Chester Pike at Knowles Ave. in Glenolden, looking East toward Darby about 1905
NOTE The Luke Nethermark ride was a popular Victorian story based on a 18th century legend. The story below was done by Henry G. Ashmead in 3 parts for the Chester Times in 1910. The other 2 parts will be added. A long but interesting story.
LUKE NETHERMARK’S RIDE
An incident of the Queen’s Highway
To all outward showing the industrious frugal people of the Province of Pennsylvania in 1759, were contented subjects of His Majesty George Second of that name. The struggle with France for supremacy in the new world had fanned anew the languishing loyalty of the colonists and yet students of history recognize that it was during the rule of that chubby, choleric little sovereign (who hated all that had association with England save the money that it contributed to his support, with such bitterness that he never learned to speak the language of that nation fluently) was sown the seeds of unrest and discontent which fifteen years later, when his grandson, George III, resigned in his stead, culminated in an appeal to arms and the establishment of the United States, today in energy and wealth the foremost nation of the earth.
Tuesday, the fourteenth of March, 1759, was an ideal spring day, and the then residents of Philadelphia, thirteen thousand all told, had in a large measure relinquished their usual occupations to witness a spectacle that has become historic. Brigadier General John Forbes, a cadet of the Forbes of Patinercrift, Fifeshire, in the preceding year (then so advanced in consumption that he was suspended in a hammock slung between two horses) led his command through the unbroken forests of western Pennsylvania and the fastness of the Allegheny Mountains to the reduction of Fort Duquesne. Crowned with victory the hero of the hour had returned to Philadelphia only to die in the early spring of 1769. This Tuesday his remains were to be laid at rest in the chancel of Christ Church, with a magnificence of civil pomp and military display such as had never before been observed on such an occasion in any of the British American colonies.
Pretty Polly Van Culin of Ridley then a township of Chester county, chanced at that time to be visiting relatives in Philadelphia. With several companions she was among the crush which gathered on the sidewalk near the church that afternoon, interested spectators of the scene. The line of match extended spectators of the scene. The line of match extended from the noted slate roof house on Second Street and Norris alley, where Forbes had died, to Christ Church, a distance a trifle more than two squares. Naturally the comely country lass was eager not to miss any of the striking features of the pageant.
The crowd in the unpaved streets fell back before the advancing file of fifers and drummers the muffled drums furnishing the accompaniment to the funeral dirge sung by a score of prominent young men of the town. They were followed by the charger of the dead hero richly caparisoned with the trappings of a general field officer. Over the saddle were thrown the crossed stirrups and on either side hung the reversed riding boots with spurs buckled to the heels. Two privates of the Seventeenth Royal Infantry of which regiment Forbes had formerly been Colonel holding the long leading straps walked by the head of the horse.
The coffin, draped with the standard of St. George, on which rested the cocked hat and sword of the general was borne on a bier supported on the shoulders of eight grenadiers. A guard of honor composed of officers of the army and navy walked on either side of the bier, the hilts of their reversed swords swaddled in crape. Then came the Seventeenth Grenadiers platoons stretching from curb to curb, making a brave showing in scarlet coats, skirt looped back displaying the yellow linings, white cross belts, white breeches, long white gallery fastened with black buttons and garters above the knees and on their heads tall sugar loaf hats, a fancy of the mad King of Prussia, which all the armies of Europe had then accepted. A splendid body of soldiers as they moved with measured stride, standards draped and their muskets carried at reverse arms, flashing the sunlight from their polished barrels.
Then in kilts and belted plaids came the Seventy-seventh Highlanders, whom the Indians in the late campaign had sarcastically christened the “petticoat warriors,” then the Royal Americans in dark scarlet coats faced with blue who contrasted not unfavorably with the veteran troops of the King. The Pennsylvania Provincials from the city, in green coats faced with red, red waistcoats and buckskin breeches, while those from the nearby counties of Chester and Bucks fittingly concluded the military display in picturesque dark green hunting skirts fringed and turned up with buff, long leggings, coon skin caps, carrying clouded barrel rifles at reversed arms.
Then succeeded a small body of marines collected from the vessels of war riding in the Delaware in front of the city. They in turn were followed by His Excellency Governor William Denny and members of his Council; Chief Justice Allan and associates: Crowden and Williams, in their scarlet judicial robes. Then came Isaac Leach, speaker of the Assembly, Mayor Scamper, Recorder Chew, members of Assembly and lesser dignitaries of the Province and city, concluding with a goodly number of representative citizens of the town.
