How Peter Oliver freed himself

In June of 1800 an enslaved man from North Carolina walked into the courthouse in Lancaster and demanded his freedom. And he got it.

The man was Peter Oliver, a literate, bilingual brickmaker and potter from the Moravian community in what is now Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He knew that the law in Pennsylvania prohibited anyone from importing a slave into the state, and that doing so would mean his immediate liberation. So Oliver claimed his right. He swore to a statement that he was being held for the sole purpose of being a slave. He knew the details of his sale, and perhaps had the document itself to prove it. Then he signed his name.
Peter Oliver_affidavit
“Peter Oliver…verily believes that he is entitled to his freedom”
The judge ordered a writ of habeas corpus, that is, his owner, Peter Lehnert of Warwick Township, had to appear before the judge and show cause why Oliver was being held. Lehnert complied and presented the bill of sale. Oliver was being held because he had been legally purchased as a slave in North Carolina.
Bill of sale
Bill of sale for Peter Oliver

The judge, Frederick Kuhn then wrote out an order to immediately release Oliver. The law that he cited was an amendment to the 1780 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, passed in 1788 to clarify the first law and to close loopholes. Kuhn quoted the appropriate clause

that all & every slave & slaves who shall be brought into this State by persons inhabiting or residing therein or intending to inhabit or reside therein shall be immediately considered deemed & taken to be free to all intents & purposes

Kuhn’s order concluded:

I do therefore on due advisement & consideration had of all & singular the premises liberate set free & discharge the said Peter Oliver Negro from the said Peter Lehnert
(emphasis added)

freedom document
Judge’s order freeing Peter Oliver

A Moravian memoir of his life states that Peter Oliver “bought himself free.” Despite being a slave, he had the skills and determination to earn the money for his own purchase. Peter Lehnert, the Pennsylvania man who bought Oliver, was a Moravian from the Lititz area. Lehnert knew the law, in fact he seems to have been a lawyer. (He became a justice of the peace in 1802, and the household inventory made when he died included law books.) The North Carolina man who sold him, another Moravian, had a brother who was a brickmaker in Lititz. All the pieces fit to form a theory of what happened. Peter Oliver earned the money that Lehnert used to buy him. Then Lehnert brought Oliver to Pennsylvania as a slave with the intention of allowing him to claim his freedom.

After he did, remarkably, Peter Oliver returned to North Carolina. He continued living in the Moravian communities of Salem, working as a potter and farming a few acres of rented land. He married, had two children and died there in 1810. You can read more about this extraordinary man on the Old Salem website.

The papers documenting the freeing of Peter Oliver are housed in the archives at

The President and the Punch Bowl

Readers of the popular new novel Lincoln in the Bardo might recall the tale recounted by author George Saunders about an “immense Japanese punch bowl” used by President Lincoln in the White House to hold “ten gallons of champagne punch.” Although much of Saunders’ book is historical fiction, that part is distinctly factual. But what Saunders does not mention is that the gigantic bowl was given by delegates of Japan as a gift to President James Buchanan.

Emperor's Porcelain Bowl
This porcelain bowl, created by Jinhei Kawamoto as one of two bowls for sake, was a gift of state to President Buchanan in 1860. collections, currently on display at Image courtesy of Flikr user Itinerant Wanderer.

During his presidency, James Buchanan promoted America’s “manifest destiny” and growing economic interests by establishing new trade agreements with China, Japan, and other Asian countries. The establishment of US trade relations with countries of the Far East, including Japan, remains one of the high points of President Buchanan’s (otherwise not very high) time in office.

