When you look through an old family photo-album you usually see black and white snapshots of relatives you either never met, or never knew well. What then is the attraction when you gaze at those pictures? After all, they are dead and gone, they lived in a different time with different daily routines than we have today. Well, I believe that what we see in those photographs is ourselves. We inherited not only genetic chromosomes from those men and women, but just as importantly, some personality traits, some habits, hopes, fears, and unfortunately, some secret personal struggles passed from generation to generation. Who were these people, and what were they really like? Would I have chosen them to be my friends if I were their age at the time? I have done my best to discover as many routine things about my relatives as I could which might unlock the mystery of who they were. Genealogy is the study of world history on a personal basis, in which the cast of characters are my own relatives. Uncovering what part my ancestors played in the drama of world events is what family history is all about. Many of these are disjointed anecdotes, but that is all I could uncover. (To be included in this history, the anecdote has to be verified by either a primary or secondary source, which I have documented using footnotes). Because they didn’t keep diaries, most of their memories have become mists swept away by the broom of time. This journey is still worth the effort, however, because these were the fathers and mothers, husbands and wives who over a span of generations have influenced me more than I’ll ever know. The best way to honor these men and women is to never forget who they were, and what they did.
In the 17th century the Kingdom of Sweden was a European “Great Power” and one of the major military and political combatants on the continent during the “Thirty Years” War. By mid-century, the kingdom included part of Norway, all of Finland, part of Prussia, and stretched into Russia. Perhaps inspired by the riches other Great Powers gathered from their overseas colonies, Sweden too sought to extend its influence to the New World. In 1637, prominent Swedish stockholders formed the New Sweden Company to trade for beaver pelts and tobacco in North America. On nine separate expeditions over the next seventeen years, a total of three hundred eighty-nine Swedes embarked from Stockholm and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to establish farms and small settlements along both banks of the Delaware River into modern Southern New Jersey, Delaware, and Southeastern Pennsylvania. The families of the 5th expedition, aboard the vessel Swan, left Stockholm on August 16, 1642, stopped for provisions at Gothenberg, Germany, headed for the Azores, and weighed anchor at the Caribbean island of Antigua on December 23rd where the crew and passengers spent the Christmas holidays. They then set sail north for the final leg of their voyage, and on February 15, 1643, Jonas Nilsson (1620-1693), my first ancestor to come to America, disembarked from the Swan and set foot at Fort Christina, now the site of Wilmington, Delaware.1 The beleaguered settlement at New Sweden was overjoyed to have more of their countrymen join the little colony. Jonas was one of twelve soldiers assigned to construct and garrison Fort Elfsborg, near present day Salem on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River, to guard against Dutch and English ships. Jonas served four years as a soldier in the New Sweden Militia, at a wage of ten guilders per month. Just as Englishmen read the King James Bible (printed in 1611), the Lutheran Swedes read the Bible of King Gustavus Adolphos (printed in 1618). Jonas later acquired 270 acres in Kingsessing (now West Philadelphia) where he was a successful tanner, built a “logg” house (Swedes, being descendents of the Vikings, were skilled in the use of an axe to shape timbers) and he and his wife Gertrude Svensdotter (1630-1695) raised eleven children.2 It wasn’t long before the native Indians, the eastern Delawares, were insisting that in exchange for their furs, the Swedish traders should give them firearms, ammunition, hatchets, kettles, hoes, a variety of metal utensils, brandy and rum. Over the years the Indians became more and more dependent upon European goods for performing agricultural, hunting and domestic tasks. This economic dependence, coupled with countless deaths from exposure to European diseases to which they had no immunity, led to the collapse of the Indian life as a separate culture. The New Sweden colony was never as successful as New England, for a variety of reasons. Few Swedes had any desire to emigrate to the New World. Sweden itself was a forest country with room for immigrants. Finally, there was no religious compulsion, as in the case of the English Puritans, to induce Lutherans of Sweden to leave home. In 1654 the political situation suddenly changed when New Sweden was attacked and surrendered to Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch Commander of New Netherlands (now New York City), who had a military force larger than the entire population of New Sweden. The Dutch wanted to control the very profitable fur trade, which in 1654 was exporting over 10,000 beaver pelts to Europe each year. Also, tobacco, (“stinkingeweede” in Swedish) which was grown in Northern Virginia and Maryland, was transported overland to the port at Fort Christina and then shipped back to Europe. Settlers into West Jersey developed unsurpassed apple and peach orchards, and began marketing apple cider. In 1664 New Netherlands in turn was conquered by the English who sought to eliminate the Dutch as commercial competitors, and to consolidate the Hudson and Delaware river valleys with the English possessions in New England and the Chesapeake colonies.3 Once William Penn gained Proprietary control of Pennsylvania, he advertised land to immigrants at low prices and religious toleration, so the flood of immigration of Germans, Welsh, and Scots-Irish into the Delaware river valley commenced. Jonas’ second son, Mounce Jonasson (1663-1727) was an Indian trader, built a house of Pennsylvania field stone in Aronameck (the site of present-day Bartram’s Gardens). In 1701 William Penn offered to relocate the Swedes further inland away from the English in Philadelphia, so Mounce and fourteen other families accepted this offer and surveyed 10,000 acres on the upper Schuylkill River in what is now Amity Township in Berks County. This land provided access to transportation and fishing rights for each family and together they settled the Old Village of Morlatton in Berks County (this settlement was renamed Warrensburg in 1780, then renamed Douglassville in 1828). Because Mounce was proficient in the Indian dialects of Algonkian and Iroquoian, he was often called upon to help negotiate treaties with local tribes. Swedish sons took their father’s first name and added ‘son”, in this case to form Jonasson, which was eventually anglicized to Jones. In 1716 Mounce built a 2 ½ story sandstone house that still stands as the oldest documented dwelling in Berks County. Over the years the Jones family grew, cleared the 402 acres of land Mounce had acquired, and with the exception of isolated outbreaks of smallpox, led quiet and peaceful lives. (The Amity Township tax list of 1731 begins with Mordechai Lincoln, the future President’s ancestor.)