At intervals the men-of-war and packets in the harbor discharged minute guns, whose reverberations made almost inaudible the distant tolling of the State House bell (which seventeen years later was to “proclaim LIBERTY throughout the LAND unto all the inhabitants thereof”) and the funeral march pealing forth from the steeple of Christ Church where hung, a marvel of those days, the recently imported chime of eight bells.
When the head of the procession halted at the church door, where stood Rev. Dr. Robert Jenny, Rector, and Jacob Duche and William Sturgeon, Assistant Rectors, the military formed in open order that the dignitaries might follow the coffin into the sanctuary.
Mistress Polly and her companions had unwillingly been forced along by the surging mass on the sidewalk close to the church, but when the swelling notes of the organ sounded, the first bars of the march to the tomb the girls strove to retrace their steps. With difficulty and no little disorder to their raiment they had threaded their way through the crowd and were near to Market, then High Street, but gradually had been pressed near to the curb. A number of belated young men in a united column sought to reach the church and Polly at the curb (at that time planks laid length-wise and held in place by stakes driven into the earth at designated distances) caught her foot against one of the planks, swayed and barely recovered her balance when a second wedge of striplings came rushing by and she was thrown outward into the street. In her fright Polly instinctively extended her hands and grasped at the nearest object to arrest her fall. By unlucky chance her arms were flung about the neck of a young, handsome ensign of the Grenadiers, who, as soon as Polly released him, turned quickly, and noticing that the unexpected embrace had been given by a pretty girl on the impulse of the moment he caught her in his arms and kissed her.
Polly’s face flushed scarlet and her eyes were brilliant with indignation. “How dare you?” she exclaimed. Then shamed by the jeers of the few bystanders who had witnessed the occurrence, she fled back of the line of soldiers until she reached Market Street, where she was speedily joined by her companions who had followed her in the way she had led them. For a moment Polly’s eyes after the incident happened met those of Ensign Luke Nethermark who was in line with the battalion of the Chester County Provincials. She was conscious that he had seen the English officer kiss her, but she was uncertain whether he had seen or understood how it had all come about. Of one think that glance assured her, Luke was in a frenzy of rage. He and Polly Van Clun were cousins. A closer tie than kinship existed between the two and the girl knew that her lover’s one great fault in character was his inordinate jealousy of her.
“I am sorry I did not go home yesterday as I had designed doing,” Polly declared as the girls, now free of the crowd, hastened out High Street to Third and thence to Walnut the fashionable quarters of the city, where her aunt resided.
“Then you would have missed the most imposing funeral ever seen in these colonies,” replied her elder cousin.
“Better that then mar my whole future life,” replied Polly in a tone suggestive of tears.
“You’re vexed, Polly, because Ensign Rutherford acted so rudely. No one is astonished at anything that wild rattle-brained young blood may do. It is the talk of the town that he is spoiled by a doting maiden aunt who supplies him with unlimited means and who is proud because her nephew is next in succession to a title. “I trust Luke will never learn that it was you Rutherford kissed. I doubt if anyone who saw the occurrence knew who you were. It was all over so quickly.”
Polly made no reply. Nor did she later inform her cousin that most unluckily one of the witnesses of the incident was Luke Nethermark. However, as soon as opportunity permitted she wrote requesting him to call that evening without fail. A trusty Negro servant delivered her epistle to Luke personally. Other than the remark “Tell Mistress Van Culin I received her note,” he made no acknowledgment nor did he call that evening as she had requested.
The next day Polly learned that Luke and Rutherford had met the preceding night, a quarrel had resulted and Luke had struck the young Englishman. A challenge followed, and both young men had been placed in arrest. Later she heard that Rutherford, who, through family influence, had been transferred to a regiment lately returned from India, had been ordered home and had sailed in the first London packet leaving the port of Philadelphia. The wish of the men to meet was thwarted by governmental interference. The day following the sailing of the packet Luke was relieved from arrest.
Polly had extended her visit for ten days and though she contrived to have Luke apprised of that fact and that she was anxious to meet him he failed to call. Finally with a heavy heart the unhappy girl returned to her home in Ridley. She never doubted, however, that ultimately the estrangement would end in a renewal of the happy relations which had formerly existed between Luke and herself.