a gift of chester county history from south dakota: learning about hiram woodyard

Above is the grave of Hiram Woodyard. He was a freed slave and Black Civil War Soldier who resided in the village of Bacton, “Bacton Hisotric District”, AKA “Bacton African American Community”.

In 1991, Jane Davidson, the then Chester County Historic Preservation Officer certified that one of the houses attributed to him on Conestoga Road as a “County Historic Resource”. She said “The events and activities that have occurred in and around the site form a chronological record of past knowledge that portrays a history of the area.”

The historical information listed in some of the paperwork states:

This resource is part of the Bacton Historic District which is a post-Civil War, Afro-American community. This resource is also connected with Hiram Woodyard who was a prominent member of this community….Due to previous development there is an eminent potential to widen Rte. 401,this threat would negatively impact the integrity of this resource.

In other paperwork, the same author continues:

Hiram Woodyard, one of two leaders in the Bacton African-American community, has become a local folk hero in recent years. While part of the timber industry as a fence maker, he also commanded a great deal of respect for his leadership ability, not only in the community, but also in the Union army.

 

This fascinating information would have been something my friend the late (and missed) Al Terrell, would have loved.  He and I shared another soldier (it’s how we both became interested in the site),  Joshua Johnson  (Pvt., Co. K, 45th Reg., United States Colored Troops (USCT) (Civil War). I find this to be incredibly historically significant as the army began to organize African Americans into regimental units known as the United States Colored Troops (USCT) in 1863.

Al was so excited this time last year when grave after grave was uncovered, including Hiram Woodyard, whom we knew had started out life as a slave.  As a freed slave he did so much, including by all accounts being a revered community leader, and he fought for a country which had originally enslaved him.

This new information (and I will embed everything shortly within this post), did not come to me via Chester County.  It came to me all the way from Winner, South Dakota, thousands of miles away!

This information started to arrive on September 12, 2017 from Eleanor Miller, who along with her sister, Grace English, once lived in East Whiteland at 416 Conestoga Road.

In the first packet of information was a letter and here is an excerpt:

Enclosed please find the papers in regards to my grandparents’ home. (Charles and Stella Rost, 418 Conestoga Road.)

I married and moved away from my home, 416 Conestoga Road, in 1967…In 2012, Malvern Patch identified the house on 414 Conestoga Road as Hiram Woodyard’s.  I believe they were incorrect….My sister and I try to visit Bacton Hill once a year.

To follow (embedded) is what Eleanor sent to me.  It is part of Hiram’s history she gained through personal research.  This is such a treasure to receive!

Ebenezer is hanging in there and one of Al’s sons still comes back and cuts the grass and weeds when he has time, but Ebenezer needs ALL of our love.  I put out the plea once again if anyone can interest the AME church in their own important history, please do.  These old souls belong to us and all of our history in Chester County as well as being crucially important historically to the AME Church and black history in general.

Say a prayer in remembrance for the old souls buried at the ruins of Ebenezer on Bacton Hill road in Frazer, and remember Al Terrell too.

Pax

 

 


 

 


 

 

 

Hiram Woodyard Chester County Paperwork

Hiram Woodyards House

The House That Hiram Built

 

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“the cut”

As I said in 2013 when I first wrote about Duffy’s Cut,  given the clouds of mystery and intrigue still surrounding Duffy’s Cut, I think the foggy afternoon  I photographed the historical marker was perfect.  You can never truly move forward into the future if you can’t honor the past, or that is just my opinion as a mere mortal and female.

I have written before about Duffy’s Cut and thanks to my friend Dr. Bill Watson at Immaculata, I have been blessed to have been to see  Duffy’s Cut twice.  And no, you can’t just go, you need permission. There is private property of homeowners and AMTRAK involved, and those who show callous disregard for either put the project at risk.  So please, don’t just go exploring.  Dr. Watson and his brother Rev. Watson and their team have worked so hard.

My last Duffy’s Cut adventure was about a year ago.  I was invited to accompany them on a brief dig last summer. I was with the Duffy’s Cut team and teachers attending the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)  Duffy’s Cut Teachers Institute. Everyone was so warm and welcoming to a non-educator. It was an experience I will never, ever forget.

