1907 Hebron Church History - Chapter 1

 

 

History of the Hebron Church, Madison County, Virginia 1717-1907

 

Chapter 1.
The German Lutheran Colonists near Germanna, Virginia. 1717-1725.

The Germans have had no small part in the settlement, growth, and development of this country. Their influence has been a considerable factor in determining its social, political, and religious life. While the English, in point of time, preceded them as colonists, yet they have equaled them in patient endurance, heroic endeavor, and in loyalty to their adopted country. They have filled prominent positions in church and state. They have contributed their part in developing the resources, creating the wealth, and insuring the general prosperity of this great nation. German blood flows today in the veins of a large per cent. of our citizens. We have only to hear their names spoken to recognize their German origin.

A large part of the early German colonists, as well as those German immigrants who arrived in more recent years, were of the Lutheran faith. But the first representatives of the Lutheran Church in the territory of the United States are not to be found among the Germans, but among the Dutch colonists from Holland who settled at New Amsterdam, now New York City, near the close of the first quarter of the seventeenth century. Closely following them, came the Swedes who settled along the Delaware River and built their churches. Then came the Germans in small numbers, toward the close of the seventeenth century. In the next fifty years great nnumbers had flocked to our shores, settling in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the Carolinas, &c. Among the colonies that sailed for Pennsylvania, ther was one, small in numbers, poor in material wealth, but rich in faith, which, after a disastrous voyage, was cast by the hand of Providence upon the shores of Virginia, where it took root, grew, and became the first permanent Lutheran settlement in the State.

Other colonists of the same faith followed a few years later. Together, they established Hebron church a few miles east of the Blue Ridge, in the valley of the Robinson River and White Oak Run, in what is now Madison County. For years it has been known as the "Old Dutch Church." This however is a misnomer, for it was the Germans and not the Dutch who built and worshiped in it. It has stood successively in three counties, Orange, Culpeper, and Madison. And today after a lapse of 167 years it still stands as a monument to the piety, industry, and persistent efforts of these German Lutherans to establish a church of their fathers in the new world. The congregation is known to have been in continued existence for at least a hundred and seventy-four years, and is the oldest of the Lutheran faith in Virginia and in the South. The original part of the building is the oldest Lutheran church built, still used and owned by Lutherans in the United States. It is older than the Trappe church near Philadelphia. The "Old Swedes church" (1699) at Wilmington Delaware and the Gloria Dei(1700) at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, are both older, and were built by Lutherans; but they have long been in the possession of the Episcopalians. The history, therefore, of this church building and congregation should be of much interest to Germans and especially to Lutherans.

It was in the year 1717 that a little band of German Lutheran emigrants [1] left the shores of the Fatherland, and set sail with the hope of finding a better country in the wilds of Pennsylvania. Their vessel stopped at London. There the captain of the ship was imprisoned for debt for several weeks. By this delay, part of the ship's provisions were consumed. What remained was insufficient to meet the demands of the passengers and many died of hunger. The reset never reached their intended destination. For after a trying and disastrous voyage in which they were driven southward by a storm, twenty families, consisting of about eighty persons, were landed on the Virginia coast-- strangers in a strange land--where they were sold by the captain of the vessel to pay the cost of their transportation. Governor Alexander Spottswood advanced the money, and they became his indentured servants. They were settled by him on the south side of the Rappahannock (Rapidan) River, near [2] Germanna, about twenty miles above Fredericksburg, where he had established three years before German Reformed colony [3] from Nassau-Siegen, consisting of twelve families of forty-two persons.

The names of eight of them are known [3 1/2] They are Christopher Zimmerman, Matthew (Michael) Smith, Michael Cook, Andrew Kerker, Henry Snyder, Christopher Pavlur or Parlur (later known as Beller, Barler, and Barlow), Hans Herren Burger (John Harnsburger) and John Motz. The other twelve are probably Conrad Amburger, Balthaser Blankenbeker, Nicholas Blankenbeker, Matthias Blankenbeker, Michael Clore, George Sheible, George Mayer, Michael Kaifer, Michael Holt, George Utz, Zerichias Fleshman and Andrew Ballenger. The twelve [4] last named, together with Nicholas Yager, John Broyles, Philip Paulitz, Henry Snyder, Michael Smith, Michael Cook, were being sued [5] in the court of Spottsylvania County in 1724 for money which Col. Spottswood claimed was still due him for their transportation. Three of them make the oath that they came into this country in 1717. It might be concluded that the eighteen sued came the same year. If this is so, the number of families must have been at least twenty four, for five of those known to have been of the 1717 colony had settled for their passage money and the name of George Long would have to be included.

