Sara Baum- ACRE- “A Prosopography of Pews”


After working at Christ Church in the summer of 2013, I soon became fascinated and fell in love with the historic atmosphere of Philadelphia. Some of the congregants include Benjamin Franklin, Francis Hopkinson, John Adams, and George Washington, just to name a few. Pursuing research dedicated to the lives of the people is something that is not only important but interesting.
I approached Dr. Pankratz about studying the changes within the pew rentals, indeed renting pews was a normal procedure. He agreed, so I had an advisor. Now, what? I of course needed a definite topic. We talked for quite some time about what we were interested in researching before Dr. Pankratz suggested and I agreed on the title of, “A Prosopography of Pews.” This was perfect for what we wanted to learn. So you don’t have to search on, a prosopography is the study of a group of people within an historical context, in our case it is the study of congregants at Christ Church; Studying the congregants’ lives from theirfamily, their homes, their finances, and their seats in church and their interactions with others.
Over the winter break we searched for different examples of Prosopographic work and began reading different texts to understand the environment of study. The first week of ACRE was quickly upon me and I was anxious to get started with the pew registries that were available from the church. I was probably the biggest nerd that felt as if the world was put in my hands. Then, we hit our first road block. In the beginning we thought we would study a year of great importance to our country; 1776 became our year. Although excited about this decision, it quickly became a challenge because I learned that there were no registries for pew rents that year. ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?! So now what are we supposed to do? So, the first week began and I have pew registries for 1778-1783 and 1785. All right let’s see who were the consistent members and their pews? This is the question I asked myself for the first week. I flipped through hundreds of names and pew numbers and compared them along with reading more and more texts about the church and its setting. This became a daunting task and was very repetitive, but these names and these people became a part of my thinking 24/7. I completed a comparison by the end of the first week and Dr. Pankratz and I found several names that connected with historical stories. We even read extensively on the church building as a structure because this was essential to our mental image of the environment.
The second week of studywe travelled to Philadelphia twice in search of information that could be useful in the placement of congregants. On Monday we went to Christ Church for a quick visit to see the archives and if there was anything there that could help. When we arrived we were greeted by the archival director and we were escorted down to the mother of all archives. Nerd Sara was quickly spotted. The director had informed us of the 1762 pew map before we arrived which held the greatest interest for us. She brought it out and it was just beautiful. There are no words to describe how you feel when you see something that old, and did I forget to mention I TOUCHED IT! Oh yea, Benjamin Franklin’s name was on it, pretty cool! They said that they had a digital copy of the document, but if you know Dr. Pankratz you know he had his camera in hand and was ready to take some clear photos for later reference. The image quality was so clear that we were able to transcribe most of the names. We also got a chance to see and read through some of the other books that were there. We eventually ended up in the church to see the physical layout. The picture below is what the church looks like now but it was very different from the years of study.


After getting a chance to see some of the behind the scenes we walked around the church and Dr. Pankratz took some great shots of the steeple and outer church.


We decided to play it safe and head back to Albright a little early to avoid traffic, which of course was an unsuccessful attempt.


Wednesday was our next trip and our goal was to visit St. Peter’s church, which is the sister parish to Christ Church. Visiting St. Peter’s was crucial to our understanding of environment because they have something that Christ Church doesn’t, box pews. A box pew is literally a box with seating on the inside. Christ Church had changed their style to slip pews in the early 19th century. In the images below you can see that the pews look much different than those at Christ Church.


(We were able to sneak up to the balcony, thanks to Dr. Pankratz’s gift of charming the staff.)

We walked around their burial ground and discovered the stone of Charles Willson Peale, a very well known portrait artist during the time of the Revolution and also a member of Christ Church.


After being awestruck by the church and googly eyed, like the image below,


we decided to walk around Society Hill area. The homes are just beautiful and the atmosphere is busy but yet calming. I learned a great deal that afternoon, historically, but also a lot about my advisor since he once lived in Society Hill, so there were lots of stories to hear.




(We are in that Mosaic, try to find us)

Well if we had left at that point, we would have hit some serious traffic so Dr. Pankratz and I decided to eat while we were in the city. Never did I imagine what I was going to be putting into my stomach. “We are going to the Continental,” he said. Now, I know what the Continental Diner is, as in where it is, because I had passed by it on my way to work several times, but I didn’t know what to expect. We walked in and my jaw dropped. Inside of this older diner was a beautiful setting, very, very, cool! Below are some of the shots of our food. (The hamburger meat was provided by LaFrieda Meats, an Albright Alum.)


Needless to say, once again our plan for avoiding traffic didn’t exactly work out.

After those two trips our minds were racing and we had a much clearer path for what we needed to accomplish. Week two ended with more comparing, and I already know that learning and studying this information has been one of the best decisions I have EVER MADE! The Final Week of Interim will be posted soon. Stay tuned.

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