Earlier this year, a new film on Duffy’s Cut was released.  “The Cut”  by Irish American Films. I was originally supposed to attend the premiere of the documentary film at Immaculata, and this was yet another thing my blasted knee at the time did not allow me to do.

But I bought the DVD and it has sat on my desk, haunting me until today.  Amazing.  It is amazing. So very good and true.

In the very beginning of the film they discuss the “Irish Need Not Apply” of it all. I have personal family memories attached to that.  When I was little my maternal grandfather (whom I called Poppy) would tell me stories of how the Irish were persecuted at different times in this country (John Francis Xavier Gallen was Irish and born in the late 19th century) . When he was a little boy, my great grandmother Rebecca Nesbitt Gallen was in service and was the summer housekeeper to the Cassatt Family in Haverford. If I recall correctly, he lost a lot of family during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of the early 20th century, but I digress. Poppy would tell me of anti-Irish sentiment and tales of “Irish need not apply”.

I remember feeling wide eyed and incredulous as a child hearing that.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child”

~1 Corinthians 13:11 

Yes, it was kind of like that.  Because today I heard that phrase again, in The Cut, as an adult.  And I recall the wonderful (and recent) series by Sam Katz, “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” (which you can watch in it’s entirety online at 6ABC).    Sam Katz also discussed the plight of the Irish immigrant in his series.

Today as I watched this brilliant documentary that is so honest and true, I was struck by it all again.  I was also struck by the parallels  into the world today in which we live. Power, political power, the almost obfuscation  of the law, prejudice, religious persecution.  Here we are, residents of a country where out very forefathers fought and bled and died for our rights, our inalienable rights, and look how we treat one and other? And even in 1832, when the Revolutionary War wouldn’t have been as distant a memory, let alone the War of 1812, right?

This area in 1832 was farming and countryside and rather rural.  These Irish rail workers were discriminated  against, abused, persecuted, and ultimately murdered. And one who was complicit? A fellow Irishman named Philip Duffy.  He was by most accounts a bully who exploited these men and women who had traveled thousands of miles to a different country in the hopes of a better life.  Of course by the very nature of how Duffy treated these workers, he was was also a big coward, wasn’t he? The Philip Duffys of this world persist throughout history, don’t they?

This documentary also delves into the politics and political climate of the time, which seemed somewhat chaotic.  I have to ask have we evolved enough from then? It seems like history is so often doomed to repeat itself unless we take the steps to be part of the change, right?

I am the child of immigrants, including Irish.  I am not related to any of these workers (at least that I know of), but this inconvenient history of Duffy’s Cut hits me at the core of my being every time I read about it.  These dead men could have been my ancestors, or yours, or anyone’s. These men and women mattered. All Americans are the descendants of immigrants. It is how the U.S.A. was founded, remember?

I was struck by an interview of Walt Hunter, Duffy’s Cut Board Member, supporter and long time KYW TV 3 reporter in Philadelphia.  He spoke about having a certain feeling when onsite at Duffy’s Cut.  I totally get it, I have felt it twice.  It’s a feeling, a knowing, an awareness that great evil happened there.

You can buy a copy of “The Cut” through Irish American Films.  I strongly recommend it.

Also Dr. Bill Watson and his brother , Rev. Frank Watson can always use our continued support of this magnificent and historically important archaeological project.  Donate to The Duffy’s Cut Project.   You can donate via the Duffy’s Cut website, just look for the little round button partway down the front page of the website with the PayPal icon. Or click here to see the Duffy’s Cut Donation Page. You can also donate via Square and checks are graciously accepted.

Donations can be made directly to Duffy’s Cut Project by check or money order and mailed to:
Duffy’s Cut Project
C/O William Watson
21 Faculty Center
Immaculata, PA 19345-0667

 

This history of Duffy’s Cut is so important.  Yes it is ugly and brutal and raw.  It is a true tale of the horrific things human beings do to one and other.  But this was so awful that I totally understand why people literally tried to make this whole part of American history, local Chester County history, disappear. To the descendants of anyone involved, I am truly sorry.  It doesn’t matter that it was 1832, it’s so ugly.  But the dead will not rest until the workers are all discovered and honored.  And that will be a good thing.

