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Francis Maw Joseph Phyle^


Who lived without the use oi fire for upwards
of twentv-two years, in a smalt cave, in the
midst of a wood, near Mount-Holly, in Bur-
lington county, New-Jersey ; and was found
dead therein, in the year 1780.




I'iterspersed witii son»e

Observations of the jiuthoTi and Sentt'

ments of ceU brated men*



?rliited by John Bioren, No. 88, CbcsnatfSS'^cr.



^t it ttmembt%tb» That on the twenty.first
day of December, in the thirty-fifth year of
the Independence of the United States of Ame-
rica, John Atkinson of the said district hath
deposited m this office the title of a book, the right
whereof he claims as author in the words follow-
ing, to wu : " The Hermit, or an account of Fran.
CIS Adam Joseph Phyle, a native of Switzerland,
who lived without the use of fire for upwards of
twenty.two years, in a small cave, in the midst of
a wood, near Mount-HoJly in Burlington County,
New-Jersey, and was found dead therein in the
year 1780 ; in a series of letters from Baltus Hiltz-
himer to Melchior Miller, interspersed with some
observations of the author, and sentiments of ce-
lebrated men."

In conformity to the act of the Congress of the
United States entitled « An act for the encourage-
ment of learning by securing the copies of maps,
charts, and books, to the authors and proprietors
of such copies during the times therein mention-
ed;" and also to the act intitled "An act supple-
mentary to an act entitled an act for the encour-
agement of learning by securing the copies of
maps, charts and books to the authors and propri-
etors of such copies during the times therein
mentioned, and by extending the benefits thereof
to the arts of designing, engraving and etching
historical aud other prints.

of the District of New-Jersey.


/**•****% I CERTIFY the above to fee a

» ccAT i true copy of the original record. In

* * testimony whereof I have hereunto

*«*«*«*«#»* affixed the seal of the said district.



Dear Friend^


June, irso.

YOU " request an account of
the Mount-Holly Hermit — where he
came from — the time of his arri-
val—a description of his hermitage — •
the manner of his procuring suste-
nance — his cha7'acter, conduct, death,
and buriaL''^

Living ill the neighbourhood of
Mount-Holly, and havmg frequently
seen the soHtaire who is the subiecc

of your inquiries, as well in his soli-
tude as in his mendicant peregrina-
tions, I will cheerfully give you such
iniormation respecting him as I ixuh
at present in possession of, on condi-
tion only that you will call into exer-
cise all your candour and good nature
in excuse of the very many faults you
will, at the first glance, discover in
my communications ; indeed, I am,
so well aware of my deficiency in the
composition, that had I not the ut-
most reliance on your friendly par->
tiahty, the gratitude I feel for all your
past favours, I fear^ would be scarcely
powerful enough to compel a com-
pliance with your request. Thus as»
sured, I shall make it my business to
collect, from suurcf. s which may be
implicitly relied o.i, si'ch anecdotes
concerning him as may be worth

your notice, and from time to lime
communicate them, well assured that
ill thus gratifying a curiosity pro-
ceeding from the most laudable mo-
tives, I am at the same time record-
ing the fate of a member of the hu-
man family, who, however uncom-
monly led to retire from the busy
scenes of life, to despise the riches,
honours, and conveniences for which
millions of his fellow men are daily
risquing immortal happiness to ob-
tain, appeared to possess a mind cast
in no common mould ; a hardihood
of character which would have added
honour to many of the heroes of an-
tiquity, and a suavit}^ of manners
which no gentleman of modern times
would blush to own.

In the spring of 1756, the people
in Mount-Holly and parts adjacent.

found their curiosity much awakened
by reports, that a stranger had taken
up his abode in a wood belonging to
Joseph Burr, on the Buriington road ;
that he appeared to be a middle aged
man, was a foreigner, was totally ig.
norant of the English language, and
was dressed in the uniform of a
French soldier; that he had frequent-
3y been seen at the neighbouring
farm-houses, begging victuals. The
people, suspecting from his frequent
visits that he lived somewhere near
them, had followed him, and found
that he had dug out the ground un-
der the side of a large tree, which had
been blown up by the roots, until
there was room enough for him to
creep into it.

This incident gave rise to a good
^eal of speculation, but as an account

thereof would be no more likcl}- 1©
amuse than to profit you, I will not
trouble you with it, but proceed to
relate that the stranger had been seen
first on the farm of Lot Ridgway,
about a month before, whose servants
going to a distant part of the farm to
break some stacks of hay, descried a
hovel composed of rails taken from
an adjoining fence and reared against
one of the stacks, over which there
was ha}^ thrown. Upon advancing
to it they found our hermit, whose
figure appearing extraordinary, ex-
cited a surprise which was equalled
on his part by chagrin, for it was
plain enough to be seen by the wag°
gons having the usual apparatus for
removing hay, that his encampment
was to be broken up, and that he
mi]st remove, which 5 after interehart-


giiig some marks of civility with
them, he undertook ; but, as he knew
not where to go, being a stranger to
the country and its language, every
reflecting mind will suppose his situ-
ation was very trying; and he has
since said, that in his peregrinations
up and down in a country to whose
language he was a stranger, and in
which all his supplies were obtained
through signs, his adverse allotment
required a greater share of philoso-
phy than he could at all times call to
his aid.

