Papers Read before the Historical Society of Frankford

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Vol. 2, No. 21910

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<p>Papers ReadBEFORE THE</p> <p>HISTORICAL SOCIETY of Frankford</p> <p>vol. 2. No. 2.</p> <p>"THE FRANKFORD GAZETTE" 1910</p> <p>CONTENTS(Page)</p> <p>John Comly, a History Bird Life in Frankford -</p> <p>-</p> <p>-</p> <p>41 49 63 67 69 70 70 71 73 78</p> <p>By Nathanial Richardson</p> <p>By Henry S. Borneman</p> <p>Military Companies of the War of 1812Presented by Guernsey A. Hallowell</p> <p>Minutes of Meeting held Jan. 19, 19091 March 10, '09 arcn IQ</p> <p>May 18, 1909 Nov 23, 1909 Jan. 18, 1910 Frank-ford's Share in the Development of Photography By Eleanor E. Wright</p> <p>Frankford in the Forties By T. Worcester Worrell</p> <p>-</p> <p>The Frankford Lyceum</p> <p>89</p> <p>By Robert T. Corson</p> <p>JOHN COMLY-A HISTORY.By Nathanial Richardson. (Read before the Historical Society of Frankford, December 1908)Published under the Direction of the Committee on History of the Historical Society of Frankford.</p> <p>Our civilization is not the result of a single generation or a single century, but it is the product of many generations and many centuries of culture. Emerson's advice, "Hitch your wagon to a star" is no doubt good, but there is probably a choice in stars. Shall we hitch to Matthew Arnold's "power not ourselves which makes for righteousness," or to Herbert Spencer's "Infinity and Eternal Energy from which all things proceed," or Shakespeare's "Divinity that shapes our ends rough hew them how we will"? The fact is that some great compelling power is drawing us, and it was this power that John Comly acknowledged as the controlling influence of his life. He had a conscience. By way of contrast let us consider a man without a conscience. Max Lenz says of Napoleon, "Never controlled by conscience, never recognizing the supremacy of the moral law, never obedient to any authority superior to his own, at the best only acknowledging a or destiny, or star whose unmoral purpose he must execute." It would seem preposterous to say that the causes which led to the development of such a character as John Comly were as old as the pyramids, but it is safe to say that the first century, and the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were as essential to the production of such a character as the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Christianity came in the first century, and John Comly was a Christian. The Protestant Reformation occurred in the sixteenth century, and John Comly was a Protestant reformer. The Society of Friends came into existence about the middle of the seventeenth century and John Comly was a member of the Society of Friends. It is doubtful whether he would have taken the initiative in any of41</p> <p>JOHN COMLYA HISTORY. these movements, but he was the product of all three. Thus we see how Christianity had its roots in a far away, dim and almost forgotten past, while its branches, its blossoms and its fruits are in the living present. Born in 1773 and dying in 1850, John Comly lived twenty-seven years in the eighteenth century and fifty years in the nineteenth century. He records his early impressions of life in a very simple way and attaches more importance to his spiritual development than anything else. Thus he speaks of an incident which occurred "in the fourth or fifth year of my age which was the occasion of bringing my mind to an acquaintance with the divine law of mercy." The incident was that of killing a small bird with a stone. He says: "I retired into the house and shed many tears. The tree of knowledge of good and evil was now clearly shown me and the divine prohibition of eating thereof in future was plainly and intelligently sounded in the ear of my soul. This divine law thus early written on the table of my heart has been of incalcuable advantage to me." He refers to it in another place as a "heaven born principle of mercy and tenderness." This precocity was much exceeded by Thomas DeQuincy who before he was two "felt the passion of grief," and soon afterward "awe the most enduring and a dawning sense of the infinite." When John Comly was ten, he says, "suitable books were not to be had. My father's library, if such it may be called, consisted of a common school Bible much worn, Edinburgh Edition; Three treatises by Wm. Penn, Robert Barclay and Joseph Pike, bought in 1771; Richard Davies' Journal; John Churchman's Journal; John Griffith's Journal; a borrowed Young Man's Companion, and some pamphlets and part of a copy of Watts' Hymns. "This small collection of books was generally kept on a shelf in the common room, in which we lived, so high from the floor that I had no access to it but by climbing on the top of a door that opened back under the library shelf. "The old small library on the shelf had so often been resorted to that I wanted something fresh and better adapted to my childish understanding. Hence at school among the children I sometimes met with such as 'Tom Thumb's Folio,' 'Goody Two Shoes,' fable