Buckingham Mountain in Pennsylvania

How did Buckingham Mountain in Pennsylvania get it’s name? This page provides a brief history about Buckingham Mountain in Pennsylvania, the people who settled on it, and the industry rising around it.

One of the most beautiful and romantic hills in the county. A bold and conspicuous feature of the landscape of central southern Buckingham Township, the mountain is one of a broken range of hills extending almost due west from the river Delaware just below New Hope and terminating at Durham Road (Route 152) a mile below the town of Buckingham. Its extent is two and a half miles in length by a mile in width at the broadest part of its base. Its elevation is abrupt, 545 feet above tidewater and about 250 feet higher than the surrounding valleys. The views of rural scenery from vantage points on its crest are magnificent. Poets and writers of stories have been intrigued by its legends and historical associations. The Doan Outlaws are reputed to have occasionally made it a retreat following a daring raid upon some staunch Whig supporter of the Revolutionary cause. In later years many fugitive slaves who traveled northward by the Underground Railroad found a haven of refuge there. From 1850 to about 1880 the mountain black population was strong enough to build and maintain a small stone church building, which is still standing, with its adjoining graveyard, wherein sleep such noted characters as Governor Wells, Town Crier of Doylestown, and over which “Big Ben,” the giant slave, exercised a quasi-supervision before his tragic capture. Many tales are current among the older Buckingham families about these black people and the crowds of whites who attended their camp meetings on the top of the mountain, and about the visiting “arbutus parties” from far and near that once thronged its northern slopes to gather “The trailing spring flower tinted like a shell.” Although they frequented the mountain only on hunting expeditions, the Indians had a name for it, and this name has long been the subject of doubt, discussion and dispute. It is certain they had but one name, but various writers and cartographers have suggested many, including Lehasseka, Lahaskeekee, Laskeek, Lehoskuk, Lackawissa and Pepacating. They cannot all be right. In the first place, no form of the Indian word now anglicized as “Lahaska” can properly be applied to Buckingham Mountain, because it belongs to another hill. 1)See Lahaska Hill. As to Lackawissa, the name given to the mountain on Kennedy’s Map of Bucks County (1817) and copied by Melish on his Map of Pennsylvania (1826), this is an error in spelling and should be Lackamissa, derived from the Lenni Lenape Legau, lekou, sand, gravel-Miska, soil, meaning “sandy soil.” But this name also belongs to another hill. This leaves only the name Pepacating, which is apparently a corruption of the mountain’s real Indian name. In his historical researches the late Colonel Henry D. Paxson found on an old draft of a tract of land in the vicinity of the mountain dated 1726. these significant words, “The Great Mountain called by the Indians Pepacating.” Colonel Paxson secured a photostat of this old draft and considered it one of the prizes of his valuable collection of manuscripts. We thus have the corruption of the Indian name, but it is not easy to trace “Pepacating” to the real Indian name. A plausible supposition is that the Lenni Lenape word was Pepach-gank-ing (pepach-gank, calamus root; ing, at), meaning “at the place of the calamus root.” Dr. Amandus Johnson 2)Dr. Amandus Johnson in Geographia Americae, p. 371. says, “The Indian form of Pepacating is doubtful. Pepach-gang-ing is quite probable and this could be easily corrupted into Pepacating, but Papchesing, ‘at the place of the woodpecker,’ is also a possible stem.” And thus, although its meaning is doubtful, there is little doubt about Pepacating being the corrupted Indian name.

