Rise and Decline of the First Lutheran Congregation at the Forks of the Delaware:
Paper Read before the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society
By William Jacob Heller
Easton, Pennsylvania: Printed for the author, 1909.
Transcribed by Richard Mammana 2019.
Good old William Penn had passed to the great beyond some dozen years or more at the time when civilization began at the Forks of the Delaware. The proprietary interests in the colony of the Pennsylvania were in the hands of trustees until sometime later when Thomas Penn, one of the sons of the founder, became the controlling factor in the affairs of state. The direct management was in the hands of the deputy governors who were mere creatures of his own making and, consequently, at odds with the assembly and the people.
At the time when settlement was being made along the Lehigh river or west branch of the Delaware, as it was then called, the proprietaries were two in number, Thomas Penn, who owned three-fourths of the province, and Richard Penn, who owned one-fourth. Thomas Penn was a man of business—careful, saving and methodical. Richard Penn was a spendthrift.
Both were men of slender abilities and not of very estimable character. But, unhappily, they cherished those erroneous Tory notions of the rights of sovereignty which Lord Bute infused into the contracted mind of George III and which cost that dull and obstinate monarch, his colonies. These Penns, in addition to the pride of possessing acres by the million, felt themselves to be lords of the land they owned, and of the people who dwelt upon it. They were long upheld in this belief by the English-speaking Pennsylvanians themselves. When one of the proprietaries visited the Province, he received the address, as a king might from his subjects, and replied to them with a brevity more royal. The tone and style of all their later communications to the Pennsylvanians, was that of offended lords to countenanced vassals. Yet, at home, as Franklin records, they were so insignificant as hardly to be found in the herd of gentry; not in court, not in office and not in Parliament.
Not long after the death of William Penn, his executors or trustees undertook to liquidate part of the enormous debt left by the founder, by disposing of his landed interests in the Province of West Jersey, of which he was one of the twelve original owners and holder of many thousand acres in various choice tracts bordering on the east side of the Delaware river. These were on sale at the land office in Philadelphia and many of the German emigrants then flocking into Philadelphia with the intention of settling in the new Province of Pennsylvania, selected some of these Jersey tracts in preference to those on the Pennsylvania side, principally by reason of their ability to procure land farther north, the lands on the Pennsylvania side, not yet being open to settlement above the Lehigh river. This was one of the reasons why the Jersey side of the valley was well settled from Trenton to Port Jervis, at the headwaters of the Delaware.
While the sturdy German was poling his craft and all his worldly possessions up the Delaware river from Philadelphia, his future neighbor was the English, plodding westwardly from New York and the more thickly settled parts of East Jersey.
While William Penn was one of the twelve original owners of West Jersey, his holdings were not as great as those of the others. Consequently, the English settlers were more numerous than the German.
Thomas Penn so restricted the sale of the public land in Pennsylvania that the burden of his father’s enormous debt would be assumed by the accounts overdue from prior sales, his desire being to be personally free from this encumbrance attached to his legacy. The northern boundary of the Durham tract, which is now the line between the counties of Northampton and Bucks, was understood by the land office to be as far north as was included in Penn’s purchase of 1686 but the extravagant manner of surveying in those days, made boundaries very indefinite and no one was able to tell just where the northern boundary of the Durham tract existed. The early settlers, unable to locate it, fixed upon the Lehigh river as the proper boundary.
Here then was a tract of land embracing all that now lies between the present Bucks county line and the Lehigh river. It was seven to eight miles in width and extended southwestwardly to the Schuylkill river, about forty miles in length. The land office under the management of James Logan, made a compromise line and refused to allow settlement within four miles of the Lehigh river. These German pioneer settlers, however, discovered that while this territory was mountainous, it was peculiarly adapted to cultivation, even to its highest peaks and proceeded to locate accordingly, considering it a part of the Durham tract. From Saucon township to the Delaware river, it was known for many years, as Durham Township. Title to these lands was not secured until after 1740. But speculators who had claims for large tracts of land, were under no restrictions and proceeded to throw them open to settlement. One of these, was William Allen, of Philadelphia, the wealthiest man in the Province, who laid claim to numerous tracts of various sizes, not only south of the Lehigh but some north of this definite line between the white man and his red brother.
