1907 Hebron Church History - Chapter 2

 

 

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

Chapter II.

The Removal and Settlement of the German Lutheran Colonists on the Robinson River and White Oak Run. 1725-1733.

The poverty of these Germans, their hard lives as indentured servants, their desire to possess lands of their own and finally trouble with Col. Spottswood, impelled them to leave the settlement near Germanna and try their fortunes farther west where better lands could be obtained at little or no cost and where they could make better provisions for themselves and families. They sought out and found a better country on the banks of the Robinson River and White Oak Run, in Madison (then Spottsylvania) County, near the eastern base of the Blue Ridge. They moved up the Rapidan River, crossing it according to tradition below Madison Mills at the old German ford, and settled on both sides of the Robinson River and White Oak Run. With the church as a center, a radius of about eight miles would include the territory they occupied.

The place of their new settlement is described as being at "Smith's Island." The evidence as to its location we consider conclusive, though no island is now to be found. White Oak Run was first called "Island Run," because there was an island near its mouth. It bears this name in the first patents granted the settlers. A few years later the name was dropped and White Oak Run takes its place, though for years afterward the "Island line" was referred to and was well known. As early as August 5, 1729, there was an island in the first fork of the White Oak Run. It was situated east of the church between the foot-hill and the run. The hillock rising above the bottom lands and covered with trees and bushes was certainly part of it, for the tradition is still preserved that it was called "the little island." It is not now, but it may have been then in the first fork of the White Oak Run. During a freshet in 1906, we could trace plainly the outline of a island in the first fork a hundred yards higher up the run. The church and island being only about a stone's throw from each other were the center of this settlement. "Smith's Island" and the one in the first fork of the White Oak Run are undoubtedly the same.

All the colonists did not move at the same time. Tradition has still preserved thirteen surnames which are said to be those of the first settlers. They are Aylor, Blankenbeker, Carpenter (Zimmerman), Crigler, Finks, Hoffman, Clore, Yager, Utz, Wayland, Souther, Crisler, and Weaver. We doubt very much the correctness of all these names. Some of them are undoubtedly correct, while it seems certain that others did not arrive until a few years later. The first colonists were soon reinforced by others; some from the old settlement, others from the surrounding neighborhood when the time of their servitude to the English had expired. New immigrants also arrived, coming by way of Pennsylvania, till in eight years their number had increased to about three hundred.

The time of the removal of the first Germans to Madison County cannot now be fixed positively. It certainly was not earlier than April 23, 1724, for they were then living near Germanna; it certainly was not later than June 24, 1726, for then the first lands were patented. The Germans to whom Rev. Hugh Jones [13] refers as having already moved further up in 1724, were undoubtedly those of the 1714 colony. From certain court orders [14] found at Spottsylvania Court House, giving these Germans the privilege of making roads--the one to clear a road from the ferry at Germanna to Smith's Island up the Rapidan--the other 'to lay out and make the most convenient way for ye Germans' Mountain Road,' Mr. Charles E. Kemper of Washington, D.C., in an article, "Early Westward Movement of Virginia," concludes that it was probably in 1726. But it seems probable to us that they were already at "Smith's Island," July 6, 1725, when leave was granted them to make a road; for early pioneers usually made settlement first and roads afterward. Our conclusion is that it was in the spring being sued by Col. Spottswood. Five, (Christopher Zimmerman, Christopher Parlur [Barler], John Motz, John Harnsburger, and Andrew Kerker) had already settled for their transportation and as early as the first of September, 1724, the suits[15] against four of them (Andrew Ballenger, Michael Holt, George Utz, and Michael Clore) had been dismissed, and in all probability nearly all of them had been decided by the end of the year. They were then free to leave their first settlement and secure lands of their own. Beside, the eight years of affliction, through which the founders of Hebron Church on the Robinson River passed, of which Rev. Stoever speaks, must have been while they lived near Germanna. His statement, together with the other evidence, fixes the year almost positively. It is reasonable to suppose that when they were free from the service of Col. Spottswood and had settled on lands of their own, they would be enabled to make better provision for themselves and families. Eight years, counting from 1717, puts them in Madison County in 1725.

This colony, transplanted to more congenial soil on the western border of the county, became for the time the advance guard of civilization westward. There was no white settlement between them and the Pacific Ocean. The vast wilderness surrounded them, and settlements of Indians are said to have existed at a distance of about forty miles. But they lived on friendly terms with their red-faced neighbors. In their excursions, they sometimes camped nearby, visited the settlers, and even allowed themselves to be coaxed into their homes where they received much kindness. The tradition is still preserved that from the old church, the smoke of their camp-fires near Haywood could be seen; and that guards were placed around the church to protect the worshipers against an unexpected attack.

Their first work, according to tradition, was to build a fort and stockade on the north side of the Robinson River, about a mile from the church, on what is now known as the Thornton Utz place[16] near the residence of Mr. Samuel N. Banks. The fort was used as a protection against hostile Indians and also as a place of worship. Here the first religious services, which must have been conducted by a layman, are said to have been held.