Mounce’s great-grandson, Peter Jones III (1749-1809) bade his wife and infant twin daughters, Ruth and Elizabeth, farewell on January 5, 1776 and enlisted as a private in the 4th Pennsylvania Battalion commanded by Colonel Anthony Wayne. This unit immediately marched with the Pennsylvania Brigade to reinforce the battered American force which was retreating after the failed invasion of Canada, and then performed garrison duty at Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain, New York. Peter was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in September 1776, and a month later was assigned to the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment. At this point in the War effort General Washington despaired that the Continental Army might collapse from the discouragement of repeated defeats at the hands of the British, and the lack of food, ammunition, and reinforcements. Peter stayed with the Army, was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in April 1777 at which time the 11th Pennsylvania joined Washington’s Headquarters. In late August 1777 a British Army of 14,000 men under General Sir William Howe sailed up the Chesapeake Bay to attack Philadelphia from the south. On September 11th Washington ordered the 11th Pennsylvania, now part of the 2nd Brigade of Anthony Wayne’s Division, in a defensive position at Chadd’s Ford of Brandywine Creek with orders to prevent the British from crossing. The 11th Pennsylvania was down to just 189 men when the Battle of Brandywine began at 11 a.m. Hessian General Knyphausen ordered his Corps of four German regiments and nine British regiments totaling 5,000 men to advance against the Americans. The 11th Pennsylvania and other Continental regiments fought bravely in the sweltering heat and humidity and withstood one severe attack after another for over seven hours until Washington’s right flank was broken by British General Cornwallis. The Americans were forced to withdraw throughout the night to seek better ground.4 This was a costly defeat, with over 1,300 American casualties, and enabled the British to occupy Philadelphia, the nation’s capital, largest city and port. Peter became sick during the six-month winter encampment at Valley Forge, and since he had served for 2½ years, he was discharged on June 24, 1778. His last pay voucher at Valley Forge stated that he earned $27/month. I thought that was a lot of money for that time until I remembered the expression “not worth a Continental”, because the currency of our new nation was nearly worthless! After the War Peter and his wife Katharina (the Swedish spelling for Catherine) Kerlin (1756-1844) built a log cabin as their first home, had fifteen children, and farmed three hundred acres of land in Amity Township. A booklet containing this and other genealogical information was read and distributed at a large family reunion held on Saturday, July 10, 1926 in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. My mother remembers her grandmother, Stella Eisenberg Bach, taking her to this festive occasion in which hundreds of people rejoiced in the pride of belonging to such an extended patriotic Christian family.
Lawrence Eisenberg (1763-1826), the son of a German immigrant, settled in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. After his first wife died, he married Peter and Katharina’s daughter, Ruth Jones (1775-1826). Lawrence and Ruth bought a ninety acre farm in Limerick Township in 1794 and it was here that they also had fifteen children, each given their Mother’s maiden name as their middle name. The Eisenberg homestead was reputed to be the best tilled and most productive farm for miles around, primarily raising wheat. They loaded the wheat, or milled wheat flour, on conestoga wagons to make the 60 mile, three day trip to deliver the goods to the port of Philadelphia for sale and export to Europe. The conestoga wagon was the main freight carrier before railroads, was been developed by German immigrants in Lancaster County, had a Prussian blue body, red wheels, and the driver walked alongside, rather than on a seat in the front. Most farmers planted the same crop repeatedly, which depleted the soil after a few harvests, then they simply cleared more land. The German farmers, however, introduced crop rotation and the use of fertilizers. Workingmen wore woolen breeches, knitted stockings and linen shirts, and the women helped raised flax, spun yarn into clothes, made candles and cooked meals in the hearth. These frontier families were self-sufficient and isolated, raising their children protected form the influence of outside culture. Lawrence and Ruth sold their farm in 1824 for $2,163, and both died two years later. Their ninth child was Samuel Jones Eisenberg (1806-1861), a miller, who with his wife Lydia Yerger (1804-1873) had eight children, the fifth of whom was my great-great grandfather David, and they lived in Franconia Township.5 The Jones and Eisenberg families attended St. Gabriel’s Church in Douglassville, a congregation that described itself as “English-Swedes” This juxtaposition of terms says something about English and Swedish people worshiping together in an English Episcopal Church that had evolved from a Swedish Lutheran background. This church was established in 1720, and originally built with logs hewn from nearby forests. In 1801 a new stone edifice was erected (where services are still held), and the log church continued to serve as a school until it was destroyed by fire in 1832, so many of my ancestors attended school here.6 During the Civil War David Y. Eisenberg (1840-1917) served as a private with I Company of the 129th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment (which was part of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 5th Corps in the Army of the Potomac) from August 1862 – May 1863, so he was involved in the battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. When the regiment was originally formed (for a nine month enlistment) it had 26 officers and 575 men. At the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862 the Confederates occupying the high ground could not see the Union force massing to their front, but at 10 a.m. the fog lifted suddenly to reveal a spectacular scene – “A slight but dazzling snow beneath, and a brilliant sun above, intensified the reflections of fifty thousand gleaming Federal bayonets” recalled a Confederate soldier. At 1 p.m. the first Federal division began its assault up Marye’s Hill against the entrenched defenders, and three hours later six divisions had successively been repulsed with terrible casualties. At dusk the 3rd Division of the 5th Corps was ordered to make a seventh and final assault to break the Confederate position. The 3rd Division, consisting of eight Pennsylvania Regiments, witnessed its Commander, Brigadier General Andrew A. Humphries, bow to his staff in his courtly manner and say “Young gentlemen, I intend to lead this attack myself. I presume, of course, that each of you will wish to join me?” He then shouted the attack order to the regiments “Men, it is our turn to go in … Officers to the front”. Although they had just witnessed over three hours of slaughter, and each man doubted the success of another frontal attack across open terrain, the men of the 129th and the rest of the Division didn’t waver, but resolutely closed ranks. With a stubborn determination to obey orders and do their duty, they moved forward. The regiments traversed in good order over the lines of dead and wounded left in previous charges, and the caps of some men were subsequently found within fifty yards of the infamous stone wall, but the 129th was finally repulsed by devastating fire from the Confederates, suffering 16 killed and 126 wounded. A bitter cold descended on the plain that night with the temperature dropping below zero, and hundreds of Federal wounded still lying on the field froze to death. (The famous American poet, Walt Whitman, visited the Federal camp at Fredericksburg immediately after the battle searching for his brother, and officer in the 51st New York Infantry Regiment. Whitman wrote two poems about his observations of the aftermath of the battle, and later wrote three poems about this volunteer work at an Army Hospital in Washington D.C.) The Army of the Potomac has suffered a crushing defeat, but in the winter encampment of 1862-1863 discipline and training gave rise to a renewed Army ready to fight again. At the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863, the 129th sustained additional casualties of 42 men killed or wounded.7 but most Confederate units were themselves badly depleted. (In 1892 the Commanding Officer of the 129th , Colonel Jacob G. Frick, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor with the citation “At Fredericksburg he seized the colors and led the command through a terrible fire of cannon and musketry. In a hand-to-hand fight at Chancellorsville, he recaptured the colors of his regiment”) On May 25, 1863, the Regiment was formally disbanded, and David quietly marched home from the killing fields of Northern Virginia, eager to resume his life as a civilian.
