by Don Swartz

On January 24, 1848, a thirty-eight-year-old carpenter from New Jersey named James Marshall bent down to examine some shiny flecks in a tail race diverted from the American River for a sawmill in Coloma, in California, not even a wide spot in the road. He straightened up and changed the course of history. "Gold," he thought, probably more accurately transcribed as "GOLD!" and hurried off to test it. By June 1, half the population of San Francisco was on its way to Coloma. By July, the population of Coloma was estimated to be 4000. The rush was on, soon capitalized to Gold Rush, and confirmed in Washington by President Polk, better known perhaps for having started the Mexican War two years earlier.

One of the end results of the Mexican War was the defining of the Rio Grande as the US border with Mexico, and the ceding of what is now New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming for a relatively modest $15 million. Wisconsin's becoming the 30th state in May the same year didn't hurt either, and clearly showed the strength of the cheese vote.

Obviously not a result of the end of the Mexican War was Thomas Alva Edison's being one year old in 1848, as were the adhesive US postage stamp and evaporated milk, as well as Charlotte Bronte's "Wuthering Heights," and her sister Emily's "Jane Eyre." The first safety matches appeared; the first appendectomy was performed. Karl Marx and Friederich Engles issued the Communist Manifesto, and Paul Gauguin was born.

It was against this complex cultural and sociological backdrop that Charles Heathcote, Mark Radcliffe and George Shaw, cautiously opting not to join the Gold Rush, or Karl Marx and Frederick Engles for that matter, arrived in Glen Rock, fresh from their homes in Yorkshire, in England. They were nephews of William Heathcote, whose decision to buy land in 1837 and build a woolen mill on the south branch of the Codorus had led to an influx of English relatives and the creation of Glen Rock.

Radcliffe and Shaw had learned in England to make rope, a highly portable skill, and by the end of the year were briskly turning out 30 pounds a day, made by hand in a roofed shed in the general vicinity of what is now Glen Rock EMS, 59 Water Street, diagonally across the railroad tracks from the Glen Rock Mill Inn. It was in the mill that the rest of the relatives were making wool.

And it was at the end of 1848, reflecting a 400-year old tradition-carolling-that Mark Heathcote, one of William Heathcote's brothers; the nephews Charles Heathcote, Mark Radcliffe and George Shaw; along with William Heathcote's 61-year old brother James, conspicuously lugging a bassoon, stepped into the cold night air of Christmas Eve and inadvertently started a 175-year-old parallel tradition-carolling in Glen Rock. For their decision not to go West, but instead to make rope and wool in Glen Rock and to grace Christmas Eve with the richness of music, we thank them, and all of the Carolers who have followed.

This bassoon belonged to Oscar L. Seitz and later to his son, Sherman L. Seitz.  It was probably the one which Oscar Seitz used as a member of the Glen Rock Band and of the carol singers.  Sherman Seitz believed that it may well have been the bassoon used by James Heathcote in 1848.  Courtesy Richard L. Seigman     Donated to Glen Rock Carolers:  June 7, 2010  -  See letter