Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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To Germantown, a Short Appreciation
Seven miles from the heart of Philadelphia, Germantown was once a separate town, the cultural center of Germans in America. Revolutionary battles were fought here, it was briefly the capital of the United States, and it still has an outstanding collection of schools and colleges.

Daniel Boone and the Whiskey Rebellion

If you go to Pottstown, Pennsylvania, you will be shown a house purporting to show the birthplace of Daniel Boone, and if you go to North Carolina you will also find they claim him. Less controversially, he did lead a contingent of settlers to Boonesboro (Kentucky), eventually establishing the first state after the original thirteen. The colonists who hankered after real estate to sell, notably First President George Washington, hankered after this land and it is said to have been the real cause of the Whiskey Rebellion. In any event, Daniel Boone was unpopular in some circles. Then as now, it was the custom to blacken the name of those you dislike, so the current issue is why Boone has returned to favor. It was apparently guano.

The story has it that whalers in the South Pacific had discovered that the combination of long periods without rainfall and long flights of migrating birds over centuries had distilled a thickness of nitrogen-rich crust to otherwise barren South Sea islands, giving them attractiveness to whalers who kept the secret but started lots of Latin American revolutions. It makes an interesting alternative to the whiskey version of affairs in Western Pennsylvania, and the Parson Weems School of history tales, which can be neither verified nor entirely eradicated. The new version features fertilizer on rocky islands, supplying nitrogen to the nitrogen-starved Appalachians, in turn making the Indians reluctant to sell the newly fertilized land. It leads to a century of small-bore American empire-building written by the great-grandson of the German chemist who put an end to it by devising a method of extracting nitrogen from gaseous air, Daniel Immerwahr. The story of Daniel Boone is now somewhat stretched to lead into a series of interesting conjectures about the coming collision between a handful of advanced nations, warring against billions of under-developed natives who envy and surround them. While Immerwahr stops short of predicting victory for the under-developed hordes, he effectively describes their resources and power, unless we rouse ourselves. There's no reason to believe it or not to believe it, and one isn't likely to appear before events prove which it is to be.

Originally published: Thursday, October 24, 2019; most-recently modified: Sunday, October 17, 2021