By the time of David’s death, his Army pension was up to $22.50/month. At first I was puzzled why David even received a pension because I knew that he wasn’t wounded in the Civil War. Then I discovered that in Philadelphia on July 24, 1866 he got into an argument over the politics of Reconstruction of the South with another passenger who pushed David from a street trolley-car as it rounded a curve, and his right shoulder and arm were crushed. He could never again perform heavy manual labor, so he became a watchman for the wealthy families who lived in the opulent brownstone residences on Broad Street. David first applied for a pension in 1892 because just two years earlier the 51st Congress had passed the Dependent Pension Act that “a permanent physical disability need not have originated in the service”. (This Act overnight doubled the number of pensioners, wiped out the federal budget surplus at the time, and was considered such an reckless extravagance that the Republicans lost their majority in the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections of 1890, and the White House in 1892.8) David’s last name was apparently misspelled “Eisenberry” when he was mustered into the 129th Regiment in August 1862. Interestingly, everyone must have thought it would be impossible to get the Government to correct that original error, so for the rest of his life, in correspondence with the Pension Office David signed his name Eisenberry, and even his physicians participated in this charade by referring to him as Eisenberry in their sworn affidavits concerning his injury!9 As a young woman my great grand-mother, Stella Mae Eisenberg (1873-1957) attended “The Baptist Temple” at Broad and Berks Streets in Philadelphia, and grew spiritually under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Russell Conwell who gave the famous sermon "Acres of Diamonds”, and founded Temple University. In 1893 Temple Baptist was the largest Protestant Church in America10 with a seating capacity of 4,600, so Stella was part of a dynamic evangelistic congregation. Stella’s mother Sarah Baker (1841-1878) had died in childbirth with her eighth child. On her deathbed she instructed her husband David which homes to place each of their six surviving sons for adoption, but directed that David “always keep Stella with you”. Years later, a young man named Harry Bach from Pottstown, Pennsylvania, who was a salesman in the Harness Department of Strawbridge and Clothier’s Store in Philadelphia, asked to court Stella, and she consented only if he started attending church with her, which he did. After their marriage, Stella’s domineering stepmother interfered and eventually forced Stella to choose between her new husband or the Eisenberg family, and Stella meekly succumbed to this coercion. Harry left Stella and their young daughter Carrie in 1899, so both mother and daughter moved in with Stella's father, David Eisenberg and step-mother at 1626 N. Willington Street, a middle-class three-story red brick rowhouse. Such a dwelling had six rooms, sat on a lot 18’ x 50’, and cost about $1800 to purchase, or $12/month to rent. Over three hundred thousand of these cracker-box units were built between 1880 and 1920 to house the ballooning urban population in Philadelphia11. Stella remembered the sights and sounds of city living at the turn of the century such as wagon-wheels on cobblestone streets, and the lamplighters illuminating the neighborhood each evening. Harry Bach filed for divorce on August 14, 1901, the final decree was granted on September 20, 1904, and neither alimony nor child support was required. Stella never spoke of Harry, apparently she was shamed by the failed relationship, regretted that she wasn’t permitted to work through the problem with him, and she strictly followed Scripture in never considering remarriage.
Harry’s father, William P. Bach (1845-1920), had a short but memorable military career. Reared on a farm near Cedarville, Pennsylvania, he attended district schools, and in August 1862 he signed a three-year enlistment in Company H of the 68th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, and in December 1862 he first “saw the elephant” in heavy fighting at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Seven weeks after the Battle at Chancellorsville, the 68th, now reduced to only 320 officers and men, arrived on the field at Gettysburg on the evening of Wednesday July 1, 1863. The next morning Union General Sickles positioned the 68th, which was part of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 3rd Corps in the Army of the Potomac, in an ill-advised defensive salient at the infamous Peach Orchard. At 5:30 p.m. Confederate General Longstreet ordered Barksdale’s Brigade, led by the 21st Mississippi Infantry Regiment, to attack the Federal units along the Emmitsburg Road. Seventeen-year-old Private Bach was re-loading his .577 Enfield musket when shrapnel from an exploding cannonball tore into his right foot, then he was shot in the left leg with a Reb minie ball. The 68th Pennsylvania suffered heavy losses, 13 killed, 126 wounded and 13 missing, thirteen of the seventeen officers were hit, and when the Regiment was flanked by the 17th Mississippi at 6:00 p.m., it was forced to yield the ground12 and withdraw. Bach was dragged to the rear by two comrades to a stone wall near the Trostle Farm where he was nearly bayoneted to death by a Reb sergeant. The fighting raged on into the early evening as Hood’s Division overran nearby Devil’s Den, and the 15th Alabama went clawing up Little Round Top. The Confederate surge was finally stopped at 6:45 p.m. by the 20th Maine commanded by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. Private Bach lay in great pain on the battlefield through the night, and the next day heard the artillery barrage and musketry as General Robert E. Lee ordered the valiant yet doomed “Picket’s Charge” against the Union center. It was forty-eight hours before a surgeon dressed his wounds, and surprisingly didn’t amputate his leg.13 On July 1-3, 1913, William Bach returned to Gettysburg to participate in the 50th Anniversary ceremonies of this engagement. (If you visit the battlefield, visit the monument to the 68th, and Bach’s name on the State of Pennsylvania Monument). Gettysburg was the greatest and bloodiest land battle in our nation’s history, with over 50,000 casualties on both sides. It was the turning point of the Civil War, and the defining moment in the lives of each man who fought there. As President Lincoln said in his famous Gettysburg Address “…But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
The primitive medical treatment and evacuation of the Union wounded at Gettysburg is horrific to contemplate. Since General Lee retreated to Northern Virginia the day following the battle, Union General Meade immediately followed, taking with him most of the surgeons and ambulances. There weren’t enough stretcher bearers, doctors, medical supplies, or food to adequately care for over 12,000 Union wounded left on the battlefield. The situation quickly became desperate as the over-worked medical officers that did remain struggled to cope with the overwhelming number of suffering men needing attention. Water was in such short supply that the surgeons merely wiped the blood off their cutting knives onto their soiled aprons before operating on the next man, thus unknowingly spreading infection among the very patients they hoped to save. Hundreds died each day from exposure to the relentless July heat and humidity. Over the next five days, casualties such as Private Bach were loaded onto wagons, transported to the train station in the town of Gettysburg, then placed on boxcars, with straw and hay as their only bedding material. The trains transported the wounded to one of the many hospitals that had been established since the beginning of the war to deal with the carnage of the Eastern theatre. These hospitals were primarily located in Washington D.C., Baltimore, Wilmington and Philadelphia since they had railroads to the front lines.14 Bach was initially sent to Jarvis Army Hospital in Baltimore. I have a copy of a letter he wrote to the Surgeon-in-Charge of Jarvis, dated August 12, 1863, just five weeks after the battle, in very stylish penmanship “Sir, I have the honor to make application to you for a furlough for fifteen days being anxious to visit my home. I was wounded at Gettysburg, Pa. Hoping this may meet with your early approval. I am, Sir, Respectfully, Your Obdt Servt, William P. Bach, 68th Penna Volunteers”. He later convalesced in Satterlee Army Hospital (surrounding what is now Clark Park in West Philadelphia), which was the largest Civil War hospital covering sixteen acres of ground with twenty-one wards containing 4,500 beds. He was fitted with a leg brace that he wore the rest of his life, was discharged from the Army in May 1864, (for reason of “lameness, caused by a gunshot wound to the leg, fracturing the tibia”)15 and returned home to Pottstown and started a harness business. In gratitude for his service to his country, in 1889 he was named Postmaster, and he was later the chief burgess of Pottstown, president of the school board, and trustee of the First Baptist Church.
