Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

The fraternal symbol­ism seems mysterious, even magical. A pavilion is outfitted with wings. In its center, a tall pole flies a flag bearing an insignia of a brass quiver stuffed with feathery arrows. The quiver is said to represent this little known club, and the arrows the fellowship and fraternity of its members. A belt – the ends of which form the bold letters U and B­ – which wraps around the quiver is said to symbolize the spirit of archery that binds and inspires this group. Atop the shield-like face of the emblem is affixed the Latin motto Plena Fidelibus (“filled by the faithful”). Twenty-five shorter poles, each flying a smaller flag, support the main tent. Beneath these specially marked and distinctively colored flags, stand twenty­-five individuals, identically attired in white and each sporting a simple, distinguish­ing mark and color on all his possessions, including the flag above his head.

This is the private world of the United Bowmen of Philadelphia, the nation’s oldest society of archers.

Founding brothers Titian Ramsay Peale, a member from 1828 to 1844, and Franklin Peale, a member from 1828 to 1870, wore a circle and an arrowhead, respectively. Baldwin Locomotive Works founder Mathias W. Baldwin, whose membership spanned the years 1848 to 1866, was known by the Greek letter delta. Later in club history, William R. Watson, Jr., a member since 1973, assumed the anchor of his father, Robert C. Watson, Jr. Current president Edmund J. Duffey, Jr., a postman and member since 1964, assumed the Gaelic harp upon his father’s death, relinquishing the shamrock he wore his first year of membership. The most senior active Bowman, Howard N. Baier, a retired surgeon who joined in 1949, sports a dagger. The oldest living Bowman, ninety-four year old Galloway Cheston Morris III, is known to fellow members by his Jupiter.

This system of cryptic identification is used by members of the United Bowmen of Philadelphia to sign their fraternal correspon­dence; they do not use their names or signatures, but their marks. The reason is alluring but obscure, according to E. G. Heath’s A History of Target Archery. The United Bowmen appears to have always been somewhat selective and secretive, engaged in the popular tradition of “conceal­ing the delights of the elect behind an alluring veil.” “We’re a secret organization,” said one member recently, adding, “the less said, the better said.” This leaves members of the archery world at-large to explain the Bow­men. “Any of them with degrees of power are older and so they are conservative and don’t want an identity,” explains Darwin Kyle, a senior national judge and teacher at the World Archery Center in Pomfret, Connecticut, who served this past year as U. S. Paralympic coach in Barcelona, Spain.

Active archers are sworn to secrecy, but the society’s well­-documented history speaks for itself. Founded in 1828, and now based at the Corinthian Yacht Club along the Delaware River in Philadelphia’s Essington section, the club’s historic traditions, tourna­ments, and trophies are safeguarded by the reticent membership. At the age of eighty, Robert B. Davidson, who belonged to the United Bowmen of Philadelphia from 1836 to 1881, chronicled the group’s early history in his 1888 Historical Sketch of the United Bowmen. Davidson cited naturalist and explorer Titian Ramsay Peale who, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, recalled the group’s origin at a banquet given in his honor by Charles P. Hayes.

In 1825, after returning from Long’s Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, feeling the want of out-door exercise, and disliking tenpins and billiards, a few friends joined in choosing archery before breakfast and a walk in the country …. We soon found that a systematic organization was requisite for healthful amusement. A few books by British toxophilites [archery lovers] fixed our plans on their models and experience.

Information has been gleaned from the May 1830 edition of the American Turf Register, which was unearthed by Charles E. Alexander of the defunct Wayne Archers. The Bowmen’s Book, conceived in 1947 and distributed in 1953, was prepared by member A. Merklee Beitler and financed by member E. R. Teubner, Jr. To celebrate the club’s one hundred and fiftieth anniver­sary in 1978, John Poirier, the club’s current recorder, printed two hundred copies of a commemorative booklet, The United Bowmen of Philadelphia, 1828-1978. Former president William R. Watson, Jr., dedicated the booklet to the energetic archers who had revitalized the dub after a dormant period and to those members who have since “followed their firm footsteps to the target and beyond.”

