Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer.

Philadelphia; a history of the city and its people, a record of 225 years (Volume 4) online

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ship with Richard Jordan in the drug business at the southeast corner of Third
and Arch streets, such partnership to last for the term of five years unless
sooner dissolved by mutual consent. The store was the property of John Har-
land but was subleased to them by Stephen North, from whom they largely
purchased their stock of drugs. The firm carried on business until the expira-
tion of the copartnership, when Jordan opened a store at the southeast corner
of Third and Coates streets, while Burgin continued the business on Arch
street with a branch store at what was then No. 74 Chestnut street, in the
meantime continuing his studies at the university until his graduation on March
27, 1818, as a Doctor of Medicine, his thesis being upon the "Modus Operandi
of Medicine."

After his graduation Dr. Burgin found that his drug business had become
so extensive that it absorbed the greater part of his time. He imported largely
and supplied many retail houses and manufacturers and supplied the contents
for medicine chests, each one of which he accompanied with a pamphlet con-
taining directions for administering the drugs in common use, with a brief his-
tory of the effects they are intended to produce and remarks and cautions to be
observed on their administration. Whilst still continuing in the drug busi-
ness Dr. Burgin, in 1828, purchased the Phoenix factory and furnace for the
manufacture of hollow glassware, which had been established at Millville, New
Jersey, in 1806. He associated with himself in the business Richard L. Wood
and together they conducted the manufacture and sale of glassware under the
firm name of Burgin & Wood, with their stores at Nos. 29 and 59 North Third
street. Two years later Robert Pearsall was admitted to the firm, which be-
came Burgin, Wood & Pearsall. In 1832 Mr. Wood died and the surviving
partners carried on the business until 1841, when, Mr. Pearsall having with-
drawn, Laurence Hartshorne was admitted and the store was located at No. 43
North Front street. However, Mr. Pearsall came back to the partnership in
the succeeding year and Mr. Hartshorne retired.

In 1846 Burgin & Pearsall sold their factories at Millville and built a glass-
house on Cherry street above Franklin. This is now represented by the block
bounded roughly by East Girard avenue, East Montgomery avenue, Moyer and
Palmer streets. In 1848 Mr. Pearsall again withdrew and William C. Fowler
was admitted to the firm, which became Burgin, Fowler & Company and con-
sisted of the senior Dr. George H. Burgin, Dr. George H. Burgin, Jr., and
William C. Fowler, the store being at No. 26 North Front street. In 1853
Mr. Fowler withdrew and the firm name was changed to Burgin & Sons, Charles
F. Burgin having been admitted to partnership with his father and brother.
Again in 1857 two more sons, John H. and William M., were admitted, the
office and warehouse then being at what was at that time No. 41 and is now
127 Arch street. The latter was built for the purpose by Dr. Burgin and was
the first iron front warehouse erected in Philadelphia. It is on the spot which
was traditionally the home from which Peggy Shippen was married to Benedict
Arnold, and afterward the home of Michael Hillegas, the first treasurer of the
United States. The old wine vault was preserved and still extends halfway out
under the driveway of Arch street.