William Penn, the founder, bequeathed to his grandson, William Penn Jr., ten thousand acres outright, in any parts of the settled portion of the Province. The latter subsequently parted with his legacy to William Allen for a lump sum of money. Allen then proceeded to speculate on it and announced in a letter to the officials of the land office, that he contemplated surveying some of it above the Blue Mountains, in the Minnesink country and this he would call “William’s land” in honor of the grandson, William. But as this place was some thirty miles or more above the boundary, in territory not yet purchased from the Indians, he was unsuccessful in making survey.
He then laid claim to parcels of land within the Forks between the Lehigh and the mountain. As this territory was known as Forks township and the land above the mountain, where he first contemplated operations, was called Smithfield, he surveyed several large tracts south of the Lehigh and gave it the name of Williamstown, and as Williams, it has remained ever since.
We now open our story at a period about 1725, at the confluence of the two rivers, the Lehigh and Delaware. To the north and west of these rivers, the land known as the Forks, was not open for settlement, although, a few years later here and there, could be found a stray settler, risking the dangers from an unknown enemy. The German emigrant had settled thickly along the entire length of the Jersey side of the Delaware, and also on the south side of the Lehigh. Here, they contented themselves with looking across the river at the “land of promise” occasionally venturing over for the purpose of planting or for pasturing cattle on the most favored spots, patiently awaiting the time the red man would vacate and the white man take his place.
This triangular tract, now comprising all of Northampton county above the Lehigh, was known as the Forks, not because of its being within the confluence of these two rivers but by reason of the numerous Indian trails which forked in various ways to reach the few passes in the mountain.
The Indian possessed no term for forks of a river, only forks of a road or trail. One of these, was the great Minnesink trail, crossing the Lehigh in the proximity of what is now, Island Park, and going in a northeastwardly direction, (some of this trail, is still in existence) crossing the Bethlehem road at what is now called, Wilson’s Crossing, thence to Seipsville, Tatamy and on to Tatamy’s Gap, at a point below the Lehigh Gap in the mountain, two and one half miles west of the Delaware Water Gap. At a point below the Lehigh river, in the vicinity of the old Williams Township church, a branch trail led northwestwardly, crossing the Lehigh river at a point known as Yeslestein’s Island, a short distance below Bethlehem, thence through Bethlehem, up the Monocacy Creek, thence to Catasauqua and along the Lehigh, to Smith’s Gap and Little Gap, about five miles east of Lehigh Gap.
The early settlers were informed by the Indians that a buffalo trail crossed the Lehigh, at Best’s Ford, a few hundred yards above the present Glendon Bridge. This was used by the buffalo in traveling to and from the salt deposits at tide water. This entire territory was a vast treeless plain, having, for ages, been burned by the Indians to chase game through the mountain passes and dispatching it on the way. To the Jerseyites, it was known as the “Barrens” and, to the Philadelphians, as the “Dryland.” The Hollanders, who made the first discovery from the north, called it “Blanvelt,” which in English, means Plainfield.
The early settlers, evidently, were not aware of the peculiar contour of the Lehigh river and, consequently, those who went north through the Perkiomen valley, reached the Lehigh at a point some distance above the Lehigh Hills or South Mountain which was the forbidden line. At this early period, we find a number of them at what was termed Egypt, now Whitehall township, Lehigh county. The Scotch-Irish also proceeded this way and made settlement on forbidden ground at what is now, Weaversville, in Allen township and along the creek from Bath to Catasauqua.
The settlers in the Lehigh hills, now known as Williams township, and at that time known as “at the Forks,” were very numerous and, with those living on the Jersey side of the Delaware, made quite a community. Here were two hamlets. One is now Raubsville, on the Pennsylvania side, and the other Phillipsburg, in New Jersey. This latter place was named after Johan Wilhelm Phillips, of Phillipsburg, in Germany, who had settled here very early. Raubsville was considered the extreme outpost in the province. Here, Peter Raub maintained a ferry across the Delaware to a point near the Pohohatcong creek where Johan Peter Meolich had a mill and worked the ferry in partnership with Raub. This ferry was moved farther north to its present location, in the year 1760.