William’s grand-daughter, my grandmother, Carrie Esther Bach Peterson, (1895-1968) was an accomplished pianist, petite at 4'11" tall, and a devoted homemaker. She met her future husband in 1915 when Nana was studying piano at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music and working at the Pressler Music Store selling sheet music by playing the compositions for customers. She was a gifted seamstress, and made her own clothes, especially the “Gibson Girl” style for young women, and read Collier’s magazine to keep up with the latest fashions. The best pick-up line that Christian Peterson could come up with to get Esther’s attention as she was walking to work one day was to say to her “I like your hat!” but that was enough to begin their relationship! After Esther and Christian were married in February 1917 at 1626 N. Willington and their honeymoon in New York City, Stella Bach lived with them forty years until her death. My mother said that Stella Bach was the gentlest person she ever knew, and a meticulous homemaker. On her deathbed in 1957, she became comatose on a Monday, but seemed to hold on to life until Friday evening when Pop came in from being out all week working in the Delaware Bay. As he bent over her frail little body, she sensed his presence, opened her eyes and whispered the words she had been waiting four days to say, "Christian, thank you for taking care of me all these years". She then fell into a deep and peaceful sleep, and died a few hours later. After Pop's death, Nana lived with our family off and on for seven years. Older people living with their children was common place back then. People felt a grudging obligation to care for their aged relatives, fully cognizant of the inconveniences, not the least of which was the tension of attitudes represented by three disparate generations living in close quarters. More than once I would attempt to circumvent my parents' instructions by soliciting support from my indulgent Nana. She would intercede on my behalf, only to be reminded by my father that her presence in our household was welcome, but any attempt to undermine his parental authority would not be tolerated. I sensed the twinge of humiliation she felt, yet she preferred this social arrangement to that of an impersonal nursing home.
Denmark in 1883 was undergoing a political and economic transformation. The loss of the Schleswig-Holstein War to Prussia in 1864 had been a shattering and humiliating experience. As Germany grew in military power, her small neighbor to the north was very vulnerable. Additionally, large scale imports of North American and Russian grain into Europe caused a sharp decline in grain prices in the mid 1870s, creating great hardship for farmers in Denmark. As a result, in 1883 over 10,000 able-bodied young men from Denmark set sail for a better life in America.16My maternal great- grandfather, Jens Christian Pedersen (1865-1940) from Esbjerg, Denmark, the son of Anders Pedersen (1843-1931) and Ane Jensen (1842-1915) was one of those immigrants. Imagine his parents’ sorrow as they bid farewell to their eighteen year old son at the train station in Esbjerg as he leaves, alone, to travel to a ‘New World’ perhaps never to return home again. Jens embarked in Bremen, Germany, one of six hundred ninety-five passengers aboard the “SS Nuremberg”, and that ship completed its voyage to Baltimore on June 27, 1883.17 John went to work for his mother’s brother who was master of a four-masted coasting vessel carrying fruit from the West Indies to Philadelphia. He migrated to Greenwich, New Jersey, and started as a day laborer on oyster boats, and had vowed that he wouldn’t marry until he had bought his first boat. Adopting the American form of his name, John Peterson and his wife Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bangel (1869-1942) lived at 245 West Commerce Street (they sold the house in 1942 for $6,000 following Lizzie’s death), and attended St. John’s German Lutheran Church. In 1909 John, Lizzie, their son Christian and two daughters Helen and Marie returned to Denmark for a month-long visit, sailing aboard the Transatlantic oceanliner Kaiser Wilhelm derGrosse. (eleven years earlier this ship captured from Great Britain’s Cunard Line the coveted “Blue Riband” trophy and pennant as the fastest ship in the world, making the crossing from New York to Liverpool in five days and twenty hours. The Lusitania and Mauritania later won the honor back for Great Britain.)18 Anders had earlier written his son, John, and told him there wasn’t enough room in their home in Esbjerg for all five guests, so the three children would be placed in neighbor’s homes. John didn’t like that idea, so he sent his father $3,000 to build an addition to the home so they could all be together! (From the countless stories I’ve heard of John’s generosity to both friends and strangers, I’m sure this $3,000 was merely a way to bless his father without embarrassing him).
My maternal grandfather, Christian John Peterson (1896-1961) was born in Greenwich (where his classmate, Mary Bacon, would one day become our family physician), graduated from West Jersey Academy then attended Pierce Business School in Philadelphia. West Jersey Academy was founded in 1852 by the Presbyterians with the mission to “meet the need for the education of boys on a moral and Christian basis”. It was a boarding school where the cadets dressed in military uniforms, learned how to drill, the core curriculum included Greek and Latin, and a local historian wrote “blue-blooded families of Bridgeton and surrounding areas sent their sons to West Jersey Academy”. It shut down in 1910 because the rise of public education in general, and Bridgeton High School in particular, eclipsed the popularity of private school education. Christian worked at the Excelsior Trust and Saving Fund Company in Philadelphia where he met his future bride, and persuaded her to relocate to Bridgeton when he decided to return to the oyster business. He ran the business until my Dad bought him out in 1956. Pop and Nana (the grandchildren's names for them) had five children, and built their imposing three- story 3,100 SF home on 301 West Broad Street in 1926 for $13,000! Pop was diagnosed a diabetic in 1951, and eventually died of a heart attack. I've heard the observation that Petersons die of heart problems, and Bickings die of cancer. Pop was very reserved, and never called Dad “Harold” but always referred to him as “Army”.
