1907 Hebron Church History - Chapter 3

 

 

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

CHAPTER III

The First Pastor, John Caspar Stoever, and his Work in Holland and Germany. 1733-1739.

After repeated attempts on the part of the congregation to secure the services of a minister, success at length crowned their efforts, and Rev. John Caspar Stoever became their first pastor in the spring of 1733. He had a son named John Caspar, [24] who was also a minister and who did successful work in Pennsylvania for many years.

John Caspar Stoever, [25] the elder, was born at Frankenberg, in Hesse, in 1685. "His father Dietrich Stoever conducted a mercantile establishment. His mother Magdalena was the daughter of Andrew Eberwein, pastor at Frankenberg. One of his baptismal sponsors was John Christian Eberwein, pastor and head teacher in the Pedagogium at Giessen, which position was held for a long time after by a relative of the Stoevers, John Philip Fresenius, one of the most prominent and the warmest friend of the Lutheran church in America. Already in youthful years Stoever was a teacher at Amweiler on the eastern slope of the Hartz mountains, and received from there good testimonials of his descent and his character, which were prepared for him by the elders of the congregation. Here he had also attended to the playing of the organ and probably engaged in the study of theology. In the year 1728, he sailed with ninety Palatines on the ship Good-will, David Crocket, master, of Rotterdam, leaving Deal on the 15th of June, and landed in Philadelphia on the 11th of September."

Where he passed the years between his arrival in Pennsylvania and the beginning of his ministry in Virginia is not positively known. [26] He seems to have labored in and around Philadelphia or to have returned to Europe. We can find no evidence of his being in Virginia prior to 1733. The congregation had sent to Pennsylvania to inquire about a pastor. This inquiry may have resulted in his coming to Virginia. He received a call from the Hebron church. Afterward, in company with Mr. George Scheible, he traveled to Pennsylvania, where in 1733 he was ordained by Rev. John Christian Schulze who was the only regularly ordained clergyman south of New York to whom he could apply. His ordination must have taken place in the spring, for he administered communion to the people for the first time, the second Sunday after Trinity. He says that the most kind God sought him out as an unworthy servany for their teacher and pastor after previous calling and ordination.

The spiritual condition of these Germans must have been deplorable when he began his ministry among them. For sixteen years they had been without the services of a Lutheran pastor. They were scattered and like sheep without a shepherd. They had passed through great sufferings and privations. They had known what it was to suffer need, both in temporal and spiritual things, since their coming to Virginia. But during the last eight years their material prospects had brightened, and they were now very well supplied with temporal things. They grew their food supplies and cultivated tobacco which they exchanged for their necessary clothing. Still what spiritual destitution must have existed during those years without a pastor to teach their children, preach the word, administer the sacraments, comfort the sick and dying, and bury the dead! No wonder the ministry of this godly man brought joy to their hearts. He found them shepherdless, and the great desire of his heart was to tend this flock of which God had made him overseer. His coming was God's answer to their continued prayers and persistent efforts, and it brought them comfort, hope, help in the time of need.

He informs us that he was the first pastor of this church, that at the time of entrance upon the duties of his office or soon after, the number of souls was three hundred, that he began service of public worship among them, teaching and administering the sacraments as God gave him ability, and that he contented himself with a yearly salary of 3000 pounds of tobacco--about forty dollars-- which his parishioners paid in addition to taxes for the support of the English church.

With the coming of a pastor there arose the need of a parsonage. The same year a farm of 193 acrers, more or less, was bought of Mr. William Carpenter. This farm is still known as the "Glebe." A parsonage or "Glebe-haus" was built on it by the beginning of the fall of 1734. The deed [27] still in possession of the church and preserved in the clerk's office of Madison County, was made December 3, 1733, to Michael Cook and Michael Smith, wardens and trustees of the German church and people inhabiting in the fork of the Rappahannock River, in St. Mark's Parish, in the county of Spottsylvania, for a glebe for the use of the minister of the said German people and his successors forever. It was signed, sealed and delivered in the presence of John Waller, Robert Turner, Edward Broughton, James King, and William Henderson. The consideration named in the deed was five shillings lawful money of Virginia. For years it has been said that this farm was a gift. But after we discovered at Orange Court House in the summer of 1906, the treasurer's report [28] of the congregation for 1733 and 1734, we know that it was bought. This report shows that it was paid for in full, and that the price must have been several pounds.

