Saturday, May 20, 2006

David Mull

This will be long, but I promise it will be rewarding.

I've been waiting quite some time to write this post. It gives me an odd mixture of pleasure and sadness to have finally reached a point where I can write it: pleasure because a rather long and convoluted bit of detective work has finally paid off; but I admit to a touch of melancholy because now the journey is over and I no longer have the thrill of discovery to look forward to.

Some fifty yards southeast of my house, in woods so thick that you can't pass through them in the summer when the undergrowth is dense (not to mention tick- and snake-ridden) stands this pile of stones:

Note the lack of mortar. This is quite an old thing. It was the first thing that attracted me to this place when we were house-hunting two springs ago: who wouldn't be intrigued by a ruined chimney-stack like this? Just how old was it? What had stood here? What stories did it have to tell?

Then and there I resolved to find out exactly who had built it, and when. This, then, was the mystery I set for myself, the one that I am now with confidence able to say I have solved.

The first thing I was able to determine was that the log-cabin portion of my house once belonged to that chimney-stack. The cabin was disassembled and moved uphill fifty yards and reassembled over an 1870s foundation, where it stands today:

The interior was completely renovated in 1991 when the rest of the house was radically remodeled, and this is what it looks like today. (This has nothing to do with the detective story; I just love this room so much that I never resist a chance to show it off):

Since I am sure that the timbers from the old cabin are the ones that now constitute my walls (measurements of foundation-stones taken from the old site fit these timbers perfectly), I am also sure that the person who erected that old chimney made these adze marks on the logs:

(It's a German technique, brought over in the eighteenth century. You don't want cylindrical-log walls: That's trashy. Your walls should be flat, like the genteel people who live in the nice houses have. Secure the log so it won't move. Take your adze -- an ax with the head set perpendicular to the handle, looks a little like a rather deadly hoe -- chop-chop-chop into the log surface a few inches, then with a two-handled draw-knife you remove the chips made by the adze. What you're left with is what you see in the picture above: a nice flat, squared-off surface, but with adze-marks left over where you struck too deeply. For a very detailed discussion of German log-cabin construction techniques, see this Ph.D. thesis summary. The log cabin photographed and discussed on that page is just on the other side of Short Hill, about half a mile as the crow flies.)

So who was this guy, and when did he make those adze marks?

At the County Courthouse, whenever I had some minutes to spare on my commute home, I would stop in an make a pest of myself in the Land Records Room. I worked my way back through increasingly older deeds until I hit a brick wall in the 1870s --right when the cabin was moved uphill. The trail became very convoluted at that point, and I gave up trying to mine that frustrating vein.

My friend and neighbor Tom Bullock is earning a degree in historical preservation. Toward this aim, he's doing a mindbendingly detailed map of the farm properties around Lovettsville, with overlays going back in time: Here's how the property lines looked in 1890, here's how they looked in 1860, and so forth. He's reaching some very interesting and surprising conclusions about rural life in this part of Virginia a hundred, two hundred years ago, but that's a topic for another post. What's relevant here is that one day he excitedly told me he'd found an original name to associate with my property:

David Mull.

You see, Tom had hit on the fiendishly clever expedient of going back to the original Piedmont land grants from Lord Fairfax's time (the 1740s-80s) and working forward in time rather than trying to work backward, as I had been doing. (Fairfax, you may recall, was the fat-cat whose enormous Shannondale and Piedmont grants were surveyed by the young George Washington. He got a whole county named after him.) Almost immediately Tom found a deed of sale of 108 acres from Fairfax to Mull. The plat showed it clearly encompassing what is now my eight acres.

The deed is dated 1775.

Now if you take that plat and overlay it on a modern USGS topographical map, something very interesting becomes immediately clear. There are three colonial-era farmhouses on my road -- mine and two others. Mine lies comfortably in the southwest corner of that 108-acre plat. Only one of the other two lies within it. The one that lies outside belonged to Robert Booth (which is today Mousetrap Farm, an utterly charming house a half-mile away whose very kind owner has us over for swimming parties in the summer). The other is -- well. I'm getting ahead of myself. That's another post.

