The US Liberty Bell (and the Maltese Connection)

I had hoped I would have slept a little on the red-eye from San Francisco but I had not. This is why I was groggy on the corner of Market and 6th Street in downtown Philadelphia.

Shrugging off the tendrils of sleep, I crossed Market Street to get to the Liberty Bell exhibition.

The State House Bell, to use its first name, was the bell that hang in Pennsylvania State House. This is now Independence Hall and is open for visitors. In 1751, a new bell was ordered for the house. [1]  This was used to call townspeople to hear the news.  Benjamin Franklin mentions it in his writings, “Adieu, the Bell rings, and I must go among the Grave ones and talk Politicks.” [1]

A photo of Liberty Square - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of AmericaIt is a crucial part of modern US history. The bell was rung to declare American Independence for starters. [2] [3] Following the civil war, it was a reconciling, romantic symbol of liberty and brotherhood. By World War I, the message of liberty expanded to include everyone, not just Americans. [2] There is an inscription on it – ‘Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof’. This is a crucial message from the Independence movement, and inspired the anti-slavery movement in the twentieth century. [1]

After years of use, the bell cracked and repairs were unsuccessful. The bell is preserved in a small exhibition space, which is open to the public. I read about its history here and learnt a little about US history that had previously passed me by.

What I didn’t expect to find was a connection between this symbol of modern US history and Malta.

A photo of the Liberty Bell - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of AmericaThe bell was originally cast at the Whitechapel Foundry in London. When it as rung for the first time, it didn’t sound right and was going to be sent back to be re-cast. The Master of the ship destined for London couldn’t take it aboard. [5] Two ingenious American workmen, John Stow and John Pass, undertook to recast it themselves. They recast the bell but added so much copper that the sound was worse. Townsfolk “teased [them] with witticisms” and so the two re-cast the bell again. [2] It is this copy which is on show today. The city paid the two workmen 60 English pounds, 13 shillings and 5 pence. Their work must have improved because the new version lasted almost a century.

John Stow was the son of Charles Stow who was the door-keeper of the Council of Philadelphia.

Pass is recorded as being Maltese. [4] It is likely that his surname was Pace but that he anglicised it at some point. He was part owner of the Mount Holly Iron Foundry in the neighbouring state of New Jersey. [4] [6] Research shows that he was a recent immigrant records describe him as being “from Malta”. [4]

Further research shows Pass apprenticed in a brass foundry in Cospicua, Malta. [6] He apparently had 3 brothers, one of whom emigrated to Canada. [6] Pass married and may have had children but clear records are rather sparse.

 

Do you know of any unusual connections of the sort? Leave a comment and tell us about it!

References

[1] National Park Service, The Liberty Bell, (Retrieved in 2017)
[2] Christian Heritage Ministries, The Liberty Bell (Retrieved in 2017)
[3] Malta Genealogy, Maltese People in America, (Retrieved in 2017)
[4] Wikipedia, Liberty Bell, 2017
[5] Whitechapel Foundry, The Liberty Bell, (Retrieved 2017)
[6] Ancestry.com, John Pass (Retrieved 2017)

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