HOW THE LIBERTY BELL WAS SAVED
On July 4, 1776, it had proclaimed independence throughout the land, now it might be melted into bullets to kill American rebels —unless a farmer and his boy could smuggle it past the Redcoats.
(This true story of the Liberty Bell has been compiled from original sources — old family letters, the diaries of the Moravian Brethren in Bethlehem, Pa., and the records of the Zion Reformed Church in Allentown, Pa. No history textbook has given ths detailed story, which began Sept. 18, 1777.)
When their wagon was still half-a-day’s ride from Philadelphia, John Jacob Mickley and his son began to pass the wounded shot down at Brandywine. They went by in farm wagons like Mickley’s, with grim—faced men holding the reins.
Micklev knew about General Washington’s defeat. The news had come through Lehigh Valley days ago. Washington’s men had done what they could, but they weren’t able to hold out against the combined attacks of General Knyphausen’s Hessians, Lord Cornwallis’ Grenadiers, the Queen’s Rangers, the Yaegers, the Guards, the Dragoons that great 12,000-man army under Lord William Howe. It was only a matter of time now, everybody knew, before they’d attack Philadelphia.
Mickley glanced uneasily at his 11-year-old son. Had he been wise to bring the boy along? One thing was certain: he’d sell his wagon-load of grain and potatoes and get out of Philadelphia first thing in the morning. He was not a fearful man, Not this John Jacob Mickley. He came from rugged Huquenot stock which had settled in the village of Northampton, on the Lehigh River, more than. a generation ago. You had to be tough to survive those pioneer days, and Mickley had learned not to be afraid of anything. He was uneasy now only because of his concern for the safety of his son, Johnny.
In Philadelphia’s market place, he had no trouble selling his produce. When he had pocketed his money and stabled the horses, he put a hand on his son’s shoulder, and
they started for a night’s sleep at the inn. As they passed the State House yard, Mickley stopped to stare. The great State House bell — the bell which had been cast in England, which had rung out to commemorate every important Colonial event of the past 23 years — was being hauled out!
Nearby, a group of men had gathered in anxious talk. Mickley made inquiries One of the men told him: “The Executive Council has ordered Col. Benjamin Fow!er to remove all bells from the city -- can’t have them fall into British hands. General Howe would have them melted down for bullets. They’d like that, the King’s men —kill us with bullets from our own bells!’
Mickley led his son to the inn. He was silent and disturbed while they ate, oppressed by a sense of danger. He hadn’t quite finished his meal when a stranger sought him out. ‘‘Mr. Mickley?’’ John Jacob looked up in surprise. The man wore a tattered uniform, and he bent over the table to speak in a low voice: ‘‘Colonel Fowler sends his compliments, sir. He asks if you will have the goodness to come with me to his headquarters.’’ Colonel Fowler was the commissary general of military stores. When such a man sent for you, there must be urgent reason. Mickley and Johnny went with the stranger.
Adventures of a Bell Tall and gaunt, Colonel Fowler came around his writing table to grasp Mickley’s hand. “I understand you have a sturdy farm wagon and strong horses,” he said. ‘‘We have need of your help. I’ll have my men load the State House bell on you: wagon during the night. No doubt you will be carrying the usual empty sacks when you go back to Northampton? And you will be taking the usual load of manure?” “Why, ye-es...”