The particular localities in Germany from which they came have not been determined positively. Efforts are now being made to solve the problem which we hope will prove successful. From the naturalization papers of Nicholas Yager and his son Adam, we are informed that the former was a native of Hesse and that the latter was born near Dusseldorf in the Dukedom of Neuburg, Empire of Germany. Now both Nicholas Yager and his son may have come with the first colony, but the evidence seems to put their arrival a year later. In the Moravian Diaries, [6] it is said that most of the colonists living in the neighborhood of Hebron church in 1748, came from Wurtemburg. This may be true, but at that time there were about eighty families. The first colonists were in the minority, and hence the statement may or may not be evidence as to the province from which they came. Rev. John Caspar Stoever's account of the Hebron congregation, as well as a report printed at Weimar a few years later, states that they came from Alsace, the Palatinate, and neighboring districts. It seems certain, therefore, that they did not all come from the same province in Germany. The above statements are indefinite, it is true, but they embody all the information we have been able to get.

The cause of their emigration to this country is found in these words, "on account of the then well known severe persecutions." Not being able to determine the provinces from which they came, the conditions under which they lived, civil and religious, can be described only in a general way. At the close of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries, deplorable conditions prevailed in Germany. The hardships and sufferings of the masses of the people were almost too great for endurance. The wars of Louis XIV and that of the Spanish Succession had well nigh exhausted Germany and especially those provinces along the Rhine. In addition to the effects of the war, the extravagance, cruelty, and despotism of the rulers, the contentions that existed between the different confessions of religion, followed by intolerance and persecution-- all these more or less were felt throughout Germany, --so that the lot of her citizens became exceedingly hard to bear. The general misery became so great that many Protestants--especially from the upper provinces of the Rhine-- emigrated to America rather than continue to live under such conditions. Among those who emigrated from Germany we find the colony of 1717.

Another Lutheran colony (and it may be colonies), consisting of forty families, arrived between 1717 and 1720. These also had to pay the cost of their transportation to Virginia by serving the English. And though they were scattered during their servitude, when they became free most of them must have settled in the neighborhood of their countrymen. There is some evidence of a colony in 1718. Although January seems to have been an unusual month for vessels to arrive, yet Frederic Cobler [7] makes oath that he came into this country in this month and year. If his statement is true, others also must have arrived that year. With him we would put Nicholas Yager, Philip Paulitz, John Broyles (1), Jacob Broyles, and George Long [7 1/2]. All these may have arrived a year earlier or later. There is positive evidence of a colony in Nov., 1719. The following persons [8] made oath that they came into this country the above named month and year: John Blowers, Meredith Helms, Godfrey Ridge, John Bell, Thomas Jackman, Joseph Right, and John Broyles (2).

The first colonists, after their arrival in the wilderness near Germanna, went earnestly to work to build rude huts, establish new homes, and provide a living for themselves and families. It is said of them, as it is of the German Reformed colonists, that they supported themselves in all quietness by agriculture and cattle raising. According to tradition they were employed in Governor Spottswood's iron mines. This, it seems certain, is true. Those familiar with the management of blast furnaces in which charcoal is the fuel used, will doubtless believe with us that they were employed part of the time in the manufacture of iron and also raised a few cattle and farmed on a small scale. BUt it seems that they did not prosper and that their lot was a sad and bitter one. They were boor, and it was with difficulty that they could get the necessaries of life. They had not only to provide for their families, but also to return by service or money their transportation charges. The hardships, temptations, and struggles through which they passed could not be written even if we have full data. They could get no lands of their own and set up no permanent homes. If their complaint was just they received hard treatement at the hands of Col. Spottswood. Rev. John Caspar Stoever says that they underwent great hardships during their first eight years. In 1724, they were having trouble-- a number of them had been sued in the court of Spottsylvania County. And these suits were pending for several months.

Tradition says that they at length became disgusted with the poverty of the soil and their hard life in the mines, and determined to leave the Governor's lands and secure land of their own. This determination to leave, no doubt, caused him to institute proceedings against them, as he wished to retain them in his service. On April 23, 1724, Zerichias Fleshman and George Utz laid a petition [9] before the Colonial Council at Williamsburg in behalf of themselves and fourteen other high-Germans then living near Germanna, in which they complain that Col. Spottswood had unjustly sued them in the court of Spottsylvania County for the non-performance of a certain agreement pretended to have been entered into with him in consideration of money advanced them upon their transportation into the colony. They claimed that they had performed and were ready to perform any agreement made with him. He, they said, had refused to give them a copy of the agreement for which they had asked; hence they, having been already sued, applied to the Colonial Council in order to secure justice. An attorney, Mr. Henry Conyers was allowed them to conduct their defense. As far as we have been able to ascertain, the suits against three of them were dismissed: that against a fourth was dismissed by the plaintiff, upon the consent of the defendant to pay the fees of the clerk and sheriff. We have found no records of how the others were finally settled.

What provision, it may be asked, had these Lutherans to supply their spiritual needs, during these eight years? Rev. Henry Haeger, the German Reformed minister who had a congregation at Germanna and preached in the block-house, served his own people and the Lutherans "in common." But after his removal to Fauquier County about 1721, they had no minister as far as known. In the absence of proof, we think it can safely be said that they had services in their homes conducted by one or more of their number. These would consist of song, prayer, scripture reading, exhortation and reading a sermon or selection from some devotional work.

