Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

Archbishop Patrick John Ryan: His Life and Times: Ireland — St. Louis — Philadelphia, 1831–1911

by Patrick Ryan
published by AuthorHouse Press, 2010; 357 pages, paper, $11.60

Upon the death of Patrick John Ryan (1831– 1911), Archbishop of Philadelphia for more than a quarter century, church bells throughout the city solemnly tolled to mark the passing of the remarkable Irish-born prelate. Ryan was much more than a member of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy; he was a civic leader respected by citizens of many faiths and creeds. While two hundred priests conducted his funeral service in a crypt beneath the main altar of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, 18th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, four thousand men, women, and children knelt in silence in the church. Another twenty thousand individuals, unable to gain admission to the cathedral, had watched vigilantly as an open hearse bore the archbishop’s coffin around Logan Circle on its way to the cathedral. On the previous day, September 15, thousands of mourners passed through the cathedral to view the body and pay their last respects. On the day after the funeral, three thousand children of the parish schools attended a requiem mass for their spiritual leader.

Archbishop Ryan entered the seminary at St. Patrick’s College in Carlow, Ireland, at the age of sixteen in 1847. He traveled as a deacon, in 1852, to St. Louis, Missouri, where he was appointed associate professor at Carondolet Seminary. He was ordained a priest the following year. In 1860, he was the founding pastor of the Parish of the Annunciation. From 1861 through 1865, he served as chaplain at the Gratiot Street Prison, which confined many Confederate soldiers. He also administered to Union Army soldiers at a hospital in his parish. During the late 1860s through the late 1870s, Ryan held a number of high ranking positions in the church and was invited to participate in a number of prestigious events. On June 8, 1884, Pope Leo XIII (1810–1903) named him Philadelphia’s second archbishop.

Catholics in Philadelphia enthusiastically embraced their new archbishop; Ryan received a tumultuous public welcome on August 21, which included a torch-light procession of eleven thousand well-wishers. He immediately made himself familiar to the community at large. “Throughout his time in Philadelphia,” writes Patrick Ryan, author of Archbishop Patrick John Ryan: His Life and Times: Ireland — St. Louis — Philadelphia, 1831– 1911, the archbishop “demonstrated enthusiastically his willingness to publicly represent and promote the Catholic Church, not only among his fellow Christians but also in the wider community.” (The author’s grandfather, Hugh Ryan, was a cousin and contemporary of Archbishop Ryan.) On April 30, 1885, he presided at the first public meeting of the American Catholic Historical Society, headquartered in Philadelphia, held at the Academy of Music. The following year the University of Pennsylvania awarded him an honorary doctorate of laws, making him the first Catholic clergyman to be so honored. He later received honorary degrees from New York University and Manhattan College.

Ryan understood the complexities of administering the archdiocese which, at the time of his appointment, included the dioceses of Philadelphia, Erie, Pittsburgh, Scranton, and Harrisburg. Philadelphia, the second largest diocese in the country after New York, covered the city and nine surrounding counties. His tenure, during a turbulent and challenging period, was marked by anti-foreigner and anti-Catholic prejudice, the mass influx of European immigrants, and ethnic squabbles. However, he prudently addressed each problem that confronted him and earned the trust, admiration, and respect of not only his communicants but also of city leaders and residents as well. This book traces his life and religious vocation, beginning with his birth in Ireland and ending with his death in Philadelphia, to which he had been assigned in 1884.

For 2011, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) has adopted “William Penn’s Legacy: Religious and Spiritual Diversity” as its annual theme.


In Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America

by Daniel R. Biddle and Murray Dubin
published by Temple University Press, 2010; 616 pages, cloth, $35.00

Octavius Valentine Catto (1825–1871) shared the stage with leading nineteenth-century social reformer Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), recruited African American soldiers for the Union Army during the Civil War (at the behest of President Abraham Lincoln), played for the Pythian Base Ball Club (a pioneering Black baseball team in Philadelphia), taught at the Institute for Colored Youth (the city’s finest black school), and fought for equality in the state house and on the streets. He and his contemporaries — men and women, black and white — waged their battles a century before the Birmingham civil rights campaign and the marches in Selma, Alabama, in the 1960s.

In Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America, authors Murray Dubin and Daniel R. Biddle chronicle the life and times of the charismatic leader. Catto’s “band of brothers,” as they called themselves, anticipated Rosa Parks (1913–2005), Jackie Robinson (1919–1972), and Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968). The saga of their struggle to change America will change readers’ understanding of the nation’s racial history. Like the Freedom Riders of the modern civil rights movement, the early activists braved the wrath of white policemen, politicians, murderers, and mobs. They dared to sit in whites-only streetcars, challenged baseball’s color line, and intrepidly marched through a torrent of eggs and epithets and brickbats and bullets to proclaim their right to vote. Catto’s life was cut short at the moment when, as W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) wrote, African Americans “were first tasting freedom,” hence the title of this book. He was murdered on Election Day, October 10, 1871, as he made his way through Philadelphia to vote.

Born in the American South, where slavery permeated everyday life, Catto moved north, where he joined the fight to be truly free—free to vote, attend school, ride on streetcars, play in organized sports, even participate in Fourth of July celebrations. Catto electrified a biracial audience in 1864 when he called on free men and women to act and to educate newly freed slaves, proclaiming, “There must come a change.” He ultimately challenged one injustice after another.

Tasting Freedom “is about the first civil rights movement, about its heroes,villains, and battles,” Biddle and Dubin write. “Not the Civil War battles at Antietam or Bull Run but the street wars — pogroms, as the historian Roger Lane says — of whites against blacks in Washington, New York, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia.” The story of injustices and inequities, and the struggle to correct them, is compelling and heartfelt. And Octavius V. Catto played a vital role in the unfolding drama.

PHMC observed “Black History in Pennsylvania: Communities in Common” as its annual theme for 2010.


Remembering Chester County: Stories From Valley Forge to Coatesville

by Susannah Brody
published by the History Press, 2010; 128 pages, paper, $19.99

“People have always been an important part of history. By sharing their stories, they enable us to better understand historical events and relate the past to our present-day lives. Storytelling not only helps to preserve history, but it can also bring history alive,” writes Susannah Brody in the introduction to Remembering Chester County: Stories from Valley Forge to Coatesville. An author and storyteller deeply interested in local history, Brody offers a series of fascinating vignettes — how the residents of Chester County secreted runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad, conducted a witch trial, and fought for women’s suffrage.

The first section of Remembering Chester County opens with the American Revolution, specifically a story about Squire Thomas Cheyney who either dreamt or had a premonition of the September 11, 1777, Battle of Brandywine, at which the British crushed the American forces. The section continues with stories of Edward “Ned” Hector (1744–1834), a black teamster who served in the Continental army; the Battle of the Clouds, waged on September 16, 1777, near present-day Malvern; and the “witch trial” of 1780, during which Molly Otley, a resident of Goshen Township, was tried by a court of her neighbors who believed she possessed supernatural or magical powers and had cursed a young child, causing her to go mad.

Part two, which deals with the nineteenth century, recounts the 1809 reburial of Anthony Wayne (1745–1796), one of the most famous soldiers of the American Revolution; the deaths and mass burial, in 1832, of several dozen laborers working on laying the rails of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad; and a religious group known as the Battle Axes, which arrived in Chester County in 1840. The twentieth century, covered in the third and final section, discusses the lynching of African American Coatesville resident Zechariah Walker in 1911, the filming of The Blob in Yellow Springs and Coatesville in 1955, and the parade of the Ku Klux Klan in West Chester in 1990.

Remembering Chester County includes rare and vintage photographs and a bibliography.