Another prominent settler was Jeremiah Bast, son of one of the former governors of west Jersey. Jeremiah settled on Allen’s tract of five hundred acres at the buffalo ford on the Lehigh at what is now Glendon Valley.
John Casper Stoever, the first Evangelical Lutheran preacher in America, about the year 1730, gathered these settlers at the Forks, into two congregations. One was a short distance south of what is now Redington and was known as the Congregation, of the “AUGSBURG CONFESSION IN SAUCON AT PHILIP SCHLAUGH’S, NOT FAR FROM THE BIG LEHIGH AND FORKS OF THE DELAWARE.” The members of this congregation were William Brand, Christian Laubach, Reinhard Laubach, George Peter Knecht, George Hartzell, Johannes Ruckstiehl, Rudolph Illick, Melchoir Stecker, Philip Slough, Ludwig Sheets, Jacob Hartzell, Peter Rautenbuch, Henry Schoner, George Schoner, Nicholas Riegel, Gotlieb Demuth, Rudolph Oberly, John Nolan, John Frey, Jacob Slough, Paul Frantz, Mathew Shoner, Christopher Ruthman, John Adam, John Jacob Reichard, John Meichel, Jacob Shimer, Mathias Bruch, John Shuck, Michael Hinkel, Casper Erb, Wendel Schenck, John George Schenck, John Eckert, Bernhard Miller, Balser Bauman, Jacob Hesel, John Martin Egle, John George Weiss, Michael Hechgelman, John Michael Lutz, Mathias Konig, Jacob Konig, John Michael, Conrad Wagner.
About the year 1755 this congregation disbanded and affiliated with the one then being formed at what is now the old Williams township church, on the land of Wendel Schenck.
Muhlenberg says of this congregation: “A vagabond crept into the congregation at the forks of the Delaware and caused distraction,” but Muhlenberg’s well known antipathy toward all itinerant preachers, good, bad or indifferent, may have caused this remark through prejudice, as, evidently this congregation being very weak in numbers and somewhat isolated from the more thickly settled territory, deemed it to their advantage to affiliate with the congregation just formed in Williams township which was a success from the start and was always known as the “CONGREGATION OF THE AUGSBURG CONFESSION IN SAUCON AND WILLIAMSTOWN” and is known to the present day as the “OLD WILLIAMS TOWNSHIP CHURCH.”
Some of these, however, later became identified with and were very active members of the Reformed denomination in Lower Saucon township. The other congregation was considerably larger and their church was a structure built part stone and part log. It stood on the spot now occupied by the reservoir of the South Easton Water Company at Cedarville, where the Philadelphia road intersects the road leading to the Delaware river. This was known as the “CONGREGATION ON THE DELAWARE RIVER BELONGING TO THE LUTHERAN RELIGION.” It was, probably, the largest Lutheran congregation at that period in America. Here worshiped all the Lutherans of upper Jersey. During the first few years services were held only on important religious anniversaries. Later they were held more frequently or whenever an itinerant preacher could be procured.
On the day preceding these special services it was necessary to notify the inhabitants of the event. This was done by building huge bon-fires on the summit of Morgan’s Hill. These fires could be seen for forty miles around and, on the following day, there could be found assembled Magnus Decker of Upper Jersey, Nicholas Ensel of Sussex, Jacob Lunger from Changewater, John Adam Schnell, Jacob Loeffler and Peter Herring from along the Musconetcong, Nicholas Kern of near Lehigh Gap, John Fein of Finesville, Philip Reimer from Upper Mt. Bethel, Wilhelm Volbrecht from Egypt, Ludwig Klein from Scott’s Mountain and others of their neighbors. The members of this remarkable congregation whose names are here recorded, constituted nearly the entire population at the Forks and the regions roundabout.