A perusal of the records and history of the Club reveals a remarkable consistency in its members’ attitudes and aspira­tions. There is an unfailing spirit of good fellowship throughout its history. While there were and are many differences of opinion as might be expected of capable, dedicated individuals, there is seldom more than the slightest indication that the over-riding feeling of good will has been temporarily breached. This pleasure in each other’s company and in the shooting has always been given priority over skill with the bow. Archery has been the adhesive holding this affable group together, and archery has profited from the Club’s devotion and countless contributions to the sport.

According to Davidson, the brothers Peale and four others of “social disposition” and “scientific proclivities” – Robert E. Griffith, Samuel P. Griffitts, Jr., Jacob G. Morris, and Thomas Sully – formally organized the United Bowmen of Philadelphia on September 3, 1828. Artist Titian R. Peale was nineteen when he accom­panied the expedition dispatched by the federal government under Maj. Stephen H. Long to explore the vast territory lying between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. His official position was that of assistant naturalist and,he sketched various forms of wildlife the party encountered. He reputedly acquired his love of the beauty of the bow from the Native Americans. When he returned to the East Coast after a stint of six years, Peale began giving thought to forming an organization of archers.

Meanwhile, during fall 1827, two friends, sharing English ancestry and a modicum of affluence, physician Robert Eglesfield Griffith and druggist Samuel Powel Griffitts, “discussed over a bottle of good wine, the establishment of an archery club and in a few days added to their number the two Mr. Peales.” They did not wish “to imitate the customs of foreign­ers so much as to share in a heritage of pleasure to which they had an equal claim,” Heath wrote. It was not, however, until almost a year later that the young men officially formed the United Bowmen along with Griffitts’ cousin Jacob Giles Morris and artist Thomas Sully. In the first sixty years, fifty other men were initiated, but resigna­tions, removals (“for black sheep occasionally got into the flock,” Davidson recounted), and death kept the active shooting roster to between sixteen and twenty members. The group’s 1844 constitution called for no more than twenty-five men, the maximum enrollment ever since. The constitution’s preamble clearly established the club’s nature and objectives.

Archery has been exercised from the most remote ages of antiquity, and, in modern times, has always been considered a useful and polite accomplishment, affording in its practice n vigorous and beneficial exercise conducive to health and recre­ation. With these impressions we, the subscribers, have associated ourselves together under the name and title of The United Bowmen of Philadelphia; and, for the better advancement of our views, mutually pledge ourselves to be governed by the following Constitution and Regulations ….

The United Bowmen’s constitution still limits membership to Philadelphia area men (by residence or tradition) who are at least twenty-one years of age. Members have always been (or eventually become) prominent in public affairs or private business. “Who can say how much of the success of after years they owed to the clear head and steady nerve gained on the verdant range?” asked C. J. Longman and H. Walrond in their book aptly – and simply – entitled Archery. “Music, painting, art, science, architecture, medicine, law and commerce were all represented in the Club,” wrote Davidson.

The United Bowmen of Philadelphia offers five degrees of membership­ – Bowman, Novice, Associate, Honorary, and Life – but acceptance has never been a simple matter. “No one could get in too easily,” recalled Morris, a retired engineer who shot with the club between 1943 and 1975, and who believes he may be related to the founding Morris. “I don’t know why it’s been so presti­gious, but it is.”

Not until 1953, when an amendment was added to the club’s constitution, were non­voting, novice members permitted to attend shoots. After qualifying as a Junior Bowman, or Novice, an individual would be admitted to the degree of Bowman upon reaching the age of twenty­-one. A candidate for the degree of Novice must first be introduced as a guest of a sponsoring Bowman at three Field Days, have his named proposed in writing to the elective committee, and be accepted by unanimous vote. As for women, the constitution’s only mention of them refers to the life membership of “certain ladies.” “I’m one of the only women to ever shoot with the Bowmen,” remarked Julia Bowers, a three-time defend­ing Masters national champion and archery coach at Millersville University of Pennsylvania. Bowers has privately coached several Bowmen, and has had the privilege of attending several of the club’s invitational shoots. “Before me, it was probably only the wives who involved,” she said, referring to the constitution’s mention of “certain the ladies.”