The family business started in 1892 when “Captain John” Peterson had saved enough money to buy a 1/32nd interest in the eleven ton, two masted schooner named the Wood Duck. In 1902 he bought his first ship, theseventeen ton Flying Fish. In 1908 he built the thirty-eight ton Christian John Peterson (known as the CJ) at the Greenwich Shipyard. In 1929 he built the Esther Peterson also in Greenwich. Then in 1936 Christian purchased the fifty-five ton LauraWilde which had been built in 1927 at the Dorchester Shipyard, and renamed her the John C. Peterson (known as the John C). I worked on both the CJ and the John C as a deckhand as a teenager. These were about 80' long, 21' wide, built with white oak wood that had cured for about two years, and approximately eight men could sleep below deck. The galley had a coal-burning stove , and the cook always made hearty meals. The crews would be out dredging in the Delaware Bay from Monday morning to Friday afternoon catching about 400-1200 bushels of oysters a day. These schooners were easier to manage since the fore and main sail could be taken in one at a time, by fewer hands, and with a lighter rigging than would be needed by the sloop, which was the workhorse of the pre-1900 fleet. The schooners carried over 3,000 square feet of canvas sails, and had two 52” dredges to catch the oysters. Planters such as John Peterson would off load their oysters to a shipper in Bivalve, who would then pack them on cars of the Central Railroad of New Jersey which ran from Bivalve on to Philadelphia. The most profitable years of the oyster business were from 1910-1925 when South Jersey led the entire world in oyster production, usually harvesting 3.6 million bushels per year and employing approximately 2,500 men. One old salt described Port Norris on the Maurice River as being similar to a gold rush town of the old West because so much money was being made so quickly.19 John and his son were both risk takers in business, willing to commit all their net worth to finance the next year's planting. John sold the family business to Christian in 1917, but continued to captain one of the boats each spring planting season until 1930 when he finally retired.
In Colonial America paper was the key to communication, so paper manufacturing was in high demand. The first, and largest paper mill in America was established by William Rittenhouse on Wissahickon Creek in Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1690. Paper wasn’t made from wood back then, but from linen rags. Since it was a very slow, manual process, other mills were needed. In 1746 Conrad Sheetz, a veteran of the Rittenhouse operation built a new mill on Mill Creek, and produced such a quality product that he attracted Ben Franklin as an investor. Franklin bought most of the paper for his printing company from this mill. When Sheetz died in 1771 his widow rented the mill to John Friedrich Bicking (1730-1809) who ten years earlier had purchased 350 acres in Lower Merion Township (formerly a Welsh settlement) in Montgomery County where Mill Creek flows into the Schuylkill River. Over the six-mile course from its headwaters at Dove Lake, Mill Creek has an elevation change of two-hundred fifty feet, had clear fast-running water with no lime, and was forty feet wide at the confluence with the Schuylkill which made it perfect for waterwheel-powered mills. Frederich built his large home on a hilltop overlooking a hamlet of his paper mill, a two story house, a spring house, a smoke house, four tenant houses, a large barn and stable and a one hundred acre farm.20 By 1776 Frederich was such a respected business owner that he was awarded a contract by the Committee of Safety of the Second Continental Congress to manufacture paper cartridges and wading for bullets for the Continental Army21 from his own mill, and he supplied paper for Continental currency from the Sheetz mill. As an example, the minutes of the Continental Congress for Monday, May 13, 1776 read “A letter from General Washington, of the 9th, was laid before Congress and read. Resolved: To Frederick Bicking, for paper for the continental bills ofcredit, the sum of 416 pounds.” The following year, the bank notes to pay the troops at Valley Forge were printed on his paper. Friedrich and his wife Mary Unvergast (1732-1782) were married at and attended St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Germantown, and had five sons and five daughters. Frederich bequeathed the paper mills to his youngest son Frederick who later sold the business in 1821 because by that point the British began to export paper to the United States cheaper than it could be produced by the mills and the hand-made paper industry collapsed. Some mills tried to adapt by converting to producing gunpowder, but by the mid 19th Century steam energy had replaced flowing water, so water mills ceased to operate. 22
There is an interesting notice in one of the German newspapers in Philadelphia dated March 27, 1761 that “Friedrich Bicking, of Lower Merion Township, advertises that his [indentured] servant, Jacob Bueck, age 18, has run away”.23 Negro slavery wasn’t socially or morally acceptable in the Middle Colonies, but white servitude was commonplace. Each spring Agents would go to towns in Germany advertising the freedom and opportunities in Pennsylvania. Poor and usually illiterate Germans would agree that in exchange for passage to America, they would serve a legally binding term, usually four years, to the American who paid the Agent the cost of passage. The westerly voyage across the Atlantic took up to twelve weeks, and because of disease, overcrowding, rancid food, and nonexistent ventilation below deck, tragically over 50% of the immigrants died en-route. When the ship carrying Jacob Bueck landed in Philadelphia, Frederich, one of several businessmen who needed cheap laborers, boarded the ship. The prospective buyers inspected the servants, judged their states of health and morality, conversed with them to discover their degree of intelligence and docility, and finally, if satisfied, bought them and took them home. The scene was very similar to Negro slave auctions, except that the servant, being white, had certain legal rights recognized by each of the Colonies. It has been estimated that between half and two-thirds of all German immigrants to Pennsylvania from 1720-1775 entered through white servitude.24 Frederich landed in Philadelphia on August 15, 1750, one of 500 passengers aboard the Royal Union out of Rotterdam by way of Plymouth.
Friedrich’s first-born son Richard Bicking (1753-1803) served as a Sergeant in the Montgomery County Militia during the Revolution, and fought at the Battle of Germantown on October 4, 1777.25 Each county in each state was required to recruit at least one battalion of able-bodied men between the ages of 18-50. They would drill two days per month, would be called to active duty no more than sixty days each year, and each man was expected to provide his own musket and clothing. The mission of the Militia was to defend against an invading enemy, and to provide enforcing authority for the local Committee of Safety to suppress enemies, ie, “American Loyalists” to the British Crown. Because these were part-time soldiers, General Washington avoided using them in battle due to their undependability under fire, and the habit of militiamen to simply leave whenever they were needed at home. The most tangible contribution of the militia, however, was the political education of the populace. In 1776 the great majority of Americans were neither Patriot nor Loyalist, but neutral because they didn’t understand the issues involved. The very act of enrollment and participation in drilling forced most adult males to declare themselves by signing loyalty oaths.26 George Rex Jr. (1720-1772) was commissioned a Justice of the Peace of Heidelberg Township in Northampton County (now Lehigh County) in 1757, and on March 1, 1758 during the French and Indian War he signed a petition to the colonial government, asking for protection from the marauding Indians who were murdering and scalping pioneer families on the Pennsylvania frontier, and recommended construction of a fort on Blue Mountain just west of Germansville. Seven months later, from October 1-26, 1758, just twenty-five miles away from George Rex’s home, the most important Indian Congress in American history took place. Several hundred Indian chiefs and leaders from thirteen nations such as the Iroquois, Oneidas, Senecas, Mohawks, Western Delawares, Wyandots, and representatives of Tribes from the Ohio River Valley signed a Peace Treaty with the British Government. The Treaty of Easton formally ceded all land west of the Allegheny Mountains to the Indians, and the Pennsylvania and Virginia colonists agreed never to enter that territory to homestead. This treaty effectively split the French and Indian alliance, and ended the bloodshed in the backcountry.27 Once peace was restored, George concentrated on enhancing his holdings, and by 1762 his taxes were the highest of any landowner in Heidelberg Township, and at the time of his death he owned 519 acres. The Rex family attended St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Germantown (where the Bickings also attended). George’s son, Wilhelm Rex (1743-1812) served as a Corporal and Quartermaster in the Northhampton County Militia (5th Company, 3rd Battalion) from 1777-1780 during the Revolution28, then after the War ended Wilhelm moved to Roxborough Township in Montgomery County.