“Good! I’m glad you have a strong wagon; the bell weighs better than 2,000 pounds. We’ll hide it under the manure and the potato sacks. We’ve arranged for all the bells in the region to be hidden under the floor hoards of the Zion Reformed Church in Northampton. That, I understand, is only a few miles from your borne.’’ Mickley nodded, then exchanged a glance with his wide-eyed son. Fowler added, “Tomorrow Col. William Polk and 200 troops will escort a train of 700 wagons to Bethlehem. They’re going ahead to help prepare winter headquarters for the General, either at Bethlehem or Valley Forge. In any case, you won’t be alone as far as Bethlehem.’’ Mickley and Johnny shook hands with Colonel Fowler and left. In darkness, they hurried to the stable and watched men load the bell onto their wagon --- a bell almost six feet wide at the lip and nearly as tall as Johnny; a bell that had last rung out to announce the freedom declaration of July J4, 1776, more than a year ago. By the light of the lanterns, Mickley read the inscription in bronze:
PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE
LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF
The military train, escorted by Col. William Polk of North Carolina, left Philadelphia early on Sept. 19. When John Jacob Mickley joined the force at 7 o’clock, he found his wagon one of the last in the long line. The foremost already were well on their way, with Colonel Polk himself leading.
In good weather, with an easy load, it took three days to travel to Bethlehem and North Hampton (the village to be known later as Allentown). But this time Mickley’s progress was much slower, though he pushed his team as hard as he dared. The army train drew ahead, and Mickley thanked heaven that he had not seen any Redcoat patrols so far. But his luck didn’t hold. Late in the afternoon of the second clay, as the wagon topped a rise in a valley -- a narrow spot hemmed in by trees on steep hills – Mickley had a glimpse of the road below. Red uniforms!
He stopped the horses. He rose to stand on the wagon’s seat, shading his eyes against the sun. He made out three mounted figures -- Yaegers! There was no way to escape them now. He couldn’t turn the team on this narrow road, and they were coming toward him fast. He was trapped. But out of his pioneer back~round came a wild hope. ‘‘Johnny,’’..he said, “you remember Grandpa’s stories —- how he used to scare off Indians?’’ Johnny whispered, ‘‘Yes!’’ “Well, I want you to get to the top of that rise and do what Grandpa did!’’
The boy jumped off the wagon. As he disappeared among the trees, Mickley called after him: “If anything happens to me, if they shoot, follow the river~ Make your way home!” Mickley picked up the reins and drove on. He had no weapon. Before the war he’d had two good muskets, but he had given both to Washington’s ill—equipped forces. Within a minute, the three Britishers stopped him. ‘‘What are you hauling, fellow?” the leader called. “Fertilizer,” he answered. Two of the men came beside the wagon, poking at its load. One of them snarled, “Not a thing here to take back to camp!’’ ‘‘Well, let’s not leave this rebel with a good wagon and horses!” the second added. A powerful fellow, he swung off his mount. He bent to lift a rock that seemed to weigh 100 pounds. Mickley thought desperately: Where’s Johnny? What’s keeping him?’’
The Britisher swung his body like a pendulum, then let the rock fly. It crashed against the axle of the right front wheel and thudded to the ground. It seemed to Mickley that he heard the splintering of wood; he all but cried out. At that instant, Johnny’s piercing voice came through the stillness. ‘‘Amos! Fred! Job! Get the boys! There are three King’s men on the road! Quick! Come on!’’ The startled Yaegers spun around to stare upward. There was a great thrashing among the trees. Mickley knew that Johnny was beating at branches with a pole. It sounded like men crashing through the brush. Clearly, the small British patrol was out for foodstuffs, not a fight. They had no taste for being ambushed by rebels hidden among the trees. They mounted and galloped off toward Philadelphia.
Mickley jumped down to examine the axle. He saw no split. He was still studying the wood when Johnny came running, breathless. “Did I do all right, Pa? he asked.
Mickley hugged the boy. “You’re a man.’
Late on Sept. 23, John Jacob Mickley drove into Bethlehem, only six miles from his goal. And there, in the very middle of the public square, in front of the Moravian Brethren’s Church, the axle cracked! The wagon tilted on its side, and the Liberty Bell was ingloriously spilled out in a welter of manure and empty potato sacks.