On the strength of the evidence, it was nearly incontrovertibly David Mull's hardy adze who made those marks on my wall sometime soon after 1775. But who was he? What did he do for a living? What did he like for breakfast? Was he kind to animals? Where did he come from? The answers to these questions seemed hopelessly out of reach. For a long time, I had only this brief and frustrating mention in Eugene Scheel's Loudoun Discovered (Vol. 5):
During the 1760s, the Reverend Charles Lange, Reformed pastor in Frederick [Md.], shepherded the Reformed [Lutheran] congregation in Loudoun. His diary entries of 1767 note that he visited the German Settlement [i.e., Lovettsville]...and administered the Lord's Supper (Communion) to 35, among them Conrad Hickerman, David Edelman, David Moll, and Frank Ritchie.
Assuming the "Moll" to be an alternate spelling, this might mean that Mull was one of the German (i.e., Pennsylvania Dutch) squatters who migrated south in the 1730s and '40s from Lancaster County, Pa., and founded what is today known as Lovettsville. But no guarantees.

I found his will, dated 1794, in the Old Records Room. Handwriting analysts among you should be warned: The will says explicitly that Mull was "very sick and weak but of perfect mind and memory" when he put this signature on the document:

"Daid Mooll." Hey: his son had to sign his own will with an X. Those were not literate times. (Oh, wait, that's right. Those were perhaps the most literate times the world has ever known or ever will again.) Well. Not literate times for Pennsylvania Dutch squatters, anyway.

But yesterday, light finally dawned. I caught the old reprobate!

Having ankled into the Thomas Balch Library in Leesburg (the definitive genealogical repository for Northern Virginia, a place where among a certain antediluvian and highly remunerated set, Breeding and Quality are highly prized), I inquired of the librarian on duty if she had within her databases any record of Mr. Mull's existence.


Two requests for information on Mull had come in from the Indiana area in the last twenty years, sent by descendants researching their roots. The more informative of the two included an excerpt from their family tree. Here, then, is an aggregated summary of what I now know about David Mull:

He was born in Germany in 1731 and came to Lancaster County, Pa., in 1740, at the tender age of nine years, as an indentured servant. His original name was Muhle, but he changed the spelling and pronunciation to the Scottish-sounding Mull. It is not known when he married Margaret, but it is likely that he met her in Lancaster County before he migrated south to Lovettsville. He would have worked off his indenture in seven years, earning his freedom at the age of 16 in 1747. Some ten years earlier, a squabble had arisen over the exact placement and nature of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, resulting in a "reconaissance in force" by Lancaster County troopers against Marylanders. (This conflict pointed up the need for an accurate survey of that border, which led to the employment of surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, who drew the Mason-Dixon Line.) A faction of Pennsylvania Dutch of Lancaster County resolved to escape the violence and decamped for Loudoun County, where they founded the German Settlement along the banks of Dutchman's Creek, a tributary to the Potomac. Mull was too young to have been among the earliest arrivals, but may have heard of greener pastures from those who had left. David and Margaret came to the German Settlement in 1757, both aged 26. Eighteen years later, during which they were most likely squatting on Lord Fairfax's Piedmont Estate, David bought land at the foot of Short Hill Mountain from Fairfax -- perhaps even the very land they'd been squatting on -- that was bracketed by two branches of Dutchman's Creek.

Through the sheer, indomitable force of his will, he cleared the ancient forest from that mountainside (it's since returned, in droves), built that chimney from native stone, and erected my cabin. He sired two sons and two daughters -- George, David Jr., Rachal and Modlain -- and died in 1794, having watched, I can't help but believe with approval, the birth of the United States of America.

(Later edit: Commenter Will Divide points out that in 1757, the year the Mulls split for greener pastures in Lovettsville, "Shawnee/French war parties from as far as Ohio were raiding settlements, killing, kidnapping and burning farms in eastern Pennsylvania to within 50 miles of Philadelphia. DM and his new bride could well have been fleeing that nightmare." Yes! The 1722 Treaty of St. Albans had pushed the local aboriginals west of the Blue Ridge -- they are conspicuously absent from Lovettsville history. "Come on down to these rich lands south of the Potomac, where we all speak German and that nasty Seven Years' War is a distant rumor," you can easily imagine the letter to Lancaster County reading...)

He and Margaret lie now in this beautiful spot, under a headstone appropriate for a prosperous Lovettsville farmer:

Here's his footstone:

The dedicatory inscription on his headstone has sadly worn away, but the particulars are still legible: Departed this life December 27 1794, aged 63 years, 7 months, 22 days. Margaret outlived him by seven years, having survived to see the new century. Tom Bullock has found evidence that she ran a distillery, for which I can't help but express my approval.

David and Margaret, I raise my glass to your memory. The fruits of your labors are safe in my hands, and I will respect them and preserve them as long as life flows through my veins.


Linkmeister said...