Rev. Stoever was deeply interested in the education of his people and in the establishment of a school for the instruction of the young. Did he establish a school while pastor? It has been said that he did, but we can find no evidence to substantiate the statement. We know he conceived the idea of a school, gathered money for that purpose, but it seems certain that its actual establishment was the work of his successor. Of this we will have something to say in the next chapter.

The time he passed in Virginia, as pastor of Hebron, was short-- only about a year and a half. But in that time he did much for his people and laid the foundation for the future growth and prosperity of the church. A new house of worship was badly needed. The chapel in which he preached had become too small for the growing congregation and unsuitable for church purposes. The means of his people were limited. After paying their pastor's salary and taxes for the support of the established church, they felt that the burden of building was too great for them to bear alone. What should they do? It was finally decided to ask help of their brethren across the seas. Accordingly, in the fall of 1734, the pastor, Michael Smith an elder, and Michael Holt a member of the congregation were sent to Europe to solicit funds to aid in building a church, establishing a school, and supporting an assistant pastor.

These Germans, before starting their commissioners on their mission across the sea, were anxious to have a reccomendation from the Governor of the province. But as he did not know their poverty and need of help, they laid a petition before the court of Spottsylvania County and the court certified truth of what they affirmed. As we have never seen this court order in print [29] we give it in full.

"Order Book 1730 to 1738 page 337.

"On the petition of Michael Holt, Michael Smith, & Michael Clore in behalf of themselves and ye rest of the Germans, seated by the great Mountains on the Robinson River in this County, setting forth that they have a Minister, (Ye Rev. Augustine Stover) who they accomodate, pay and satisfy his salery at y'r own charge, and have already purchased a Glebe & built a house for the use of Y'e S'd Minister. And also that they are building a Church for Y'e congregation, but being of low circumstances (& obliged to pay levies in the Parish where they live) and not being able to go through the charge, are sending home to Germany y'e Rev. Augustine Stover, Michael Holt, & Michael Smith in order to get some relief & assistance toward Y'e building of said Church & maintenance of y'e s'd Minister.

"Humbly desiring this Court to recomend the same to his Hon. The Governor in order that they might get a certificate of him to testifie the truth thereof; is granted and ordered that ye same be certified according to petition.

"At a Court held for Spotsylvania County on Tuesday September 3rd 1734. A copy; Teste: T. A. Harris clerk."

With this certificate from the court they applied to Governor Gooch, who certified[30] to the truth of what they had already done, their need of help, and also that his written testimonial was given, that full credence might be given the commissioners in Germany in all their endeavors and undertakings. The seal of the colony was affixed. Signed by William Gooch, September 18, 1734.

Thus recommended the collectors went first to England where they were kindly received by the German Lutheran ministers in London: Rev. Frederick Michael Ziegenhagen, court chaplain; Rev. Henry Alard Butjenter, court preacher at the German court chapel of St. James; Rev. D. Henry Walther Gerdes and Rev. Henry Werner Palm, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Savoy. Here they received not only a good contribution but also a letter of recommendation from them to Holland and Germany. No records are preserved of any gifts received or subscriptions taken up in England.

From England they proceeded to Holland where they began their collections in Amsterdam about the first of August, 1735. They then passed into Germany and took up the work at Oldenburg. From thence continuing their course in a northeastern direction they passed through Bremen and Hamburg, meeting with much success; thence on to Lubec, and on to Kolberg where they received $146. The amount collected to this time was $1460. From Kolberg they passed on through Koslin, Stolp, Lauenburg to Danzig, where we find them June 11, 1736, and where they remained about two months. Here Michael Holt left them and returned by way of London to Virginia. In Elbing, a city of Polish Prussia, about fifty miles southeast of Danzig, a candidate of theology, Mr. George Samuel Klug, was found and engaged as an assistant pastor to Rev. Stoever. Though it is said that Mr. Klug, immediately after his ordination, proceeded from Danzig to England and from there to Virginia, in company of Michael Smith, yet Rev. Stoever's will shows that this was a mistake. If he was accompanied by either, and it seems that he was, it was Michael Holt. From Danzig, the two traveled by way of Elbing, Marienberg, and Thorn to Konigsberg (Nov. 15, 1736). They then returned southward, passing through Neu-Brandenburg (Jan. 31, 1737), Luneburg and Hanover to Leipsie (July 24). They afterward visited Altenburg, Weimar, Eisenach, Eisfield, Coburg, Strassburg, and other cities. We have not named all, but enough to indicate the route taken and something of the extent of their travels. The last name that appears is Frankford-on-the-Main, November 25, 1737. Money was collected and forwarded by draft to London.

