Hidden Histories


Captivity narratives abound in early Colonial and post-Colonial American history. Numerous European women were captured by Native-American tribesmen for centuries, some adapting or assimilating within Indian culture, others successfully escaping bondage and thus returning to family & friends, while a few, after long abscences, were ill-received by husband, father or kin, since they had become 'with child,' by their former captors.
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Though many may be unaware, November 2008 is 'National Indian Heritage Month,' an opportunity for myself and others to reflect on the diverse role 'Native-Americans' have played in our nation's history.

Later this month, I'll relate a couple of narratives or examples from our collections here at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, relative to our Native American materials, but within today's post, I'd like to take you on a personal journey or reminiscence.
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Almost no one today has heard of Capt. Henry Bell, an English military officer, well-known in aristocratic circles, who traveled throughout Europe in the early 17th-century, and is described by official British records as having, "no equal in Christendom as a brave and experienced soldier."
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The history of African enslavement, as portrayed by scholars and interpreted by the general public, has been represented, discussed and defined, in far too often simplistic generalizations, without recognizing the intriguing 'exceptions to the rule' that exist in primary source materials.

One prime example is that concerning an English slaver trader, an African Prince and the contemporary records of the period reporting their activities, from Africa, to England and as far West as Philadelphia.
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12th to the 15th of Feb 1864
: "Having been directed by the Lt. General Commanding, to report on the successful skirmish of yesterday...I moved rappidly {archaic spelling is retained as in the original entries} down to where our leading men were hotly engaged and pressed. They were commanded by Capt. Fisher 40 {40th Regiment} who had hastened here earlyer with a few men....
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During this season of reflection on 'American Independence,' it is wise to remember various ethnic groups which make-up the 'American landscape,' individuals & peoples who fought, bled and died for liberty, freedom and self-government centuries ago, or in modern history, both abroad and in the New World.

One such people are the Hungarians, or as they call themselves, the Magyars, who by the thousands came to Pennsylvania and worked in the factories and mines located throughout the state, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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Currently, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia is featuring its famed 'Real Pirates' exhibit, revealing the treasures found on the British slave ship, Whydah, which sank near Cape Cod in 1717.

The eastern coast of Colonial America was no stranger to the voyages and marauding ventures of famed pirates, such as 'Captain Kidd' and Edward Teach or 'Blackbeard.'
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It is almost inevitable, that everyone doing family history or genealogical research, will eventually hit the well-known brick wall, when no trace or documentation for an ancestor's whereabouts can be found to complete the family tree. This is an acute malady brought about either by the lack of existing records or their destruction.
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Next to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, stands a 22 foot high monument, dedicated on April 24, 1976, as a tribute to the spirit and sacrifice of the Armenian people, designed to remind Philadelphians of the 'Day of Infamy,' or April 24, 1915, which is associated with the genocide and massacres carried out against the Armenians by Turkey, which occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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