Bucks County Herald

Kathryn Finegan Clark: By the Way

Once upon a time in Durham



David Oleksa, right, president of the Durham Historical Society, presents a copy of an old Durham Township map to Lehigh University Professor Dr. Ned D. Heindel, guest speaker at a recent meeting of the society.

Once upon a time in Durham the European settlers lived peacefully among and mingled with the Delaware Indians – Lenni Lenapes, to be specific, and even the more war-like Shawnees. In fact. dozens of social interactions, including marriage, tied the cultures together.

There was a Lenape village “below Durham” and a Shawnee settlement across the Delaware River in Holland Township. Both sets of natives spoke the Algonquian language.

That was up until about 1745, when most of the Lenape and the Shawnee tribes had left after the younger Penns’ disastrous Walking Purchase of 1737, which completely changed the character of native-settler relationships.

A Lehigh University chemistry professor and historian shared his knowledge about some of the township’s early residents at a meeting of the Durham Historical Society, even telling how a native medicine man had saved the life of a schoolmaster.

The speaker, Dr. Ned Heindel, lives in neighboring Williams Township, with his wife, Linda, who is a professor emeritus at Moravian College. Heindel holds the H.S. Bunn Chair in Chemistry at Lehigh. A consultant for a number of pharmaceutical companies, his special interest is medicinal chemistry and he holds a number of patents. He is an expert on Pennsylvania Dutch folk medicine and a careful researcher into the past in Bucks County and the Lehigh Valley.

Perhaps one of Heindel’s most interesting stories was that of William Satterthwaite, schoolmaster from 1713 to 1740 at a school funded by the Durham Iron Works for neighborhood children. Heindel said, in 1729 Satterthwaite had been walking on Coppernose Hill, north of Lambertville, N.J.,when he was bitten by what was probably a rattlesnake. It was described at the time as “a poisonous serpent with a noisy tail,” Heindel said.

The teacher was treated by Nutimus, an Indian medicine man, “with herbs and hot stones and the sucking out of the venom” and survived the ordeal.

Heindel described Satterthwaite as “an odd duck.” He said he was considered “the eccentric poet of Durham, who talked Greek to his horse and hated it out here.”

Although Heindel has encyclopedic knowledge of the area, he based much of his talk on papers presented by members of the Buckwampum Historical and Literary Society, a 19th-century group of amateur archaeologists, who met regularly and presented papers on their findings. They were not really professional; only several had notable educations, according to Heindel.

Their accounts, which included book reports, were neither scholarly nor were their locations ever precise but their enthusiasm was high. Loosely affiliated with Doylestown’s Henry Mercer, who was a trained field archaeologist, Heindel said, “They were professional when Mercer was there.”

Nevertheless, their papers present an interesting portrait of the past. The society members actually conducted nine digs in Bucks and Northampton counties in search of Indian artifacts. Some of their collections still exist.

Since the natives were here long before the white man, there were plenty of Indian sites for them to explore in Durham, Nockamixon and Williams Township to the north – villages scattered here and there, an Indian shrine, earthen mounds and piles of stones. The Shawnees were known as mound-builders, and Heindel said there are mounds in Williams Township.

Heindel said the society’s first meeting took place “after Sunday School” in June 1888 and drew about 30 people. That meeting, as well as subsequent ones, was conducted outdoors and later gatherings drew crowds as large as 200. The last meeting was recorded in 1903.

Local families still bear the names of some of those early historians – Buck, Ruth, Laubach, Fackenthal and Cressman – who cared enough about the past to share their knowledge, and their Sundays, with others – just as Professor Heindel does.

kathrynfclark@verizon.net




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