State in Schuylkill Fishing Club
Richard Romm, a rising historical scholar with special interest in early Philadelphia, recently educated the Right Angle Club in the history of the Schuylkill Fishing Club in the State in Schuylkill, and was immediately accepted into membership. Of the Right Angle, that is, which is an old club by some standards, but scarcely a hundred years old in the eyes of the really old, old clubs.
The State in Schuylkill is an eating club, originally a fishing and eating club, apparently organized around the annual shad run up the river. The clubhouse, or Castle, was moved several times, in response to damming of the river, and is now located on the grounds of, or adjoining the edge of, Nicholas Biddle's estate on the Delaware River called Andalusia. One by one, the Atlantic Ocean rivers of America have been dammed and their annual shad migrations brought to an end, except through the city of Richmond, Va, so there was little point in moving The Castle to follow the fish. It remains, overlooking the Delaware in spite of its name.
There seem to have been several name changes, the most important of which was to change the Colony of Schuylkill to State of Schuylkill for obvious reasons. Originally, the Castle was roughly opposite the falls of Fairmount on the West Bank of the Schuylkill at about Girard Avenue; thus, from 1732 to 1822 located on Baron Warner's property called Eaglesfield. In 1822 it moved to Rambo's Rock (the Rambo family is said to be the oldest European settler family in Pennsylvania) opposite Bartram's Gardens, then finally in 1887 to Andalusia, Nicholas Biddle's country estate. The club was founded in 1732, and dates of movings are possibly hazy, possibly somewhat because of the reluctance of club officers to return the calls of inquiring historians. The State in Schuylkill claims to be the oldest organized men's club in the world, an honor contested by White's in London. The roots of this argument are found tangled in the vital issue of whether their age should be based on the formal organization of the clubs, or on the establishment of the coffee houses which housed the original clubs. Four books are said to have been written about club history, but we depend here on Mr. Romm.
There is also an unclear relationship with Chief Tammenend, possibly traceable to the shad run, but in any event to the Indian chief depicted with William Penn in the paintings by Benjamin West and Edward Hicks. May 1 is St. Tammany's day, growing into the fancy that he was the "Patron Saint of America", before a branch of the nation-wide Tammany association opened in New York and sort of tarnished up the name. Other traditions of the Fishing club have to do with wearing Mandarin hats, possibly having to do with the export of gensing which was once abundant in our colonial suburbs, with a return cargo of Chinese dishware. All of the cooking is done by official citizens of the club. The quantities of food are remarkable; one 19th Century menu listed eleven pounds of meat per member. The club drink is a punch, the famous Fishhouse Punch, widely recognized to be rather strong. Its inventor is reputed to be Edward Shippen Willing, on the occasion of the first visit to the clubhouse by women guests. The quantity of alcoholic beverage at these events is especially remarkable in view of the Quaker origins of many original members of the club, but not necessarily of the guests. Among the various guests were Generals Grant, Meade and McClellan. Dinner begins with two traditional toasts: to George Washington, and to Captain Sam Morris. Washington was appropriate enough, having a history of drinking a bottle of Madeira every day at lunch. But Sam? Captain Sam the Quaker?
|Free Quaker Meetinghouse, Fifth and Arch Streets|
Somewhere in this tradition are allusions to the Free Quakers, Quakers who abandoned the peace testimony to fight the British. There is also the tradition of hostility to British rule which antedates the Revolution, and may have some connection to the fanciful contention that their little state was not really part of Penn's colony. Captain (of the City Troop) Sam was a stalwart, possibly the sole founder, of the Gloucester (N.J.) Fox-hunting club. The history is passed down that 22 of the original 26 members of the First City Troop were members of the fox-hunting club, and many if not most were Quakers. The first "Governor" of the State in Schuylkill was Thomas Stretch, but the second Governor, from 1766 until his death, was Captain Sam. He was repeatedly referred to as the life of the club, and held in the highest esteem by all. He was "read out" of the main Quaker Meeting, not so much for his drinking as for his flouting of Quaker belief in pacifism. He reputedly led a sabre charge at the Battle of Trenton, and was a leader of the City Troop in that revolution within a revolution at James Wilson's house, which rescued at least four future signers of the Constitution from a mob of militia which momentarily turned Jacobin.
Naturally, descendants of Quakers on both side of this uproar have been reluctant to say much about it. But somewhere within the history of Samuel Morris must be some important clues about the 18th Century splits within the Quaker Church, to say nothing of the revolt of the three Quaker colonies against British rule.