George Raub, Jacob Raub, Peter Raub, Martin Manlin, Michael Raub, Jacob Kister, John Lerch, Michael Meyer, John Bast, Jacob Bast, Jeremiah Bast, Leonard Kister, John Adam Schnell, John Schuch, Magnus Decker, Henrich Decker, Bernhard Wilhelm, Leonard Hartzell, George Wilhelm Koehl, Adam Bayer, John Henrich Kleinhans, Balzer Hess, Peter Hess, Conrad Hess, Michael Hess, Frederick Hess, Michael Bernhard, Laurence Merkel, Frederick Giehrast, Nicholas Ensel, Nicholas Kern, Wilhelm Gahr, Wendel Brechbiehl, John Bleyler, John Feit, John Adam Schwartzwelder, Peter Rieser, Powel Rieser, Mathias Bruch, Jacob Abel, Daniel Wormbsea, Peter Quattlebaum, Leonard Vogelman, Elias Hesel, John Berger, Frederick Lunger, Abraham Lunger, Dr. Peter Sailer, John Conrad Vogelman, Michael Wilhelm, Jacob Geyer, Henry Frantz, Henry Giehrast, Paul Reeser, Jacob Rodenhoster, Wilhelm Volbrecht, Peter Moelich, Johan Yost, Rothenberger, Johan Michael Enders (Andrews), Wilhelm Kern, Johan Philip Odenwelder, Jacob Maurer, Jacob Koch, Johan Frantz Mehrbos, Christian Miller, Jacob Gukert, Powell Frantz, Jacob Brotzman, Christian Mohr, Bodrik De Winne, Gerhardt Mohr, Peter Wohleber, Frederick Brotzman, Gotfried Moelich, Michael Schumacher, Johan Schumacher, Godfried Reich, Jacob Zug, Peter Lerch, Jacob Ritschy, Elias Meyer, Mathias Fraunfelder, John Faas, Thomas Fein, Jacob Bentz, Rudolph Dantzeler, Henrich Luck, John Adam Frickeroth, Jacob Beutelman, Wilhelm Kern, Christian Eckert, Christopher Kintzel, Jacob Dech, John Melchior, Godfried Klein, Andrew Grub, Peter Grub, Wilhelm Phillip, Elias Dietrich, George Mathias Otto, Conrad Fritz, Adam Schmidt, John Weiler, John Feber, John Michael Leder, Christopher Falkenberg, Leonard Kister, John Bartholomew, Peter Lantz, Nicholas Lantz, Conrad Zeller, John Sherffenstein, Johan Peter Richer, Jacob Schaup, John Bast, Mathias Unzinger, Johan Philip Dick, Philip Bozzerd, Michael Koch, Jacob Paddendorfer, Valentine Schultz, Peter Wolleber, George Reimel, John Peter Edelman, Andrew Miller, George Ditman, John Wildrick, Peter Herring, John Klackner, Johan Philip Weltz, Jacob Miller, Sebastian Keyser, Mathias Schmidt, Mathias Pentz, Henry Reimschmidt, Jacob Weltz, Johan Pohl, Jacob Reich, Jacob Trieb, Joseph Aninger, Anton Hener, Johan Drumheller, George Shick, John Daniel Reinheimer, George Henry Unangst, Philip Opp, George Michael Krauss, John Peter Schonfelter, John Christian Heil, Geo. Sickman, Jacob Kutzler, John Enneger, Henry Schrenk, Jacob Loeffler, Christopher Falkenberger, Ludwig Ditman, Johan Jacob Peisher, Henry Haudeshield, Jacob Ritter, John Conrad Wollenweber, Jacob Rumfelt, John Ludwig Repsher, Philip Wendel Opp, Jacob Klipel, Powel Kuntz, Henry Salmon, Baltzer Dielman, Frederick Kuhn, Mathias Unsinger, Jacob Zeller. These with their wives and grown children helped to swell the membership, making a congregation of nearly three hundred people. This, certainly, is a remarkable showing for so early a period which was prior to the laying out of the county of Northampton and of the town of Easton, in 1752. Its disruption was caused by factional feuds, sectional warring being constant between the Jerseyites and the Pennsylvanians. The great number of the English speaking people of the Jersey side, influenced, to a surprising degree, the German element living in their midst and these poor deluded Germans began aping their English neighbors and imagined themselves a little better than their despised German brethren on the other side of the river who remained true to the tradition of their sires, maintaining intercourse with each other in the language of their Fatherland. The German Jerseyites, not only acquired the English language but evinced a desire to have their names appear in English form. This was unfortunate for not many years later, the different branches of many of these families utterly failed to recognize the relationship existing between them. While some of these adopted names were of proper English equivalent, others show a lack of knowledge in the translation of the German term to that of English. Some of these are more noticeable than others, as, for instance, we take the case of the two brothers by the name of Moelich. One of these