Some writers have claimed that Rev. Gerhard Henkel was at one time pastor of this colony. Of this, we have found no evidence we consider credible. The claim may be true. But in all the references we have seen there are found statements that cannot be true. Hence we must believe that while he may have visited and preached for the people, he was not their pastor. Rev. John Caspar Stoever ought to have known, and he says that he himself was the first pastor and that for sixteen years they had been without public worship and a pastor. Sixteen years date back to 1717.

The German Reformed and Lutheran colonists [10] sent Mr. Christopher Zollikoffer of St. Gall in Switzerland, as their agent to Germany to secure an assistant minister to Rev. Mr. Haeger and to collect funds to establish a church and school. He carried with him to England a petition which was laid before the Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts, October 2, 1719. In it, they asked the Society for the support of a minister. The result of this petition which was not acted upon till March 18, 1721, was that the Society refused to grant their request, but agreed to give them 25 copies of the Common Prayer in the German language. Mr. Zollikoffer collected money and books in Germany and returned about the fall of 1720. How the funds were used and what became of the German Prayer Books, we have not learned.

Did the Lutherans have a church in the place of their first settlement? There is no evidence that they had. This is true of both the Lutherans and the German Reformed. Certainly there was none in 1719. It is true, there existed the German Parish of St. George [11] from 1717 to about 1720. This included an area extending five miles on each side of the town of Germanna. Whether the Lutherans were included in this area or not, we do not know, for the exact locality of their settlement has not been determined. In all probability they were. The General Assembly [12] of Virginia created the Episcopal Parish of St. George in 1720, when Spottsylvania became a county. An appropriation of 500 pounds was made for building a church, courthouse, &c. This church afterward built by Col. Spottswood was not a Lutheran, but an Episcopal church of the Parish of St. George.

[1] Acta-Historico-Ecclesiastica, Vol. III., p. 1094, Weimar, 1738. Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XIV., No. 2, p. 153.

[2] The Lutheran colony did not settle at but near Germanna. In 1732, Col. Byrd saw there a baker's dozen of ruinous tenements where so many German families had lived. Both colonies had moved; the German Reformed to Fauquier, the Lutheran to Madison County. If the Lutherans had lived at Germanna, there would have been more houses.

[3] In April, 1714, this colony was settled at Germanna on the south side of the Rapidan River in the Northeast corner of what is now Orange (then Essex) County, about twenty-five miles above Fredericksburg. Their names were John Kemper, Jacob Holtzclaw, John Spillman, John Martin, John and Herman Fishback, John Hoffman, Joseph Cuntz (Coons), Jacob Rickart (Rector), Dillman Weaver, Milchert (Melchior) Brumback, and Peter Hitt (Will Book A. Spottsylvania C.H., Va., pp. 69, 73, 74.) It is stated positively that this colony was German Reformed. Some Lutheran writers have claimed that it was Lutheran. This is certainly a mistake, as we know from having looked up the records at Spottsylvania and Orange Counties, and also the Land Books at Richmond, Va. We do not hesitate to say they were not Lutherans. And even if they were, they certainly did not assist in the founding of the Lutheran church on the Robinson River. John Hoffman and Jacob Holtzclaw of this colony did patent lands near the church not earlier than Sept., 1728. The former resided in Madison County, and is known to have been a Presbyterian (Calvinist) or German Reformed; the latter as far as we can ascertain lived and died in Fauquier County. Certainly, he was a resident of that county as late as 1747 (D. Book, Orange Co., No. 11, p. 83) Some of the descendants of these colonists became members of Hebron church in later years, but they were not among its founders. The Reformed colony left Germanna about 1721 and located at Germantown in Fauquier County. Rev. Henry Haeger, their pastor, went with them to their new settlement where he continued his work and where he died in 1737. For a full history of this colony, see Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society, Vol. II., Nos. 1, 2, 3, and the Kemper Genealogy by Willis M Kemper.

[3 1/2] Court Order Book, 1720-1730, pp. 89, 107, 108. Spottsylvania Co., Va.

[4] Will Book A, Spottsylvania Co., p. 87.

[5] Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XII., pp. 350, 351.

[6] Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XII., p. 230.

[7] Will Book A, Spottsylvania County, p. 69.

[7 1/2] Court Order Book Spottsylvania County, 1724-1730, pp. 142, 352. Also Will Book A, Spottsylvania County, p. 69.

[8] Will Book A, Spottsylvania County, pp. 68, 69.

[9] Va. Mag. of Hist. and Biog., Vol XII., pp. 350, 351.

[10] Perry's collections, p. 247 f. Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society, Vol. II., No 2., pp. 105, 107.

[11] Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society, Vol. II., No. 2, p. 99.

[12] Hening's Statutes, Vol. IV., p. 78.

[13] Present State of Virginia, p. 59.

 

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