Dr. Burgin gave scientitic thought to improvement in the manufacture of
glass and originated (but did not patent) many of the tools which are now in
familiar use by glass blowers. About the year 1865 he turned over the active
conduct of the business to his sons, although he retained his interest until his
death on October 23, 1870, at his residence, No. 331 South Fifth street. The
firm continued under the same title until the death of the junior partner, Wil-
liam M. Burgin, on May 19, 1908. Dr. Burgin was a director of public schools,
by election of councils, for fifteen years or from 1838 until 1853, when he de-
clined reelection. During this period he represented his ward (Pine) in the
board of school controllers for five years, from 1842 until 1847. He was a
member of common council from 1839 until 1841, serving on various important
committees but most actively as chairman of the committee on police. Dr. Bur-
gin served as a trustee of the Philadelphia Gas Works, by repeated elections by
councils, for seventeen years or from 1842 until i860, during the last three years
holding the office of president of the board and always performing his official
duties with ability and scrupulous fidelity. Mr. Henry M. Philips wrote to him,
under date of Washington, D. C, February 22, 1858, on receiving the report of the
gas works : "It is the best managed institution in the city and no one has labored
more faithfully and usefully for it than yourself." During the period of his
presidency, following, as it did, closely upon the consolidation of the city, it
became his duty to negotiate for the city in its entirety the purchase of the
various district gas works, and it was largely due to his sense of equity that
the final agreement as to values was eventually satisfactory. This consolidation
of the dififerent districts under the control of one body made it possible to bring
about a uniform system of manufacture and distribution and to bring into serv-
ice the latest knowledge as to the making of gas. Good results soon showed in
that the works were placed on a paying basis, where before they had been barely
self-sustaining. Dr. Burgin had brought to the use of the trust not only his
business sagacity but, what was of still more importance, his knowledge as a
chemist and the practical experience he had gained when, in 1820 and the six
or seven years following, the grand lodge of Masons in Pennsylvania had
placed in his hands the control of the gas plant which it had erected in Lodge
Alley, in the rear of its temple on Chestnut street. The lodge, which, before
its building had been consumed by fire in 1819, had made partially successful
attempts to illuminate it by gas, resumed its attempts in the newly erected hall.
The superintendence of this renewal was placed in the hands of Dr. Burgin,
and under his guidance the apparatus was brought into repair and a water or
hydro carbon gas was produced which gave illuminating effects which had not
been heretofore obtained. In a communication in i860 to Andrew C. Craig
(then president of the Philadelphia Gas Trust), in response to a request on
the part of Mr. Craig for information on the question of the manufacture of
gas, he says: "In 1822 and several succeeding years, when I had the gas works
situate in Lodge Alley, belonging to the grand lodge in our city, under my di-
rection, I used vegetable tar or rosin (as they were both cheap articles at that
time, compared with bituminous coal) in combination with steam for all the
gas required for that large hall and all its various apartments. I obtained a

Vol. IV— 20


rich, luminous gas from both articles by this process, so pure in quality as to
yield a bright light without the expense of purifying." The lighting of the
Masonic hall proved so successful that upon request the gas was furnished to
the Chestnut Street Theatre and Peak's Museum. In 1824 the grand lodge
gave a reception to Lafayette. The gas plant being under the superintendence
of Dr. Burgin, it was arranged that the gas lights should be as low as possible
until Lafayette entered the hall, when Dr. Burgin turned the valve bringing
all the gas jets to their full height and a flood of light was poured into the hall.
Probably this was the first instance of instantaneously controlled illumination
in this country.

Dr. Burgin was a manager of the Wills Eye Hospital, being elected by city
councils for eight years or from 1848 until 1856, when he resigned and declined
reelection. When the College of Pharmacy was instituted, largely in a spirit
of protest against the action of the university in starting courses of pharmacy
and granting degrees in the same. Dr. Burgin, although himself a graduate of
the university, became one of the sixty-nine pharmacists who, at a meeting in
Washington Hall on March 27, 1821, formed the Philadelphia College of Phar-
macy, which at its meeting in March, 1822, elected its first board of trustees,
of whom he was one and in which he continued by annual elections until 1830.
In 1838 he was elected president of the then just incorporated William Penn
Market Company; and in the same year he was one of the organizers of the
Monument Cemetery Company (first called Pere le Chaise) and a member of
its board of managers. In 1834 he was a member of the executive board of
the Union Benevolent Society; in 1842 a manager of the Seamens Friend So-
ciety; in 1847 a member of the Philadelphia Society for alleviating the miseries
of public prisons ; and in 1842 president of the Temperance and Benevolent
Association. Dr. Burgin was for many years an active member of the Penn-
sylvania Horticultural Society, having associated himself with it very early in,
if not at the start of, its organization. He was for a long time a member of
its committee on horticultural chemistry, repeatedly on that of exhibitions and
in 1865 on that on the erection of its new hall. In October, 1832, he was elected
to membership in the Franklin Institute, in the proceedings of- which he always
took an active part, as well as in those of the Historical Society of Pennsyl-
vania, of which he became a member in 1844. In 1853 he was a member of
the Pennsylvania committee to the "Crystal Palace Exhibition of the Industries
of all Nations," held in New York in 1853-4. In 1853, at a time when there
existed a most intense opposition in the medical profession to the admission to
its ranks of women, he was a corporator of The Female Medical College, now
The Women's Medical College, being then, as he always was, in his ideas free
from petty prejudice and in advance of his time. In the nation-wide move-
ment for temperance, which arose in the country in the first half of the nine-
teenth century as a reaction against the excessive indulgence in intoxicants
which had prevailed in the preceding generation, he took a most active part.
As early as June 21, 1831, he was one of the managers of the Pennsylvania
Society for Discouraging the Use of Ardent Spirits. In 1827 he was one of
the organizers and managers of the Pennsylvania Temperance Society, which,