lived in Williams township and maintained the name in its original form while the other changed his to Mellick. He remained on the Jersey side of the river, built the old stone house still standing at Carpenterville. They became entirely lost to each other. Another prominent name of the period in review was that of Zimmerman who changed his name to Carpenter, Johannes Fein became the founder of Finesville. Johannes Feit clung to his proper name although some of his family run along, for some years, as Fight. This transition certainly is more phonetic than correct. The next is the compound name, Holtz-Heysen. Someone of this name, evidently, not content with one change, handed down to posterity, three ways of spelling it. Schoeff, evidently, was in earnest in making the change as he lived for several years under the name of Sheep, the English equivalent. His descendants, however, grew up Sharp and the family is quite numerous throughout Jersey under that name. Reeser was represented by three brothers, two of whom, retained the name while the other omitted the last letter and this branch became the well known family by the name of Reese. The descendants of Hans Ludwig Klein, seceded from the Lutheran denomination entirely and found an agreeable place in the Presbyterian camp where they are well represented under the English name, Cline. Two brothers by the name Rothenberger, settled along the river bank a short distance below the present railroad bridges, under the name of Rosenberger. One of these, later, removed across the river into Bucks county, retaining the name, Rosenberger. The other raised a large family who made the change into Roseberger, Rosenberg, Rozenbury and Roseberry. The original plantation remained in the possession of the latter branch and became known as Roseberry’s Fishery.
Dammer became Tammer, and later, Tomer, Schubmann was changed to Shipman, Brechbiel turned into Brakely. There were a great many other changes in these German names but the change was not so far removed from the original.
This transition of names and ideas also had its influence on the Pennsylvania side of the river where a few changes were made. One of particular note is that of Leonard Keuster, a distiller in Williams township. He had a large family a number of whom migrated to different parts of the province and assumed different names. One of these was Kessler, after whom, the village of Kesslersville, in Plainfield township, is named. Another went to what is now Lehigh county under the name of Kistler. Another went to what is now Monroe county and his descendants became known as Custard. A part of this latter branch settled in Ohio and omitted the last letter, producing the name Custar. General Custer, the noted military leader, was one of this branch.
The precise time when the church, belonging to this congregation, was erected, will probably never be known. Neither has the year, in which the congregation was formed, been determined.
John Casper Stoever arrived in America in 1728. He then was twenty-one years of age. He immediately proceeded to the interior of the Province and began forming congregations among the scattered settlers. In this congregation on the Delaware, he records baptism in 1733. The regular church records began in 1740, at which time, Johan Justice Jacob Birckenstock, an itinerant preacher or reader, who not having been ordained to preach, assumed charge and continued to officiate here in connection with three other congregations along the south side of the Lehigh mountain between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. He was a man of education and was assessed as clerk. In those days, the educated emigrants who possessed little or no knowledge of trades, were compelled to seek a vocation to which they were more adapted, and, as there was a great demand for preachers and teachers, these men of profession turned their attention to missionary work. Both Stoever and Birckenstock were men of exceptional ability and did great service in the cause of Lutheranism in the colony. These two, among others of these itinerant preachers, paved the way for Muhlenberg, who, clothed with ministerial power, arrived in America, a dozen years later.