Wilhelm’s son, Heinrich Rex (1788-1864), was born outside of Philadelphia in an exciting era. The city had a population of just 37,000 citizens, the previous year fifty-five of our Founding Fathers had written the United States Constitution, and the immigration from Germany was resuming after being halted during the Revolution. Interestingly, the influx of Germans since 1708 had raised great concern among those of English ancestry. On May 9, 1753 Benjamin Franklin had written to a friend “ …they (the Germans) who come hither…not being used to liberty, they know not how to make modest use of it…few of their children in the country know English. They import many books from Germany…they have their own newspapers…the signs in our streets (Philadelphia) have inscriptions in both languages, and some places only in German. They begin, of late, to make all their bonds and other legal instruments in their own language, which (though I think it ought not to be), are allowed in our own courts, where German business so increases, that there is continual need of interpreters…In short, unless the stream of importation could be turned from this to other colonies, as you very judiciously propose, they will soon outnumber us”. Even the brilliant Dr. Franklin was short-sighted about the contributions of Germans, because during the Revolution, Pennsylvania provided twelve regiments, eight of which were German-American. During the 19th Century the Germans in Philadelphia, because of their precise and disciplined natures, would become engineers, manufacturers, and leaders in business. The German population in 1788, however, responded to this covert disdain in two ways: those who remained in Philadelphia formed the German Society of Pennsylvania which became a legal advocate for the rights of immigrants and social reform.29 The other option was for those pioneer-minded souls to strike out in the recently designed Conestoga wagons to explore the frontier west of the Appalachian Mountains, traveling over Ridge Road in Roxborough Township where the Rex family had settled as blacksmiths.
My Dad’s paternal great-grandparents were Josiah Bickings (1814-1890) and Heinrich’s daughter Melvina Rex (1821-1908), who in 1860 lived at “10 Mile Stone” (a rural designation meaning ten miles from center city Philadelphia traveling northwest on Ridge Road).30 They attended the Reformed Dutch Church of Roxborough, and had eight children of whom five lived past infancy. On June 8, 1835 the cornerstone of the church building was laid, and certain parishioners volunteered to help with the construction. Josiah was a carpenter’s apprentice at the time, and after work over the course of several weeks built an elaborate spiral wooden pulpit. The founding pastor wrote in his journal of the influence of the American Temperance Society, and preaching a sermon against the doctrine of universalism. (Twenty-two years later the congregation elected to change denominations to become the Roxborough Presbyterian Church).31 Germany in 1848 was fragmented and retained much of the feudal system, with most of the thirty-nine states still ruled by kings or princes under their own laws and armies. Democratic opposition had been building for many years, and when a series of failed harvests sparked food riots, armed uprisings against the aristocracy erupted throughout Germany, and the state of Baden was one of the centers of the revolution. My paternal great-great grandfather, Michael Oberle (1810-1870) joined the rebellion against the Grand Duke of Baden, and was also a political activist as the National Assembly convened in Frankfurt to draft “Basic Rights for the German People”. Unfortunately, in 1849 the Assembly was forcibly disbanded by Prussian and Austrian troops, and revolutionaries such as Michael became disillusioned with the absence of democracy in their homeland. That same year he emigrated with his wife, Elizabeth Arnold (1821-1905), and their young son Frederick to New York City, and eventually to Philadelphia. There had been relatively few immigrants in the years 1776-1846 from Europe. The reluctance of many countries to permit emigration, plus the wars that occupied much of the period restricted the movement of people across the Atlantic. Thus, during the formative years of our nation, the social institutions that developed were decidedly WASP, or White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. In the decade from 1846-1856, however, immigration exploded to over 3 million, primarily from Germany, Ireland and Great Britain. There was an immediate reaction from nativists, or native-born Americans, who saw danger in cultural pluralism, and equated national strength with national homogeneity. The European Sunday, for example, violated Puritan sensibilities. The Germans were the most conspicuous offenders, as they hurried from church to a merry afternoon in music halls and beer gardens. The Catholicism of the Irish was another incendiary issue of the period. The fear that the authoritarian nature of the Catholic Church was incompatible with American principles and institutions led to countless confrontations about what it meant to be an American.32
Michael’s occupation as a tailor was cut short by blindness, and although Elizabeth lived in America for fifty-six years, she never learned to read or write English. My Dad's maternal grandfather, Frederick Oberle (1848-1929) married Mary Hamilton (1848-1914) they lived at 3312 Amber St., had ten children (of whom only five lived past infancy) , and their second daughter was Mary Oberle (1882-1928) whose first husband, Thomas Kennish, died in a factory accident in 1908. Ten years later, Frederick's younger brother, Lafayette Oberle, was an outspoken German sympathizer during World War I, and the object of acts of vandalism for appearing Un-American. In an attempt to preserve the Oberle name in Philadelphia, Frederick purchased a large number of War Bonds to prove the family’s patriotism.
Frederick worked over 30 years for the John B. Stetson Company in Philadelphia, rising to the position of Superintendent of the Philadelphia hat manufacturing facility, and retired quite wealthy from all the stock Mr. Stetson awarded him.33 Mr. Stetson was a committed Christian who attended Temple Baptist (where Stella Bach and my grandmother also attended). The Company facility at 4th Street and Montgomery Ave. consisted of 25 buildings on 9 acres of land, and in 1915 employed 4,000 men and 1,400 women who produced 11,000 hats every day! Mr. Stetson showed a paternalistic interest in the welfare of his employees by such enlightened initiatives as building the Union Mission Hospital in 1887 to provide health care, the Stetson Building and Loan Association which provided mortgages to employees, classes in English, American history and government for immigrant workers to become U.S. citizens, a baseball team that played in the Philadelphia Industrial League, a Boy Scout troop, a dental clinic, and a company paper called The Hat Box. Most important of all, however, were the nondenominational Sunday school and Tuesday morning prayer services at the plant, and the famous annual company Christmas party. The 1920 party for instance gave turkeys to all the married men, hats to the bachelors, and gloves and candies to the women. The company had such a fine reputation that there was a waiting list of applicants. They preferred to hire relatives of employees, corroborated by the fact that Frederick’s two sons Louis and George were also on the payroll. Frederick knew John B. Stetson well, and was influenced tremendously by this enlightened Christian businessman and visionary.34 Josiah’s son, Henry Bickings (1850-1915), a carpenter, married Clara McDowell Cornell (1859-1930) and they lived at 756 W. Manatawna Ave. After Frederick Oberle's wife Mary died, widower Frederick ironically married widow Clara Cornell Bickings, whom he met at the wedding of their children (my Dad's parents). Mary Oberle Kennish had married Everett Rex Bickings (1879-1957) a house builder, and they moved to Somers Point, New Jersey, in 1922, but Mary tragically died of breast cancer in 1928. Dad's most painful childhood memory was returning home from school the day she died, and her not responding to his daily cry " Is anybody home?" with her predictable and reassuring "Here I am, Harold!" As a child, I can recall Dad always asking that question when he came in the back door from work each evening, and Mom, knowing this deep hurt, made it a priority to always be there to respond "Here I am, Harold!" After Mary Oberle Kennish Bickings died in 1928, Everett, being was a very private man, almost reclusive, was selfishly unwilling to take care of Dad, so he initially lived with his grandparents Frederick and Clara in Somers Point until their deaths.