I don't know how to say it; that's just amazing. We were the first inhabitants of our house in Fairfax County; it was one of thousands developed in the early 1960s (right behind Bradlick Shopping Center). I certainly knew of older homes around; Manassas isn't all that far away. But still...

So are you going to try to find out which side his descendants fought on in the (pick one: War of Northern Aggression; Civil War; War Between the States)?

Ronzoni Rigatoni said...

I couldn't begin to describe the area as well, but we share some common ground here. My poor dauighter lived in Winchester for a couple of years before I rescued her, moving her back to her beloved Florida. But Florida has no such history except for the fact that I was born at the head of US 19 (Erie, PA) and fully intend to die at the foot of it (Palmetto, FL), some 1200 miles distance as partially measured by one G. Washington some years back. I am also impressed by the fact that the French folx built a number of forts along this route which are memorialized by the names of some towns and local beers (DuBois, Duquesne, LeBeouf, Presque Isle, &c.). The wines produced in this area were denigrated by a feller named T. Jefferson, who felt that the native concord grapes produced a brew far to rough for his own delicate palate, much preferring the imported French versions. And lest we forget, our own class warfare began here with the rebellion of Pennsylvania's farmers against the whiskey taxes imposed by Mr. Washington's new Federal Gummint (we made bourbon whiskey long before Dan'l Boone kilt his b'ar in Kentuck). The ghosts of Fennimore Cooper's Mohicans still haunt the region.

Kevin Wolf said...

Much better reading of a Sunday morning than anything in the lame Boston Globe.

Thanks, Neddie.

Matt said...

Wonderful post, Neddie.

A Big Fat Slob said...

There is something wonderful about being able to touch those marks left by a hand so long ago and then to discover just who made them.

When I visit old sites, historical or otherwise, I love being able to place my hand directly against a table or wall or pathway used, over hundreds of years, by people long gone, just as I use them now.

It reminds me that the only difference between them and us is the acquisitions we've made over the years. It helps wash off the hubris and condecension so widely adopted by contemporaries when looking at "primitive" societies, and reminds us that they'll come a time when our society will be the "primitive" one.

Thanks for the story, but thanks more for preserving that wonderful room.

helmut said...

Another lovely post, Ned. And a lovely place you have.

Bobby Lightfoot said...

This kicks more ass than a three-legged man in an asskicking contest. This drives a sharper, thicker, longer, more curare-soaked blade into the heart of The Man than any god damn thing.

These fucking people would have had W swinging from a well-earned branch 'bout two weeks into his first term.

Akatabi said...

Brings to mind a scene from Jan Troell's The Emigrants (1971) where Max von Sydow, after much travail and refusal to compromise, keeps pushing on to frontier Minnesota and finds the ideal place to settle - idyllic meadow with big spreading tree. Max outs with his axe, chops in his initials as staking his claim, then luxuriously splays out under the tree for a well-earned nap. I expect David Mull did similar after all that adze-work. Mull's history, curated by Neddie, makes a different light upon all the current xenophobia.

H. Rumbold, Master Barber

Will Divide said...

1757 saw also the French Indian war (known long after as Washington's war, named for that hotheaded Virginia captain who started it near Fort Duquesne). Shawnee/French war parties from as far as Ohio were raiding settlements, killing, kidnapping and burning farms in eastern Pennsylvania to within 50 miles of Philadelphia. DM and his new bride could well have been fleeing that nightmare.

Well done, son.

nash said...

I enjoy your excavations into local history, Neddie. I grew up mostly in suburbs -- towns often younger than I am. It wasn't until I went to college in Atlanta that I lived in a place that had any sense of history. I still remember one of the apartment complexes I lived in there: the outside wall of the rental office sported a historical plaque which informed passersby that that spot (on high ground northeast of the city proper) had been a trade-and-communication post for native tribes for centuries -- and that people fleeing Sherman's wrath had paused there and watched Atlanta burn in 1864. I still remember the thrill I got when I first read that -- the sense of connection to people who no longer draw breath, and of the temporariness of my own time.

Do you mind if I join you in that toast?

Categorical Aperitif

Neddie said...

Will: WOW! Yes, of course that could have been a factor! The 1722 Treaty of St. Albans had pushed the the aboriginal peoples (blanking on the tribe name -- left my books at home) west of the Blue Ridge, two valleys west, some twenty years before Pennsylvania Dutch began to migrate south from Lancaster County. Conspicuously absent from any early accounts of Lovettsville is any mention of conflict with Indians.