Because the United Bowmen Philadelphia has been historically exclusive – and, has to many, prestigious – the organization remains a mystery to non-members. Even today the membership shies away from publicity. Neighboring and rival ­archers offer some first-hand impressions, though. Gil Frey, who at seventy-five is the senior member of the Gaithersburg, Maryland, Potomac Archers, shot at a United Bowmen invitational competition in the early 1950s. “I didn’t feel any awe or anything,” he recalled recently. “Apparently we didn’t have too good of a time because we didn’t go back. It was touch and go whether they’d let us buy refreshments at their clubhouse, and no way were any women to get in. Our were wives had to wait outside. Today they don’t know us and we don’t know them.” (The Potomac Archers, organized in 1878, is actually the nation’s oldest continuously active archery society because Philadelphia’s United Bowmen stopped shooting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.)

While the Potomac Archers, with eight members, struggles for membership, the sport is popular, contends James Schubert, president of American Archery Council, headquartered in Park Rapids, Minnesota. According to Schubert, nearly seven million archers regularly shoot in this country – an impressive increase of five million more than the sport attracted twenty-five years ago. (Most, however, do not shoot the ancient recurve bows the older and more traditional societies value so highly.)

In addition to the United Bowmen of Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love is home to the Philadelphia Archery Club, which is vying to host the 1993 World Championship Trials in the city’s Fairmount Park. Some archers hold membership in both the Philadelphia Archery Club, established in 1926, and the United Bowmen of Philadelphia. Within easy driving distance, the Bloomfield Archers, led by nationally ranked Jerry Pylypchuk, shoot in New Jersey. The metropolitan Washington, D.C., area not only claims the Potomac Archers, but the Oriole Archers in Baltimore and the Fairfax Target Archers in northern Virginia.

In the United States, where Native Americans had long used the bow, and during an era when it was very fashionable to exchange news of pastimes across the Atlantic, it is surprising that archery did not make its way to the colonies much earlier. The reasons remain obscure, according to E. G. Heath, but Americans may have despised it because they recognized the bow as weapon wielded by the British. Benjamin Franklin, among the first to mention the bow and arrow, wrote a letter in the second year of the Revolutionary War as the fledgling nation attempted to outfit its soldiers with suitable weaponry. Franklin staunchly advocated archery for the armament of the American forces. “I still wish, with you, that pikes could be introduced and I would add bows and arrows; these were good weapons not wisely laid aside.” He added that the accuracy of the bow was as great as the musket, it produced no smoke, and it could be easily procured.

For more than three decades, the world’s two oldest archery associations­ – England’s Royal Toxophilite Society, founded by Sir Ashton Lever in 1781, and the United Bowmen of Philadelphia – have competed against each other for the coveted International Trophy. The competition is comparable to the quest for the Ryder Cup in golf or the Davis Cup in tennis. Honorary Bowman Harold A. Titcomb – “Uncle Hat” to all who knew him – was the only American who had ever been president of the Royal Toxophilite Society. Although he inspired the competition between the two societies, their bond strengthened when each agreed to open its facilities to the other at any time. The Royal Toxophilite Society had only extended such a courtesy to the Royal Company of Archers and to the Queen’s Bodyguard. Each group selects a weekend to shoot and exchanges scores by mail. “We’d like to think it’s one of our better attended shoots,” says Frank Steiner, president of the two hundred­-and-fifty member Royal Toxophilite Society, headquar­tered at Archer’s Lodge, Gerrard’s Cross in Burnham, Buckinghamshire. “However, it’s a damn nuisance when the trophy has to cross the Atlantic.” Win or lose, the United Bowmen’s archer shooting the highest score is awarded the Duncan Dish, a sterling silver coronation plate commemorating the 1939 visit of King George VI to the United States.

