A Link With The Old Peale Museum

By: Henry Usher Hall

Originally Published in 1925

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Three years ago, in searching the accession book of the old Peale Museum, which is preserved among the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s collections of manuscripts, for entries relating to the ethnographical material formerly in the possession of that museum, I came upon an entry of quite another kind, which, as posing a curious psychological problem, and for the associations it evoked with an old tragedy as well as for the unconsciously ironic moral with which the story was tagged in the best style of old fashioned moralisings on horrible and excellent examples, seemed to me worthy of being better known. The recent death of Mr. John Cadwalader, an eighteenth century member of whose family was indirectly, and came within an ace of being immediately, involved in the tragedy, has made the present occasion seem a fitting one for publishing the story; the more so as another regretted member of the Museum Board, the late Mr. S. W. Colton, Jr., was connected by marriage with the family of the founder of the Peale or Philadelphia Museum and as one of the two principal actors in the drama belonged to a family a contemporary member of which, Mr. E. Marshall Scull, is now a member of the Board.

I am indebted for much interesting information concerning Charles Willson Peale and his museum to Mr. Horace Wells Sellers, a direct descendant of the artist, and to his nephew, Dr. Harold Sellers Colton, who has embodied a part of Mr. Sellers’s treasure of information about the original Philadelphia Museum and its distinguished founder in a paper published in The Popular Science Monthly for September, 1909. Thanks are also due to Dr. T. L. Montgomery, Librarian of the Historical Society, for permission to publish the excerpts in question from the accession book of the Museum.

Before the days of specialized museums, these institutions were repositories of articles of an extremely miscellaneous nature, and it is therefore not surprising to find among the entries in the accession book such items of widely varying interest as, for example: “A Funeral Sermon Written and Preached by Arthur Jackson, Pastor of St. Michael’s, Wood Street, London, Ano. Dom. 1641. Presented by Ph. Thickness Tuchett”; and preceding this at no great interval occupied by various entries chiefly of a zoological interest, “The Finger of Mr. Broliman. . . ,” which is the crux of our concern and which gives occasion to the writer of the brief history of Mr. Broliman which accompanies the entry to wind up his narrative with a tabloid sermon in a vein which would assuredly have delighted the heart of the amateur with the name of such curiously illusory Puritan flavour who so generously enriched the Museum with what must have been to him a most cherished treasure. For Wood Street is a mine for moralisers. “At the corner of Wood Street ” Wordsworth hung a caged thrush which for the sentimental reflections it furnished him is almost worthy to rank with a more famous starling. There is no means that I know of of ascertaining whether Mr. Thickness Tuchett had read “Poor Susan”; but it is quite certain that the Reverend Arthur Jackson must have known that the church he preached in contained the burial of the head of the Scots monarch who fell at Flodden; that another, this one a Sassenach king, held court, by tradition, at the end of the street where now haberdashers rule; that the church of a colleague in the same thoroughfare, St. Alban’s, was the traditional chapel of another still earlier ruler, and also the last resting place of one who was commemorated for his dire, even sans-culotte, poverty in a famous macaronic epitaph. Here are accidents, mortal to the mighty, and shining contrasts providentially ready to the tongue of the funerary orator. If prophetic vision of the tradesmen who might have contributed to the decent shrouding of Tom Short-hose and who now traffic in the razed courts of kings failed the Reverend Arthur Jackson, one feels certain that no compunctions about stealing the thunder of the incumbent of St. Alban’s can have kept some sounding tropes on the vanity of kingly pomp and the echoes of the levelling tread of death out of the manuscript of the sermon preached in Wood Street nearly three hundred years ago. Death and haberdashers level all. This by the way.

