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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Contacted by a Brisbanite with ancestral ties to 103 Callowhill Street

I have some construction news about the Hannah Callowhill Stage, and it's good! But I don't want to tell you about it until after Friday, when (hopefully, if even mentioning it doesn't jinx me) the deal will be closed.

In the meantime, for all the lovers of historical minutiae out there, let me tell you with inhumanly wide eyes about an e-mail I got from a stranger named Lyndon Garbutt a few weeks ago. I'm reprinting it with permission here:
Hi Melissa

I thought I’d reach out to you, as I stumbled across your website/facebook post on the history of the Callowhill Stage building you are renovating and thought you may be interested in some further information.

To explain this random email - ironically I am researching the history of my own property in your home town, Brisbane.  My apartment was used by Madame Lotte Lehmann as her residence during her 1939 season at Brisbane City Hall.  I had googled ‘Lotte Lehmann’ ‘Brisbane’ and due to you having won an award and coming from Brisbane you were one of the hits.  It sparked my interest as I it looked out of place and I wanted to work out why.  I then noticed you were in Philadelphia and my ancestors were some of the original Quakers who settled there with William Penn.

Already I love this message and its Neal-Stephenson-like connections across time and space. The award he mentions is the ASCAP/Lotte Lehmann Art Song Competition; my piece for baritone and piano trio Black Thunder received an honorable mention back in 2009. I wasn't even aware that Lehmann had toured to Australia, but here she is singing a duet with a kookaburra in the city of my birth:

Oh my god, Lotte Lehmann is cooler than I will ever, ever be. Also, I miss kookaburras.
The next part of the message references my blog post on the history of 103 Callowhill Street. To recap: the first buildings on the site were erected by Benjamin Mifflin between 1740 and 1745.
When I noticed Mifflin and your reference to his journal, it prompted me to check a book on one of my ancestors, a well known Patriot (for Delaware at least), John Clowes. John was a business partner of Benjamin Mifflin and Mifflin’s diary records a few days/weeks spent at Clowes’ whilst looking at buying land there - which I think became his residence once he relocated from Philadelphia to Sussex County. Mifflin would later marry John Clowes’ mother-in-law - so in other words I am a direct descendant of Benjamin Mifflin’s final wife - who happened to find your post searching for Lotte Lehmann and her time in Brisbane.
I am here for this kismet.

The next part refers to this newspaper clipping.
So the information I have for you is that the article you identified as Mifflin publishing in the Philadelphia Gazette (referring to excrement) was part of what I understand to be a long running political affair where Clowes and Mifflin were outspoken against suppression of the opinion of juries during colonial times in Sussex County (thus the reference in the article you posted re Sussex on Delaware). Both Clowes and Mifflin, despite their status as wealthy businessmen, spent time in jail for their outspoken views.

The book on John Clowes, Broadkill Patriot makes reference to an article from the Pennsylvania Journal of 10 January 1771, which had the following six lines:

Let Wilkes and M’Dougal, and Mifflin and Clowes;
Those strugglers for freedom, dame liberty’s spouse;
But what’s the effect?-You see each of them fail,
And each one by turns have experienc’d jail!
Like men in a bog, when releasement they think,
The longer they struggle, the deeper they sink!


According to the author Wilkes was a reference to a British radical, who became a symbol for opposition to tyranny. New York Patriot Alexander Mcdougall was a general who opposed British restrictions on trade. All of these men experienced jail for their beliefs.

Needless to say both Mifflin and Clowes were regarded as patriots during the American Revolution. The John Clowes book indicates that Mifflin left his final wife, Sarah, a widow. She was executor of his estate.  Mifflin in the mean time was the official appraiser for one of my Clowes ancestors’ estates (either John Snr, or John Jnr), so I may have a copy of Mifflin’s signature in my records if that would be of interest.
Oh this delights me in all sorts of ways. It's always very cool when historical research is connected to the present not just by physical objects and words, but by living people! And in this case, a living person who clearly has the same love of historical details and the 18th Century penchant for putting all kinds of things into verse. I am pleased that, through the Penn Library, I was able to track down the full text of the 1771 article and provide Lyndon with the entire poem. And he, for his part, was able to provide me with a photo of Benjamin Mifflin's signature from his records, as mentioned:
That is a lot of loops. I like it.
But there's one more little coincidence yet to report.
The other irony is that one of John Clowes’ children (i.e. a grandson of Mifflin’s final wife Sarah) married the daughter of John Hazzard, who is credited as having piloted General Washington across the Delaware River in 1776 to beat the Hessians - the painting portrayal of which you had chosen to flag your summary of your building’s history.
I threw Washington Crossing the Delaware into my blog entry to illustrate the War of Independence, because the Hannah Callowhill Stage is located near the Delaware River, and because it's a cool painting. Little did I know that EVERYONE IN COLONIAL AMERICA IS APPARENTLY RELATED TO EACH OTHER, AND ALSO TO ME THROUGH MY BUILDING.
The wedding is recorded in Sarah Mifflin’s granddaughter’s diary from the 1780s/1790s, which is regarded as a very rare document, given the limited number of American women, let alone in rural areas, who were literate enough to keep a diary.  The diary makes quite a few references to Sarah (as grandmamma). This document was the feature of Women’s History Month in Delaware a few years back:

So great!

I have been sitting on this for a few weeks because of a paralysis born of a high amount of stress and grief, but now that the clouds are parting and I'm grinning looking over this again, I'm inclined to think that everything is going to be OK.
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