Wolf Rocks

The mountain’s leading physical attraction is Wolf Rocks. These rocks fill a narrow, shallow gorge, extending from summit to base on a steep part of the northwest slope. Some are huge boulders, others are small, but all have their surface smoothed by the action of the elements. In places they are closely grouped. Some have grotesque shapes, a fancied resemblance to armchairs, sofas, etc., and to these special names have been given. The rock formations are most impressive near the top of the mountain. There the boulders are largest and their positions the most fantastic. A short distance below the summit some of the larger rocks are so adjusted as to form a cave, which a few years ago could be explored by any venturesome person, but now the entrance is in all likelihood entirely closed. Entrance was gained through an opening less than three feet square. Within were two chambers. One was about eight by ten feet, seven feet high, the other much smaller. In this little rock cavern, which was almost waterproof, Albert Large, the Hermit of Wolf Rocks, led the life of a recluse, undiscovered for twenty years. It is difficult to understand at this day how it would be possible for a youth, concealing himself in a hole in the side of a mountain within sight of his home, to make his name historic and win for himself world-wide notoriety as the most celebrated hermit of modern times, yet such was really the fact. Large was a native of Buckingham. Strange enough, his ancestors owned (and he was an heir to) the part of the mountain where he sought oblivion. His great-grandfather, Joseph Large, bought a tract of too acres of land, partly on the mountain, in 1709, adding 50 adjoining acres to it in 1759. Joseph devised the land to his son, John, who died February 2, 1791, leaving a widow and seven children, one of them, Samuel, the father of the hermit. In the partition proceedings of John’s estate in 1799, Samuel received a tract of 122 acres. This tract included Wolf Rocks. Samuel was a fox hunter and owned a pack of foxhounds and a stable of fine horses. He had two sons, Joseph and Albert. Joseph became an Episcopal clergyman and had charge of a parish in the far West. Albert was born about 1805. Little is known of his childhood. Just as he was developing into manhood, the death of his mother, to whom he was devoted, cast a shadow over his life. A year or two later he was further depressed by the unfortunate outcome of a love affair. It was probably these two afflictions that turned him into a recluse. Knowing Wolf Rocks cave well from early youth, it was there he retired to live and be forgotten. His disappearance caused a mild sensation locally, but in the course of a few months he ceased to be missed, and the incident was forgotten. In those days Wolf Rocks was a secluded and lonely place, undisturbed for weeks at a time by human footsteps, and thus it was easy for Large to conceal himself. While he had a lookout over a wide extent of country to the west, he himself was invisible. He no doubt subsisted mainly on what he could forage in the neighborhood. At rare intervals he ventured out after dark with his demijohn to some nearby tavern. His unkempt dress, shaggy hair and long whiskers would attract attention, but no one ever suspected who he was. Upon his return from one of these night trips, he nearly lost his life when he cuddled up alongside a burning lime-kiln to sleep and was overcome by fumes from the kiln. He was found there by William H. Johnson, who succeeded in arousing him. Large staggered to his feet and vanished in the darkness without being recognized. This was probably the last time he left the cave until he was discovered on Friday morning, April 7, 1858, by William Kennard, a colored man, who in passing noticed smoke issuing from the crevices between the rocks. Kennard’s tapping with his cane brought a gruff response from the depths that needed no repetition to cause the black to beat a swift retreat. Later in the day Kennard returned with reinforcements of workmen from a quarry, armed with shovels, picks and crowbars. Seeing the blaze of a fire the men had made and hearing the clatter of the tools, the hermit opened the cave door and came out. When they recovered from their surprise, two or three of the older men in the party thought they recognized the unsightly figure and accused him of being the long-missing Albert Large. He made no attempt to conceal his identity and frankly admitted who he was. Later he related many of his experiences while under ground. He described how he worked long to fit up the cave to make it habitable; how he often listened to the conversation of parties who came to the rocks and thus learned some news of the outside world, and how he was snowed in for six weeks during one severe winter. He claimed that he lived his hermit life for forty years, but in this he was mistaken, as it could not have been more than twenty. News of the discovery of the hermit spread with great rapidity. Newspapers and periodicals throughout the country published columns of sensational and exaggerated description of the hermit and fanciful details of his recluse life in the mountain cavern. It remained, however, for the periodical press of foreign countries to print the wildest imaginative accounts, hardly a line of which was true. The publicity given to the affair brought crowds of people daily to the mountain for months after the discovery. For a short time Large enjoyed his notoriety, but it soon began to pall on him and he shunned the crowds. While curiosity and excitement was at its peak, he again disappeared. This time it was permanent. He was never heard of again. 3)An accurate account of the hermit and his life may be found in a paper read by Colonel Paxson at a meeting of The Bucks County Historical Society held at Wolf Rocks, July 16, 1895, and published in Volume H of the Society’s Papers, pp. 231-246. Among the many published stories based on this incident is the historical novel entitled “Hermit of Wolf Rocks; or Maid of Lahaska, a Tale of ’76,” a youthful literary production of the late Edward M. Paxson, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. This book is now scarce, few copies being known. Buckingham Mountain is well covered with timber and some years ago its fine chestnut trees were cut down and used extensively for telephone and telegraph poles. Before the sudden appearance of the chestnut blight, central Bucks County was nationally known as having the finest stand of chestnut timber in the country and Buckingham Mountain occupies about the center of this area. The mountain’s flora is rich and varied. Among the less common plants may be noted Fleur-de-lis (Iris germanica), probably the only area in the county where this exotic has become thoroughly established; Staggerbush (Lyonia mariana), farthest station north for this plant; Tall Sisymbrium, or Tumble Mustard (Sisymbrium altissimum), and Clammy Azalea (Rhododendron viscosum), a coastal plain shrub that here reaches its northern limit.

Source: MacReynolds, George. Place Names in Bucks County Pennsylvania, 2nd Edition. Doylestown, PA: The Bucks County Historical Society, 1955.

Footnotes:   [ + ]

1.See Lahaska Hill.
2.Dr. Amandus Johnson in Geographia Americae, p. 371.
3.An accurate account of the hermit and his life may be found in a paper read by Colonel Paxson at a meeting of The Bucks County Historical Society held at Wolf Rocks, July 16, 1895, and published in Volume H of the Society’s Papers, pp. 231-246.

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