My father, Harold Everett Bickings (1917-1998) was born in the Roxborough ward of Philadelphia. He was a football player of local renown in the Ocean City High School Class of 1935 ( a 6'2", 218 lb fullback, linebacker, and kicker) and played many of his games in the Convention Hall in Atlantic City where the Miss America Pageants are held. This was the era of leather helmets without face masks, and drop kicks. After high school he therefore enlisted, and in lieu of basic training, a concept which did not exist at the time, proceeded directly to his first assignment, the 62nd Coast Artillery at Fort Totten, New York, in the Queens borough. The 62nd was subdivided into A Battery (Searchlights), B&C Batteries (3" Guns), E&F Batteries (50 Caliber Machine Guns), and Dad was in F Battery. Interestingly, I stayed at Fort Totten for a week thirty years later in July 1965 when I was a Boy Scout tour guide for the 1964-1965 New York City World's Fair held nearby in Flushing Meadows Park. Dad was on the Post Football Team, therefore exempt from many of the banalities of Army life. Fort Totten would play Army teams from other posts around New York City - Fort Hancock (Sea Coast Artillery), Fort Hamilton (18th Infantry), and Fort Jay (16th Infantry). Each summer his unit would travel to Fort Ontario, New York, for live firings. Dad was discharged in 1939 and attended New Jersey State Teachers College at Glassboro, New Jersey (since renamed Rowan University) where he met Esther Peterson. (Their first date was to go see the movie “Wizard of Oz”, and at Mom’s funeral in October 2008 we had Nancy play “Over the Rainbow”). Mom said Dad was very shy around girls, and would blush easily. He was too respectful, because Mom thought he would never kiss her! When Dad asked his future father-in-law for his daughter's hand in marriage, Pop knew Dad only made $42/month as any Army Corporal. Pop queried "Can you support my daughter in the manner to which she is accustomed?" Dad bravely replied, "I'll try, Sir." Mom and Dad had their wedding rehearsal on Friday night at 9:15pm and were married at 3:00pm on Saturday June 14, 1941 in Berean Baptist Temple by Dr. Charles H. Shaw. Mom's Matron of Honor was her sister Marie, and Dad's Best Man was George Gernerd, his former boss at Swift & Co. (In 1928 Gernerd had been awarded the Carnegie Hero Fund Medal and a $1,600 scholarship for saving a woman from drowning, and he later played football at Muhlenberg College).35 Elizabeth Stanger played the organ, and the music listing was Because, At Dawning, Ave Maria, and I Love You Truly. The reception for 55 guests was in the Cumberland Hotel Ballroom, and the menu was fruit cup, chicken croquettes, peas, French fries, wedding cake and ice cream. Other interesting notes: the color scheme was a “rainbow wedding”: bride’s gown was white marquisette and lace made with a square neck and long sleeves, matron of honor wore rose, and the two bridesmaids (Betty Ruff Peterson and Lottie Bonham) wore daffodil yellow, and blue. Mom’s little sister, Betty was the flower girl, Lang’s Florist cost $35, wedding dress $20, veil $16, Gardenia corsages $3, Schofield Photography $30, Mom’s crystal pattern was The Diane by Cambridge, her flat silver pattern was Etruscan by Gorham. Mom and Dad honey-mooned in New York City, stayed at the Times Square Hotel for $5/night, attended a live radio broadcast, and watched history in the making. On June 17th they took the subway to Yankee Stadium to see the Yankees play the Chicago White Sox. Joe DiMaggio went 1 for 4 in what turned out to be game #30 of his record-setting 56 game hitting streak!36 Dad was recalled into the Army in 1941, went to Anti-Aircraft Artillery Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Camp Davis, North Carolina, then was assigned to the 71st Coast Artillery at Washington D.C.
In October 1918 Nana was four months pregnant with Mom, and Nana was careful not to contract the dreaded Spanish Influenza. Before the year was out 675,000 Americans would die from the flu - more than the total of all Americans to die in WWI, WWII, Korea and Viet-Nam combined! It was an epidemic that knew no borders, killing over twenty-five million people worldwide. The worst month in the United States was October, when 195,000 people died. The resulting national hysteria generated various speculations on how the disease began, the most xenophobic being that the Germans had landed a U-boat off the East Coast and dropped off canisters containing the deadly microbes.37 Nana Bach urged bed rest, salts of quinine, aspirin, and everyone wearing a protective cloth “flu” mask until her daughter and as yet unborn grandchild were past the danger. My mother, Esther Mae Peterson Bickings, was born in the house at 196 Commerce Street in Bridgeton, the second of five children. Mom was the Vice-President of the Bridgeton High School class of 1936 her sophomore, junior and senior years. I once asked Mom why her high school yearbook had the prediction that ‘one day Esther would be a missionary in the Belgian Congo’. She replied that her classmates knew how active she was in church activities, and how her life was changed by attending the Percy Crawford Pinebrook Bible Camp in near Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, in the Pocono Mountains. Percy Crawford was a popular young Evangelist in the Delaware Valley in the ‘30s. Mom was attending this camp on August 2, 1934 when she got an unusual telephone call from her father. Pop said that the night before a strong storm came through Bridgeton where his three oyster boats were temporarily docked in the Cohansey River. Violent winds broke the boats loose from their moorings, and one of the boats, the CJ Peterson, slammed into the Commerce Street Bridge, completely destroying it. The town’s traffic was disrupted, and Pop told Mom that the Peterson family wasn’t real popular at the moment!