was the outcome of a small meeting held in his counting-house and at which
it was deemed wise not to conduct the movement on narrow lines but to invite
the cooperation of Matthew Carey and leading citizens of different denomina-
tions. This was the first meeting held in Philadelphia to organize a society
for the diminution of intemperance and prior to the Pennsylvania State Tem-
perance Society, of which he was a vice president for fifteen years or from
1841 until 1856. I

Dr. Burgin was an ardent whig and an adherent of Henry Clay and a be-
liever in the political views and principles of which he was the exponent. In
the Pine ward, in which he lived, he was in 1834 an active and zealous member
of the "Association of Democratic and other Citizens opposed to the usurpations
of Andrew Jackson," and in 1840 of the "Harrison and Tyler Association of
Pine Ward." He and his sons were subscribers to the "Testimonial of Gratitude
and Affection to Henry Clay," published by the whigs of Philadelphia in 1846,
and was one of those citizens who in December, 1846, gave a reception to Daniel
Webster. He was a member of the Masonic fraternity, being initiated shortly after
taking up his residence in Philadelphia, on December 14, 1816, in Philadelphia
Lodge, No. •]2, in which he was made junior warden in 1817, senior warden in
1818, master in 1819 and secretary in 1825. He was for years a member of
the Athenaeum of Philadelphia; a stockholder in both the Academy of Fine
Arts and the Philadelphia Library Company; a member of the Academy of
Natural Sciences; a director of the Citizens Mutual Insurance Company and of
th^ Polytechnic College; a contributor to the Pennsylvania Hospital and an
officer in the Philadelphia Medical Society, later the County Medical Society.
Dr. R,urgin's ancestors for some generations had been stanch Presbyterians, and
naturaHy he associated himself on his arrival in Philadelphia with that denomi-
nation. At first he attended the Tabernacle church situated in Ranstead Court;
then for a number of years he was an attendant at the old Pine street church ;
but later in his life, as he was a friend of the Rev. Albert Barnes and shared
his theological views, became a member of the old Washington Square church
and continued his connection therewith until his death.

On the loth of December, 1818, Dr. Burgin married Marianna, the daugh-
ter of Jacob and Margaret Catherine (Caner) Herman. Mrs. Burgin was born
in Philadelphia, December 31, 1797, and died at her husband's country place —
Sycamore Hall— near Frankford, Philadelphia, July 21, 1867. Jacob Herman
was bom in Philadelphia, November 19, 1767, and died there March i, 1811.
Mrs. Hennan, who was the daughter of Michael and Johanna Charlotta
(Truckenmiller) Caner, was born in Philadelphia, May 5. 1770, was married
October 11, 1792, and died July 6, 1868, aged ninety-eight years, two months
and one day. Michael Caner during the war of the Revolution served as a
corporal in Captain Andrew Summer's company in Colonel Jehu Eyre's bat-
talion of Philadelphia artillery militia.

Dr. Burgin's earliest paternal ancestor in America bearing his family name,
so far as is positively known, was Joseph Burgin, who was living prior to i6go
in Salem, West New Jersey. There is reason to think that he came from Nor-
folk county, England. He married in open court in the town of Salem on