By the United Bowmen of Philadelphia’s second year, each member was well outfitted with lemon wood bows, silk strings, green worsted tassels, brown leather shooting gloves and armguards, arrows of white holly, and feathers of the eagle, swan, and blue heron. They also carried Thomas Waring’s 1814 Treatise on Archery. Franklin Peale recorded that members owned “an outfit of the best quality.” Nearly all of their early tackle was imported at great expense – ninety dollars in one instance! – from Thomas Waring, who was working in England’s Bedford Square. It was equipment that would have “done honour to a museum,” wrote Longman and Walrond. With their imported models in hand, members of the United Bowmen quickly made their own equipment and Waring never again received au order from the Philadelphians. Their own possessed “beauty, neatness, goodness and durability [that] may be backed against any bow that Mr. Waring turned out of his shop.” In 1830 the United Bowmen “Americanized” and published a version of Waring’s treatise as The Archer’s Manual, sometimes cited as The Art of Shooting with the Longbow as Practiced by the United Bowmen of Philadelphia. The frontispiece featured Thomas Sully’s sketch of three archers attired in the regalia of the United Bowmen of Philadelphia.

In early years, the United Bowmen wore white duck trousers, a short and close­-fitting jacket of iron gray bound with black braid, and a peaked cap of black bombazine. Less than a decade later, archers replaced the gray jackets with light green frock coats of summer cloth trimmed with gold lace and emblazoned with a gold arrow on the collar. Wide-brimmed straw hats were covered with the same light green fabric and trimmed with three black ostrich plumes. The United States Gazette gave an account of a meeting of the organiza­tion in 1835, taking special note of members’ coats, edged with gold, and their green caps. The United Bowmen continued wearing white pantaloons and a black leather belt from which a greasebox and tassel fell. Frock coats were retained for the remain­der of the century, but after 1851 they were cut in plain style similar to those worn by an army officer. Caps were square, covered with the same material used for the coats, and equipped with a black leather visor to help protect the Bowmen from the sun’s glare.

While the United Bowmen of Philadelphia has cherished time-honored traditions – for years the club held a Fourth of July picnic during which they ceremoniously shot at a popinjay until someone hit it in the head – their turf has changed frequently through the years. The United Bowmen’s first shooting field was Bush Hill, a military parade ground used for drills by Gen. Thomas Cadwallader to train the area’s volunteers. The Meteo­rological Committee of the American Philosophical Society and the Franklin Institute flew kites at Bush Hill, whose grand open space has since been obliterated by buildings and structures. In 1837, William Norris, Jr., a member from 1833 to 1840 who shot under the mark of the crescent, invited the club to shoot on his property, Pembrook, where several field days and prize shoots were held. The organization rented part of a dairy farm, Fountain Green, formerly the country seat of founder Jacob G. Morris. The club built a large lodge, designed by member Ambrose W. Thompson, and convened at Fountain Green until about 1841. The club also shot on private lawns of what is now Fairmount Park, and until 1858 by invitation on land near the Germantown Railroad owned by member William Camac. But unhappy days loomed just around the corner ….

In 1859, the club’s recorder dosed his report with a terse-­and telling-remark: “no ground, no shooting.” Robert B. Davidson elaborated in 1888.

Those happy days have now passed; few of the members remain, the last of the original members, Titian R. Peale, having died March 13th, 1885, in the eighty-sixth year of his age. The tastes of the present generation seem to be different from those of the past. Baseball, fast horses, and boat races have taken the place of archery. The city has so extended in the last fifty years that there is no place within a convenient distance to be had for archery if the taste remained. The Club has moved from place to place, its members have dropped off from time to time and their places have not been filled, and now, after a lapse of sixty years from its commencement, its remains, like General Mercer’s, have been gathered together and are deposited, as a final resting place, in the hall of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania ….

The United Bowmen of Philadelphia did not dissolve entirely, but grew more fraternal. It was eventually “reborn,” as William R. Watson, Jr., explained in his foreword to the group’s 1978 anniversary booklet. Davidson “could not possibly have foreseen that following this period when the Club was all but beached, the tide would change and the United Bowmen of Philadelphia would re-float, hesitantly at first and then increasingly stronger and equally dedicated to the purposes that the original sponsors espoused.”