Tommy, the censor and Prince's attendant
Portrait of three Japanese men who were part of the first Japanese embassy to the United States. The man on the left is Tateishi “Tommy” Onojiro. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In 1860, on the heels of an important 1858 commercial treaty forged under Buchanan’s leadership, the Japanese Tokugawa shogunate government sent its first diplomatic mission to Washington DC. This colorful group of three samurai ambassadors and their large entourage, dressed in formal court robes and bearing samurai swords, met with President Buchanan, First Lady Harriet Lane, and US government officials during 10 days of pomp and circumstance at the White House. This unprecedented official visit of a group of Japanese delegates did not go unnoticed in Washington – Congress spent an incredible $50,000 to host the mission, which included a personal tour of the executive mansion led by President Buchanan, a visit to the Smithsonian Institution, a concert on the White House lawn, and lavish banquets.

Washington was only the first stop on an impressive tour of America. After more than a week in our nation’s capital, the Japanese group continued to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City, where they captivated not only the locals but the nation. Americans were fascinated by the sudden appearance of the previously-isolationist Japanese. The American press, and subsequently the country, were overcome with “Japan mania,” and were especially crazy for a young Japanese samurai, Tateishi “Tommy” Onojiro. The “Tommy Polka” became a crowd favorite at parties in 1860.

It is with this extravagant state visit in mind that the Japanese delegates gifted the United States an exquisite porcelain bowl, intended to reflect the Emperor’s deep regard for President Buchanan and the newly-formed friendship between Japan and the United States. How did this official gift to the country end up at President Buchanan’s Lancaster home? The answer to this is a study in Mary Todd Lincoln’s personal desperation following the assassination of her husband. Mrs. Lincoln earmarked several pieces in the White House, including the bowl, to be sold – whether due to her considerable personal debt or her grief is something scholars debate. Not wishing to see the bowl fall into the wrong hands, Mrs. Lincoln’s friend George W. Riggs purchased it from her. For one hundred years, the bowl bounced around among relations of Riggs and others until, in 1960, a distant relative of President Buchanan purchased the bowl and donated it to the Wheatland collection.

The “Emperor’s Porcelain Bowl” is currently on display at, unfortunately sans champagne.

This is an entry from History from the House:

 A 200-year-old house once occupied by an American president has a lot of stories to tell. From an office in Wheatland’s former kitchen space, Museum Educator Stephanie Townrow digs up quirky, fascinating, and sometimes puzzling stories that reveal the hidden histories within President James Buchanan’s Wheatland. She invites readers to explore his home, meet his “little family,” and learn about the tumultuous political climate that surrounded his presidency.

A Visit to Windsor Forge

     On a warm June Saturday in 1902, Frank Reid Diffenderfer, his family and his neighbors from North Duke Street in Lancaster – the Slaymakers and the Fondersmiths – set out by train to see Miss Blanche Nevin at her home near Churchtown in Caernarvon Township.  Miss Nevin had recently taken up residence at Windsor Forge, the home of her great-grandfather, Robert Jenkins, an ironmaster of the nearby namesake forge.

Miss Nevin is pictured here on her porch with some of the eccentric furnishings she collected on her many world travels. Known for her sculpture and poetry, her most famous piece is the lion fountain at Reservoir Park in Lancaster. This is one of many photographs taken by Mr. Diffenderfer during the long weekend at Windsor Forge. Diffenderfer was an editor of the Lancaster New Era newspaper and a bit of an amateur photographer. To see Miss Blanche and several other of Mr. Diffenderfer’s photographs, check out the new exhibit “A Visit to Windsor Forge” in’s lower level.



Happy New Year 1918: Same same but different

Happy New Year 1918!

Considering that (LHO) has a large collection of old newspapers available to our patrons, I thought that I would take a peak back 100 years to see what news stories were being read by Lancastrians on the eve of New Years in 1918. It will not surprise you that I found three topics which will sound familiar to our contemporary ears:

  • Women in the workplace
  • Cold winter temperatures
  • Taxes

Women in the workplace

The article below, from the December 29, 1918 edition of Lancaster’s The Inquirer, reports on the employment of women at the New York Central railroad. Female workers were needed to replace the men who had become soldiers for WWI. What struck my eye in this article is the section entitled “Receive Same Pay”. A. T. Hardin, the senior vice president in charge of operations for the New York Central, is quoted as saying, “The woman who does the same work as a man will get the same pay as a man.”


