Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 8
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: April 1954 Volume 8 Number 2, Pages 51–54
Old friends and old stories
Old Friends! How inestimable they become as we advance in life! New ones cannot fill their place in our hearts. The "flower leaves in a precious volume stored" yield sweeter fragrance than the fresh, moist blossoms just cropped from the crystal vase. There are those who love us, as the Browning says, "for love's sake only" and in spite of our imperfections. It is not necessary for us to smooth our manners or choose our words before them. They know the heart and judge well of the intention if the act be performed in a bungling and ungraceful manner. They look upon our best side and show it to others. They do not make our faults virtues, but if there be any about us "lovely and of good report" they will be sure to see it. Friends endeared by Christian sympathy - who know us as the world does not - partakers with us of one faith in Jesus, it is pleasant to sit with you amidst scenes made dearer by the joys and holier by the sorrows of the past, and forgetting "the dark milestones" we have passed in the journey of life, look upward together to the eternal day that will break erelong upon our enraptured gaze. Such friends I have just visited in a home that they have made delightful to us for more than a score of years. I am always glad to find its appearance unaltered by "time and taste". Modern improvement that, foe of the picturesque, has not defaced the antique garden, in which stand gnarled and shaggy catalpas, under which many generations have sported, nor leveled the green~ knoll where the white rose bush has stood ever since I can remember it. Everything there has a tender little history of its own, from the untrimmed box, which stretches its rigid arms over the pathway, to the climbing ivy, that could tell as witching a tale as Tennyson's Talking Oak, if it had such a master of silver verse to set it to its proper tune. But it grows beside those who carry music in their hearts rather than on their lips, and so, like many a noble action in this selfish world, their histories will fade away unrecorded and unknown.
From this quaint old garden we cross the broad piazza that speaks of pleasant midsummer days and moonlight nights in the misty past, and enter a house where an atmosphere of peace forever abides. She who sits in yonder armchair, with the transparent Friend's cap shading her fair and almost unwrinkled brow, is still kindly lent us, perhaps to show how serene and sweet a Christian old age may be. How beautiful has been her course through a checkered life - quiet, unobtrusive, and faithful to God and man, in - "The crystal clearness of an eye kept single forevermore."
And now she waits with her lamp trimmed and burning, her Master's summons to enter the celestial gate. We love to hoard up her stories of the past. One of them would have made. Irving's account of the Battle of Trenton even more graphic than it is, had he heard it as I did from her own lips. Her father was a warm patriot although he belonged to a sect of Christians who think it sinful under any circumstances to encourage war. The Hessian officer Col. Rahl, a brave but jovial and imprudent man, was quartered at friend P's house.* He has often told his laughter of the intentness with which the Col. watched a game of fox and geese played by two boys of the family. The night before the battle in which he was slain, his merry laugh echoed through the room when Reynard was unsuccessful, and he shrugged his shoulders when his victim was imperiled. Before the game was finished he was startled by alarm guns, and exclaiming "I must be off" disappeared immediately. History tells us that after making the round of the outposts and seeing no cause for alarm, he returned to his quarters in fancied security. Early the next morning Washington was upon him, and he fell mortally wounded at the head of the regiment that he was rashly leading into the midst of a hopeless fight. He was taken to his old quarters to die, where he was tenderly nursed by my friend's father and mother to the last. They told how Washington and Gen'l. Greene visited him, and how tears poured down the cheeks of Washington as he looked on his dying foe. The event is commemorated in a picture now in the possession of the family. But before this scene other stirring events had transpired in the family. When our troops thus suddenly entered the town one of the daughters was visiting a neighbor at a short distance from the house. On hearing the report of Artillery near at hand, she set off to return home. A Cannonball grazed the top of her head and she rushed down the cellar, whither the family had gone, for shelter, covered with blood. Her wound however was not dangerous, and she often congratulated herself afterwards that she was of low stature, and so did not lose her head.
When the battle was over and the family had assembled in the usual sitting room, a pane of glass in the front window was found perforated by a ball, which had cut it in a perfect circle as smoothly as if it had been extracted with the point of a diamond. The old house has been lately taken down, and the person who has built on its site preserves the pane as a memento of the Revolution. When I can get my dear friend to speak of herself, her conversation is not less interesting than when she tells us of public affairs. She had one only sister, whose character in all essential traits resembled her own. Their early life was far from being a practical or romantic one. The ultimate end of all their teaching was to fear God, and do their duty. A noble lesson when well taught and duly learned.