Look at this map:

It's quite astonishing how close Forts Necessity and Duquesne are to Loudoun County -- right on the other side of the Cumberland Gap. Whole new areas of research suggest themselves. Thanks for the tip!

Editing post accordingly.

Highlander said...

I confess to disappointment. Not with the fabulously fascinating and (as usual) wonderfully written entry, but, well, with the denoument, as it were. See, I'd expected this would turn out to be one of those tales where it would end up that YOU were the fellow you'd been tracking down all along, somehow transported back in time and then joined in matrimony to some local Indian princess, thus launching an alternate timeline where whites and reds lived together in harmony and George HW Bush was never born. O lucky paratime, indeed! But no. You had to wimp out on me. Where's a damn good paradox when we need one? Nowhere, that's where.

Anonymous said...

Nice pic of the hand-hewn surface on that log

I don't agree with your description of how it was produced, though. The tool marks themselves tell the story. More likely the log was scored across the grain with the felling axe (the same double-bevel axe that cut the tree down), then squared with a broadaxe (a single-bevel axe with a very wide cutting edge). This was the traditional way to square large timbers for many hundreds of years, and is still used by woodworkers who use traditional hand tools. When used on a green (freshly cut) log, it is by far the quickest and easiest way to produce the desired result. The Amish are one group that still use this technique regularly, and traditional wooden boatbuilders and timber-framers occasionally do the same

An adze is normally used as a finishing tool and very much unsuited to roughing out as you describe. Just not an efficient way to go about the job. Quite possible the surface of the squared log was cleaned up with an adze, though - mostly to leave a smoother surface in spots that the broadaxe couldn't deal with effectively

There is the slight possibility that the logs were scored with the felling axe and then brought to a flat surface with an adze, but that would've definitely been doing it the hard way - maybe if Mr. Moll simply didn't have a broadaxe at all (hard to imagine IMHO). An adze just can't take anywhere near as big a chip as a broadaxe can, and it's a damned dangerous tool to be used for a light cut, much less heavy stock removal like you describe

Can't say I've ever seen or heard of a drawknife used in the way you describe. They were (and still are) normally used on Much smaller work - barrel staves, tool handles and such.

Otherwise, I enjoyed your article and pics immensely, and compliment you on both your historical research and the fact that you put in the effort to save a venerable part of your local landscape. That cabin was obviously built to last - the squared timbers are proof of that - and having an appreciative owner bringing it back to a useful life is a far better fate than being demolished, as so many have been over the years

Best Regards,
Crazy Pete

Neddie said...

Yo, Crazy Pete:

Thanks for the comment! The information about squaring the timbers, and the tools used, came from the Ph.D. thesis I referred to in the post:

(That's just the Extract; the thesis itself is 800 pages long, and less than completely fascinating reading.)

I think you and its author, Christopher Fennell, have a lot to talk about. I'll sit quietly in the corner and Absorb.

Neddie said...

Crazy Pete: A couple more things.

1) Thanks for the compliments about saving the cabin, but the praise belongs to the guy who sold it to me, not me. They did a beautiful job, but all I did was plunk down some mortgage money. I'd love to take credit for it, but no.

2) I've examined these marks on the logs with your comments in mind, and I'm convinced they weren't done by an axe of any sort. As I look over my shoulder at the nearest log, the marks I'm looking at were done by somebody straddling the log and hitting downward with a blade that was perpendicular to the tool's handle, across the grain. The cuts are all angled into the wood at about a 30-degree angle away from the hitter -- exactly as if you'd hit it with a sharpened hoe. What's more, the entry-point of the blade is curved across the grain, concave from the point of view of the tool-wielder. Couldn't be clearer to me: Adze. I'll send you photos if you want to see.

cd said...

OMG! What now?

Anonymous said...

It's really a minor point not worth quibbling about in the long run. There's support for both interpretations - including the thesis summary that you linked in the original post

" The tools likely used for constructing such cross-notched log houses included: a broad axe and a double bit axe for felling trees and squaring off sides of the timbers, a draw knife or adze for removing bark from a hewn log's top and bottom, a froe and froe club for splitting shingles, whipsaws for cutting boards, and a peavey, cant hook or lug hook for rolling logs and leveraging hand-hewn timbers into place (Meehan 1980; Willis 1972). Many of the tools for such log construction were likely possessed by most farmers"

There's a good possibility we're both right - timbers cut roughly square with the broadaxe and then finished smooth with an adze. The adze would, of course, have left the final finished surface - a series of very shallow concave surfaces approximating a flat plane - wavy to the touch

I did manage to find a decent pic of the 'conventional' method of squaring timbers here:

Along with a reasonably well illustrated webpage:

As far as the 'proper' use of an adze goes, this pic isn't too far off:

I've seen other ways of doing it, all of which are extremely awkward and seem to have one thing in common - the desire to avoid taking the chip close to one's feet. The only thing is, there's plenty of written documentary evidence for the 'normal' way - standing on the flat top surface of the log and taking the chip directly under the leading foot!