Cold winter temperatures

The following article, from the same issue of The Inquirer, reports on a cold spell that sounds much worse than the one we are suffering from right now. At 6 degrees below zero, the cold is described as “the sort of cold that make wagon wheels screech as they move over the snow”.



The January 5, 1918 edition of The Inquirer reports on the new tax schedule. Single men making an annual income of more than $1000 are to be taxed in the new year at 2%. Incomes between $3000 and $5000 for single men would be taxed at a higher rate of 4%.


Donovan’s will pay your car fare

When I’m going through old newspapers, I always find myself admiring the graphic design of the advertisements. Below is an advertisement for Donovan’s department store that I found charming. Donovan’s, which was located at 32-38 East King St., paid the trolley car fare for customers spending more than $10 (unless the purchases were for Victor or Columbia products!!).

Materials at LHO that were used for this blog post

The Inquirer is available in our microfilm collection. Our microfilm readers can produce hard copy or digital images.

The address for Donovan’s department store was found in our 1917-18 copy of the Lancaster City Directory.

-Nathan Pease, Director of Library Services at

Healthy Holidays

      Perhaps it’s not the most traditional image of him, but, yes, that’s Santa Claus getting a chest x-ray. Even Santa needs to take care of his health with the occasional wellness screening. He’s got to stay in shape so he can deliver presents to all the good girls and boys all over the world in record overnight shipping time. So, here we see him in December 1953 getting his lungs x-rayed in of the American Lung Association’s mobile chest x-ray units. These mobile units were essentially trucks outfitted with the proper equipment for, of course, taking chest x-rays in an effort to diagnose and combat lung disease – primarily Tuberculosis. This particular truck was parked at Penn Square in Lancaster and was open to any passersby who wanted an x-ray while doing some last minute Christmas shopping. 

Beginning in 1925, Lancaster’s tuberculosis patients were treated at Rossmere Sanatorium in Manheim Township. Originally opened as a hotel in 1898, the Rossmere was turned into a sanatorium and served the county’s tuberculosis patients for several decades. In the 1940s, the discovery of the antibiotic streptomycin provided relief to those stricken, and the number of patients at Rossmere began to decline. The sanatorium closed its doors in 1958. Santa’s chest x-ray was just one way to help ensure a happy and healthy holiday season!

Crocheting service wear for your soldier…

Service Wear title page from Fleisher’s Knitting & Crocheting Manual, 1918

On Tuesday, November 14, (LHO) conducted a “History Harvest” for World War I items. One of the items reaped in that harvest was a 1918 copy of Fleisher’s knitting & crocheting manual, published by Fleisher Yarns in Philadelphia. This book, which features knitting and crocheting patterns, was donated by LHO member Denise Lahr.

Crocheting Service Wear

One noteworthy section of the book is dedicated to “Service Wear” items that would be worn by American soldiers:

In the Sixteenth Edition of Fleisher’s Knitting and Crocheting Manual precedence has been given to the needs of those who are cheerfully enduring the hardships and dangers of warfare on land and sea. Nothing that we can do for their comfort should be neglected. The section devoted to Service Wear has been carefully prepared and contains only designs that have been approved by competent authorities.

Here are some of the Fleisher designs for service members:

Helmet pattern from Fleisher's Knitting & Crocheting Manual, 1918
Helmet pattern 
Jacket pattern from Fleisher's Knitting & Crocheting Manual, 1918
Jacket pattern 
Service Sweater A pattern from Fleisher's Knitting & Crocheting Manual, 1918
Service Sweater A with spiral heelless sock

Crocheting Kimonos

Later sections of the book include “Sweaters”, “Babies’ and Infants’ wear”, “Afghans”, among many others. But the section that really caught my eye was “Kimonos”. Here are two examples from that section:

Emily Kimono pattern from Fleisher's Knitting & Crocheting Manual, 1918
Emily Kimono pattern
Marcelona Jacket pattern from Fleisher's Knitting & Crocheting Manual, 1918
Marcelona Jacket pattern 

My favorite image

And my favorite photograph in the book is this pair of infant leggings:

Infant legging pattern from Fleisher's Knitting & Crocheting Manual, 1918
Infant legging pattern 

Why add this to the library collection?