What has been said of other German immigrants is certainly true of these. They were "a hardy, industrious, and honest people." And their descendants still show the same characteristics. They were also a religious people. They brought with them "their Bibles, hymn-books, and a few devotional works." And though settled in a strange land and denied the privilege of having the Gospel preached among them, they did not forget to worship the God of their fathers. Their persistent efforts to have a pastor among them and their sacrifices made to secure and support their first one, show how deeply religious they were and how ardently they desired to have their children reared in the faith of the Gospel.

Used to toil, they went earnestly to work, building their rude huts, clearing the forests, and cultivating the soil. Soon from the top of the Blue Ridge, "the eye of the Indian as it swept the range of this beautiful valley, saw the luxuriant woods here and there dotted with fields and the smoke curling gracefully among the branches of the trees as it ascended from the white man's hut. The sound of the woodman's axe and saw and the cheerful voices of children, gave life to the scene and bore to the ear of the savage unmistakable proof that the tide of civilization rolling westward would soon sweep him from the soil that sepulchred the ashes of a long ancestry."

Settled in their humble homes and their immediate wants supplied their next step was to build a house of worship. Since the removal of Rev. Haeger from Germanna in 1721, they had had, so far as known, no minister to break to them and their children the bread of life. Their need was great. So anxious were they to have a pastor that in 1725 they sent two of their number to Germany for this purpose. Whether this was before or after their settlement in Madison County is uncertain, but we know their efforts were not successful. They returned but brought no minister with them. This was a sore disappointment to these anxious, waiting people. They had hoped and prayed and waited for their return and for the success of their mission.

It must have been during the absence of these commissioners that "The German chapel" was built. That such a house existed is proven by two facts. First, Michael Cook was clerk or reader in "the German chapel" during part at least of the time that Rev. Stoever was absent in Europe. Second, in 1760, Lord Fairfax made a grant [17] of land to John Carpenter, in which one line of the survey is described as meeting George Utz's line at the place where "the German chapel stood." Within the bounds of this grant which called for 1245 acres was included the land formerly patented by Andrew Kerker. We have had this grant plotted, and the conclusion is that the chapel stood on the same lot as the present church. The reference shows that it had already been torn down. The church lot must have been given by Andrew Kerker, though no deed for it appears till 1790. This house certainly was built of logs. No description of it remains but that given of the first house of worship, built in Kentucky by their descendants, would fit it very well. "It was a cabin church [18] in reality, built of unhewn logs. The roof and door were made of clapboards. The floor was laid with puncheons and the seats were made of saplings. An opening was made at each end by sawing out a few logs for windows. These were always open, that is, without sash or lights. They had neither stove nor fireplace in it and yet met for worship during the winter." The date of its erection can safely be put as early as 1726, for Mr. F. J. Crigler, one of the oldest members now living, tells us he was always told by the old people of his family that services were held in a house on the same lot and near the present church as early as 1726. Though while building this chapel they had no pastor, they were making efforts to secure one, they believed their efforts would be successful and the house would be ready at his coming. There is no reasonable doubt about their having had religious services of some kind. The fact that Michael Cook was clerk or reader [19] in this same chapel some years later, proves that there certainly was one among them competent to hold religious worship and strongly argues that he or some other lay-member did during this period.

It would be of much interest if we could give the names of all the founders of this church. But this cannot now be done as only part of them are known. We give the names of twenty-two German settlers [20] who first patented lands on the Robinson River and White Oak Run, June 24, 1726. They are Zerichias Fleshman, Henry Snyder, John and Michael Tower, or Tomer (doubtless Tanner or Turner), Matthias Blankenbeker, Nicholas Blankenbeker, Belthaser Blankenbeker, John Prial (Broyles), George Utz, George Sheible, Nicholas Yager, Christopher Zimmerman, Michael Smith, Jacob Crigler, Michael Clore, Michael Cook, George Mayer, George Woodroof, Matthias Beller, Michael Kaifer, William Cimberman (Carpenter), and Michael Holt. Two days later, John Motz and John Harnsburger of the 1717 colony patented lands. These certainly were Germans; and nearly, if not all, were Lutherans and among the founders of "the German Lutheran congregation" in Madison County.

