A Memento Returns

By Rosalind Remer

A few years ago, I encountered an Englishman named Cory Luxmoore who was in Philadelphia with a remarkable mission. Luxmoore is a direct descendant of James Logan, William Penn’s secretary and the most powerful man in Pennsylvania during the early 18th century, and he decided that certain rare items passed down to him ought to be brought back to the Philadelphia area and given to institutions like Stenton (Logan’s home in Germantown) and the Library Company of Philadelphia (which houses Logan’s library). One of the items, a gold pocket watch, was something of a puzzle. Luxmoore knew it came from the other side of his family—the Armat side—but what seemed odd about the watch was what was tucked inside. In the case of the watch were two tiny, hand-drawn pictures, labeled, in minute handwriting, “Bethlehem Church” and “Bethlehem Seminary,” and plainly depicting Central Moravian Church and the Brethren’s House.

Knowing little about the Moravians or what they might have to do with his ancestors, Luxmoore was unsure what local institution might be the best home for the watch. This piqued my curiosity and prompted a few visits to area archives. With the help of Mark Turdo ’97 and Susan Dreydoppel ’74, curator and executive director of the Moravian Historical Society, I found out a little about the mysterious watch. In the process, we found a new home for this treasure and unearthed some interesting information about the precursor of Moravian College for Women, two of its students, and and its unusually compassionate treatment of the handicapped in the early 19th century.

In the fall of 1798 Anna Yates Wistar, the wife of Thomas Wright Armat, gave birth to their second child, a girl they named Jane. Jane’s sister, Sara, was a year and a half older. The parents, who were both only 22 when Jane was born, were from substantial Philadelphia families. Thomas’s father, Thomas Armat, born in Cumberland, England, in 1748, had emigrated to the colonies in the 1760s and become a wealthy, prominent dry goods merchant during the Revolution. By the time his granddaughters were born, the elder Thomas had survived four wives. He and his fifth lived in Germantown in a fine townhouse on Market Square.

At about the time of baby Jane’s arrival, Thomas and his son began to build a villa in Germantown, something well-to-do Philadelphians sometimes did in their quest for summer housing away from the bustle and deadly summer epidemics of the city. The house, called Loudoun, sits high on a rise, with a commanding view of the Schuylkill River and the city below. It was completed in 1801, and for a few years, the young family and the grandparents enjoyed the house during the hot Philadelphia summers.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Thomas Wright Armat made his living as a merchant in Philadelphia. Unlike his father, however, who lived to the ripe age of 82, young Thomas never even saw middle age. He died in 1806, leaving his widow with their two girls, then aged 8 and 10. His widow moved in with the girls’ grandparents in Germantown.

There is ample evidence that the girls were very close to their grandparents. Even in his accounts, it is clear that Thomas doted on the girls, buying them all sorts of treats, bonnets, ribbons, dresses, musical instruments, and books.

The girls’ mother died suddenly in 1809, leaving the children in their grandparents’ custody. A few months later, Thomas decided to send Jane and Sara, now 12 and 14, to board at the Moravian Ladies’ Seminary at Bethlehem. The account books for the school record the tuition paid by their grandfather, the art supplies, books, and other incidentals they acquired while boarding there.

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Unfinished miniature of Jane Armat, c. 1819.
Jane's embroidered mourning picture in memory of her parents.
Photos: Courtesy of Cory and
Kate Luxmoore.