During WWII Mom’s brother John was a 1st Lieutenant pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps flying C-47 cargo planes in the 62nd Troop Carrier Squadron of the 314th Troop Carrier Wing, stationed first in Tunisia and Sicily in 1943, then in February 1944 his unit was reassigned to Saltby, Leicestershire, England. His unit dropped paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division into Normandy on D-Day June 6, 1944, on September 17, 1944 he dropped British paratroopers near Arnhem , Holland, delivered fuel to General Patton’s 3rd Army’s tanks advancing across France, and also dropped supplies to the beleaguered troops of the 101st Airborne Division surrounded at Bastogne at the Battle of the Bulge. The 62nd relocated to Poix, France, in February, 1945 to be closer to the front lines. A special family story is that in 1943 when John was leaving to go overseas to fly combat missions in North Africa, Nana Bach feared for the safety of her oldest grandson. She presented him a pocket Bible that her father, David Eisenberg had carried with him during the Civil War. She said that ‘God’s Word had kept her father safe from harm, and prayed it would bring her grandson home’. John was touched by the keepsake, and always had it tucked in his flight jacket when he flew missions. After the War, Uncle John opened a Zenith Appliance store in Bridgeton, and would always sell to relatives at his cost. Whenever a family member entered his store, he would jokingly yell out to employees and customers alike “well, here is a sale, but no profit!”
Her freshman year of college Mom attended the New Jersey State Teachers College at Trenton, then transferred and went three years to Glassboro, graduating in 1940. She would spend the weekend at home, and take the train from Bridgeton to Glassboro each Monday morning, and live in the Laurel Residence Hall during the week. Interestingly, racial discrimination wasn’t as prevalent as modern revisionists would have us believe, because out of ninety-four graduates in that class that paid college tuition during the depths of the Great Depression without government loan assistance, eleven were black! Mom loved to dance, and was especially fond of the Glenn Miller Band. "Moonlight Serenade, In the Mood, Chattanooga Choo Choo, American Patrol, and I've got a Gal in Kalamazoo" became favorites of mine. When any of these songs came on the radio or stereo in our home, we became almost reverent in our hushed silence! You could see the look on Mom’s face as she listened to those songs, obviously reliving the dance steps, the sound of the band, her dresses, and the youthful energy she had back then. After she and Dad were married, she taught school for two years, choosing to be a full-time homemaker when my sister Stella was born. Dad had worked at Swift & Co. as a meat handler, then a foreman from 1939-1941 when he was recalled into the Army. After the War, Dad returned to Swift & Co. and was promoted to the plant supervisor in Camden. Several nights a week after work he would take a train to Philadelphia and attend the University of Pennsylvania Evening School of Accounts and Finance. In 1949 he left Swift, they moved back to Bridgeton, and Dad started working for Pop. In the summer of 1950 when the Korean War broke out, Dad was again recalled back into the Army. His unit, the 94th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, 2nd Armored Division, left by troop ship out of Galveston in July 1951 for Germany to defend against a possible Soviet attack in Europe. He returned in February 1952, so I was five months old when he first saw me. Mom told me she got my name from a journeyman baseball pitcher with the old St. Louis Browns, Duane Pillete. I think the only notable thing about him was that his father, Herman Pillette pitched for the Detroit Tigers 1922-1924 as a teammate of Ty Cobb.
By 1958 the Peterson Packing Company had 2,400 acres under State lease in the Delaware Bay, a wharf in Bivalve and Greenwich, oyster beds in Delaware and Virginia, the two boats, the CJ Peterson and John C Peterson, and a shucking house in Bivalve where upwards of 110 workers opened the oysters. I remember all of that, and it was an impressive, bustling company. Then a slow decline sapped the life out of the entire industry. U.S. food production had to be increased to support the requirements of the war effort in WWII, so the restriction of using sail only in the Bay was lifted and diesel engines were introduced in 1945. This made catching oysters much more efficient, but it depleted the supply. The human population of the Delaware Valley doubled from 1910-1960, and human use of fresh water limited oysters of this absolute necessity for their reproduction. When Dad returned from Germany, he resumed working for Pop as a deckhand on the oyster boats. In 1953 he made a thinly veiled threat that he would leave if Pop didn't give him more responsibility and captain one of the boats. Pop relented, and Dad eventually bought the business, with Pop carrying the note. In 1958 the parasite MSX destroyed almost the entire oyster population in the Delaware Bay. Whereas in 1915 there were over 400 oyster boats in the Bay, by 1962 there were less than 50. Dad was a resourceful small businessman who responded to this virtual collapse by diversifying the company in opening a breading plant where, in an assembly-line environment, the oysters would be covered with bread crumbs to facilitate deep fry cooking. In 1962 he purchased the Newport Seafood Company, a fish market in Ventnor City, New Jersey, just south of Atlantic City. On Saturdays and vacations I would work there. My jobs were to peel shrimp and throw live green shelled lobsters into pots of boiling water which would turn the lobsters red and kill them. The best business day was Friday when the Catholics, who were enjoined from eating meat on that day, would buy fresh fish from us. In 1964 Dad purchased a smaller dredging boat, the Vigilant (a skipjack built in Maryland of pine instead of white oak) so he could plant and harvest oysters in the Great Bay near Atlantic City. By the early 1970s however, it was obvious that the industry would not recover. Dad decided to ride it out until he could retire, but in the meantime Hal, and later John came back into the business. They stayed until 1986 when Dad took advantage of a generous offer to sell to a firm in Connecticut. Hal and John left the business to pursue other careers, the shucking house was demolished, and the boats were retrofitted down to the keel. I went to Port Norris and Bivalve with Dad years later and was astonished at how an entire way of life had literally disappeared. All the great shucking houses were gone, the tenant housing for the workers were leveled, the wharves were collapsing, hulls of once magnificent schooners were beached and rotting, and the natural vegetation along the Maurice River had reclaimed its dominance. It is sobering to witness such a brutal end of a once proud way of life. As I walked with Dad along the old wharves, for the only time in my life I saw him visibly grieve as he felt the past tugging at his heart. The oyster captains and crews were a rugged breed, working against punishing elements of icy winds in the winter, or limp sails hanging lifeless in the heat of a summer day, dangerous seas with boats capsizing and crews lost, back-breaking and monotonous labor as a deckhand. We are left with only the photographic memory of the romantic sight of hundreds of schooners under full sail, the fierce independence and authority of a captain, and the satisfaction of sons then grandsons growing up in the business then taking over from their fathers. As a boy I used to accompany my Dad to the Palomino Restaurant in Port Norris, a small diner where the prominent captains would sit on stools at a counter for early morning breakfast or just coffee. I was so proud to be permitted to sit near men of such stature and strength. I am grateful for the brief time I was part of that era. My work ethic was shaped in that very demanding and uncompromising world. My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather each set an example of hard work, honesty, thrift and perseverance that I have tried to emulate.