or riddle books. But when any of these were borrowed and taken home to read, they were apt to be condemned by my parents as pernicious books against which the discipline of the Society of Friends advised and they were consequently sent back to their owners42</p> <p>JOHN COMLYA HISTORY. without my being allowed to read them." This repressive influence exerted by his environment was the probable cause of his discarding all works of fiction, so that it would seem that he never read Shakespeare, Cooper or Scott, much less Thackeray or Dickens, and there is little doubt that he would have recoiled in horrors from Dumas and consigned 'Quo Vadis' and Gola's 'Rome' to the rubbish heap. Thus, while he had a great thirst for knowledge, he clipped the wings of fancy which might have enabled him to soar above depression. Passing over his early school days during which he records the fact that as soon as he learned to write, he copied several books on sheets of paper folded into sixteen leaves as a book, he begins his eleventh year by reading the Bible and most of the New Testament in eight weeks. While this was a great pace it was much exceeded by Thomas Carlyle, who says that he read Gibbon's Rome in six days, or at the rate of a volume a day. As an evidence that he was active physically as well as mentally, the following extract from his journal shows that he was selftaught in manual training: "From the operations of a pocket knife in carving out the imitation of spades and shovels, of axes and wagons, carts, wheelbarrows, plows, etc., these amusements extended to the construction of mills to be propelled by wind and water." It was thus that his versatile disposition qualified him to become proficient in a great variety of avocations. He now records his attempt to become a sporting man. "With moneys raised by trapping muskrats and partridges, gathering chestnuts and raising tobacco, as well as from the perquisites arising from the turning lathe, I contemplated the purchase of a gun" (a powder horn and shot bag had been procured), but conscience intervened and the idea was abandoned because "such a weapon was so often the instrument of wanton destruction, misery and death." He speaks of this experience as a temptation and feels "gratitude to the God of mercy" who had delivered him. One is reminded of the experience of John Ridd, the hero of "Lorna Doone," who when appointed to a responsible office in the neighboring church, was conscience smitten by the recollection that he had when a boy robbed that same church roof of many pounds of lead to mould into bullets for the purpose of shooting at the barn door. In 1790 he makes this record: "If I found a piece of a leaf of the Bible or Testament, I put it in my pocket, and when at plow, 43</p> <p>JOHN COMLYA HISTORY. when the horses were turning round at the end of a furrow, frequently had opportunity of taking it out and reading a verse without hindrance to my work." His journal abounds in quotations from the Savior, and he tells us that "the main object in preserving this narrative is to commemorate and exemplify the goodness of the Almighty." Total abstinence from rum, the fashionable drink of his day, and other spirituous liquors became a rule-of his life. The cruelties of slavery and the slave trade appealed powerfully to his sympathetic feelings and he abstained for a long while from the products of slave labor. On all these subjects I have mentioned and many others he discourses at great length. In 1792 he records this brief prayer: "0 Lord, thou art merciful and kind to us, Thy poor, helpless creatures. Teach us, 0 Lord, to make a right use of the blessings and favors which thou in tender compassion art pleased to bestow upon us. Lead us in the paths of humility and guide us by thy truth, that so we may answer the end of our creation and return acceptable worship and gratitude to Thee for all Thy goodness and mercies toward us." Letter writing was practiced with the view of "correcting my deficiency in relation to communicating my ideas." When he was nineteen he took Latin lessons of Samuel Jones, a Baptist minister living at Bustleton and who had about ten other students boarding at Ms house, several of whom were preparing for the ministry. He says. "I was annoyed and hindered from my lessons by some of the students introducing arguments on doctrinal subjects, such as original sin, total depravity, election and reprobation, the ordinances, etc." He wrote, "In the study of Latin and Greek I could not estimate a knowledge of those dead languages very highly, unless in what are called the learned professions." Yet he admits that the study of Latin has greatly obviated the difficulty of communicating his ideas as well as understanding the English language in the definition and use of words. "The roots and derivations of mahy English words could now be traced to the Latin and Greek and thus a more copious fund of expression was furnished." In 1794 he commenced teaching in Byberry Friends' School. "Thirty-eight children attended the first day, and before a week had elapsed the number had increased to about