Because the book lacks a connection to Lancaster County, readers may wonder why the LHO library would add this book to the collection.

Although it has no direct connection to Lancaster, the book does provide us with a sample of some of the garments that Lancastrians may have fashioned during the war.

LHO’s genealogist, Kevin Shue, is a great proponent of adding contextual information to the lives of the many people who populate the genealogies of our Research Center. What clothes did they wear? What did they do for entertainment? Where would they have shopped? What is some of the local lore that they would have shared with neighbors?

In this case, not only does the Fleisher book provide information on what the soldiers might have worn, but it also provides a glimpse into the lives of people on the home front, how they may have contributed to the war effort.

Kevin suggests that this kind of societal, contextual information provides coloring and warmth to genealogy charts that normally consist only of lines for names, places, and dates. When a genealogist adds this type of information to their work, the ancestors come alive. The person is no longer a set of data; they become living people that we can recognize and relate to.

So that is why the LHO library has included Fleisher’s knitting & crocheting manual to its collection. LHO is dedicated to providing heritage resources that allow our patrons to understand and recognize the lives of the people of Lancaster County with contextual, day-to-day information.

Where to find it

If you want to take a look at the Fleisher’s knitting & crocheting manual, you will be find it in the library section with the call number 746.43. As I have just received it this week, it may take another week to get it cataloged and put on our shelves. If you can’t wait that long, just ask the capable workers at the library reference desk. If they can’t find it in the library, tell them to check the shelves behind “Bob Coley’s work station”.

Healthy German Men and Women To Be Sold…

Newspaper Ad from 1798

Lancaster Journal newspaper advertisement from December 29, 1798. Adam Reigart is selling some healthy German redemptioners.
Lancaster Journal, 29-Dec-1798

A number of healthy German MEN and WOMEN Redemptioners, (among which are several Mechanics) just arrived in Lancaster, and to be sold for a term of years. Apply to Adam Reigart, Jun.

This advertisement ran in the Lancaster Journal newspaper on December 29, 1798. Why are German men and women being sold by Adam Reigart, a local merchant who was generally known for selling wine and spirits? And what’s a “Redemptioner?”

Tiered System of Labor

According to Cheesman Herrick, the author of White servitude in Pennsylvania: Indentured and redemption labor in colony and commonwealth, the economic potential of America’s natural resources was offset by the lack of labor in the sparsely populated colonies. In order to create the requisite pool of labor, the American colonies established a three-tiered system of labor:

  1. Free labor who could bargain for wages, who were hired, and who could withdraw from their employment at any time;
  2. Indentured/Redemptioned laborers who lived in servitude for a set number of years in exchange for passage to the American colonies from England or Germany. They were considered chattel that could be bought and sold until the period of their servitude expired;
  3. Slave labor who lived in servitude, who were considered chattel, and who had no expectation of ever being free.

Indentured Servants vs. Redemptioners

Herrick says that the term “indentured” is usually applied to servants from Great Britain. British regulations required that a labor contract had to be completed before an emigrant could board a ship bound for the colonies. However, German emigrants were not bound by the British regulations. They would sign an agreement with the ship’s captain to pay a certain sum after landing at the colonies. If the emigrant failed to find someone to pay the amount owed to the ship’s captain, s/he would be sold as property by the ship captain. The person sold was called a Redemptioner. She would then work a set number of years for her owners before she could be live freely in the colonies.

Looking at Reigart’s ad in the Lancaster Journal,  we can assume that Adam Reigart had bought two Redemptioners, perhaps in Philadelphia, and was selling them as property.