March 23, 1692, Jane Silver, who with others of her family had emi-
grated from Scotland to the neighborhood of Shrewsbury in East New Jersey
and afterward to Salem county. He died on his plantation near the Cohansey
river on January 31, 1708, leaving his estate, after the death of his wife,
to his eldest son, John, who was born about the year 1700, married Mrs.
Margaret (Clayton) Steele on the 31st of July, 1728, and died in June, 1737.
John Burgin left three sons : Joseph, who married Sarah Morgan, of Perth
Amboy ; Philip, a captain in the French and Indian wars, who served in the
campaign in upper New York and who died presumably unmarried; and John,
the grandfather of Dr. Burgin. This John Burgin, the second, was bom No-
vember 20, 1735, and died October 20, 1793, immediately after his reelection
for another term in the legislature. He married on March 12, 1761, Elizabeth,
the daughter of Colonel George Abel, of Salem county. She was born No-
vember 12, 1738, and died in Bridgeton, New Jersey, January 10, 1812. John
Burgin was a man of prominence in the affairs of Cumberland county. New
Jersey, both in church and state. He was a member of the board of chosen
freeholders from 1780 until 1793, a representative in the state legislature from
1784 until 1793 and for a number of years a trustee of the state loan office.
In 1782 he was chosen as an elder in the Greenwich Presbyterian church. His
long service in the legislature was evidence of his high character in the com-
munity and gave him a weight of influence as a legislator that could not have
been obtained by those who serve but a brief period. Those who served with
him always spoke of him as a man of great natural sagacity and of unim-
peached integrity, whose opinion had great influence with his associates ; nor
could he be swerved from what he considered the right course to be adopted
on any question brought before him, after he had given it thoughtful considera-
tion. During the war of the Revolution he was a lieutenant in the Cumberland
county militia and as such took part in the engagements of Quinton and Han-
cock Bridges, in Salem county. He was a member of the committee of safety
of the county of Cumberland. He left three sons: Reuben (the father of Dr.
Burgin), Enoch and George, all of whom were in succession sheriffs of the
county. George, who died unmarried, August 3, 1813, was during his lifetime
the unquestioned leader of the democratic party in his county and was repeatedly
a member of the legislature and of the council. He was surrogate of his county,
presidential elector, master and examiner in chancery, justice of the peace, county
surveyor and sheriff.

A record of the children of Dr. Burgin is given below. Cornelia Herman,
who was born in Philadelphia on the 14th of October, 1819, married Dr. Wil-
liam R. Mathews, of Alabama, and died in Montgomer}^ Alabama, on the 30th
of May, 1888. Marianna, born in Philadelphia on the 30th of May, 1821, mar-
ried Joseph Janvier Woodward and died in this city on the 4th of October,
1908. George Horatio, Jr., born in Philadelphia on the 3d of May, 1823, mar-
ried on June 19, 1849, Katherine Anna Rex and died in Germantown, Philadel-
phia, on the 2d of January, 1873. Caroline Augusta, who was born in Phila-
delphia on the 27th of March, 1825, is still living. Charles Francis, who was
bom in Philadelphia on the 3d of November, 1827, and died in Philadelphia on


the 7th of November, 1885, first married Mary C. Ray and second Charlotte
Neal. Sarah Catherine, born in Philadelphia on the 31st of December, 1829,
died at Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, on the 26th of June, 1889. John Henry,
who was born in Philadelphia on the loth of September, 1833, married Ruth
Sheppard and died at Philmont, Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, on the 21st
of October, 1910. William Mathews, who was born in Philadelphia on the 19th
of March, 1836, married Emily Shaw and died in Philadelphia on the 19th of
May, 1908.

Dr. Burgin's whole business career was conducted upon the highest plane
of honest and just dealing, and his private life was clean, — uncontaminated by
any base habit and dominated always by an innate sense of right and righteous-
ness. His course in public life was that of the ideal good citizen ; his sole
thought was how, in the offices that he held, he could best subserve the interests
that had been entrusted to him, and to this end he gave freely of his time, his
talents and his means. To use the positions that he held to promote his personal
interests was to him unthinkable ; especially was this true of his long service in
the gas trust when he and those who were associated with him in its control
were citizens of the highest character and position in the community, whose
constant endeavor was for the advancement of the public good and never for
self-aggrandizement. Dr. Burgin stood high in the respect and esteem of his
associates. The late Eli K. Price who knew him well and as a young man had
attended his course of lectures on chemistry, said of him, that "he was pos-
sessed of more varied and general knowledge than anyone that he had ever
met and that his ability for imparting that knowledge was exceptional."

Dr. George Horatio Burgin, Jr., born on May 3, 1823, at the then No. 74
Chestnut street, died in Germantown, Philadelphia, January 2, 1873, received
his education at Princeton College and at the medical department of the Univer-
sity of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated as a Doctor of Medicine in 1843,
after which he engaged in the drug business at Second and Pine streets, Phila-
delphia, until he entered into partnership with his father in the manufacture of
glass. He was the first person to produce flint glass in open crucibles, a process
which greatly reduced its cost, and it was under his direction that the firm built
the first Siemen's regenerative gas furnace for the manufacture of glass.