We will now speak of the old subscription book which Rev. Stoever carried through Holland and Germany and which we have before us as we write. We had parts of it read by the late Rev. Paul Menzel, D. D., of Richmond, Virginia. The notes taken at the time have been used and also passages of a description given of it by Rev. W. G. Campbell while pastor.

"This old book of subscriptions is not only interesting, but is valuable as a link in the chain of evidence connecting the Germanna colony (colony near Germanna) with the German Lutheran settlement in Madison County. It is a volume of 179 pages and is bound in parchment." The first three pages have been lost. Five languages are used. The first few pages are written in Dutch, the body of the book in German. There are some statements written in French and in Latin; signatures in Latin and only two subscriptions in English. "A staunch friend in Lubec signs himself 'An admirer of the promoving of Christianity, especially of ye Evangelical Lutheran Faith in Foreign parts.' There are many warm words of cheer expressed in German, but nothing so fervent as the exclamation of an English speaking friend who had little else to give but a hearty, 'God bless ye Lutheran church in Virginia.'"

"It covers a period of time from August 11, 1735, to May 20, 1739, and contains a history of the money received with names of donors in autograph." Page 178 gives a statement of money forwarded from different places to John Caspar Stoever, with a note written between the lines, stating the fact that he died at sea and also the sum of the collections recorded which was at 7841 rix-dollars, [31] and the remainder, after all expenses of collecting had been pair, which was 4265 rix-dollars. We will give a translation of the last page in the next chapter.

"It is now kept in the fireproof vault of the clerk's office of Madison County, and is the property of the church, having been safely preserved through the vicissitudes" of a hundred and seventy-two years.

"It is a quaint old book, a perusal of whose time-stained pages calls up a thousand misty fancies of the men whose fingers penned these words that are yet legible and which have long since become ashes and dust."

This book does not contain all the subscriptions taken. There were "collection books, as well as other documents not found in the collection books," and especially a small Hamburg almanac in which were entered many large and small sums in the Latin language, all of which belonged to the receipts. [32] But only the one book remains.

The total value of all collections [33] is said to have been nearly three thousand pounds, between fourteen and fifteen thousand dollars. One-third was paid the collectors for their travelling expenses and as a compensation for their services; the other two-thirds were turned over to the congregation and used in building the church, purchasing a farm, and black slaves to work it, from the proceeds of which the pastors were to get their salaries.

There were also collected a number of theological books for Mr. Stoever and a valuable library of standard works for the congregation. A number received from book-dealers at Leipsic and Strassburg were exchanged at frankfort for two hundred Frankfort hand-books which they had bound for use. Others given at Strassburg were exchanged for hymn-books printed in large type for use in public worship. At Plymouth, England, they bought one hundred pieces of cut-glass for the windows of the church and three hundred pounts of putty to hold them in the frames, at a cost of about one-hundred and twenty five dollars.

A silver cup and a small plate were secured to complete the communion service. These and the silver cup and small plate collected for the congregation as referred to by Rev. Stoever in his will are no doubt the same. The goblet is beautifully polished and seems originally to have been lined with gold. It has a brighter appearance than the older pieces of the service, having been made at a later date and by a different workman. The plate, five and a half inches in diameter, is made of the same material. They were gifts from Mr. Furgen Stollen. Lubec, Germany. The following is the inscription on the cup: I Corinther, cap. II, vers. 25. Dieser kelch ist dass Neue Testament in meinem Blut solches thiet so offt ihrs Trinchet zu meinem Gedecht-nis Lubeck 28 Marty A-1737. Fur Ehre Gottes und gebrauch Dei Christlich Evangelischen Lutherischen Gemeine der Landt-chafft Virginien in America ist von Herrn Furgen Stollen Kauff und Handelsman diesen Kelch als ein kleines Geschenck Verchret worden mit dem Hertzlichen wunsche dass alle durch den warhren Glauben and Christum Jesum Zuihrer seclen Heyl und seeligkeit darans mogen getranket werden. Gottes wort und Christi Lehr Vergehet nun und Nimmermehr."

The translation reads, I. Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 25. This cup is the New Testament in my blood; this do as oft as ye drink it in remembrance of me. Lubec, March 28, 1737, for the honor of God and the use of the Christian Evangelical Lutheran congregation of the country of Virginia in America, this cup has been presented by Mr. Furgen Stollen, merchant and tradesman, with the heartfelt wish that all, by the true faith in Christ Jesus, may be refreshed by drinking out of it to their soul's bliss and salvation. God's word and Christ's doctrine will never, never perish.