Also, note the ad above, “To be Sold, the time of a NEGRO MAN, who has 8 years to serve, is young and healthy.” Because this man has “8 years to serve”, we can assume that he was also indentured and was not a slave. But consider the nature of the labor market that someone is selling by the hour the services of indentured servant.

Further Information

If you are interested in getting more information about indentured servitude…

  • You can search’s library catalog at You can search for this topic by using the official Library of Congress subject headings: <redemptioners> and/or <“indentured servants”>. Be sure to use the quotation marks around “indentured servants”. That way the catalog will search for that exact phrase.
  • You can read Cheesman Herrick’s White servitude in Pennsylvania in’s library. Its call number is 331.62 G566. You can view the library record here.
  • You can read what some person somewhere, we don’t know who, says about indentured servitude in Pennsylvania at Wikipedia here.

As for Adam Reigart, has a collection of items related to his business. You can find a detailed description of that collection here. If you want to view items from that collection, please come into the library and put in an archive’s request for the materials you want to view.

This is an entry from Notes From the Library by Nathan Pease, Director of Library Services.

The Library at has collected materials about Lancaster County for over 100 years. All the while, the librarians have been creating multiple tools to help patrons find relevant information. This blog will feature items from the collection as well as tips and tools for searching and discovery.

The Great War


Sgt. Ray Baker Hall and his ukulele, c.1918

One hundred years ago it was just The Great War. Sometimes the War to End All Wars, but mostly The Great War. After all was said and done and historians began to realize the global impact of the conflict, World War seemed a more fitting name. And it was one hundred years ago that the United States entered The Great War – sending more than 4,000,000 men and women to serve in various branches of the military at home and overseas. Over 5,000 from Lancaster County saw active duty, including Sgt. Ray Baker Hall, pictured here with his ukulele. Sgt. Hall was part of Ambulance Company 111, part of the 28th Division of the United States Army. Prior to his military service, Hall worked at the Kirk Johnson Music Store on West King Street in Lancaster. Knowing that entertainment might be difficult to find at the front, he packed his trusty uke for company.

Check out Sgt. Hall and other images of Lancasterians during the Great War – both on the homefront and at the very front – in our latest photograph exhibit in’s lower level.


“Finer Than the Best Monongahela”: President Buchanan’s Drinking Habits

glasses of whiskey at Wheatland
Glasses of “old Monongahela” on Mr. Buchanan’s library desk at Wheatland.

When visitors tour President James Buchanan’s Wheatland, many notice the quantity of bottles once containing alcohol that are scattered around Buchanan’s dining areas, parlors, and particularly his private office. An unopened 1827 bottle of Madeira wine from Mr. Buchanan’s collection still sits on a table in his office, one floor above the home’s original wine cellar. Occasionally, a visitor will sheepishly inquire, “Did President Buchanan drink a lot?” The answer to this is that a) Americans in the mid-nineteenth century drank a lot (in 1830, 9.5 gallons of distilled spirits per year!) and b) James Buchanan probably drank more than most of them.

For most early Americans over the age of 15, alcohol consumption was part of daily life. Continuous imbibing built up a tolerance; Americans were probably not walking around visibly drunk despite their breakfast whiskey, morning and afternoon “tea breaks” of distilled spirits, and “strengthening” nightcaps. The colonial era relationship with alcohol continued well into the nineteenth century. When James Buchanan was born in 1791, he was born into the era of heaviest drinking in the nation’s history.

An original 1827 bottle of Madeira from Buchanan's private collection.
An original 1827 bottle of Madeira from Buchanan’s private collection.

