Day-42-41

THE BELL

(Reading time 8 minutes)

The date was September 17th, 1777.  The place was Philadelphia.  The characters were a few Pennsylvania Dutch farmers, slightly drunk after having shared a jug of homebrew applejack.  The applejack maker was Frederick Leaser, a Lutheran Church member from the neighboring farms in the Lehigh Valley, north of Philadelphia. These farmers were German immigrants, but called Pennsylvania Dutch among the natives.  Thirty-nine year old Frederick Leaser shared a room that night with 2 other men, at a downtown Philadelphia inn, near City Tavern.

Sunlight poured in the window, albeit too early, considering the night of gaiety with a jug of brandy and a few friends.  Frederick pulled himself from his bed and started to dress for his 60-mile long trek home.  His village was in Jacksonville, Lynn Township, Pennsylvania.  The trip usually took two days each way for the farmers, plus an extra day to sell their produce, buy supplies, and top it off with a little merry making before returning home.

As he approached the stables, Frederick encountered a platoon of soldiers bustling about.  Some were moving horses and hitching them to wagons.  It was at the time when General Washington had suffered some setbacks, ironically, on September 11th at Paoli, and Brandywine, north and west of Philadelphia. (Does that date sound familiar? 9-11) Washington’s Continental Army was retreating to Valley Forge to regroup.  Military personal and supplies were being evacuated from Philadelphia. Frederick assumed that the activity at the stables was part of the army’s withdrawal.

A sergeant stood by Frederick’s wagon, watching him approach. Frederick greeted the sergeant with a, “Goot mornink” in his heavy Pennsylvania Dutch Accent.  “Is this your wagon” asked the Sergeant?  “Yah” said Frederick, “iss dere a proplem”.  “Yes” replied the sergeant, “we have commandeered your wagon for military purposes to carry some materials away from here and keep it from the British”.  “Vare are you taking it” asked Frederick.  “Some place North of here” was the reply.  “I am from Northampton County and vood be hoppy to transport vatever you vant.” “ Someone else will drive your wagon”  the sergeant responded. “Nine, mine horses vill not vork for you, only me. You vill get nowhere unless I am mitt the reins.”  Just then two soldiers arrived with the two strongest looking horses and hitched them to the wagon.  “Dese are mine horses” advised Frederick.  “Then everything works out well doesn’t it” said the sergeant.  “I yam a patriot!” announced Frederick!  “Ask any vone here, dey all know me”.  “I vill help.  I vant to stay mit mine vagon un min horses.”  Col. Flowers was in command, and being convinced of Frederick’s loyalty, agreed he could.

The operation was to remove all of the bells (seven in all) from the churches, including St. Peters, Christ’s Church, and the State House Bell among others.  The British planned to melt them down for bullets and cannon balls. Farmer’s wagons would not likely be suspected of carrying military material and should pass more freely to a hiding place, north of the city.

The bells were detached, hoisted down from their belfries, loaded into several wagons, then covered with hay.  They were dispatched for more secure secreted points of safety and lead on the trail by Frederick Leaser.  The Penna. Dutch Farmer, Frederick’s wagon was the largest and assigned to carry the largest bell, over 2000 pounds.

All wagons met after dark in a field at the edge of the city.   A Constitutional officer, John Mickley, a former resident of the area, was appointed by Col.  Flowers to lead the wagon train to it’s destination and it’s hiding place.  The drivers were Dreisbach, Blose, Drumheller, Heintzleman, Mickley, Leaser, and Bachman.

The convoy stopped and prepared meals along the Bethlehem Pike, passing through sixteen townships and boroughs en route to Northampton.  When they arrived in Upper Gwynedd Township in the darkness of morning, they joined an army encampment of several hundred wagons and many more soldiers on their way to Valley Forge.

The next day, Sept. 24th, just as they started to descend a steep hill entering down into Bethlehem, under the weight of the bell, and complicated by a heavy chain to secure the bell, a wheel broke on Frederick’s wagon, carrying a 2000 lb bell,. That highway on the hill still remains as a major entrance to Bethlehem.   Looking down such a steep hill can be scary not to mention with a failing wheel on a wagon carrying over 2000 pounds with no functioning brakes and flailing chains. The wheel flopped grotesquely as the wagon screeched with an unrestrained forward slide, threatening to crush the horses, the wagon and the entire operation.  It came to a sickening halt, but the bell remained contained now leaning perilously against the side railing of the wagon.

An all out search located wheelwright shop and it’s owner to replace the wheel.  Hours later, the  convoy proceeded on. They arrived at the Zion High German Reformed Church late in the morning of September 25th, 1777.  One by one, the wagons were aligned under a makeshift crane, to lift their contents free.  As each wagon was removed, a coterie of soldiers and civilians, using poles, moved the bells down to be hidden in the basement of the Church.

When the bell was lifted from Frederick Leaser’s wagon, he brushed away the straw from the inscription, he read for the first time:

PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UPON ALL OF IT’S INHABITANTS THEREOF. LEV XXVVX

By Order of the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania for the State House in Philadelphia.

                                   It was the LIBERTY BELL.      >>>>>>>>>>>>

Historical Notes:

1. The Liberty Bell was first hung in the State House Steeple in Philadelphia in 1753, rung July 8, 1776 to proclaim independence.

2. An illustration of the State House Bell was on the frontispiece of an abolitionist publication in 1837.

3. Northampton Towne officially became Allentown, in 1833.

4. The bell was returned to Philadelphia in the summer of 1778, re-hung in the State House, then referred to as the Old State House Bell, now known the world over as the LIBERTY BELL

5. The famous zigzag crack in the bell was formed in 1835 when it was rung for the birthday of George Washington.

6. Frederick Leaser, the main character in this story had the distinction of being the Uncle of this author, six generations back. This is my family history!