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Pennsylvania Lumber Versus Pirates

In honor of “Talk Like A Pirate Day” here is a story of a wooden Pennsylvania build ship that took on Pirates.

The old growth trees of “Penn’s woods” provided ample material for the construction of wooden sailing ships. Especially desirable was the Eastern White Pine trees, with their tall, straight trunks that were ideal for use as masts. The Pine trees were also used to produce Pine Tar, used in ship construction. With access to such resources Philadelphia be came a major center for shipbuilding in the 1700’s.

After the American Revolution the newly formed United States disbanded the Continental Navy in 1785. The navy ships were sold off by the new nation that lack the funds to maintain them. This act left the United States without an armed maritime presence until the U.S. Revenue-Marine (fore-runner to the modern Coast-Guard) was founded in 1790. The U.S. Revenue-Marine only consisted of ten small Cutters that could patrol the US coasts but left American Merchant Vessels unprotected on the High Seas.

Prior to independence American Merchant Vessels were under the protection of the powerful British Navy. Once this protection went away these ships were vulnerable to attack from pirates and privateers, especially to attacks from pirates operating around the Barbary Coast of Africa with the support of local nations.

The Barbary States demanded tribute to be paid in exchange for not attacking American shipping. The United States initially agreed to pay these tributes but political humiliation of paying for protection from pirates led to the creation of the United States Navy with the Naval Act of 1794.

The Naval Act of 1794 proved for the construction of six frigates. These frigates were designed by noted Philadelphia Shipbuilder, Joshua Humpherys. The first of the frigates, the “USS United States” was build by Humpherys at his shipyard and launched in 1797. (The “USS Constitution” is the last surviving ship of the original six frigates and is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat.)

To complement these six frigates the citizens of Philadelphia raised money through subscription to build a frigate to give to the new national navy. Laid down in November of 1798 and launched in November of 1799 the frigate “Philadelphia” was constructed at Humpherys’ shipyard. While there may have been patriotic inspirations behind Philadelphians’ desire to fund a new ship to give to the US Navy, it was also in the best interest of the merchant men who’s ships were in need of protection.

Birch, William Russell, Engraver. Preparation for War to defend Commerce. The Swedish Church Southwark with the building of the Frigate Philadelphia
. Pennsylvania Philadelphia United States, 1800. Retrieved from the Library of Congress
The “USS Philadelphia” was original named “The City of Philadelphia”- Philadelphia Gazette November 29th 1799

Under the command of Captain Stephen Decatur (Sr.) the “USS Philadelphia”‘s first action was not against pirates but against the French during the Quasi-War. The Quasi-War with France was an undeclared war fought on the seas in response to France’s violation of American’s neutrality during the Napoleonic War. Much like the Barbary pirates, the French Navy had been capturing unprotected American merchant vessels and men. During her first cruise (1800-1801) the “Philadelphia” captured five French ships and freed six merchant ships that had been captured by the French.

During the Quasi-War with France, the Barbary States and their pirates had continued to capture American Merchant men and demand high ransoms for their return. President Jefferson, determined to cease payment to pirates, sent US Navy ships to the Barbary Coast for a fight that would become known as the “First Barbary War”.

The “USS Philadelphia” first joined the blockade of Tripoli in 1802. After returning to the United States, “Philadelphia” returned to Tripoli with Captain William Bainbridge in command. On October 31st, 1803, while giving chase to a pirate ship, “Philadelphia” ran aground on an uncharted reef. Immobilized the ship and the crew were captured by the pirates. This setback led to a daring raid on February 16th, 1804 by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur (Jr.), son of the “USS Philadelphia”‘s first captain. Lieutenant Decatur and a volunteer crew, sailed the captured Tripolian ketch “Mastico”, renamed “Intrepid” into the enemy harbor. Unaware that the ketch was a captured ship the Tripolians allowed it to pull up next to the refloated “Philadelphia” . Decatur and his men boarded the ship, defeated the crew and managed to set it on fire before safely returning to open sea.

Decatur and his men driving the Pirates off the captured Philadelphia. Image- US Naval History and Heritage Command
Burning of the USS Philadelphia by Edward Moran 1897- Image US Naval History and Heritage Command

While the “Philadelphia” may have met a sad fate, the show of force of the new US Navy, made in part with Philadelphia built ships, made in part with Pennsylvania Lumber eventually put an end to the threat of Barbary pirates on American shipping.

