The Language of Flowers

While blizzard might have been a dud here in Montgomery County, it’s still pretty darn cold out there.  So, I thought a small taste of spring might be in order.

In this piece, “The language of flowers,” Margaret Young lists for her friends the common meanings associated with various flowers.  Speaking with flowers was popular with reserved Victorians in both Britain and the United States.  Flowers could say what could not be said aloud, and the exchange of small bouquets, called “tussi-mussies.”  You can click on the images to make them larger.

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It’s no surprise that many of the flowers’ meaning involve romantic love, but others are more curious.  The corn broom represents “industry” and wheat means “Take care of your ears they are the best part about you.”  Some of the flowers are even insulting.  Margaret writes that ladies’ slipper means “You are too wild for sober company,” and if someone gives you mimosas, they’re trying to tell you that “Your irritability hid your good qualities.”

Hopefully, the groundhog will predict an early spring next week, and we’ll be seeing flowers soon.

George M. Randall

George M. Randall was born in Ohio, but he spent his youth in Norristown.  It was in Norristown that he began his military career at the age twenty when President Lincoln called for volunteers at the beginning of the Civil War.  He joined the 4th Pennsylvania Volunteers under Colonel John F. Hartranft for a 90 day enlistment.  When the regiment was disbanded just before the Battle of Bull Run, Randall joined the regular army in the 4th United States Infantry Regiment.  He saw action at Antietam and in siege of Petersburg.

Randall ended the war a captain in the regular army and decided to make the military his career.  He was sent west to fight in the Indian Wars and served for a time with General Custer as his chief of scouts.  He was not with Custer at the time of the Battle of Little Big Horn.  At one point he was captured by a Native American tribe and condemned to be burned at the stake, but he was saved by the intervention of the chief of another tribe.  In 1870, that chief was among six captive chiefs that Randall brought on a tour of Philadelphia and Norristown.  This was typical strategy of the U.S. government to convince the Native Americans of the strength of the United States and futility of further resistance.  The chiefs were shown several sights in Norristown and always attracted a curious crowd.

At the end of the 19th century, Randall was sent up to Alaska as thousands made their way north for the Gold Rush.  There, he organized the military department of Alaska and laid the first telegraph line greatly improving communication with the rest of the United States.

When the army was reorganized in 1901, he was made a Brigadier General.  After Alaska he served in various places throughout the country and in the Philippines from 1903 to 1905.  He retired from the army in 1905 and settled in Denver, CO, where he died in 1918.

USS General General George M. Randall (AP-115)

But his story wasn’t quite over.  In 1944 the USS General George M. Randall was launched.  It was a troop transport that was mainly active in the Pacific.  During the Korean War (1950-1953), the USS General George M. Randall was the first ship to return the remains of Americans killed in action to the United States.  It was also the ship that, a few years later, brought Elvis Presley to his post in Germany.  The ship was decommissioned in 1961.

Sources: Times Herald, July 28, 1937, March 7, 1945, March 19,1951;

A boy and his dogs

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Every week I spend a little time scanning our historic photograph collection for preservation and ease of access.  This week, I came across this small photograph.  There was nothing with it to describe its provenance or indicate whether the image is from a pageant or parade or something else.  But who doesn’t love a kid dressed as George Washington riding a dog cart?

“The Sam Adams of Philadelphia”

So wrote John Adams in reference to Charles Thomson, one of Montgomery County’s most famous residents.  Thomson was a scholar, teacher, and early industrialist, who served as secretary to the Continental Congress, and in that role, signed the Declaration of Independence.

Born in what is now Northern Ireland in 1729, Thomson emigrated with his father and brothers in 1739 (his mother had died while he was very young).  Thomson’s father, unfortunately, did not survive the voyage, and the captain of the ship placed the boys with different families.  Upon learning that the blacksmith with whom he had been housed was planning on making him an apprentice, young Charles ran off in the night.  In the morning, a woman stopped him and asked where he was going, and he honestly told her of his situation and expressed an interest in becoming educated.  This women introduced him to Dr. Francis Alison, who ran a school in New London, Chester County.  Dr. Alison was one of North America’s leading Greek scholars, and in his career as an educator, he taught four governors, eight congressmen, and four signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomson worked hard and benefited greatly from his time with Dr. Alison, becoming one of the foremost Greek scholars in the Philadelphia region.  After he left school, he taught at the Philadelphia Academy (later the University of Pennsylvania) for a time.  In the years leading up to the American Revolution, Thomson worked with others to galvanize public opinion in Philadelphia.

When the Continental Congress convened in 1774, Thomson was unanimously elected its secretary.  He would hold that position for fifteen years until the congress dissolved in 1788.  In 1789, it was Thomson who traveled to Mount Vernon to inform George Washington that he had been elected President of the United States.  Though Washington would ask him to take on roles in government, Thomson stayed out of the public sphere for the remainder of his life.

In 1789, Thomson and his wife moved out of Philadelphia to Lower Merion, to live at Harriton, the large estate inherited by his wife.  There he dedicated himself to scholarly pursuits, including the first English translation of the Greek Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament).  He wrote several books, corresponded with Jefferson, and was active in the Philosophical Society.

Thomson died at Harriton in 1824 at the age of 95.  He was buried with his wife in the small cemetery at Harriton, but in 1838, Laurel Hill Cemetery petitioned to move their bodies.  While the heirs residing at Harriton refused, one nephew, John Thomas gave his permission, and the bodies were quickly removed to Laurel Hill.

Thomson’s will, made out in 1822, remained on file with the Montgomery County Register of Wills until 1965 when members of the Historical Society of Montgomery County petitioned the court to have the will transferred to the society’s care.  Pennsylvania state law allows for this sort of transfer of wills of historical interest so that they can be displayed to the public.

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Since Charles Thomson and his wife had no children, Harriton was left to a great-nephew of Mrs. Thomson.

Washington perhaps described Charles Thomson best in a letter of 1789, “Your services have been important, as your patriotism was distinguished.”