Sunday, February 19, 2012

Doth No Good Plea Go Unpunished?

     The following story from 1873 demonstrates that some things in Powelton haven't changed (i.e., problems with brick sidewalks and battles between neighbors) while other things (the role of churches) have.

     “A New Point Of Faith.—In the Philadelphia Central Presbytery it is necessary to salvation that one should believe not only in the Five Points of Calvinism, but also in mud-puddles. The First Presbyterian Church of Mantua [*] kept on its sidewalk a system of dirty pools, and an elder of the Church, Mr. A. S. Ashmead, made so bold as to address to 'Ye Honorable ye Board of Trustees' of the Church a petition, couched in antique English, praying for the abatement of the nuisance. No disrespectful language was used, and the only sentence in the petition—which lies before us—into which any exceptionable meaning can possibly be injected is this:
      'It being a scandal to ye whole neighborhood, moreover, that ye ladies (God bless 'em!) in order ye better to avoid soiling their dresses, are compelled to lift ye skirts therefore higher than would otherwise be necessary, and causing ye ladies aforesaid to ruminate upon ye old saying, 'Cleanliness is next to godliness,' etc.
      For sending this note, which was characterized as scurrilous, Mr. Ashmead was arraigned before the session of the Church, for 'immorality and unchristian conduct,' and was suspended from the sacraments [unless and until he issued an apology]. The case being appealed to the presbytery, the judgment of the session has been sustained; and poor Mr. Ashmead is cast forth as a heathen man and a publican because he does not believe that mud-puddles are part of the ways of the Lord's house."   (Reprinted from the Independent in The Ladies' Repository. Methodist Episcopal Church. General Conference. 1873. Pg 67.)

     * The First Presbyterian Church of Mantua was located at 3500 Spring Garden St.  It became the Northminster Presbyterian Church when it moved to 3500 Baring St. in 1875.

      Albert Ashmead was a prosperous merchant who was married to Sarah Graham, the daughter of a grocer on High (Market ) St.   About 1859 the Ashmeads moved with their seven children and her mother from 36th and Bridge (Spring Garden) streets to 3500 Hamilton St.  When the Civil War started, he joined the 29th Pennsylvania Infantry at age 37.  He served as an Assistant Quartermaster throughout the war.  After the war, he rejoined his family at 3500 Hamilton St. and became a real estate agent.
      Ashmead's  appeal to the Philadelphia presbytery of his suspension from the First Presbyterian Church was covered in two long articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  His alleged offense was not the content of the petition (as implied  by the gleeful Methodists), but the fact that he allegedly submitted it anonymously and that he denied having sent it.  Whatever the truth of these allegations, it is clear there must have been more to the story.  It is likely that the back story centers on some other difference of opinion between Albert Ashmead and his neighbor, Alexander Andrews (3507 Baring St.).  (I have previously written about the long history of the relationship between the Andrews family and the Northminster church.)
    When Ashmead wrote his unsigned "petition," he sent it to Andrews who was the President of the Board of Trustees of the church.  Ashmead stated he had attached a note to Andrews stating he would be happy to gather signatures, if that was necessary.  Andrews showed the letter to the pastor and the other elders but otherwise sat on it for 16 months before making it public and bringing charges against Ashmead.  Pastor Henry Augustus Smith (3413 Hamilton St.) testified that when the matter was brought up, Ashmead responded with hostility toward the church.  (Perhaps it is worth noting that Rev. Smith, who was the pastor from 1864-1882, was married to Alexander Andrews's daughter, Louisa.)
    It is not known whether Albert Ashmead ever issued an apology and was reinstated in the church.  However, the matter might simply have become mute when the Ashmead family moved to Lower Merion a few years later.  What is clear is that Powelton, like any village, was not always peaceful and neighbors were not always friends.

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