Muhlenberg evidently did not recognize any unordained minister and persistently refused to ordain either Stoever or Birckenstock. The work of these itinerant preachers was of a very different character from that of Muhlenberg. They, as pioneer missionaries, were obliged to deal with the rude and gross condition of a neglected generation of people, gathered together to listen to the word of God for the first time. There was no organization and no mode of worship. There was a total ignorance on the part of the rising generation, and, in general, all the rudeness of the primitive and pioneer life. There was no one in the Pennsylvania wilderness who was capable of examining or ordaining these workers, or even of administering the holy sacrament. They officiated in the individual capacity and not like Muhlenberg, as a special representative of a powerful missionary institution in Europe and of the civil government in London. However, there was no mistaking their adherence to the unaltered Augsburg Confession. Muhlenberg’s persistent hostility toward these indefatigable workers was really the means of bringing about the very conditions that he deplores in his communications to the home body and it was only of late years that these early unordained missionaries received the credit due them. Stoever organized this congregation between 1728 and 1730, served it for a few years longer as we find a baptism by him in 1737 and, then probably, relinquished his charge entirely as, about this time, he was confining himself to the territory west of the Schuylkill.
Birckenstock assumed charge in 1739 and began systematic record in 1740. He also entered a memorandum, on the inside front cover of the Record Book, of two baptisms by Stoever, one of 1733 and the other 1737. He, evidently, was popular with the congregation as it was during his pastorate that their membership made rapid increase. In the year 1749, he made a trip to Europe to become ordained and to raise a fund for religious purposes in America. He, unfortunately, died while abroad and the congregation was reduced to the necessity of employing any itinerant who happened to be in the vicinity. Muhlenberg records a visit to this congregation in 1747 and apologizes for so doing by saying that he was urgently requested, by friends, to make the visit. He, evidently, did not know much about these two congregations as he also mentions them as “two small congregations existing at the Forks.” Whether he desired to ignore them entirely or to make them appear of little importance, is of little consequence, as, at that time, one of these congregations, under review could show the largest membership of any Lutheran congregation in America.
The year 1750 marked an epoch in the history of this congregation, Ludolph Henry Schrenk, one of Muhlenberg’s emissaries, assumed the pastoral charge. The smouldering embers of discontent now burst forth in flames of disruption. The Jersey faction seceded from the congregation and established a church of their own in Greenwich township, about two miles east of the Delaware, near what is now Stewartsville, Warren county, N. J. Here, they built a church, covering the roof of it with straw. It became known as Straw church, and is so called even to this day. They, some years later, adopted the title of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Congregation in Greenwich.
The Pennsylvania faction of the old congregation, with a few of the Jerseyites who still remained loyal, are recorded in the church book as follows:
A list of those who are minded to hold to the congregation here and what they are willing to give yearly, as long as each chooses. Should, however, one or another quit, he shall inform the deacons that he no longer holds thereto.
Gotfried Moelich £1 Peter Moehlich 15 Sh. George Raub 20 Sh. John Bast 15 Sh. Jacob Loefler 10 Sh. Jacob Grub 8 Sh. Wilhelm Volbrecht 5 Sh. Leonard Kister £1 John Philip Dick 3 Sh. George Schuk 2 Sh. Dom. Schmitt 8 Sh. Jacob Brotzman 7 Sh. Balzer Hess 5 Sh. Michael Wilhelm £1 Peter Seiler 10 Sh. Christian Eckert 18 Sh. Mathias Fraunfelder 4 Sh. John Fein 5 Sh. John Feit 6 Sh. Peter Lantz 5 Sh. Michael Roseberger 6 Sh. Yost Roseberger 6 Sh. Elias Dietrich 5 Sh. Jacob Lerch 5 Sh. George Ditmar 5 Sh. John Sharps 7 Sh. 6 D. Jacob Ritter 4 Sh. Frederick Lunger 9 Sh. Dorothy Rothenhofer 7 Sh. 6 D. Frederick Dick 2 Sh. 6 D.