I think both of them had much poetry in their hearts,though they grew up under influences which led them rather to repress its growth. They did not speak of their own feelings, but no one could be with them without seeing their vivid perception and appreciation of the beauty of nature. They loved the flowers of Spring and the warm bright tints of Autumnal trees. Their souls grew larger among the mountains, and their hearts were made more placid and tender by the murmuring of the waterfall and the ripple of the river. The two sisters were seldom separated, but seemed to grow like Helen and Hermia "Two berries moulded on one stem." Their strong love for each other made their prosaic life happy, although the girls of the present day, with all its artificial excitements would wonder how it could be done. They assisted in housekeeping, they spun, and sewed and knitted in concert, but they seldom went from home and enjoyed few youthful pleasures. They had a great desire to see N. York, but it was a long day's journey from them in those primitive times. But one day they were told that an invitation had been sent them from a respectable friend in that city to visit his family on the approaching Yearly Meeting, and that they were actually to go. Young Friends do not express their feelings in a noisy manner, but their joy at this news was very great. Many a one probably goes to Europe now without anticipating as much pleasure as those gentle sisters did in visiting New York. As their dress was always neat and of the same pattern they had few preparations to make. And now I will narrate the journey from Trenton to New York as it took place sixty years since, nearly in the words of my friend.
"It was early in the morning" she said, "When a dozen of us left Trenton in a roomy four-horse stage for New York. We reached Elizabethtown about two oclock and on driving up to the inn, and alighting were pleased to see a long nicely set table, and to smell what seemed to be a well-prepared dinner. Nothing could have been more gratifying to us poor hungry Travelers. But our disappointment was great when we were told by the landlady that the savory dinner was not for us, but for the regular line that passed through the town. When we asked what we should do, we were told to go on to Powles Nook; now Jersey City, where we could no doubt procure supper. So hungry and weary as we were, there seemed no alternative but to drive on and spend the night there. In addition to our discomfort it was beginning to rain very fast, and we had to ride with all the curtains down, which made some of us very sick. But the thought of rest and refreshment was before us, and we were delighted to drive up to the inn at Powles Nook, though it was quite dark and very stormy when we reached it. But, alas, disappointment again awaited us. We were met at the door by the landlord, who said that he could not accommodate us, for the roof was off the house, and
was covered with sails, and the beds all packed away. Think how we felt. We again asked what we should do, and the reply was "Cross over to the city." This too, was to be done in an open boat in all the storm and darkness of the night, and without food since very early in the morning. What we should have done I know not had not John Bull stepped in "to mediate" or rather, to exert his authority. An old English gentleman, who was one of the passengers, protested against such treatment, and declared that possession was nine points of the law, and that he would not be turned out of the house by landlord or landlady. This emboldened the rest of the company, who said they would remain by him. They then, finding us so resolute, prepared a comfortable supper which we enjoyed greatly. Then the gentlemen prayed that the ladies might have beds, professing their willingness in that case to sit up themselves. So, after much persuasion, their request was granted, and we passed a very comfortable night.
Early the next morning, though still raining, we crossed without our breakfast, in a long open boat. You may think how the city which we so wished to see appeared to us in all the mud and rain of that morning. There were no hacks nor omnibuses in these days, so we were obliged to walk a distance to the house of our friend with wet clothes and draggled skirts, sometimes laughing and sometimes almost crying over our woeful appearance. At length however we reached the neat and pleasant home of Friend C., where every kindness was in store for us. We afterwards had a delightful visit, and saw New York under far different circumstances from those upon which we entered it. "Yes it is sixty years since all these things took place" continued my friend " and of that company of travelers nearly all have passed away. Three only of the twelve remain."
This was her last remark and she sat in silence for sometime as though she was dwelling on the past with all its changes- its transient sorrows, its faded joys. No doubt, too, she thought of the future, for "Very exquisite is the harmony between the distant and the near" in the Christian heart.
*This was the identical Friend that saw General Washington engaged in private prayer in the woods, and heard the fervor of his devotions as he besought God's blessing upon his country's cause. The story so often repeated in the newspapers was not an invention. It is a real fact. The memory of this incident is still preserved in the family of the excellent man who beheld it. We have heard the granddaughter relate it more than once.
This century-old account was found by Mrs. Lucy Duhring Okie among the papers of her aunt, the late Miss Caroline A. Duhring of Chestnut Hill. Colonel Rahl died in the Trenton home of Miss Duhring's great grandparents, Stacy and Margaret Yardley Potts, whose daughter related the tales to Mrs. Holdich, of whom nothing is known.
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