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"Some Really Old Things"

A.W. Cissel

The legal definition of an antique is anything over a hundred years old. This dividing line was legislated to provide a basis limit for Customs and Tax officials, but it covers a lot of territory. Many of us have items in our household that we cherish as "old" by any definition great grandmother's quilt, a heirloom set of china, Civil War relics or the old family bible.

Probably the oldest bible in Frederick County was mentioned in the late 19th century newspapers as belonging to Daniel Saylor, whose ancestor of the same name brought it from Switzerland in 1725. Written in German, it bore the publication date of MDLXXI (for those of you who have forgotten your Roman numerals, that translates to 1571).

When Thurmont held its Bi-Centennial celebration in 1951, the town attics and cupboards turned up some items associated with its early residents. They included a 1797 receipt from Daniel Rouzer's tannery and some iron hooks' and implements stamped with "J.W.B.S" for Jacob Weller BlackSmith or "B.F' for Benjamin Firor. A sample of the beautiful coverlets woven by Jacob Gemand, 19th century wedding dresses, beaver hats and firebacks dating from the early years of the Catoctin Furnace were all displayed in various storefronts.

Many of us keep old newspapers as a memento of an important or historic event that touched our lives. While our own personal collection might include the newspaper announcing the end of World War II or the assassination of President Kennedy, our ancestors memorialized the same kind of event. Recently the Historical Society received the gift of a newspaper dated January 4, 1800 recording the burial of Gen. George Washington, who had died in late December, 1799. This newspaper, from Kingston in Ulster County, New York, was preserved by a family to somehow find its way to Thurmont, Maryland.

But the strangest, probably most mysterious, example of how antique documents are dispersed around the world concerns a parchment discovered at Mount St. Mary's College in 1996. This item was the oldest written paper I have ever seen outside of amuseum. Rolled up in a cardboard tube was a well-preserved document measuring nearly two feet, square. Beautiful, baseball-sized wax seals depicting a seated figure and church-like building were still attached by the original ribbons. This parchment was covered with Latin writing, but a few phrases were easily read, including the date of 1566 and that it was given under the authority of "Elizabeth Regina" or Queen Elizabeth (the first).

Barbara Miles, the archivist at the Mount, had the document translated by Latin scholars which revealed that it was a Charter for the town of Winton, England as given by Robert Bishop of Winton. The Charter established the town council, its duties and terms of office. It set the date that token payment to the Bishop would be made on the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel. This charter has since been presented to the Episcopal Bishop of Baltimore as representative successor in America to the Church of England of Queen Elizabeth's days. At 430-plus years, it is the oldest Anglican/Episcopal church document in America.

The mystery is, how did it get to the attic of Mount St. Mary's? The ships "Ark" and the "Dove" carrying the first settlers of Maryland did not arrive until 1633. The earliest officials and clergy of Maryland were Catholic, not Anglican. The Mount was not established until 1808. Was the parchment somehow acquired as an oddity by one of the early priests of the Mount who were natives of, or traveled to, France, Russia and Italy? I'm afraid we shall never know the answers.

If you have any Information or historical news clippings on events in the Thurmont Area, Please send them to us so we can included them in our archives. E-mail us at: history@mythurmont.net