Embracing history

A mark­er was placed at the graves­ite of Thomas Holme at the Pen­nepack Baptist Church on Ju­ly 6. DONNA DIPAOLO / FOR THE TIMES

Dur­ing last week’s North­east His­tory Net­work event, mem­bers ad­orned the graves of Thomas and John Holme.

A per­son can learn a lot of in­ter­est­ing, per­haps un­ex­pec­ted, tid­bits by at­tend­ing a meet­ing of the North­east Phil­adelphia His­tory Net­work.

Dur­ing a Ju­ly 6 event at Pen­nepack Baptist Church, for ex­ample, Holmes­burg res­id­ent Fred Moore re­vealed that his home neigh­bor­hood, con­trary to com­mon be­lief, was not named in hon­or of Wil­li­am Penn’s sur­vey­or gen­er­al, Thomas Holme.

Dec­ades after the Co­lo­ni­al-era Thomas Holme mapped out the down­town Phil­adelphia grid and sur­round­ing counties for Wil­li­am Penn, an­oth­er likely un­re­lated Thomas Holme rose to prom­in­ence in the area near the con­flu­ence of the Pennypack Creek and Delaware River. But he didn’t name Holmes­burg, either.

In fact, it was the lat­ter Thomas Holme’s broth­er, John Holme, who coined the place name — per­haps in re­cog­ni­tion of his en­tire fam­ily or maybe in hon­or of him­self alone.

The re­mains of both Amer­ic­an Re­volu­tion-era Holme broth­ers are bur­ied in the church cemetery sur­round­ing Pen­nepack Baptist, which was erec­ted in 1774 along present-day Krewstown Road, just north of the name­sake creek.

Dur­ing last week’s North­east His­tory Net­work event, mem­bers ad­orned the graves of both Holme broth­ers, as well as six oth­er men, with mark­ers sig­ni­fy­ing their uni­formed Re­volu­tion­ary War ser­vice.

Moore and Joseph Men­kevich of North­wood de­veloped the pro­gram for the his­tory group in co­oper­a­tion with Pen­nepack Baptist and its cemetery care­taker, Tim Un­ruh.

The his­tor­ic­al rev­el­a­tions came fast and furi­ously.

“That’s ex­actly the point of this whole thing, learn­ing stuff and put­ting pieces to­geth­er,” Moore said.

Long­time Pen­nepack Baptist mem­ber and North­east his­tor­i­an Pat Stop­per noted that the cur­rent church build­ing, though 237 years old, wasn’t the con­greg­a­tion’s first. Their first church was built in 1707.

The con­greg­a­tion formed 19 years be­fore that and was the eighth of its de­nom­in­a­tion in the Brit­ish-Amer­ic­an colon­ies. It is the sev­enth-old­est sur­viv­ing Baptist con­greg­a­tion in the na­tion.

Pen­nepack Baptist pro­duced many uni­formed mem­bers of Wash­ing­ton’s Con­tin­ent­al Army, al­though Pennsylvania as a colony didn’t form­ally com­mis­sion mi­li­tias at the out­set of the war due largely to the pa­ci­fist Quaker be­liefs of its lead­er­ship.

John Holme served as a ma­jor, and his broth­er Thomas a cap­tain. Mean­while, the Ed­wards broth­ers — Mar­shal and Enoch — served in the “fly­ing camp,” a unit of 10,000 re­serv­ists from Pennsylvania, Mary­land and Delaware who were placed on act­ive duty in mid-1776. Enoch Ed­wards, a phys­i­cian, may have been George Wash­ing­ton’s per­son­al doc­tor.

“There was cor­res­pond­ence” between Dr. Ed­wards and Wash­ing­ton, Moore said.

Yet two oth­er Pen­nepack Baptist broth­ers, Ben­jamin and Jesse Dun­gan, also served in the Re­volu­tion — Ben­jamin as a cap­tain. Present-day Dun­gan Road in the North­east de­rives its name from the fam­ily.

Few­er mil­it­ary-re­lated re­cords are avail­able about Pen­nepack Baptist mem­bers John Dyre and Samuel Jones, al­though evid­ence sug­gests that both saw act­ive duty dur­ing the war. Jones was a min­is­ter who was com­mis­sioned as a mil­it­ary chap­lain and went on to be­come the longest-serving pas­tor in the his­tory of Pen­nepack Baptist.

In ad­di­tion to pla­cing mark­ers and Betsy Ross flags at the graves­ites, the North­east his­tory group ar­ranged for Re­volu­tion­ary War re-en­act­or Tom McHugh, dressed in full battle uni­form and gear, to fire three sa­lutat­ory shots from his flint­lock mus­ket.

Un­like ste­reo­typ­ic­al por­tray­als of Re­volu­tion­ary-era fight­ing men, McHugh did not wear a tri-point hat. Privates didn’t wear that style headgear, he ex­plained.

Of­fer­ing an­oth­er in­ter­est­ing fact­oid, McHugh said that the clich&ea­cute; “flash in the pan” — mean­ing a spec­tacle that shines brightly but is short-lived or has little last­ing ef­fect — is a dir­ect ref­er­ence to the fir­ing mech­an­ism in a mus­ket.

It has noth­ing to do with a fleet­ing glim­mer in a mod­ern-day fry­ing pan, ac­cord­ing to McHugh, who offered yet an­oth­er com­pel­ling his­tor­ic­al tid­bit.

With­in days of the Ju­ly 4, 1776 sign­ing of the De­clar­a­tion of In­de­pend­ence, its cre­at­ors had prin­ted a Ger­man trans­la­tion of the text.

“There were so many Ger­man im­mig­rants that the De­clar­a­tion of In­de­pend­ence was prin­ted in two lan­guages,” McHugh said. “Ger­man was be­ing con­sidered for the na­tion­al lan­guage, but Eng­lish won out.”

Pen­nepack Baptist likely isn’t the only North­east church with Re­volu­tion­ary War graves­ites. But con­sid­er­ing the church’s her­it­age, it may have the most.

“It could be the largest group. The oth­er big church at the time would’ve been the By­berry Friends. But their graves­ites aren’t marked and they were Quakers,” Moore said, not­ing the de­nom­in­a­tion’s pa­ci­fist doc­trine.

Trin­ity Church Ox­ford, at Ox­ford and Long­shore av­en­ues, and All Saints Church, at 9601 Frank­ford Ave., also were in ex­ist­ence dur­ing the Re­volu­tion. Both were and con­tin­ue to be Church of Eng­land con­greg­a­tions. ••

For in­form­a­tion about the North­east Phil­adelphia His­tory Net­work, vis­it nephil­ly­his­tory.com

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or bkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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