History of Lawrence County Pennsylvania, 1770 - 1877, by S.W. and P.A. Durant.
[p. 133] This is one of the original townships of Lawrence county, and was erected when it was yet in Mercer county, from parts of Neshannock (Lawrence county) and Lackawannock (Mercer county) townships, in February, 1846. Its area is about eleven thousand five hundred acres. The surface is diversified with hill and valley, wood and stream, and for agricultural purposes is generally fine. The borough of New Wilmington was erected from a portion of the township, April 4, 1863, and includes between three and four hundred acres. The other villages of the township are Fayetteville, Neshannock Falls and Lockeville (Volant post-office). Abundant water-power is afforded by numerous streams, the principal ones being the Big and Little Neshannock. The scenery along the Big Neshannock, especially, partakes of almost Elysian beauty, and in places approaches the majestic in its lofty rocky banks and wild gorges filled with a luxuriant growth of hemlocks. [p. 134] All the streams are rapid, and the bottom-lands along them are very narrow except in some localities, where they extend to a breadth of half a mile or more.
The township is traversed, along Big Neshannock creek, by the New Castle and Franklin railway. The stations upon it are Wilmington, Neshannock Falls and Volant, though the latter may more properly belong to Washington township, one corner of which takes in a portion of the village.
The first settler in Wilmington township was probably William Hodge, who came up the Beaver and Shenango rivers in a canoe, in company with Simon Van Orsdel, in the month of February, 1797. Van Orsdel, not long afterwards, went to Wayne county, Ohio. Hodge remained and built a cabin on his place, and made a small clearing, and, in 1798 some time, sold out to William Porter, taking his pay in linen cloth. Porter came from Westmoreland county, and was the second settler in the township. He came a-foot, his wife accompanying him, and also walking. His knapsack and implements he carried on his back like an old soldier or miner going to his "diggings." He and his wife afterwards went back and brought out their children.
After Porter's settlement, the year 1798 witnessed a number of arrivals. James Hazlep settled the land now occupied by the borough of New Wilmington, and afterwards became the possessor of some eight hundred acres in the vicinity. John McCrum came the same year, also James Waugh; the latter afterwards, about 1824, purchased the ground where New Wilmington now stands, and he and his sons laid out the town about that time.*
*Some individuals say that this man was not the same who laid out the town.
Hugh Means came in 1800, and brought a considerable family of boys. He built a grist-mill on Little Neshannock creek, east of what is now New Wilmington. This was the first mill in the neighborhood, and was extensively patronized, customers coming sometimes ten or twelve miles. It was then within the bounds of the newly-created county of Mercer. Elections were held in it, and "Means' Mill" was a well-known place among the early settlers. Descendants of Mr. Means are yet living in the neighborhood. His son Daniel served in the war of 1812-15, and another son, Henry, hauled supplies for the soldiers. The widow of George Means lives on the old Hugh Means homestead, and three of the sons, Henry, Daniel and Hugh, live in the neighborhood, all having reached advanced ages. Henry, the oldest living child, is now in his eighty-ninth year. Rosanna Means (Mrs. Buchanan) is living at Eastbrook, in Hickory township, and is the youngest of Hugh Means' children.
Hugh Watson came from Mifflintown, Juniata county, Pa., in 1806, and settled near Neshannock Falls, on the farm now owned by Henry Wareham. He brought his wife and one child (a daughter) with him, and nine months after their arrival his wife died. The child Jane Watson, was but eighteen months old when her mother died, and is now living with her nephew, James N. Watson, northeast of Fayetteville.
John Watson came in 1808, and located on a part of the same farm with Hugh Watson.
John Watson's son James came in 1809, and lived for a while with his father, and afterwards removed to the site of the village of Fayetteville, where he had purchased one hundred and eighty-five acres of land. The first settler on this place was Thomas Sampson, who bought a claim from William Whiteside, in 1804. John Sampson purchased a piece off the same tract, east of him, and located upon it in 1805, during which year he opened what was long known as the "Backwoods Tavern," an institution of great repute, known as far east as Lancaster county, Pa. Persons who came to the neighborhood to examine land always staid with Sampson. The tavern was a log building, and quite a roomy structure for the time. Some of the old hickory rails which John Sampson split in August, 1805, and placed in the floor of his stable and covered for his horses to lie upon, are still in use in a rail fence on James Watson's place. They were cut from a hickory tree near by, and were twelve feet long.
