No conflict has had a longer or more pronounced effect upon American Christendom than the fratricidal Civil War. It was not only a “War Between the States,” but a war that ripped apart families and churches.
Though faded, the indelible scars remain today, with denominations still denoted as “Southern” on the one hand, and “Northern” or “Union” on the other. What follows is a brief history of a family whose branches stretched across time and borders to play roles that were played by thousands of their countrymen – members of a house divided.
When Hans Bushong disembarked from the ship “Britannica” on the 21st of September, 1731, he could not have imagined how his family and the New World would change one another. Born in Alsace-Lorraine, a border region between France and Germany, Hans and his family were of Huguenot stock, and we find him on that September day arriving in Philadelphia with 270 Palatines, predominantly Reformed and Lutheran Protestants.
The ship’s records tell us that Hans, age 39, was accompanied by his wife, Barbara, and their children. Those children, along with their siblings who would be born in the New World, would venture far and wide, and soon there would be branches of the Bushong family from Pennsylvania to Virginia and as far west as Indiana and Illinois. Although Hans and his family, hailing from the disputed territory of Alsace-Lorraine, were no strangers to wars over geography and religion, he could not have imagined the bloody conflict that would swallow up his family and the nation in the years to come – the American Civil War.
Among Hans’ descendants we find passionately committed abolitionists who played vital roles in the Underground Railroad. In the South, the Bushongs of the Shenandoah would become farmers and machinists, blending in with the steady stream of German settlers that swept down from Pennsylvania. The church records of Woodstock, Va., tell us that the Shenandoah wing of the family remained members of the German Reformed Church, while others in the Valley would be assimilated into the local Lutheran, Brethren or other “English” churches.
The Bushong Farm near New Market, Va., will be forever remembered as the site of the Civil War’s “Field of Lost Shoes.”
Back home in Pennsylvania, the Northern wing of the family would be drawn, almost accidentally, into serving as a vital waystop on the Underground Railroad.
Robert Clemen Smedley’s “History of the Underground Railroad in Chester and the Neighboring Counties of Pennsylvania” records the following incidents:
Jacob Bushong, of Bart, Lancaster County, a quiet but devoted laborer in the cause of freedom, relates the case of one Hamilton Moore who settled in his neighborhood. He was peaceable and respected, and to all appearances a white man. Not a tinge of African blood was discernible in his complexion, nor had any one the least suspicion that there was any. He married a white woman and became the father of three children. After the lapse of several years a number of men came to his dwelling and claimed him as a runaway slave; the leader of this gang being Hamilton Moore’s father.
Although that was a pro-slavery community, the man’s purely Anglo-Saxon appearance and good character had so won the esteem of his neighbors that they would not submit to what they termed an outrage upon him, but arose en masse and rescued him from his captors. He was then taken to the house of Henry Bushong, Jacob’s father, in Adams County, who assisted him to a place of greater security.
About the year 1831, a person calling himself William Wallace, but whose slave name was “Snow,” came to Wm. Kirk’s in West Lampeter township, Lancaster county. Here he worked for some time, then went to Joshua Gilbert’s in Bart township, and afterwards was employed by Henry Bushong, who had now removed to Bart township, and whose place became one of the Underground Railroad stations. After remaining there two years, his wife and child were brought to him from one of the Carolinas …
In the summer of 1835 while he and Jacob Bushong were at work in the barn, they observed four men in a two-horse wagon drive into the lane, accompanied by two men on horseback. Jacob thought them a “suspicious looking crowd,” and told Wallace to keep out of sight while he went out to meet them. They inquired if Mr. Wallace lived there. Jacob replied in the negative, satisfying his conscience by means of the fact that William lived at a tenement house, but worked for him. Pointing towards Wallace’s house they asked if his family lived there; to which he made no reply. Leaving their horses in charge of two of the men, they went to the house, tied his wife, brought her and the oldest child to the wagon, loaded them in, took them to the Lancaster county jail, and lodged them there. The youngest child being born on free soil was left with a colored woman who happened to be in the house at the time. From there they went to John Urick’s, a colored man, whose wife had escaped from slavery with Wallace’s wife. They bound her, took her to jail also, and had the two women placed in the same cell while they started out on another hunt.
The startling news soon spread throughout the country, and was immediately carried to that foremost friend of the slave, Daniel Gibbons. Very early next morning the two women came to his house. The family would not have been more surprised had an apparition come suddenly into their midst. When asked how they came, one of them said, “I broke jail.”
“How did you do it?”
“I found a case-knife, and got up from one room to another until I got next the roof, when I cut the lath and shingles and broke through; got out and down to the roof of an adjoining house, and thence from one house to another until I came to one that was low enough, and then I jumped from it to the ground.”
They were taken to the wheat field and provided with blankets and food, and next night were taken by Dr. Joseph Gibbons, Daniel’s son, and Thomas Peart, several miles to the house of Jesse Webster. From there they were taken to Thomas Bonsall’s, thence to John Vicker’s, and thus on to other stations.
The account given by the women seemed so strange and incredible that Dr. Gibbons interviewed that eccentric character “Devil-Dave” Miller, who was then sheriff, and lived in the jail. When asked how it happened that he allowed two negro women to slip through his fingers, he winked and laughed. It was afterwards discovered that he opened the jail door and let them walk out. This was the only black woman known to Daniel and his son who persisted in keeping her own secret.
In 1832, a colored (sic) woman and her daughter came to Henry Bushong’s. The back of this poor woman was a most revolting spectacle for Christian eyes to behold. It had been cut into gashes with the master’s whip until it was a mass of lacerated flesh and running sores. Her owner was exasperated to this deed of cruelty on account of one of her children having successfully escaped, and she, knowing its whereabouts, refused to tell. To compel her to reveal this secret, they bound her down in a bent position, and five hundred lashes with a cat-o-nine-tails were inflicted upon her naked back. Yet with the faithfulness and devotion of a mother’s love she endured it all. Seeing that no amount of whipping could induce her to betray her child and thus return it from freedom to slavery, and fearing her own life might be lost by further infliction, they ceased plying the lash upon that quivering back, which was now a mass of mangled flesh and jellied blood. As soon as she had sufficiently recovered, she determined to risk her life in an attempt to free herself from the cruelty and tortures of a slavery like this. After being kindly and tenderly cared for in the home of Henry Bushong, she was taken to a station further east.
Part 2 of the story of the Bushong family will appear next week on WND. Read the full account of “A House Divided” on the Leben website.