Student Guest Post: Aubrey Otis on Col. Samuel Miles

During the Fall Semester (Sept - Dec 2017), Kimberlee Moran ran a "Bones and Bioarchaeology" class at Rutgers-Camden to connect students to the Arch Street project.  Over 14 weeks students learned archaeological and anthropological basics within the context of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia's cemetery.  Students helped to clean and assess some of the remains at Rutgers-Camden and helped to organize material culture and human remains at our off-campus facility.  As a final project, several students chose the option of preparing a post for the Arch St Project website.  The following guest post is from Aubrey Otis, a Biology Masters student. 

Colonel Samuel Miles, First Mayor of Philadelphia

by Aubrey Otis

While doing research for another paper I was writing, I came across a list of people in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who died of Yellow Fever around 1797. Immediately I found the Baptist burials and one name jumped out, Catherine Wister Miles. Under her name, it said that she was buried in the First Baptist Church and that her husband, Samuel Miles, was the former mayor of Philadelphia. I decided to search more about this family to see if it would lead me anywhere.  I was surprised by what I found!

Colonel Samuel Miles was born March 11, 1740 in White March, Montgomery, PA. At the age of 16, Miles enlisted in Captain Isaac Wayne’s company. After being discharged in February, he re-enlisted as a sergeant under Captain Thomas Lloyd’s company and served as Captain-lieutenant in the expedition to Fort Duquesne. Fort Duquesne was established, and later destroyed, by the French in 1754. The fort was then rebuilt by the English and called Fort Pitt in 1758. These forts are now memorials in present day Pittsburgh. Captain-lieutenant Samuel Miles was later wounded at the Battle of Fort Ligonier. He had been shot in the foot.  Miles was then commissioned captain in 1760, and left in command of the forces at Preque Isle, now present day Erie, Pennsylvania.

In 1771, Miles settled down and became a wine merchant in Philadelphia. He was chosen to be one of the wardens and manager of the House of employ in 1766. In 1772, Miles was chosen to be a member of the assembly and was chosen again in 1775. Samuel Miles is believed to have been one of the first people to support the movement for independence from the crown. Miles was chosen colonel of the Pennsylvania rifle regiment in 1776. This regiment was composed of two battalions and was sent to quell an uprising in Sussex county, Delaware. Miles’ battalion preceded to march to Long Island to take part in the battle of August 27, 1776. This battle is also known as the Battle of Long Island or the Battle of Brooklyn. It was the first major battle to take place after the United States declared its independence. The battalion, as well as Miles, was taken prisoner until April 1778 when they were exchanged.

Miles was appointed brigadier-general of state forces but retired from active service due to not being able to keep his rank. He was then appointed Deputy Quartermaster-general for Pennsylvania and held office until 1782. Colonel Samuel Miles was also appointed a judge of the high court of errors and appeals in 1783. Colonel Samuel Miles was elected mayor in 1790. He held office until 1791 when he was re-elected, and declined the position. Milesburg, Centre County, Pennsylvania was founded by Samuel due to him owning a large plot of land; most of his grandchildren were born there. Samuel Miles died in 1805 and was buried in the First Baptist Church cemetery alongside his wife, Catherine Wister, whom he married on February 16, 1761.

Not only was Colonel Miles and interesting man, his injury may help us identify him.  As we clean remains and begin analyzing them, we are on the look out for any male skeletons over 60 years of age with anything that looks like a foot injury.  Descendants of the Miles family have been in touch with us.  If such a foot injury is found, a DNA test will be done between the remains and the descendants to confirm whether Colonel Miles has been found.