Dr. Burgin was made a director of the Philadelphia City Institute in 1857
and of the Seamen's Friend Society in 1861. During the Civil war he was a
member of the Christian Commission, serving on it not only at home but at
the front, particularly after the battle of Gettysburg. As a layman in the Pres-
byterian church he took an active part in the initial movements which led to
the formation of what are now the Bethany, Olivet and Tabor churches of Phila-
delphia and the West Side church of Germantown, which in its inception was
a mission of the First Presbyterian church, of which he was a trustee. He was
one of the founders and a director of the Germantown Young Men's Christian
Association, and from 1867 until his death a trustee of the Germantown

Dr. Burgin married June 19, 1849, Katharine Anna, daughter of John and
Sarah (Lentz) Rex, of Montgomery county and a descendant of George Rex,
who emigrated from Germany to Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, prior to 1720 and,


through her mother, of Henry Scheetz, who was commissioned a judge of the
court of common pleas of Montgomery county in 1784, immediately after the
creation of that county. Dr. Burgin left surviving him his wife and three sons :
Dr. Herman, who was the surgeon with the rank of major in the Second Regi-
ment Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Spanish- American war ; Dr. George Horace
and Walter Bowen, all of whom are now living in Germantown.


There is perhaps no better indication of a man's ability and character than
the opinion entertained for him by his associates and colleagues in business.
Judged by this standard, Bernard Harris occupies and well merits a high posi-
tion at the Philadelphia bar. A native of Russia, he came to this city as a
young man, well educated but with small means, and engaged in clerical and
literary work while preparing for the practice of law.

He was born in Wilna, November 26, 1862, a son of Jacob and Sarah Miriam
(Rubin) Harris. The father was graduated as a rabbi at the age of twenty
years and spent his days largely in the study of Hebrew law, but in his later
years has engaged in the transportation of corn from Russia to Germany. He
is now regarded as an authority on talmudic law. At the age of seventy-one
years he is now practically living retired, making his home at Wilna, where the
three brothers and one sister of Bernard Harris are all residing. The brothers
are engaged in mercantile pursuits, two of them being partners in the importa-
tion of engineering and optical instruments on a large scale.

Bernard Harris pursued his education in public and private schools of Wilna,
where he studied the Hebrew, Russian, German and French languages and
rabbinical law. In 1883 he went to England, where he devoted some time to
the study of English classics and language in London, Birmingham and Man-
chester. At the same time he was connected in a business way with various
mercantile houses, but the broader opportunities of the new world attracted him
and with definite aim and unfaltering purpose he made his way to America,
becoming a resident of Philadelphia in 1888. Here he secured the position of
bookkeeper with the Levytype Company and afterward became secretary of the
Jewish Alliance of America, a national organization of which the late Simon
Muhr was president. He spent a year and a half in that connection and subse-
quently was associated with the Jewish Exponent. In 1894 he began the pub-
lication of a Jewish paper called Der Volkswaechter, which he later sold to the
publishers of the Jewish Daily News of New York. He then prepared for the
study of law and entered the law department of the University of Pennsylvania
in 1895. On the conclusion of a three years' course he was graduated in 1898.
While studying he made a living for himself and family by translating several
Russian and German works into English and frequently acted in the capacity of
an interpreter. He also taught in night schools for the Hebrew Education So-
ciety, in which position he continued until his graduation.


On the nth of June, 1898, lie was admitted to the bar and immediately after-
ward engaged in the general practice of law, in which he has been very success-
ful both in the lower and supreme courts. He has made steady progress in his
profession and his name is associated with the defense or prosecution of many
important cases. Soon after his admission to the bar he undertook the defense
of a fellow countryman against the Russian government, a case involving many
international questions. This attracted to him the wide attention of the legal
world. This was the case of Leo Alexandrof vs. Baer, captain of the Russian

Online LibraryEllis Paxson OberholtzerPhiladelphia; a history of the city and its people, a record of 225 years (Volume 4) → online text (page 61 of 62)