On October 9, 1932, Robert P. Elmer, a former national champion – whose publishing credits included an archery textbook and entries on the sport in the The Encyclopedia Britannica and Webster’s Dictionary – and seven friends met in Rosemont “to continue the Club of United Bowmen of Philadelphia, with its organi­zation, observances and practices.” Elmer had learned of the group from life member Anne L. Griffith. Because the dub did not take new mem­bers for several decades, the remaining members were quite elderly or infirm by the 1920s. By World War II, however, the United Bowmen had resurfaced, optimistically proclaiming in its reorganiza­tion charter that it was to “exist perpetually.” It did not take long to regain the prominent role the group once played; in 1948, for instance, a four man team, averaging sixty­-nine years old, placed ninth in the national championships. In 1969, the United Bowmen hosted the World Target and Field Championships at Valley Forge Park. In 1976, Valley Forge was the site of the national competitions and a Championship of the Ameri­cas, in which the club played an important part.

More recently, the ar­chers – or their friends – have hosted private shoots. For the last four years, the group’s first shoot of the season has been hosted during the first weekend in May by John Heyser on his farm near Collegeville, Montgomery County. A brother-in-law to member Jerry Robbins, Heyser was a bit perplexed at first. “I wasn’t really familiar with them at all until the first time they showed up all dressed in white,” he remarked recently. “I was highly impressed. It’s so great because so many other things fall apart, and yet they’ve remained a great group.” For the shoot, the United Bowmen use an old soccer field on Heyser’s thirty­-eight acre farm. The awards banquet is held in an eigh­teenth century stone barn.

Until his death in 1956, T. Truxtun Hare, one of the giants of the revived United Bowmen of Philadelphia, annually hosted the dub at his estate, Limehouse, and shoots were also held at Edmund R. Teubner’s Shandygaff and on the estates of several ardent members, including Robert P. Thompson, Robert W. Tunis, and L. Remy Hourdequin. Competitions were often conducted in a member’s orchard in Germantown. For several years, the season’s opening shoot was held at Wetherhold, the Wetherill family manor. Galloway C. Morris III helped host shoots in the 1960s at Brookwood, the Wilmington, Delaware, home of Endsley P. Fairman. Morris’ wife Eliza­beth, now ninety-one years old, fondly remembers those days. “We enjoyed the years with the men,” she reminisced recently. “It was a small, nice group of gentlemen and archers. Now, I’m afraid they’ve gotten a little too modern.” Her husband agrees. “They are looking more to the shooting events than to the social ones,” Morris explained. “It’s a shoot and a party that goes on all day. That’s one reason I don’t go anymore. I can’t take it.”

The club’s functions were once better mixed. At Fountain Green, the United Bowmen held gala prize meetings on the second Wednesday of September, the inspiration of Bowman Fred MacD. Richardson. According to Heath, the event was quite impressive: a military band performed, and archers competed for prizes that were displayed on a snow-white cloth surrounded by wreaths of roses. “The annual Prize Meetings were not exceeded in social importance by any other outdoor gathering in Philadel­phia,” he wrote. One of the early awards was the silver Bowmen’s Bowl, considered to be among the nation’s earliest trophies. Made for the United Bowmen in the early 1830s by Philadelphia silversmith Thomas Fletcher, the elegant bowl is safeguarded by the Historical Society of Pennsyl­vania. Other coveted trophies – past and present­ – include the circa 1800 Batten Tankard, Field Day Medallion, Blackburn Tankard, Avon Arrow, Heckscher Wetherill Tureen, Shandygaff Allowance Trophy, Palmer Cup, Batten Mazer, Limehouse Tankard, Crescent Bowl, Sevens-Up Trophy, Team Match Trophy, Lorah Memorial Trophy, Wetherill-Elmer Shield, Pavilion and Banner Keys, Blackburn Arrowhead, Dodonian Arrow, and Flinton Horn.

