Friday, March 4, 2016

The Reverend George Duffield

If you walk or drive around the Society Hill section of Philadelphia, you may have recently noticed something odd in the graveyard of the Old Pine Street Church. The church entrance is on Pine, and the graveyard surrounds this monstrous yellow church building on three sides. On the west side of the church, you can see an unusual object towering above the old iron fence along Pine Street. At first glance, it appears to be a black and tan statue on a pedestal.

Old Pine Street Church, Philadelphia

If you look at it from either side, you see a man’s face at the top. His back, or rather, his black cloak, faces Pine Street, so you can’t clearly see the object unless you are in the graveyard. I, for one, welcome any opportunity to enter a graveyard.

Originally, Old Pine Street Church, founded in 1764, was known as the Third Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia and has come to be known as the “church of the patriots.” John Adams was one of the many members of the parish who loyally stood with George Washington during this tense, pre-Revolutionary War period in American history. The church’s pastor at the time, Reverend George Duffield, preached the “no taxation without representation” motto to his congregation – one of the rallying cries of the thirteen colonies. (Separation of church and state, by the way, is not actually addressed in the United States Constitution, as is popularly believed.) Because of his inflammatory patriotic tendencies, King George III offered 50 British pounds for Duffield, dead or alive.

Reverend George Duffield
Defying British arrest, Duffield served as chaplain to the First Continental Congress in 1774 and, with many of his parishioners, joined Washington at Valley Forge in the winter of 1776-77. He served as pastor of the church from 1772 until his death in 1790” (ref). That’s him you see carved from a hundred-year-old Norway maple along the fence in the church’s graveyard. Kind of ironic that he is sculpted making a peace sign with his left hand.

13-star U.S. flags wave by the hundreds
From his sculpted stance against Pine Street, Duffield seems to be addressing his parishioners, the inhabitants of this old graveyard. And it is old - quite old. This historic colonial churchyard contains burials of about 3,000 late 18th and early 19th century Philadelphians. The graveyard is home to the remains of a signer of the U.S. Constitution, 285 Revolutionary War soldiers, and the first ringer of the Liberty Bell. For the most part, burials ceased in 1830.

Why is the Rev. George Duffield statue here?

During 2015, I had noticed the slow transition from tree to patriot, but I had no idea what the final product was to be. For many years prior, I noticed that the big tree on the west side of the church yard was pushing on the black iron fence and bowing the old stone wall. At some point, it looked as though the tree might fall onto Pine Street and destroy the wall, fence, and sidewalk. A minor disaster, this would have been, especially if the church were to lose the beautiful cast and wrought iron fence, which dates back to 1835. The fence is now off level and bowed, however, as you can see from the photo above.
Detail of fence of Old Pine Street Church

Around the summer of 2015 I noticed the tree had been cut down - except for it's tall trunk. As the months went by, I noticed changes to that trunk (I live in the area, so I see it quite often). First off, it appeared to be burnt, charred! Then, no, it had been painted black! I finally stopped in the fall of 2015 when I realized that it had been carved into the likeness of a person. Recently I stopped by to investigate further.

Placard on fence of Old Pine Street Church

The church had commissioned sculptor Roger Wing to carve a larger-than-life-sized statue of a bible-toting Rev. George Duffield out of the Norway maple tree trunk! He wears the vehement expression you would expect of a Revolutionary-era patriot engaging his congregation, inciting them to revolt against the King of England. The description of his oratory prowess in this article is interesting:

"Though Duffield is buried within the church rather than in the churchyard, his likeness in battlefield pose is fitting. On those grounds are interred 285 veterans of the Revolutionary War, men who likely heard Duffield's fiery battlefield sermons in person." - In Society Hill, a Revolutionary War minister emerges from a stump

Roger Wing's masterful carving of Duffield
In the same article, sculptor Roger Wing's work on this project is described in fascinating detail. When I read that he also sculpts ice, I realized he was the fellow I met at the beginning of February, 2016, creating ice sculptures at an art benefit. Turns out, Roger Wing and I are both members of InLiquid, a non-profit art and design organization based in Philadelphia. At InLiquid's 16th annual Benefit Auction in February, Roger was sculpting ice with a chainsaw in front of the Crane Arts Building (Fishtown section of Philadelphia). My six-year old daughter and I watched him work in rapt fascination.

The Duffield maple tree likely has its roots entangled in the iron fence and wall of the churchyard, so it probably would have been impossible to remove the tree without destroying the fence. In a sense, the Reverend George Duffield continues to support his church, physically, 200 years after his death! The statue is a very fitting memorial to Duffield, and our patriotic, forefathers in general. The statue was dedicated on November 18, 2016. Stop by and see this memorial to our nation's birth - to liberty - on Pine Street in Philadelphia, midway between Fourth and Fifth Streets.