September 28, 1728, the following persons [21] patented lands: Michael Holt, William Carpenter [22], John Rouse, John Thomas, Christopher Zimmerman, Jacob Broyles, Thomas Wayland, George Woods, Michael and John Clawse, Cyracus and Peter Fleshman, Frederic Cobler, Robert Tanner, Michael Wilhoit, Andrew Kerker, George Mayer, Thomas Farmer, Matthias Costler (Crisler), Thomas Wright, &c. Nearly All of these must have been Germans, and as far as can be ascertained of the Lutheran faith. John Hoffman and Jacob Holtzclaw of the first colony at Germanna also patented lands near the Robinson River, the latter September 27, 1728, the former September 28, 1729. But as we have stated before they are known not to have been Lutherans. Of the five belonging to the 1717 colony not sued by Col. Spottswood and of the eighteen sued by him we have traced all to the neighborhood of Hebron church by patents and deeds except one, Andrew Ballenger, and we have found Edward Ballenger as the owner of property on the south side of Deep Run [22 1/2] in 1733. There are also others who patented lands a few years later. Among them we find George Lang (Long), September 17, 1731; Pattas Blankenbeker, March 28, 1732; John Michael Stolts, April 11, 1732; Conrad Amburger, John Carpenter, and Joseph Bloodworth, June 20, 1734; Jacob Manspoil and Andrew Garr, October 3, 1734 &c. As no church records covering this period can be found the names of the members cannot be determined. However a number of those just named are known to have been Lutherans and among the founders of this congregation.

The date of the organization cannot be determined positively. It is certain that an organized congregation existed as early as January 1, 1733, as is to be seen from the Treasurer's report for that year. It was during this period that the oldest pieces of the communion service were given the church. They are one large paten, on which is an engraving made by hand of the institution of the Lord's Supper, two patens each with an engraving of Christ on the cross and a baptismal bowl-- all made of pewter. These bear the inscription, "A gift from Thomas Giffin, London, May 13, 1727." There are also two flagons, made of the same material, on which are inscribed the words, "A gift from Thomas Giffin, London Hall Street, London, October 21, 1729." A wafer box, doubtless of one of the dates named, was carried off during the Civil War by a Federal Soldier. How they came into the possession of the congregation is not known. Tradition and history as far as we can ascertain are both silent. It seems very probable to us that they were secured by the two commissioners sent to Europe, either through the Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts or the German Lutheran Ministers in London. Now the earliest date on this service strongly argues the existence of a congregation. And the fact that the two commissioners had the power to engage the services of a pastor, shows that there must have existed an organization of some kind from which they derived their authority to act. This carries us back to 1725, the year of their settlement at "Smith's Island." We have found no positive evidence of a German Lutheran congregation near Germanna, though one probably existed. But as many of the founders of the church belonged to the colony of 1717, we may very appropriately date the beginning of the congregation from that year. And this agrees with Rev. Stoever's statements in his published report of 1737. The organization must have been effected by the members themselves. Congregations in those early days were often formed in this way and existed for years without a pastor. As an example, Hopeful church in Boone County, Kentucky, was organized by Lutherans from Hebron in 1806, and existed eight years without a pastor. During these years "services were kept up regularly, unless providentially hindered, every Sabbath."

The name Hebron does not appear for years after the church had been founded. It is simply spoken of as "the German congregation." In the history of the Hopeful church, Boone County, Kentucky, which was composed chiefly of emigrants from the Hebron church, the author, Mr. H. A. Rattermann, editor of the Dutch Pioneer, refers to the diary [22 1/4] of Rev. Gerhard Henkel, in which he speaks of a church erected in the beginning by these Germans and called die Hoffmungs-volle Kirche (the church of Good Hope). That the chapel first built was named Hopeful we consider very probable because of the name given the new organization in Kentucky. The child would naturally take the first name of the parent. Of this however we can find no evidence. We know that after the building of the church and the establishment of the congregation upon a solid basis it was called by its present name, Hebron.

"The old church in Madison County," says Rev. H. Max Lentz, [23] "was composed of Lutherans and German Reformed members." We have been able to get no positive evidence either to substantiate or deny the statement. It was customary in those days for Lutherans and German Reformed to unite in erecting houses of worship for the use of both. And as some of the Germans on the Robinson River are known to have been German Reformed and to have afterward built the Hoffman chapel about two miles distant, it is probable that the statement is true. But we must say that no tradition is preserved that they both worshiped in Hebron church.

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

[14] Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XIII., No. 4, p. 365f

[15] Will Book A, p. 87, and Court Order Book, 1724-1730, p. 9. Spottsylvania County, Virginia.

[16] Patented by George Utz.

[17] Land Office, Richmond, Va., Vol. K, p. 155.

[18] A History of Hopeful Church, Sermon, by Rev. D. Harbaugh, 1854, p. 7.

[19] Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XIV., No. 2, p. 166.

[20] Land Book, Richmond, Va., No. 12, pp. 474-483.

[21] Land Books, Richmond, Va., No. 12, from p. 300 to No. 14, p. 113

[22] This was the "Glebe farm."

[22 1/2] A tributary from the north which flows into the Robinson River, a mile below the church, at Russel's Ford

[22 1/4] Mr. George C. Henkel, M. D., Farmersville, Ohio, who is said to have in his possession the diary of Rev. Gerhard Henkel, wrote the author March 7, 1906, that he had no such book and never had.

[23] History of the Lutheran Churches in Boone County, Ky., p. 16.

 

 

 

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