The United Bowmen’s lavish Prize Dinner, first held at the Corinthian Yacht Club in January 1961, was, and remains, as grand as the club’s awards. Since the United Bowmen’s earliest days, dinners and picnics have been elaborate and the fare just as sumptuous. A traditional repast may have included green turtle soup, soft shell crabs, ortolans, cold beef, ham, and strawberries with cream, or bride’s cake and ice cream. Member Robert P. Elmer, the unshakeable historian of the United Bowmen, once de­scribed some of the libations concocted for such occasions. “To humify the pharangeal siccity and replenish the somatic dehydration of the Bowmen, resort was had – in part only – to the following beverages: Egg Nog, Davis Straights, Metallic Lustre, Blood Color, Vin Mousseux, Claret, Grape Juice, Red Lemonade, Milk and the Hail Storm.” The recipe for the Hail Storm, customarily served at noon during shoots, called for chopped cherries, apricots, pineapple, and generous portions of corn whiskey and rum.

The United Bowmen of Philadelphia claims a long and illustrious history, but many archers question the organization’s hesitancy in assuming a more active, public role in promoting the sport. “The Bowmen have had no influence on archery in our area,” said Frey, secretary-treasurer of the Potomac Archers, which will host the Eastern Regional Tournament for the next five years. “It’s very exclusive and it’s an honor to belong, but as such, they haven’t set any trends. They did influence archery in their early days, but they’ve become satisfied with holding on to their traditions. If we worked together, [traditional] archery wouldn’t be struggling so badly.”

Others are more supportive of – and loyal to – the United Bowmen of Philadelphia. “They all love archery,” Julia Bowers explained, “but they don’t go to other tournaments to compete [which would require the membership’s unanimous approval, accord­ing to the club’s constitution] because they’d rather just enjoy themselves. Each one by himself does a lot for archery.” Still many are intrigued by the group. “If one gets invited to a Bowmen shoot, you go to it,” said Ruth Rowe, vice president and secretary of the recently organized Fairfax Target Archers. “It’s one of the things I’d love to arrange, but have never been able to do.”

For those United Bowmen still involved, whether as active or honorary members, satisfaction remains strong. “We shoot the same round and have the same functions like the hanging of the shields,” said octogenarian Clayton B. Shenk, a U.S. Hall of Fame archer, an honorary member of the United Bowmen since the 1960s, and an officer of the International Archery Federa­tion. “We have a certain tie and coat [for dinner] and we wear our shields on our left pockets. It’s been nice to hold onto these traditions.”

But the United Bowmen of Philadelphia has remained unknown to many and a mystery to some.

“It’s a shame because most people don’t even know they exist,” said Rowe, a former Olympian, twice a national champion and six-time world championship archer. “They are more of an oddity in archery. They’re not weird as much as distinct. No one else does what they do, and I personally think it’s neat.”


For Further Reading

Elmer, Robert P. Archery. Philadelphia: The Penn Publish­ing Company, 1939.

Gannon, Robert. The Complete Book of Archery. New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1964.

Gillelan, Howard G. Complete Book of the Bow and Arrow. Harrisburg: Stackpole Company, 1977.

Gordon, Paul H. The New Archery: Hobby, Sport, and Craft. New York: D. Appleton­-Century Company, 1939.

Heath, E. G. A History of Target Archery. New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1974.

Longman, C. J., and Walrond, H. Archery. New York: F. Ungar Publishing Company, 1967.

United Bowmen of Philadelphia. The United Bowmen of Philadelphia: Commemorating the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary, 1828-1978. Norristown, Pa.: Linco Printing Company, Inc., 1978.


Joseph F. Pirro, a resident of Pottstown, Montgomery County, is a freelance writer and pub­lisher. He teaches English and conducts a comprehensive scholastic journalism program at Emmaus High School in Emmaus, Lehigh County. The author received his bachelor of arts degree in English from Ursinus College and his master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Illinois. He has completed doctoral work in sports administration at Temple University, Philadelphia. His articles have appeared in nearly thirty magazines and publications as diverse as Inside Sports, Runner’s World, Women’s Sports and Fitness, Teacher, North Shore, Pennsylvania, Lacrosse, and Trading Cards Monthly. He has also written for dozens of newspapers, including USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and the Milwaukee Journal. During the spring and summer, he coaches scholastic and American Legion baseball and is general manager of a Lehigh Valley scholastic all-star baseball tournament team.