5 Sh. John Peter Edelman 3 Sh. John Ludwig Klein 7 Sh. 6 D. Henry Dammer 7 Sh. 6 D. John Erdoster 2 Sh. Christian Jacob Schuk *** Philip Feister 2 Sh. John Michael Meyer 3 Sh. Philip Otewaller 4 Sh. Philip Reimel 2 Sh. John Miniger 3 Sh. Jacob Zeller 2 Sh. 6 D. Jacob Richer 4 Sh. Bernhard Miller 4 Sh. John Daniel Reinheimer 4 Sh.
Five of these were at this time, residents of New Jersey and the records show the names of the two Rosebergers crossed out. Evidently persuasion was brought to bear on these two worthies by the Jerseyites. Some twenty years later when the first records of the Straw church were begun, we find recorded the names of these two Rosebergers, along with those of Fein, Feit, Dietrich, Sharps, Ritter, Lunger, Herring, Klein and Dammer under the changed form of Tomer.
The old congregation appeared to thrive for awhile. The list of communicants in the spring of 1750 was 53, in December of that year, 37. April 1751, 26. November 1751, 23. May, 1752, 62. November 1752, 42. April 1753, 122, including ten confirmed. 1754, 37. 1755, 77. In April 1753 apparently was a rally day as the records for the occasion show the names of many of the Jerseyites, also some of the former Saucon congregation, at that time, known as the Williamston and Sacona, and, at the present, old Williams. Probably, this large attendance was caused by one of the visits of Muhlenberg, who, about the time had made a name for himself and cleared the field of many of the itinerant readers. While Muhlenberg was creating a substantial ministerium, he was reducing the force of school teachers as all the itinerants were teachers as well as preachers and they were equally as popular as those furnished by Muhlenberg. The eastern end of Williams township as well as many other parts of the Pennsylvania wilderness, depended on these itinerant preachers for many years after Muhlenberg’s time.
Just when this old congregation ceased to exist as a unit, has not yet been determined ,but services were held periodically until about 1815. Occasionally, services were held in the old church by the few adherents of the Reformed denomination. The burying ground for this territory was what is now known as Hay’s cemetery. Here, about 1815, the remnant of the old congregation, erected a building or what might be, termed, a shed, in which, they held services occasionally. The majority of the members of the old congregation, about this time, became identified with the congregation at the Old Williams. About the year 1820, the old church building was demolished and the stone part of it was used in the construction of the stone building directly west, along the opposite side of the Philadelphia road and which, after undergoing another change in the year 1907, is now a modern residence and bears no evidence as being part of the old church edifice.
The supposition that this old congregation affiliated with the one at Easton, in the year 1755, at the time of the erection of what was locally called, the Charity school, where Lutheran services were also held occasionally, is erroneous, as very few of the names appear on the records of this new congregation and these names were only of those who had taken up their residence in Easton.
Muhlenberg’s antagonism toward these itinerant preacher-teachers was shared by his disciples and they kept up a constant strife until long after the Revolutionary war. One of these regulars held forth at the Straw church, and, when the parents of a month old babe that had not yet been baptised, fearing that death might overtake the little one, sent for this disciple of Muhlenberg to perform the ceremony, there being no minister in the neighborhood at the time, he graciously complied. However, he enters on the records of his congregation, “baptized in Williams township, a case of necessity, a child named (here giving the names of the child and parents).” In the space allotted to sponsors, we find this statement:
“besides the parents of the child, were present, the grand parents, ——. Owing to they being from a community in which they maintained disorderly preachers, they were rejected as sponsors.” The grandfather, here referred to, was, at the time, a leading man of Williams township, sheriff of Northampton county and served two terms in the state Legislature.
Many of these ambassadors of the Lord whose ordination occurred early in the American crusade, were not made of the best of mankind and were susceptible to vanity and malice. Probably, credit is due these ancient communicants of Williams township, for sound judgment in maintaining itinerant preachers for so many years.
updated 9 August 2019 | Page maintained by Richard Mammana