PHILLY-ROOTS-L ArchivesArchiver > PHILLY-ROOTS > 1999-11 > 0942326034
From: "Janice A. Frank" <>
Subject: Re: [PHILLY-ROOTS-L] First Secretary of U.S.
Date: Thu, 11 Nov 1999 08:13:54 -0500
Arlene Houghton wrote:
> Does anyone know of a good book which would give me information about
> Michael Hillegass, supposedly the first secretary of US and buried by
> Benjamin Franklin (same graveyard downtown Phila.)...He was related to me by
> my Bobb ancestors who settled in Berks County in 1700's. Thank you, Arlene
> in CA
Aha! Thought that name was familar. I have a good book that gives a
nice anecdote about him: Abraham Ritter, "History of the Moravian
Church in Philadelphia" pub. by Hayes and Zeller, Philadelphia, 1857.
Background: The fact that Hillegas is in here does not necessarily mean
he was a Moravian (I don't know). There is a large section of the book
in which Ritter gives a 'walking tour' of the area around the (then)
church, which was in what is now called the Old City. He goes up one
street and down the next, describing something of each building, who
occupied it and what their business was, usually "when I was a boy", ie,
around the late 18th century or turn of the 19th. Many, perhaps most,
of them were not Moravians. Ritter was old when he wrote it and many
things he describes were from an earlier time. Some have much more
detail than others. This one is good enough to pass along. It is clear
in the context that the building then occupied by Hillegas was at 90 N.
Second Street. Starting on p 278:
"Passing Benjamin Leedom, merchant, at the opposite corner, we have
another terror to evil-doers, under the aldermanic powers of Michael
Hillegas; an incident of whose times may not be uninteresting in
contrast with the growth and perfection of science.
"The mysteries of animal magnetism, called pow-wowing [ital] &c., were
even then, in 1780-1790, hidden in doubtful disputations; yet, there
were those who felt its force, and believed in its virtues, but not
possessed of scientific skill, would practise, but could not fully
perform. Of such, the parent of your writer, then a young man [this was
Jacob Ritter 1754-1834], was one, the elder Samuel Wetherill another,
and a third, not recollected.
"Doubtful as to the result of their experiments, they would [ital] try
them, and exercising their skill upon a young female, put her to sleep,
but could not wake her up, which creating an alarm, they were arrested,
and taken before Esquire Hillegas, where innocence of harmful intention
was admitted as a plea, but threats of condign punishment for a
repetition ended their further curiosity."
One wonders if she ever did wake up, but I assume so.