Mt. Airy: Yesterday and Today: The Carpenter Family

    If you’ve ever been on Emlen, Phil-Ellena or Quincy Streets – or studied the Civil War – you won’t want to miss this month’s column by Burt Froom. It’s full of famous people, daring escapes, and the adventures of the Carpenter family from the 19th century to today. – Marilyn

    It is a pleasure to share the story of the family of George Carpenter and his home at the Phil-Ellena mansion. Sometimes, I feel I am living myself in the 19th century world of the Carpenter family as well as the early 21st century of today! I hope this Yesterday and Today column will lure you into some of the many past worlds that have helped create West Mt. Airy as we know it today. Enjoy! – Burt Froom

    During the Pelham Centennial (1991-1994), our neighbors learned some particulars about the Carpenter family from a great-granddaughter of George Carpenter, who then lived in Chestnut Hill. These details will help us to appreciate the people whose names our streets bear. The Carpenter family was part of the landed gentry of 19th century Philadelphia society. They possessed a country seat at Phil-Ellena, land, education and wealth; contributed to the community; and risked their lives in patriotic service to our nation in war.

    George Carpenter’s first wife was Annabelle Willbank. She bore a son, George Carpenter, Jr. (1837-1921) who married Mary Rodman, the daughter of Thomas Fisher in 1860. He is said to have managed the family wholesale medicine firm after his father’s death. He was associated with a race course located on the north side of Carpenter Lane, where the Septa Carpenter Station is now.

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    George Carpenter then married Ellen Douglas (1823-1900) in 1841. Ellen was a granddaughter of Captain John Douglas (1750-1823) of General George Washington’s staff. Her father was Joseph Douglas (1779-1840), the high sheriff of Philadelphia for 17 years. His funeral attracted a big crowd, including the sitting vice-president of the U.S., Richard Johnson. Johnson was said to have shot and killed the Indian chief Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe in the War of 1812, and Captain John Douglas was a part of this action.

    Ellen and George Carpenter had six children: John Quincy Carpenter (1842-1910); Emlen Newbold Carpenter (1845-1891); Frank Carpenter (1847-1856); Ellen Douglas Carpenter; Frances Graff Carpenter (1853-1940); and Algernon Sidney Carpenter (1856-1912).

    John Quincy Carpenter was educated at the Germantown Academy and at Dr. Lyon’s School in Haverford. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. At age 18, Quincy enlisted in the One Hundred and Fiftieth Regiment of Pennsylvania after the Civil War began. He rose in rank to First Lieutenant and had charge of his company on the first day (July 1, 1863) of the Battle of Gettysburg. He was captured by Confederate forces, who marched him to the infamous Libby Prison in Richmond. He was then taken to Columbia, South Carolina. He later escaped Confederate prison with his brother Emlen.

    Emlen Newbold Carpenter was also educated at Germantown Academy and at Dr. Lyon’s School. While Emlen was preparing himself to enter Harvard in 1860, the Civil War broke out and he enlisted in the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry. He rose to the rank of First Lieutenant in 1862 at age 17 and served with distinction in the Peninsular Campaign and at Chancellorsville. At the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), he served as aide-de-camp to General George G. Meade (see picture), Commander of the Union Army of the Potomac. At Gettysburg, Emlen “showed such gallantry and efficiency” that he was highly complimented by General Meade. He was promoted to Captain after Gettysburg and then to Lieutenant Colonel after Todd’s Tavern.

    In a gallant effort to rescue a fellow officer from the enemy at the Battle of Todd’s Tavern (May 7, 1864), Captain Emlen Carpenter was taken prisoner by the Confederates. While being shipped by rail to Charlotte, he jumped from the train but was recaptured and confined to jail while yellow fever was breaking out among the prisoners.

    Emlen and Quincy were reunited as prisoners about October 1864 in Columbia, SC. They sought to escape by jumping off a train, but were recaptured by the Confederates in a swamp, and were taken back to Columbia to be confined in an insane asylum. As General William T. Sherman’s forces were approaching, Emlen and Quincy concealed themselves in the asylum’s ceiling. When the retreating Confederate forces set fire to the building, they made their escape and reached Sherman’s army and safety.

    After the war, Quincy Carpenter studied medicine and graduated from the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania in 1867. Quincy married Mary Dorrance, daughter of Robert D. Dunning, a descendent of Governor Bradford, who came to America on the Mayflower.

    In 1866, Emlen Carpenter married Hannah Bullock, daughter of William W. Longstreth of Philadelphia. They had seven children. Emlen Carpenter’s health was badly impaired by his wartime hardships. He lived abroad also, devoting himself to the study of art. He then returned to the family home and died at age 46.

    The marriages and families of the other children of George and Ellen Carpenter were: their daughter Ellen who married Dr. William Bennett of Philadelphia in 1869; Frances Graff who married John daCosta Newbold and had five children; Algernon Sydney who studied, traveled abroad, and in 1891 married Amanda, the daughter of Florida land developer Hamilton Disston.

    Ellen Douglas Carpenter died in 1900, six years after her beloved home “Phil-Ellena,” was demolished by developers. Her friends said she led “the placid even life of an unselfish sincere Christian woman.” She had borne the anxiety of her young sons’ war service and their resulting illnesses, her own declining health, and the loss of her home. An era was ending.

    In my next article, we will look at the Phil-Ellena estate and residence.

    Burt Froom is a Parish Associate at Summit Presbyterian Church, 6757 Greene St. in Mt. Airy. This essay was originally published on the website of West. Mt. Airy Neighbors(WMAN).

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