The Philadelphia Museum of Charles Willson Peale was, considering its date and in spite of the inevitable burden of unsuitable material it had to carry, a real museum established and maintained at the expense on the part of its founder of what would otherwise have been, materially, a highly successful artistic career; for he devoted to its upkeep his considerable earnings as a talented portrait painter who had studied under Copley and West. His first interest was in natural history, and he made a noteworthy and not unsuccessful effort to present specimens in a manner which was intended to combine a popular with a scientific interest. Founded in 1785, Peale’s was the earliest museum, properly so called, in America, and in two important respects pointed the way to modern practice in the matter of the presentation of zoological specimens: these were associated with painted backgrounds illustrating the habitat of the living animals; and skins were not merely stuffed but were mounted on a wooden framework carved in imitation of the muscle covered bony structure of the beasts in question. If the institution could have survived in the form which he contemplated for it of a national museum, it would have embodied a not unworthy memorial to a man whose highest ambitions were those of service to his country, for which he bore arms, and to science, on whose behalf he sacrificed his own material welfare.

The passages which contain the story referred to are taken from the entries in Peale’s accession book under the date January 31st, 1810. It will be seen that they embody two versions of the story which is attached to the gruesome relic “presented” to the Museum “by Mr. Plumstead in the year 1790, July,” to quote the memorandum appended to the entry. The first version, ending with the words “desired he might be pardoned,” omits mention of the name of Dr. Cadwalader, who is presumably the person there mentioned whom Bruliman refrained from killing because of the absence of witnesses. It is evidently taken from a newspaper account of the date September 4th, 1760. On this assumption the date of the execution of the murderer. “the 8th of October” must have been interpolated at the time when the entry was made in the accession book. An account which, with one important exception only, differs from the first version only in slight verbal changes, is quoted in an article clipped from a newspaper and stuck on to a blank page following the text of a little book which is to be found in the library of the Historical Society, entitled ” Genealogical Notes Relating to the Family of Scull.” This is a compilation of G. D. Scull, privately printed in 1876. The newspaper in question is apparently the Sunday Dispatch. The date, August 2d, appears on the clipping without the year, which, it will be seen, is probably one not earlier than 1876. The article is by G. D. S[cull}, and the account in question is cited from The Gentleman’s Magazine. The exception referred to consists in the insertion of the following passage, introducing the name of Dr. Cadwalader: “He then went out and met Dr. Cadwalader, who spoke to him so politely that it quite turned him from his purpose against him.” This sentence takes the place of the passage in the Peale accession book beginning with the words “He then went alone . . .” and ending “. . . he let the man pass.” The (Philadelphia) Gentleman’s Magazine was not founded until a date many years later than the commission of the crime and considerably later than the date of the entry in the accession book. The versions, therefore, contained in the entry are both much nearer in time to the event; the second version is copied “from the Old Catalogue,” and is presumably of the same date as that of the donation of the relic by Plumstead, July, 1790. Plumstead’s interest in the story must have been immediate, since the relic was in his possession, and, his evidence, which is responsible for the earlier introduction of Dr. Cadwalader’s name, is as nearly first-hand as the documents available supply; besides which it has the circumstantial picturesqueness which one would naturally expect from an early account of an event which must have made no small stir in a small community, and was no doubt an almost literal report of testimony heard in court. The article by G. D. S. is entitled “The Scull Family of Pennsylvania,” and it enables us to confirm the Christian name, Robert, of the Scull of Peale and Plumstead. The Dr. Cadwalader in question may be further particularized as Thomas Cadwalader. He lives before us in the few terse phrases of the old manuscript, a genial, courteous, and lively personality, whose pleasant address was an expression of a cordial spirit behind it, genuine enough to disarm a desperate man whose mind was charged with the gloom of a fatal purpose as his gun was already charged with the fate of another innocent instrument of his own ultimate and foreseen destruction. The entrance of the Doctor involves an example of dramatic irony that would have delighted the heart of Dickens or Shakespeare. It is truly dramatic in arising so naturally and inevitably out of the visible circumstances, ironic in the greeting unconsciously prophetic, in circumstances ostensibly trivial and indifferent, of a tragic dénoument. ” What sport?” What quarry ?—rather. One the farthest from your cheerful and unsuspicious thoughts: yourself even; or one of the careless pliers of cues over there at the Centre House across the commons.

The passages which follow are quoted verbatim from the manuscript, presumably written by Peale, with a few changes in spelling and punctuation only. The name of the murderer-suicide appears in two different forms. The account attributed by G. D. S. to The Gentleman’s Magazine gives a third, Bruluman.