Please support Duffy’s Cut.

Recent Duffy’s Cut in the media articles include:

 Promising discovery in 1830s deaths of Irish rail workers on the Main Line
Updated: JULY 13, 2017 — 3:45 PM EDT by Genevieve Glatsky, STAFF WRITER (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Daily Local: Duffy’s Cut: Search continues for 19th-century railroad workers’ graves in Malvern

By Bill Rettew, brettew@dailylocal.com
POSTED: 06/10/17, 5:30 AM EDT

CBS3 KYW: Brothers Work To Recover The Rest Of Duffy’s Cut Remains

Delco (Daily) Times Local filmmakers create Irish-American programs to celebrate culture

By Peg DeGrassa, POSTED: 03/06/17, 9:16 PM EST

fabulous history lecture coming up april 12 in tredyffrin 

Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust has an exciting lecture coming up next week on Wednesday, April 12 with Bruce Mowday.

 Bruce will speak on two of his books — “The Battle of Brandywine” and “The Johnston Gang”. A great storyteller, you will want to plan to attend. For information and to reserve tickets, call 610-647-1051.

eagle scout luke phayre honored at east whiteland for his ebenezer project!

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See 26.37 of the recent East Whiteland Meeting for Eagle Scout Luke Phayre being honored and deservedly so by East Whiteland Township.
Luke Phayre addressing the Board of Supervisors in East Whiteland on December 14th , 2016 when they honored him ~ Adam Farence Daily Local photo

Luke Phayre addressing the Board of Supervisors in East Whiteland on December 14th , 2016 when they honored him ~ Adam Farence Daily Local photo

I noted in East Whiteland Supervisor Bill Holmes’ comments that he (like many others)  do not know that  Ebenezer is  actually184 years old (deed of trust for land is 1832) – and yes this is a black historic cemetery solely. This is in my opinion and that of many others a very important piece of black history.  This history of ours in Chester County has people laid to rest there whose relatives still live in the area today.
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The AME Church grew out of the Free African Society in the late 1700s, but the church became it’s own entity founded in Philadelphia around 1816.  So you can see given the age of Ebenezer AME in East Whiteland, Chester County, PA that it is truly part of the early days of a church and religion founded in Philadelphia.  Bishop Richard Allen died in 1831, just months before Ebenezer came to be after Joseph Malin deeded the land.
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Ebenezer is cleaned up thanks to Willistown Eagle Scout Luke Phayre (and his fellow scouts) ,  Al Terrell and the many volunteers including local arborist Robert Phipps, Doug Buettner , Kelbey Hershey and all the volunteers from West Chester University (veteran’s group and fraternity brothers from at least two fraternities – FiJi was one of them), Captain Howard Crawford and the American Legion folks, Charae Landscape Services,  Tim Caban from East Whiteland Historic Commission, and many, many more. It has literally been a pretty large village of amazing volunteers the past few months.  I apologize if I neglected  mentioning anyone – would never wish to offend the wonderful volunteers who have come forward in 2016.

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Luke Phayre has done a truly amazing job with his Easgle Scout project.  He is an amazing young man.  He is so bright and very polite, and dedicated with an amazing work ethic.  And he has leadership skills and compassion which will take this boy far in life – such a credit to his equally amazing mom Kathy!

This has been a labor of love for me personally because until Al and Kathy and Luke came along after I had placed the first article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, up to that point no one, not even the AME Church was interested in the history and importance of the site. For years. And before me, the late Ann Christie had tried to get the place cleaned up.

People get upset for me that East Whiteland doesn’t acknowledge me for helping raise awareness, but seriously? Don’t sweat it. Local elected officials view as something like poison ivy half of the time and I am o.k. with that 🙂   I do not do what I do for any other reason than it is the right thing.

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As  soon as I first realized what Ebenezer was in 2013, I knew I had to raise awareness.  And I will continue to do so because I want this piece of serenity and history preserved for future generations.  My reward is seeing Luke Phayre and the Scouts recognized, and seeing what a community can do when it comes together.  To see Ebenezer rise like a Phoenix from the ashes at 97 Bacton Hill Road and to have people from all over recognize how historically important Ebenezer and her departed souls are is the best thing ever!

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