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American hero rocks the cradle, saves the Liberty Bell

December 16, 2014

Filed under Collections, Pennsylvania Treasures

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Made of dovetail construction complete with arched ends with holds for handles, this cradle features remnants of brass knobs on two sides. The cradle was likely built between 1770 and 1790.

Made of dovetail construction complete with arched ends with holds for handles, this cradle features remnants of brass knobs on two sides. The cradle was likely built between 1770 and 1790.

 

Whose hand was it that rocked this simple wooden cradle owned by John Jacob Mickley? That’s the question spurred by this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure submitted by Collection’s Advancement Project curator Diana Zeltmann.

Made of dovetail construction complete with arched ends with holds for handles, the cradle features remnants of brass knobs on two sides. All in all, it is a pretty sturdy cradle, considering it was probably built between 1770 and 1790.

We don’t know the name of the baby who was rocked in this cradle once owned by Mickley.  Minnie Fogel Mickley, John Jacob Mickley’s great-great-granddaughter, donated the object to the State Museum in 1976. She has written extensively about Mickley family history.

John Jacob Mickley was born Dec. 17, 1737 in Egypt, Pa. During the American Revolution, he served as a private in the Pennsylvania Militia under Capt. Benjamin Weiser. A married man who fathered 12 children, one of whom would go down in history as his father’s sidekick, Mickley helped to secure independence from Britain. In the fall of 1777, after Gen. George Washington was defeated at the Battle of Brandywine, Mickley helped transport more than 700 wagons from Philadelphia to Allentown. The cargo: bells.

After the Battle of Brandywine, the city of Philadelphia was left nearly defenseless. The colonists feared that the British would steal as much copper and brass as they could.  Some of the largest pieces of metal were the city’s bells. The metal could be melted down and cast into cannons and ammunition, essentially using Philadelphia’s own bells to destroy the city and threaten the colonies chance at independence. An order was given that 11 bells, including the State House Bell, now known as the Liberty Bell, should be taken down, transported and hidden from the British.

In late September of that year, Mickley and his namesake son purportedly drove the wagon containing the precious State House Bell. Reports vary about what actually happened along the way, but at some point it appears that the bell was transferred near Bethlehem to the wagon of Frederick Leaser and from there was taken to the Zion Reform Church in Allentown. The State House Bell, along with other bells, was stored in the basement of the church until the British occupation of Philadelphia had ended. In June 1778, the bell was returned to what is today Independence Hall.

 

About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.