It being but six miles to where he
took up his permanent abode, he
reached it the same day, and as he
stopped several times and made signs
for victuq^ls it was then noticed, as
indeed, it has sufliciently appeared
since, that he possessed great good


breeding, and would upon receiving
any thing, make a low bow, and
always kiss his crucifix, at the
same time lifting up his hands and
eyes in apparent supplication, as if
calling down benedictions on the
heads of those who vrere administer-
ing to his necessities. This appear-
ance of gratitude and devotion would
cause the people to forget their pre-
judices (long entertained against
some tenets of the church he be-
longed to) and strong emotions of pi-
ty were excited for the distressed-
stranger ; and I rejoice that I can re-
cord to the honour of the people in
his neighbourhood, that (with a fe^v
exceptions which shall be noticed in
proper time) they have ever treated
our hermit with kindness and hu-
manity; I the more willingly do this


it being not only a just encomium
on the virtue and hospitality of a peo-
ple among whom our hermit has al-
wa} s found a ready admittance, and
from whose tables he neve' tailed to
receive a plentiful supply, but that it
will highly gratify my friend in
whose composition there is so great
a portion of the '* Milk of human
kindness;" in finding that not only
the necessities of this poor forlorn
stranger were supplied, but many
would gladly have alleviated that load
of mental distress he seemed to la-
bour under, if it had been in their

Tours, ^c.



June, 1780.

Dear Friend^

The wood in which he took up
his abode, hadi its north side bound-
ed by the road leading from Mount-
Holly to the city of Burlington, dis-
tant four miles from the latter, and a
little more than two from the former,
in which is yet to be seen the tree (a
white oak of great dimensions) un-
der the south side of which he form-
ed his subterranean lodgment. The


aperture by wliich he descended, was
in an oblique direction for about
three feet and a half, when it entered
the body of his cave, t]ie form of
which was an oval, but so much cir-
cumscribed in its dimensions that
he could scarcely stretch himself at
length in it. This circumstance \\ as
not known till after his death, when a
partial descent was absolutely neces-
sary to free the cave of that body
w hich had occupied it so long, for he
had spent twenty-three years there,
during all which time he had no use
of fire.

This would seem so incredible,
tliat I should be afraid to assert it^
were there not hundreds who can at-
test the same.

The aperture he sliielded from the
rain, 8;c. by bark laid from the body

of tiie tree, and which reached to a
pole supported by forked sticks let
into the ground. His spring was si-
tuated about forty rods from his cave
in a southerly direction. The con-
veniency of which doubtless suggest-
ed the idea of settling here. For al-
though it is a sequestered place, be-
ing impervious to view from the
road, by a thick growth of under-
wood, yet it is not so captivating a
spot as some might choose. And
those persons v/ho (from the fascina-
ting de^c^ iption in romaiitic story of
the neatiicss of a hermitage and the
deliglitfiil situation, in which all that,
is included in the best selected lan-
guage to convey ideas the most be-
wit chins; to imaa'ination, is called to
their aid,) may expect gratification of
a lik^ nature in mv account, they


will be much disappointed. For I
have no materials, if I was ever so ca-
pable and ever so much inclined to
embellish my account without having
recourse to fiction, but in detailing
the life of the Mount-Holly -Hermit,
that does not come within my plan.
I do not remember that the pub-
lic knew any thing of his reasons for
living in this retired way, until per-
haps six weeks or two months after
his arrival, Col. Charles Read spoke
to him through an old German Lin-
guist, and requested to know where
he was from, and his motive in se-
cluding himself from society. When
he gave the following short account,
" His name was Francis Adam
Joseph Phyle, that he was a native
of the Canton of Lucern in Switzer-
land, which, on account of some


disagreeable circumstances taking
place, he had left, and went to France,
with whose troops, after some length
of time intervening, he had come to
Canada, but was, soon after his arri-
val, from disgust to the life of a Sol-
dier determined to leave them, and
throw himself on the mercy of his
enemies. That accordingly he ef-
fected an escape, came on southward
until he reached here, where he wish-
ed to remain."

Col. Read who was one of the
Judges of the Supreme Court, after
hearing his story \^'itliout pressing
him to enter into the particulars there-
of, told him he should have liberty
to reside in the wood, and recom-
mended him to the charity of the
people, saying that he appeared to
he labouring under great distress of

B 2


mind, and wished he might not re-
ceive any alxise in the coiuatry he
had adopted. The Colonel ^.vas sus-
ceptible of very tender impressions,
and of course when he saw a person
totally a stranger to the country and
its language, whose behaviour be-
spoke him to be a man of good
breeding and who not only was des-
titute bf every of the comforts of
life, and strenuously persisted in re-
fusing pecuniary aid when ever of-
fered, and at the same time appear-
ing under a great weight of mental
distress, occasioned, (as he said) by
his sins which appeared to over-
v/helm hini with a deep sense of their
turpitude, and v/ishing to expiate
them in solitude, by foregoing ail the
enjoyments of this life. All this was
more than Col. Read c

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