This service has been kept for years in a wooden chest which shows plainly the marks of age. it is of that period when hinges and the nails which held them in place were made in the blacksmith shop. It came in all probablility from Germany, and may have been the very one of which Rev. Stoever speaks in his will as having been in a shipwreck. A round box, decayed and worm eaten, whose top has long since disappeared, serves as a receptacle for the goblet and plate, into which they fit nicely and in which they made their voyage across the sea.

The old service is highly prized, not for its intrinsic value, but as a gift and for its age. It is the oldest in the Lutheran church in the South.

Mr. Stoever had published, while in Germany, a pamphlet of four pages in quarto giving a short account of the origin and history of this congregation. A copy is now in the library of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The title is, "A short account [34] of a German Lutheran congregation in American Virginia, located on the extreme boundary of the County of Spottsylvania, by John Caspar Stoever, the first preacher of the congregation, Hanover, printed by L. C. Holwein." The title covers the first page, the narrative the other three.

At Darmstadt, he studied theology diligently for about six months, to better prepare himself for his work of preaching. He made his home with his distinguished relative, the Rev. John Philip Fresenius, who became his teacher and who was for many years deeply interested in the spiritual welfare of his countrymen in America. Fresenius "has left on record a tribute to his earnestness, devout spirit, and faithful attempt at a comparatively advanced age to prepare himself fully for ministerial work."

Early in 1739, he and Michael Smith started on their return voyage to Virginia. At sea he became critically ill, and realizing that his end was near he made his will [35] which was witnessed by Michael Smith, William Missing, and John Ebert. Rev John Caspar Stoever Jr., his son, minister in Canastoken, was made his executor. This will was proven in Philadelphia, March 20, 1739, and is recorded there, and a translation of it in the clerk's office of Orange County, Virginia. His death at sea was noted in the subscription book. Hebron church was thus deprived of the services of this godly man who had done so much for the Germans during the time he was with them as pastor and also while absent in Germany collecting the money with which the church was permanently established. To him the congregation will ever be deeply indebted.

He was often referred to as "Augustine" Stoever. This name appears in the court order given at Fredericksburg in 1734, also in Governor Gooch's recommendation and frequently in the subscription book. He was certainly called by both names. We do not know why, but we do know that he signed his name in his printed history and in his will John Caspar Stoever; and the same name is written in the treasurer's report of the church 1733 and 1734, and also in the subscription book. Certain it is that "Augustine" and John Caspar Stoever were one and the same man.

[24] John Caspar Stoever, Jr., was born December 21, 1707 in the Duchy of Berg. His father was a native of Hesse and his mother's name was Gertrude. He received his literary and theological education in Germany. He came to America with his father in 1728, landing in Philadelphia, September 11. He was ordained by Rev. John Christian Schulze, April 8, 1733, in a barn at the Trappe (New Providence), where the Providence congregation worshiped. He organized many congregations in eastern Pennsylvania, and ministered to many already organized; also made mission tours into Virginia, preaching, baptizing and marrying. He died at Lebanon, Pa., May 13, 1779.

[25] Halle Reports, Vol. I., p. 563, and A History of the Lutheran Church in Pennsylvania by Rev. T. E. Schmauk, p. 245, note 291.

[26] Va. Mag. Of Hist. and Biog., Vol. XIV., No. 2, p. 145 and note 6.

[27] See chancery causes ended September 1890. E.D. Fray, &c., versus Trustees of the Lutheran Church. Also recorded in Deed Book B, Spottsylvania Co., Va., pp. 487, 488.

[28] Will Book A, p. 54.

[29] Court Order Book 1730 to 1738 Spottsylvania Co., p. 337.

[30] Acta Histor. Eccles., Vol Iii., p. 1096. Also Va. Mag. of Hist. and Biog., Vol. XIV., No. 2, pp. 154-155.

[31] The rix-dollar was a silver coin of Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, and other countries, varying in value in different places from 60 cents to $1.08. Worth now about 75 cents.

[32] Va. Mag. of Hist. and Biog., Vol. XIV., No. 2, p. 160.

[33] Hallische Nachrichten, Series No. 2, p. 288.

[34] For a translation of this pamphlet, see Va. Mag. of Hist. and Biog., Vol. XIV., No. 2, p. 147 f.

[35] Will Book F, pp. 126-128, Philadelphia, Pa. For English translation, see Will Book, No. 1, Orange County, Virginia, pp. 84-89. The date of the translation at Orange should be 1739 instead of 1738.

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