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Friday, August 26, 2016

The 4th Delaware, Company E Reunion

Cpt. David E. Buckingham
Without question, the defining event for the United States in the 19th Century (if not ever) was the Civil War. For the soldiers involved, as well as their families, it was the most exciting and terrifying period of their lives. I'm sure anyone around now who has endured more recent military service can attest to this. One of the big differences, though, between the Civil War and more recent conflicts is the scale. About 10% of the population served in the war and about 2% died. This would be equivalent to over 32 million people in the service and almost 6.5 million dead today. The only thing that remotely compares was World War II, where the service percentage was comparable but the death toll was much lower.

War is, as I've heard, hell, but even through the carnage that was the Civil War the soldiers found at least one positive experience to take away from it -- camaraderie. These predominantly rural men, many of whom who lived on isolated farms, suddenly found themselves surrounded 24/7 by their fellow soldiers. They did everything together, relying on each other for companionship and, often, their very survival. When they eventually returned home to their farms, many had no one to talk to about their experiences and missed the brotherhood in which they had been immersed in the army. It's no wonder that in the decades following the war many attempts were made to rebuild the kind of camaraderie the men had felt in the service.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Charles S. Philips Photographic Collection

Greenbank Mill and the Philips House
There are many resources available to historical researchers in their attempts to reconstruct and make sense of the past. Public documents like censuses, birth, death, and marriage certificates, and government reports can give you an idea of what was going on where. Personal documents like letters and diaries can give insights into the why's of past lives. But for my money (such as it is) there's nothing quite like old photographs. Somehow, actually looking at an image (no matter how blurry) of a person or a place can make them seem real in a way that words on paper never can.

From what I've seen, at least, most of the historic photographs we have from the late 19th/early 20th Century era tend to come to us from professional photographers. Some are portraits taken in a formal studio, while many others were likely taken "in the field" by itinerant photographers. These were men (mostly) who traveled around with their camera and equipment and took pictures of those in rural areas who didn't have easy access to a studio in the nearest city. Some of these same itinerants took many of the photos for the postcards of the day, too.

All that being said, once in a while we're lucky enough to have some photos from a different kind of source -- an amateur photographer. Cameras were certainly not as common then as they are now, but they were not impossible to get or use, either. (In my own family, I have a great-great grandfather who had a camera in that era, and took some really cool shots. One was a triple exposure with three of him sitting around a table playing cards.) However, the process of taking and developing photographs at that time was still fairly involved. The people who did it really liked photography, and were probably very methodical people. They took pictures of things that interested them. We're fortunate enough that one such person like this hailed from Mill Creek Hundred, and came back to the area to take some wonderful photographs. Many of these photographs will be on public display later this month (August 2016).

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

St. Barnabas' Episcopal Church

St. Barnabas' Church, pre-1911
As with many rural areas in the 18th and 19th Centuries, some of the main pillars and binding points of the community in Mill Creek Hundred were its houses of worship. Early arrivers like the Quakers, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians set up their churches and meeting houses as soon as there were enough members to fill them. Many of these were firmly in place by the mid-1700's. Later groups like the Methodists and Catholics were not far behind. Initially in MCH, with the slight exception of Stanton (Cuckoldstown), there were no real towns or villages to speak of. Congregations usually built their churches wherever someone would sell or donate land.

By the later 19th Century, though, a few small areas did manage to grow to at least village status. One of these locales was the mill town of Marshallton. The iron works there had been running and growing since the early 1800's, and the village with it. Additionally, just a short walk away sat the little factory village of Kiamensi. All the workers living there (or at least, most of them) attended one church or another each Sunday. The Presbyterians would walk up Duncan Road to Red Clay Creek Church, which wasn't too far away. The Methodists went to Stanton originally, until they built their own church in 1886.

The Episcopalians of Marshallton and Kiamensi had even further to go. They were forced to walk to either Old St. James Church on the other side of Stanton, or to the other St. James Church in Newport. By the late 1880's, Marshallton and Kiamensi residents began to take matters into their own hands. [I should note at this point that much of the following information comes from the wonderful history posted on the church's website, written by Judy Reinicker and others.] What would eventually become St. Barnabas Episcopal Church began as a church school sometime prior to 1890, working as an extension of St. James Church in Newport. There was no church building yet, and members simply met in each others houses.