Doing Historical Research in Philadelphia


Research at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Germantown, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

In September, 2008, my husband Monte and I spent twenty-eight days traveling along the northeastern seacoast. We began in Philadelphia and ended in the mountains of New Hampshire, before traveling through Vermont into New York. As I look back, three strands braided themselves together to form the story of our travels: first, research, second cemeteries and third, people— family, old friends and new friends. The post below relates our experiences doing research for my historic romance novel while we were in Philadelphia.  

     Our research journey began in Philadelphia, at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the repository of the Bingham Papers. In the 1790s, Henry Knox and William Duer purchased the Penobscot lands in the Maine territory of what was then Massachusetts. When they went “belly-up,” the land was returned to the state, freeing it for William Bingham’s land speculation.

     However, the Bingham purchase wasn’t my only interest. I’m writing a historical journal article profiling a female French émigré, Madame Rosalie de Leval. Her goal was to create a French colony in what is Hancock County, Maine, today. Her land purchases became caught in the tidal wave crash of the Duer bankruptcy. I’d been unable to locate information on her, and the reference alluded to above indicated that packets of letters and documents, to and from her, were lodged in the Bingham papers. These papers would be of value prior to any further research I was doing. Thus, I knew I had to travel to Philadelphia, and the best way to do so would be to go there enroute from my home in Southwestern Pennsylvania to Newport, Rhode Island, the starting point for our New England travels.

     Once my husband, Monte, and I determined to travel to New England via Philadelphia, I decided to visit the church where Madame was married in 1794. The starting place was the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, in Germantown. I’d prearranged with the historian, John E. Peterson, to obtain information and perhaps a photograph.

     While there, I learned that the Zion Lutheran Church and St. Michael’s Lutheran Church congregations were once tied together, although each had a separate pastor. I also saw a painting of the pastor who was most likely to have performed the ceremony for Madame and her husband. We were shown a model of the two churches as they were in 1794—they had been rebuilt several times since then—and best of all, the historian offered to locate the original book where Madame’s wedding was recorded in 1794. He also gave us materials, including a beautiful pamphlet on Henry Melchior Muhlenberg and The Colonial Lutheran Church. In it are pictures of the models and copies of documents.

     By then it was mid-afternoon. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania was (to continue reading this story click on: DOING HISTORICAL RESEARCH IN PHILADELPHIA




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