Mystery of America’s Liberty Bell

Posted: June 28, 2013 in Category - Monuments and Buildings, Mystery of Liberty Bell

Let Freedom Ring

Written by Gene Wheeler


As the wounded Colonial soldiers were brought to the Zion Reformed Church, now a temporary field hospital, few could know that beneath the floorboards rested one of the young nation’s most famous symbols. Following is the fascinating story of how the American patriots saved the Liberty Bell from capture by the British, told by a descendant of the man whose courage made it possible.

In 1777, England made its second greatest effort of the war. British General Howe left a garrison in New York and took 13,000 troops to capture Philadelphia. Washington rose to defend the capital, but on September 11 was outflanked and although defeated at Brandywine Creek, his army was not destroyed. Washington retreated to Chester, PA. Several days later the Americans suffered another defeat at Paoli, PA. Several hundred Americans were killed under a British bayonet attack. The American Congress fled from Philadelphia to York, PA, and Howe entered Philadelphia without opposition in late September.{footnoteMillett, Allan R. and Peter Maslowski, “For the Common Defense”, (New York: The Free Press, 1984), p. 49ff.

Howe quartered a part of his army at nearby Germantown. On October 4, the Americans attacked this garrison and seemed to have won a victory until the British made a determined stand in the Chew house. British reinforcements came up from Philadelphia while the besieged house still held out, and Washington’s little army retreated. The Americans then took up their miserable winter quarters at Valley Forge.

Fearing the possibility of capture by the enemy, on June 16, 1777, the Assembly of Pennsylvania meeting in the State House at Philadelphia voted to authorize the removal of all bells belonging to several churches and other public buildings and all copper and brass to a place of safety. The Continental Congress, meeting in Independence Hall, on September 14, 1777 (three days after the Battle of Brandywine) resolved that all public bells in Philadelphia be removed to a place of security upon a near approach of the enemy to the city.1


The order to remove the bells was passed along to Colonel Benjamin Flower, and his instructions read: “Ordered: that Colonel Flower employ James Worrell, Francis Allison and Mr. Evans, Carpenters, or such other workmen as he may think proper to employ, to take down the Bells of all the public Buildings in this city and convey them to safety.”2 They had their work cut out for them. Not only did they have to get the bells down, but also to convey them to safety. Eleven bells in all had to be removed. Most had to be taken from fairly high steeples, loaded aboard wagons, and spirited out of the city, all under the cover of night.

Once they were down, Colonel Flowers had to decide whether or not to move them by Army transport wagons leaving the area with increasing frequency. If they were to be overtaken by the British, they would certainly end up as shot designed for Americans. His reasoning might then have led him to seek out farmers bringing produce into the city from the area where the bells were destined to go, Allentown (then Northam- pton Town). Traditionally, these Pennsylvania German farmers brought their wares into Philadelphia and re-turned to their farms north of the city with empty wagons. A few of these wagons, with the bells secreted in them and covered with hay or straw, might be a better device. Should the British pass such a convoy, there would be a slightly lesser chance that they would be searched.3

There are two stories recorded about whose wagon was used to haul the Liberty Bell out of Philadelphia. One states that the man chosen was one John Jacob Mickley. The exact date of the bells’ departure is unknown, perhaps a tribute to the extent of Flowers’ well-kept secret. Some historians give the date as September 16 or 17 when the bells were taken down. Whatever the date, Howe marched into Philadelphia on September 27 but did not send a patrol in pursuit of the fleeing wagon train, undoubtedly because he needed all of his men to secure the city and to repulse Washington’s counterattack at Germantown on October 4.

The bells were taken via Bethlehem to Allentown. At some point along the way, the bell wagons joined an Army convoy of some 700 other wagons, and they rattled into Bethlehem. . .

Source: Leben


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