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Random Artifact Time: CCC Bunk Tag

How can you tell which bunk is yours in a bunkhouse full of identical beds? Why with a bunk tag of course. Members in the Civilian Conservation Corps had metal tags with their names on them that hung at the foot of their bunk. This tag (LM2011.7.1A-B) belonged to Fred Wintersteen, who was in Company 342 at Camp S-88 Lyman Run.

(LM2011.7.1A-B with facsimile tag)

Bunk tags can been seen in these photos of the interior of a bunkhouse at Camp S-88 Lyman Run

Gerald Miller Collection 83.18
Gerald Miller Collection 83.18
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Random Artifact Time: Gunter’s Chain


A Gunter’s Chain is a tool that was used by surveyors as a means of measuring land. This tool was named after Edmund Gunter, the English mathematician and astronomer who invented it in 1620. A Gunter’s chain is 66 feet long and divided into 100 links with each link measuring 7.92 inches. In this system, 10 square chains equals 1 acre and 80 chains equals 1 statute mile.

The Gunter’s chain would become a standard tool for surveyors in England and throughout the English Colonies and Territories (This included the United States as a former colony). “Link and Chain” are official measurements used in British Imperial Units. Gunter’s chains eventually were replaced by steel ribbon tape, a type of wound tape measure.

Surveying land was important to the PA lumber industry as accurate measurements were required for sale, transfer and harvest of individual timber tracts. Later as the Commonwealth started to purchase and acquire deforested land, surveyors were used to measure out boundaries for state forest and park land. Though Gunter’s chains are now obsolete as a surveying tool, knowledge of their use and measurements in links and chains is useful when dealing with old land deeds and maps.

This Gunter’s Chain (L69.1.42) was donated by the Penn State School of Forestry.

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Random Artifact Time: CCC Camp Exchange Coupon Book

Civilian Conservation Corps Camps served as their own little communities, providing almost everything a CCC Enrollee could need. In addition to the Barraks and Mess Hall, camp included, Rec Halls and other recreation facilities, classroom, and medical facilities. The camps also included Camp Exchanges or Canteens, small stores that sold useful everyday items that an Enrollee could want but that wasn’t issued by the CCC. Such items could include toiletries, candy and snacks, soft-drinks, tobacco, writing paper, etc. Beer was allow to be sold at the Canteen of the Veterans’ Camps, who’s members were veteran’s of WWI and thus older than the regular Enrollees. These Camp Exchanges were a benefit to the camp in several ways. The men wouldn’t have to wait until they could get permission to go to town (which could be a distance from camp) to make a purchase. They could visit the Exchange after dinner when their day was done and there was time to relax. Any profit that was made by the Exchange was put back into the camp and could be used to buy next recreational equipment or other items for the benefit of the men.

Camp Exchange Coupon Book, S-88 Lyman Run (LM83.5.2)

Enrollees could request coupon books on credit, like the one above, and use the coupons as payment at the Exchange. These books were issued in $1 amounts and were filled with individual coupons worth 5 or 10 cents. When the monthly payday came around a Enrollee would receive his 5 dollars a month (after 25 dollars automatically was sent home). Any amount owed to the Exchange was taken out of that 5 dollar pay.

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Random Artifact Time: Bank Note from The Lumbermen’s Bank of Warren

Prior to the Civil War the United States Government did not issue paper money for wide spread circulation. The paper money that was used in everyday transaction were known as Bank Notes and were issued by private banks. These bank notes promised payment in species (hard money) but only at the bank that issued the note.

This Five Dollar Bank Note (L72.60.1) was issued by The Lumberman’s Bank of Warren. This bank was chartered on February 28th, 1834 and was the first bank to open in Warren, PA. The bank’s name is a nod to the importance of the lumber industry to the Warren County in the first half of the 19th century. According to the “History of Warren County” (1887) the first lumber raft headed down the Allegheny River from Warren to Pittsburgh in 1799 or 1801. An engraving of a sawmill is prominent on this bank note.

This bank only operated for a few years. It collapsed in 1838, a victim of the Panic of 1837, the first great economic depression in US history. The building that housed The Lumbermen’s Bank of Warren is still standing, known as the Mansion House.

This system of bank notes from individual banks had many flaws. This was especially evident while traveling. Since these notes were issued and backed by private banks and not the government there was no legal requirement for a store owner to accept them as payment. Often a bank note would lose it’s value the further away from the bank you got. A Tavern owner in Baltimore might only give you 4 dollars for this 5 dollar note from the Lumbermen’s Bank in Warren. If you happened to have this 5 dollar note after the Lumbermen’s Bank closed in 1838 it was worthless. There were as many as 8,000 different kinds of money in the US prior to the Civil War.