James Buchanan was a man of his time. He had a preference for Madeira wine, sherry, and rye whiskey (born in Central Pennsylvania, Buchanan was raised on “Old Monongahela” Rye). Buchanan was also an avid wine collector, accumulating quite a stock of Madeira in his Wheatland wine cellar. In fact, he loved Madeira so much that, when given an assignment at Dickinson College to chart an imaginary ship’s course, young Buchanan chose a route from Boston to Madeira, an island he frequently “visited” from Carlisle taverns when he was a student. When he was a Senator, Buchanan bought his whiskey weekly, in 10-gallon quantities, from Jacob Baer, a well-known whiskey merchant in Washington, D.C. Baer’s whiskey was affectionately known as “Old J. B. Whiskey” and our own J. B. was delighted by the fact that his initials matched his own. According to his biographer, Philip Klein, Buchanan considered Baer’s whiskey to be “finer than the best Monongahela.”

One of the best sources on President Buchanan’s drinking habits is John W. Forney, a journalist and politician from Lancaster County who was Buchanan’s one-time political manager and eventual political rival. In his Philadelphia-based newspaper, the Press, Forney wrote in detail of Buchanan’s taste for alcohol, “The Madeira and sherry that he had consumed would fill more than one old cellar, and the rye whiskey that he has ‘punished’ would make Jacob Baer’s heart glad.” Forney also remarked on Buchanan’s ability to drink large quantities of liquor without appearing drunk. After observing Buchanan drink two bottles of cognac and wash it down with rye whiskey, he wrote, “There was no headache, no faltering steps, no flushed cheek. Oh, no! All was as cool, calm and cautious and watchful as in the beginning.” By the time he was writing these accounts, Forney was a Republican and was biased against Buchanan. Still, he was probably not wrong. Forney knew a thing or two about drinking himself.

Although he could handle his liquor superficially, Buchanan’s drinking was not without consequences. Later in life, Buchanan suffered from excruciating gout, brought on by a diet of rich foods and lots of alcohol. It is not known to what extent Buchanan’s drinking may have impaired his judgment. At least one scholar speculates that heavy drinking may have affected the President’s judgment during the Utah War period. By the end of his life, Buchanan had to seriously cut back on his alcohol consumption as it made the flare-ups of gout more severe. Still, he never turned down a good filet of beef with Miss Hetty’s Madeira wine mushroom sauce.

This is an entry from History from the House:

 A 200-year-old house once occupied by an American president has a lot of stories to tell. From an office in Wheatland’s former kitchen space, Museum Educator Stephanie Townrow digs up quirky, fascinating, and sometimes puzzling stories that reveal the hidden histories within President James Buchanan’s Wheatland. She invites readers to explore his home, meet his “little family,” and learn about the tumultuous political climate that surrounded his presidency.

Experience The Arboretum

Posted by Emily Miller on behalf of the original author, Kelly Seidle, Tanger Arboretum

Now is the perfect time to learn and experience all that the Tanger Arboretum has to offer with a professional guided tour. The Lancaster County Master Gardeners had the delightful opportunity of getting a very educational and inspiring tour given by Tanger Arboretum Board President Jeff Hazlett and Board Member Bob Davis. Both gentlemen add special insights and interesting facts with their horticultural backgrounds and expertise. Tanger Arboretum strives to engage the public to cultivate a deeper appreciation of nature at our historical community asset.

As we walked along the property with Jeff and Bob, they were able to not only identify and describe various trees and shrubs, but also provide unique characteristics, seasonal changes, maintenance care and certain growing specifications. Many folks from the tour acknowledged that type of information was beyond what a tree/plant ID tag can provide and gave you invaluable information if you plan to add that same specimen to your own property. Remember the famous quote…location, location, location!

I know first-hand it is one thing to search for a tree or shrub online or in a catalog or see one in a gallon container at your favorite nursery, but it can be totally different (and an eye-opener) to see a full grown, mature specimen. As you can see from the photos our tour guides were very engaging, pointing out important attributes and welcomed the visitor’s comments and questions. Most of our tour group had no idea there are well over 150 trees and the newly added Dwarf Conifer Garden captivated everyone’s fascination and attention.

I’m so glad I was able to join my friends for this tour and I encourage everyone to contact to book your own guided tour and get to know your local historical hidden gem!