Mickley and his son went sprawling. They rose to stare in dismay. Men who saw the accident came running. When they recognized this as THE BELL , there was wild excitement. Another farrier from Northampton, Frederick Leaser, had just delivered supplies to the village. He drove his empty wagon up to Mickley’s, and Mickley relayed Colonel Fowler’s instructions. Dozens of hands helped raise the heavy bell onto Leaser s wagon and cover it with empty sacks and bags of fertilizer.
And so, John Jacob Mickley and his son, disappointed because they had been unable to finish the job, watched Frederick Leaser take the bell its final six miles to Northampton. When Frederick Leaser drew up in front of Northampton’s Zion Reformed Church -—now turned into a hospital and filled with Washington’s wounded —— the Rev. Abraham Blumer and a score of others helped hide the bell under the floor boards. There, with 10 smaller bells from Philadelphia, the State House Bell lay hidden for a year. In December, 1778, six months after American troops re-entered Philadelphia, it was carried back in a triumphant SO-mile parade to its proper place in the State House, which is known today as Independence Hall.
“A far better fate,” as John Jacob Mickley told his grandchildren, “than being melted down for British bullets!’’
SOURCE: The LaCrosse Tribune,
( July 3, 1960, Family Section), LaCrosse, Wisconsin
@Copyright 1960, Family Weekly Magazine.
153 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, 1, Ill.
For Sale: The Liberty Bell
The Liberty Bell was once bartered as scrap metal -
Its value was appraised at $400.
The famous bell, which rang in the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence, was installed at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia in 1753. It was stowed away for safekeeping during the Revolutionary War but later resumed its sonorous career, announcing state meetings and summoning local congregations. The bell and the State House fell into disuse around 1800, after the U.S. Congress had moved to Washington, D.C., and the Pennsylvania Legislature had moved to Lancaster. In 1824, the State-House, now known as Independence Hall, was spruced up for the visit of Lafayette, the French general who had aided the Colonies against the British.
The Philadelphia city fathers decided to complete the refurbishing of the building in 1828. They contracted John Wilbank, a bellmaker from Germantown, Pa. to cast a replacement for the Liberty Bell. He agreed to knock $400, off his bill in exchange for the 2,000-pound relic. When Wilbank went to collect it, however he decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. “Drayage costs more than the bell’s worth,” he reportedly said. The city sued Wilbank for removal of the bell but backed off when he agreed to donate it to the city as a gift. Wilbank no doubt was happy to be relieved of the burden. unaware that he had just bartered away what would become the most venerated symbol of American independence.
WHO CRACKED THE LIBERTY BELL?
Nearly everyone has heard the famous story of the Liberty Bell and its unfortunate crack. (Bells don’t ring well when cracked!)
Now, supposedly, on July 4, 1776, a young boy ran to tell the official bell-ringer the good news that the signing of the Declaration of Independence had declared our independence for King George of III of England. The jubilant bell-ringer at Independence Hall in Philadelphia did the ringing so well that he cracked the bell.
Makes a real nice story - - - BUT ‘Taint so!
We are all now aware that it was created out of whole cloth by one George Lippard in 1847 for his book on the American Revolution.
Nor does his story fit the well-known facts: Independence was not even proclaimed until July 8th . Ordered for the 50th anniversary of Pennsylvania’s democratic constitution in 1751, the Bell cracked a long time before 1776 — probably while being tested. The Bell was then melted down, recast and rehung. It cracked yet again. This time, so the story relates, while ringing for the death of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall in 1835. However, the clappers are always muffled at such times, so this version of the story, to, seems dubious.
So, if we don’t know exactly who cracked the Bell either time, what do we really know?
*** In 1839, it became know as the Liberty Bell when it was used as a symbol by the abolitionists.
*** The very last time it rang was on George Washington’s birthday in 1846, after which it was taken down.
*** And, on the first minute of the bicentennial year in 1976, the Bell left Independence Hall for a glass-walled beautiful pavilion nearby.
Besides its famous crack, the bell should also be known for the words inscribed on it: Proclaim Liberty Throughout All The Land Unto All The Inhabitants Thereof.
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