Philadelphia, Sept. 4, 1760.

1810, Jan. 31. — On Wednesday, August 27th, Mr. Robert Scull of this place, with some company, was playing at Billiards, when one Mr. Bruliman, lately an officer in the Royal American Regment, was present; who, without the least provocation, levelled a loaded gun he had with him, and shot Mr. Scull through the body as he was going to strike his ball, for which he was afterwards tried and on the 8th of October executed. He was by trade a silversmith; which business he left and went into the army, where he was an officer in the Royal American Regiment, but was discharged on being detected in counterfeiting, or writing1 counterfeit money. He then returned to Philadelphia, and growing insupportable to himself and yet being unwilling to put an end to his life, he determined upon the commission of some crime for which he might get hanged by the law. Having formed his design, he loaded his gun with a brace of balls and asked his landlord to go a-shooting with him, intending to murder him before his return; but his landlord, not choosing to go, escaped the danger. He then went alone and on the way met a man, whom he was about to kill, but, recollecting that there was no witness to prove him guilty, he let the man pass. He then went to a public house, where he drank some liquor; and, hearing people at billiards in a room above stairs, he went up and sat down with them and was talkative, facetious, and seemingly good humoured. After some time he called to the landlord and desired him to hang up the gun. Mr. Scull, who was at play, having struck his antagonist’s ball into one of the pockets, Bruliman said to him: “Sir, you are a good marksman and now I’ll show you a fine stroke.” He immediately levelled his piece and took aim at Mr. Scull, who imagined him in jest, and shot the balls through his body. He then went up to Mr. Scull, who did not expire nor lose his senses till a considerable time after, and said to him: “Sir, I have no malice against you, for I never saw you before; but I was determined to kill somebody that I might be hanged, and you happen to be the man—and you are a very likely young man. I am sorry for your misfortune.” Mr. Scull had time to send for his friends and make his will. He forgave his murderer and, if it could be done, desired he might be pardoned.

The following is taken from the Old Catalogue:2 471 is The Finger of Mr. Broliman, a provincial officer in the British Service in the war before the last.3 He was executed at Philadelphia for the murder of a Mr. Scull. This unfortunate gentleman became weary of life.

In this temper of mind he one morning rose earlier than usual and walked out upon the commons of this city with his fusee in hand, determined to shoot the first person he should meet.

The first person he saw was a pretty young girl, whose beauty disarmed him. The next person presented was the late Dr. Cad-walader. The Doctor bowing politely to Mr. Broliman, who, though unknown to him, had the garb of a gentleman, accosted him with, “Good morning, Sir. What sport?” The officer answered the Doctor very civilly and was so struck with his gentlemanly manners and pleasing address that he forebore to execute his desperate resolution. Impelled, however, by the same gloominess of disposition which actuated him when he first set out, [he] repaired to the Centre House, where some gentlemen were engaged at billiards. The sack of one of the players happening to strike his hat, the wretched man, eager for an opportunity of accomplishing his desire to leave the world, instantly shot Mr. Scull, one of the company, who died of the wound.
This little story offers a striking proof, that amiableness and politeness of manners are not only pleasing but useful in our commerce with the world.

Presented [i. e. the finger]
by Mr. Plumstead in the
year 1790, July.

If the writer of these entries had been a fair minded person he could hardly have failed to observe that a pretty face also is not only pleasing, but useful in our commerce with the world. The irony that attends the dramatic interest of the story has already been referred to. The inherent sarcasm of the whole situation comes out with no less force like the ghastly humour that identifies the motive of the murder with the function of the law.

1 The Gentleman’s Magazine has “uttering,” which may be a gloss intended to secure conformity to the legal usage of terms.
2 These arc the words which, in the MS., precede version No. 2.
3 This, having originally been written in 1790, presumably on the information of Mr. Plumstead, the donor of the relic, refers to the American extension of the Seven Years’ War.

Cite This Article

Hall, Henry Usher. "A Link With The Old Peale Museum." The Museum Journal XVI, no. 1 (March, 1925): 64-69. Accessed February 21, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/journal/1308/

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