fifty." This for a youth of twenty was a heavy burden. Deep religious exercise was felt and "faith in the sacred truths of the Bible." In 1795 he was induced to take a weekly newspaper published 44</p> <p>JOHN COMLYA HISTORY. by Hall &amp; Sellers, but was disappointed because, "I found that, as my thirst for a knowledge of the outworld and its affairs was indulged, my relish for Divine things and my attention to the inward world of my own mind diminished. I also observed that my newspaper reading did not afford that solid satisfaction and peace which I had heretofore learned to prize as my best treasure." Three years later the ravages of the yellow fever in Philadelphia claimed so many victims as to make a deep and lasting impression on his mind. In 1800 he made this record in his journal: "As I walked about the city the ancient philosopher's exclamation at the fair often occurred to my mind'How many things are here which I do not want.'" The following quotation also indicates the bent of his mind: "'Tis greatly wise to talk with our past hours And ask them what report they bore to Heaven." In 1801 he went to Westtown Boarding School and remained there as a teacher for about two years. Returning to Byberry, having married Rebecca Badd, one of the teachers at Westtown, in 1803, he and his wife opened a boarding school for girls at Pleasant Hill. Pleasant Hill Boarding School continued to be a school for girls for six years, when it was changed into a school for boys, for the express purpose of preparing young men for teachers. The latter was abandoned five years later for farming, surveying, editing, religious work and the preparation of a speller, a reader and a grammar for schools. Job Scott's Journal was compiled and edited in two large volumes. Friends' Miscellany in twelve volumes. The Spelling Book, Reader and Grammar all passed through several editions and were extensively used throughout the United States, and, being non-sectarian, were freely admitted into a number of sectarian schools. He introduced the student to a great variety of subjects. The inhabitants of the earth, sea and air were minutely described, the manufacture of sugar from the cane, of linen from flax, besides many moral and religious lessons. Among the latter the following may be taken as a sample: "You should love to read the Bible or to hear other people read it. It was written by good men, and it is the best and most excellent of all books. "In the Bible we read of good men who loved God and whom He loved and blessed, such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph and Moses and Samuel and David and many others. There we 45</p> <p>JOHN COMLYA HISTORY. read of the great and good things that God has done for us, and for all people; how just, and wise, and kind, and powerful He is; and what we must do to serve and to please Him. There also we read of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who never did anything that was wrong. He never did harm to any, but went about doing good to the bodies and to the souls of men. He was gentle, patient and kind to all persons, even to those who were unkind to Him, who mocked Him, and treated Him with scorn and derision. And even when cruel men were about to kill Him, and had nailed Him to a cross, He prayed for His persecutors, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'" In his religious work he traveled extensively, mostly by carriage; in one journey alone covering in this way a distance of upwards of twenty-two hundred miles. This was besides preaching many funeral sermons and constant attendance at his own meeting. The following is an extract from a sermon preached in Carpenter's Flail, Philadelphia, July 1, 1827: "A desire after happiness has been implanted in the breast of every intelligent being; and it is a desire implanted by our Heavenly Father. And when the mind is opened to see that there is such happiness, and that there is a life that may be attained to, which expires not with these animal bodiesthat there is a happiness which shall be continual, and as enduring as the immortal spirit when our eyes are opened to behold this pearl of great price, and when we are called to seek after it in proportion to the importance of the object, and the duration of the prize, then, why do we try to delay it? This is the life that we are called to hunger after; but every creature has to prepare himself for this state of happiness which shall endure forever and brighten to all eternity." As an evidence that he took an intelligent interest in agriculture, the following certificate, dated September 13, 1825, bears witness: "We, the undersigned inhabitants of Byberry and Moreland, in Philadelphia County, having seen the operations of Jereman Bailey's patent mowing machine, in this neighborhood, do certify as our opinion that it fully answers the purposes intended, both for grass and grain; the former, though lodged or bent down by the wind or rain, it cuts without difficulty and nearly as fast as when standing upright, and the latter from an...</p>

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