Rush by Stephen Fried

Rush Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father by Stephen Fried Crown, 608 pp., hardcover $30 Benjamin Rush is difficult to write about, although at first glance that makes no sense. He was an interesting man who lived during interesting times, someone who knew prominent people and became prominent himself. He had opinions on everything and everyone, with an...
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Monster Bones: Charles Willson Peale and the Mysterious Nondescript Animal

On October 14, 1800, a New York City newspaper called Mercantile Advertiser published a rather lengthy news/opinion piece on some large and very curious bones that had been unearthed on a farm belonging to John Masten, located about 14 miles from the New York state village of Newburgh. The unidentified author observed that “these huge bones irresistibly force upon us by the power of associating...
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Biographer of the Feathered Tribes: Alexander Wilson and American Ornithology

“As it has fallen to my lot to be the biographer of the feathered tribes of the United States,” Alexander Wilson (1766-1813) wrote to William Bartram (1739-1823) on August 4, 1809, “I am solicitous to do full justice to every species; and I would not conceal one good quality that any one of them possesses.” At the age of 43 Wilson – weaver, peddler, poet, teacher...
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Free-Thinking, 19th-Century Style

Francis Ellingwood Abbot (1836–1903) was nothing if not determined. In 1872, as editor of The Index, the nation’s leading free-thought magazine, he began to muster the full force of his small army of subscribers against what was being called “the God-in-the-Constitution amendment.” A philosopher and theologian, he sought to reconstruct theology in accordance with scientific methodology. From the...
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A Tradition Brewing

Perhaps not considered as noble as spirits­ – the clear, silvery gins, the South’s prized bourbons – nor as trendy as wines – particularly Califor­nia’s pale, refreshing whites – ­beer, nevertheless, has been a staple of the American lifestyle for more than three centuries. Pennsylvania’s earliest brewing traditions eventually emerged as an influential...
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Courting the Constitution

If the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were to awaken this sum­mer in Independence Hall from two centuries of sleep, they would undoubtedly enjoy an exciting session. George Washington as president of the convention, after persuading Ben Franklin to stop tinkering with his electric table light, would call the Convention to order. Upon learning that the government devised by them had...
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The Making of a Miracle

Early in 1788, George Washington wrote his friend the Marquis de Lafayette that there had been a “miracle” in Phila­delphia. Considering the many efforts and failures be­tween 1765 and 1787 to estab­lish an enduring form of government, first for individ­ual states and then for all­ – fundamental laws, orders of government, plans of union, resolutions, declarations,...
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Chronology of Events Relating to Pennsylvania During Year 1776

January 1776   1 Defeat of the American Assault on Quebec involves heavy losses of troops from Pennsylvania. 2 The Second Continental Congress, sitting in Philadelphia, pro­tests against brutality employed by the British Army in the war against the colonies. The Pennsylvania Committee of Safety, operating in Phila­delphia, begins to vote recommendations for officers to command the 4...
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A Patriot Returns to Philadelphia: Restoration of a Thaddeus Kosciuzko Dwelling

He was the first of that group of foreign officers to offer his services in the cause of American liberty, and his labors earned him the reputation as the best military engineer that George Washington had. He was one of the first men of consequence in the colonies to shout for the freedom and education of black slaves, and in a will that was later broken, he left money to free and educate black...
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Jefferson County: Of Wilderness Tamed

Jefferson County. Its hallmarks are as disparate as Thomas Jef­ferson and Punxsutawney Phil. Village names as dissimilar as Panic and Desire. Inhabitants as distinctive as Indian chief Cornplanter and Moravian missionary John Heckewelder. And a tranquil­ity which masks the turbu­lence of the nineteenth century’s lumber boom that spawned settlement and nu­merous ancillary industries....
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