland, a favorite fishing spot for many Berks countians, derives its name from the old-time religious settlement.

On Franquelin’s map of 1684, two years after the Penn Settlement point of the junction of the Conestoga and the Susquehanna is marked and named Conestoga Fort. On Popple’s map of 1733 the creek itself is named Conestoga and as early as 1704 William Penn had made a treaty with the Indians of Conestoga Manor.

The French explorers had learned of these Indians on the Susquehanna and had named them the Andastes. To the Virginians they were known as the Susquehannocks. They were part of the Iroquois family and in that confederacy they were known as the Conestogas which means “the people of the forked roof poles.”

The term Andastes is much older than the Iroquois name Conestoga. In one of his earlier journal Conrad Weiser speaks of an Andastes fort that he came upon in the wilderness north of Muncy, PA. His red companions on that journey informed him that the Andastes had once been a powerful tribe, but that was before the memory of any person living then. The Iroquois conquered these people in 1685 and many of them fled to North Carolina. Weiser’s discovery of the fort was in 1737.

“Stogies” from Berks County. Source:
Conestoga Wagon. Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society
Conestoga Wagon. Courtesy of the Berks County Historical Society

Scholla: Indian Names in Berks

1/26/1942            Indian Names in Berks

The Rev. John Heckewelder was a Moravian missionary who spent many years among the Indians of Pennsylvania and Ohio. During the corse of his life among them he learned their language and, in 1822, published his “List of Names” and their meanings. Berks Countians will be interested to clip and file this article for reference because we have selected all of the names which Mr. Heckewelder gave about places in Berks.

Tulpehocken – Tulphocoon – Tulpewihacki – the land abounding with turtles. (One recent writer was misled to state that Tulpehocken meant land of the tulip- ed.)

Cacoosing – Cocoosing – Gokhosing – the resort of owls.

Monocacy – Manakasy – Menagassi – creeks with some large bends.

Manatawny – Menatawny – Menetonik – where we drank (were drunk)

Maxatawny – Machsithanne – the stream on which the bears have a path.

Moselem – Maschilamekhanne – trout creek.

Oley – Olink – Wolink – Olo – Wahlo – a cavern cell, a sink hole, a hole dug to bury things – or a track of land surrounded by hills.

In Lancaster County

Cocalico – Achgookwalico – a stream issuing from a mountain.

Conewago – Guneuagi – a long strip of land.

Other Pennsylvania Names

Pocono – Pokohanne – a stream issuing from a mountain.

Mahantango – where we had much venison.

Tobyhanna – a stream on which shrubbery grows luxuriously.

Catawissa – becoming fat.

Tamaqua – Beaver Creek.

Wapwallopen – where white hemp grows.

Wyoming – extensive level flats.

Shamokin – the place of eels.

Towanda – where we bury the dead.

Wissahickon – catfish creek.

Skippack – stagnant water.

Courtesy of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Gift of William L. Elkins The Reverend John Gottlieb Ernestus Heckewelder, by Jacob Eichholtz, 1823.
Courtesy of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Gift of William L. Elkins
The Reverend John Gottlieb Ernestus Heckewelder, by Jacob Eichholtz, 1823.

Scholla: Guinther’s Black Gold January 7, 1942

1/7/1942              Guinther’s Black Gold

Philip Guinther cleared a settlement at Lehigh Landing soon after the war for Independence. Lehigh  Landing, near present day Mauch Chunk (Present day Jim Thorpe) later was given the more classical name of Lausanne.  Phillip fended for a living for his family by hunting in the Bear Mountain or Mauch Chunk Mountain as it was known to the Indians. He shot the game and sold the surplus meats and hides to nearby stores in exchange for the commodities that his family needed.

One night he returned from the hunt dispirited because he had not bagged any meat for his hungry family. Slowly he trod the summit of Mauch Chunk Mountain. Dejectedly his head hung low. A drizzling rain dampened his spirits and he knew that his brood of youngsters were hungry for meat and he had none. It was twilight and his eyes were not keen. His foot stumbled and an object was loosened from the crust of the earth. There was enough light, however to show him that the stone upon which he had stumbled was, black, very black.

Philip Guinther had heard of the stone coal which some Indians had brought to a blacksmith in Powder Valley. He picked up the rock which his foot had dislodged and carried it to his cabin. The next day he carried the stone to Col. Jacob Weiss who was then stationed at Fort Allen now Lehighton. The colonel was alert to recognize the possibilities of the discovery, and, accordingly, he took the specimen to Michael Hillegas and others who were qualified to adjudge the merits of the ore. It was anthracite coal.

Michael Hillegas and his partners formed the “Lehigh Coal Mine Company” in 1792. They paid Philip Guinter a handsome sum to lead them to the spot where he had stumbled. With the money realized from his adventure Philip Guinther built a grist mill near his original settlement and abandoned his hunting activities.

From 1792 until 1806 the Mauch Chunk Mines were not operated on large scale. Stone coal was used only by blacksmiths and a few forges. After Shoemaker showed the world how stone coal could be burned in furnaces it became black gold indeed. In 1820 Lehigh Coal Company mined only 365 tons. Thirty-five years later, in 1855 it produced 1,275,000 tons of the black mineral. The total tonnage prior to the Civil War was almost 10,000,000 tons from the Lehigh Coal Region.

View of Bear Mountain in Mauch Chunk.
View of Bear Mountain in Mauch Chunk.
Looking down from the Switchback Railroad to the Coal loading docks.
Looking down from the Switchback Railroad to the Coal loading docks.
View of Mauch Chunk emphasizing the importance of the barge loading coal chute over the slack water pool above the Lehigh Gap. Photo five years after the railway began operations circa 1832, by Karl Bodmer (1839),_Pennsylvania#/media/File:Karl_Bodmer_Travels_in_America_(5).jpg
View of Mauch Chunk emphasizing the importance of the barge loading coal chute over the slack water pool above the Lehigh Gap. Photo five years after the railway began operations circa 1832, by Karl Bodmer (1839),_Pennsylvania#/media/File:Karl_Bodmer_Travels_in_America_(5).jpg