I've heard it said that it was once a point of pride for a skilled adzeman to be able to split the leather of his boot sole without touching his toes in the process. Not likely a farmer would risk a stunt like that, but perhaps a man who used the tool every day - hewing railroad ties, for instance - might try it for a bet

Obviously, in these days of lawsuits for making another party pay for your own stupidity and/or lack of skill, the 'traditional way' is going to be highly discouraged, leading to some of the other ways I've seen recommended to use this particular tool - cross-grain along the side of the timber, straddling the timber like the British fellow in the above pic, or even (in one especially laughable example) with the log propped up on to one corner and taking the cut at a 45degree angle

Yep, the adze was a tool that took All of your attention All the time. The best saying I ever heard regarding it's use was this one:

"The day you lose your fear of this tool is the day it'll bite you"

Amen to that

Best Regards,
Crazy Pete

digger5x5 said...

Are there adze marks on the outside of the logs as well? Perhaps the interior was done for appearance(adze)and the exterior for convenience(axe)?

Just a thought.

Todd's Santa-In-Law

Neddie said...

Dale 5x5 Santa:

Just looked. The exterior (at least the part that I can see -- i.e., the parts that aren't covered with siding) have the same sort of marks on them.

Another thing I've noticed about these marks is that many of them have chips taken out of them only on one side, the side closest to the tool-wielder. None have chips on the far side. I can see it very clearly in my mind's eye: the motion is downward into the log from over the head of the worker, not toward the feet as in Crazy Pete's example, but away from the body, keeping the tool well away from the feet. The motion is hit-pull, hit-pull, like using a sledgehammer on a rail spike.

There aren't any shallow concave surfaces, like Pete suggests there would be from fine-work with an adze. This is a much coarser result. I imagine quite a few people got splinters from these walls before they were hardened with preservative in 1991.

Another thing: Quite a lot of the surfaces are completely smooth, without any marks on them at all. That's what made me like the draw-knife theory -- although I imagine a skilled broad-axe wielder might produce a similarly smooth surface.

An intriguing puzzle.

Azlan said...

A really fascinating voyage of reading into thoughts&actions, past and present - even for someone on the other side of the world (Malaysia). I found a link to your site after a google for 'adze technique' and, reading through your inspired sleuth-work was well worth the time. I'm weighing in the options while I plan on the types of adze I want to make for my wood-working but, as regards the bite of a tool, well I can vouch that any of the wood-working tools will bite (and bite hard) without the required 110% attention all the while.
And its a lovely home you have - I'll toast to that :)

David Harmon said...

Damn, but that's one hell of a trip!

It's an impressive feat to grok one's own home that deeply.

stella said...

we are not wanting for anything rental cabins . Our cars are very reliable, we live in a beautiful cabin in the woods and we take some spectacular trips. We are giving up a $50,000 SUV for a $20,000 (back in 2002) SUV. I do not have a Rolex or Tag like so many people in my field do. I only need to wear a suit a couple of times a year so I haven't spent money on a closet full of them.

Anonymous said...

A little coincidental:

My name happens to be David Frederick Mull, and I went to college in Lancaster, PA.

Sage said...

ACK!!! I'm thrilled to have just found this! Are you still on here? I believe I live in another Mull home, just down the hill from you! Howdy Neighbor! Research has led me to surmise your Mull built my home, and sold it to John Booth Jr. in 1813 for a sum of $60. WOuld love to compare notes- I'll be hitting Tom B up next too. Hope you're still in the hood. Cheers,

Neddie said...

Hi, Sage!

I'm pretty sure I know which house you're talking about. I haven't pulled out the research papers in a while, but I'm betting that it was built by David's son (also David), who died right about the time your place was sold to Booth. He's buried near his dad in the St. James cemetery.

Listen -- write to me at hbsherwood at mac dot com. I'd love to hear from you, compare notes.

family potter said...

Thrilled to have another piece of history in my treasury. I am a descendent and I thank you.

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