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Happy 50th Birthday to Us!

The idea for a museum highlighting the heritage of the lumber industry in Pennsylvania started with the suggestion that the Penn-York Lumberman’s Club acquire a logging locomotive to display at their annual Woodsman Carnival, which had been held at Cherry Springs Park since 1952.. This suggestion was made in May of 1963 and at the July meeting of the members of the Penn-York Lumbermen’s Club decided to go further and to work towards the development of a museum.

The members of the Penn-York Lumberman’s Club worked together with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) to plan this new museum. A 160 acre site was acquired from Denton Hill State Park and in 1966 the Pennsylvania General Assembly approved funds for the construction of the Lumber Museum. Prior to construction beginning in 1969 several member of the General Services Authority tried to cut the funding for the museum. Fortunately the members of the Penn-York Lumbermen’s Club, PHMC, and their supporters were able to rally support and save the museum.

The Visitor Center was dedicated on August 1st, 1970…. and then immediately closed for regular hours due to lack of funding. “Lumber Museum Open, Then Closes” read the headline of The Potter Enterprise’s coverage of the Visitor Center dedication. The formal opening would occur two years later on August 4th, 1972, after the completion of the recreated Lumber Camp. Both ceremonies were planned to coincide with the annual Woodsman’s Carnival in honor of the efforts of the Penn-York Lumberman’s Club.

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Moving Day for Camp S-92

On Christmas Day 1934 a fire broke out in Civilian Conservation Camp S-92 Asaph, located in Asaph, PA, Tioga County. The fire destroyed the Orderly Room, Hospital, Supply Room, and one Barrack. The damage from the fire coupled with the fact that the camp was located on private land, it was decided to relocate the camp to a new site. The camp was moved four miles south to Darling Run State Park (now a part of Tioga State Forest) right next to the banks of the Pine Creek. CCC enrollee James McCarty was in camp at the time and took these pictures showing the buildings of Camp S-92 Asaph being dismantled for the move to the new location. Once the camp was moved it was given a new number and name, S-155 Darling Run. The S-155 camp site is easily accessible today. It is 1/2 mile south of the Darling Run parking access area on the Pine Creek Rail Trail.

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Random Artifact Time: Fleshing Knife

Tanneries were an important part of North-Central Pennsylvania’s industry in the late 19th into the mid-20th century. Pennsylvania’s Tanneries were directly tied to the lumber industry because of the use of tannin-rich Hemlock tree bark in the tanning process.

This fleshing knife was used by Tannery workers to remove the hair and remaining tissue from hides after they have been soaked in a lime solution. These workers were known as “Beam Hands” because they placed the wet hide on a fleshing beam in order to scrap the hide with the fleshing knife.  (See the last image in the post)

This knife is marked “P. Emerick Cin. O” and was reportedly used at the Damascus Tannery in Coudersport, PA.

Close up showing the maker’s mark.
P. 122 of “Practical Treatise on the Leather Industry” by A. M Villon (image courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library)
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Random Artifact Time: The “Excelsior” Chamfer Plane

This Chamfer Plane, used for making edges in woodworking, was made by the Mander and Dillin Company that was located on Germantown Ave. in Philadelphia.

This particular plane was owned by F.P. Case (1859-1937) who lived in Troy, PA. Mr. Case’s grandson, F. Marshal Case, was one of the driving forces in the creation of the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum and donated this plane.

The maker’s mark and the owner’s name
First page of the patent (Google patents)
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Ice Harvest

As the first day of summer is coming up, let’s talk about Ice Harvesting!

Many sawmills would harvest the ice from their log pond during the winter freeze. In the days before mechanical refrigeration was common, ice harvesting was a major industry. Ice that was taken from frozen ponds would be stored in ice houses using straw or sawdust, which was plentiful in a sawmill, for insulation. When properly stored, the blocks of ice could last until the next winter. Before mechanical refrigerators, many homes had iceboxes that could be supplied all year long to help keep food cool.

The Lumber Museum has some ice harvesting tools in it’s collection to highlight this activity.

You can see many of these tool in action in this film from 1919 showing Pennsylvania ice harvesting at Pocono Manor.

(Public Domain courtesy of the Prelinger Archives)