William Hodge, William McCrum (son of John McCrum) and Samuel Hazlep (son of James Hazlep), were in the war of 1812.
Adam Wilson came from Carlisle, Cumberland county, Pa., in 1806-7, and located near Neshannock Presbyterian Church, west of New Wilmington. Mr. Wilson had two still-houses on his place, and made as "good an article of whisky as anybody around."
James Banks came from Juniata county in the year 1815. He had been married the 11th of May of that year, and started for his new home the 5th of June. On arriving in Lawrence county (then Mercer) he located on the farm where he is now living with his son, Andrew Banks. In 1811 he had purchased the land, two hundred acres, of Hugh Johnston, paying four dollars and a-quarter an acre. He was out and looked at the land in 1814, but did not locate upon it until 1815, after he had made his last payment. Johnston had cleared about forty acres, and built a hewed-log house twenty four square feet.
The tract was one which had been purchased, together with a number of others--all Donation land--by Richard Montgomery, a gentleman living in Philadelphia. This tract Montgomery sold to a man named Gordon, who came and looked at it, and thinking he could never live on it, sold it to Hugh Johnston, who, with his two sons, made the improvements. When Mr. Banks came with his wife to the place in 1815, neighbors were scarce, and there was little choice in society--"to be a white man was to be a friend and neighbor," and it was not considered necessary to make friends with wild beasts and reptiles. However, the latter class took it into their heads to scrape acquaintance anyway, and accordingly the first visitor Mr. And Mrs. Banks had in their new home was a huge blacksnake, which dropped unceremoniously to the floor from the roof-timbers, where he had been quietly hiding. It is safe to presume that this unannounced entree created a profound sensation, for human nerves are no more than human, and a panther dropping in their midst could hardly have startled them more for the instant. Johnston came to the farm about 1808.
Mr. Banks' brother, John Banks, came out about 1818, and was afterwards elected the first Member of Congress from Mercer county. He located at Mercer, and read law in the office of Mr. Sample at that place.
The first building put up in the Banks' neighborhood, where whisky was not used at the raising, was James Banks' barn, built in 1842.
When Mr. Banks was about six years old, he attended school of some sixty pupils, near his home, in Juniata county, and of the members of the school the male portion has sent men into almost every public office, except Governor, United States Senator and President. Only two of the number never held office. Of the girls who attended the school, nearly every one married advantageously. In 1840 and 1841, James Banks represented Mercer county in State Legislation. He is now living, in his eighty-sixth year.
It is a remarkable fact that the trip from Juniata county, which, in 1815, occupied two weeks of time, can now be made in a single day, so great is the difference between the horseback ride across the mountains and the lonely tour through the wilderness, and the luxurious mode of traveling over an iron track behind a swift locomotive.
Mr. Banks grandfather, James Banks, came from Scotland with his family about 1750, and settled in Chester county, Pa., where he staid a short time, and afterwards removed to York county. He came to Pittsburgh with Forbes' army in 1758, and after being away six months, returned to his family, and, about 1771, removed to Juniata county, where he lived the balance of his life.
The village is located on the north side of Big Neshannock creek, in the bend in the stream, and is named from the rapid in the creek near Holstein's grist-mill. Here the channel of the stream is narrowed to a considerable extent, and for some forty or fifty feet the descent is such as to create a swift rush of the waters, and, as they dash among the fragments of rock which lie in the bed of the stream, they make noise enough for a respectable waterfall. The rocky banks rise abruptly from the water, and their sides and summits are covered with a thick growth of evergreens. The place is a great resort for pic-nic parties during the Summer, and the rocks bear witness to the frequency of the visits in the many names cut on their faces "with many a sharp incision." The earliest of them reach back as far as 1826 or '27. The first pic-nic was held here on the 4th of July, about 1835. The orator of this occasion was Samuel Irwin, who afterwards went as a missionary to the Sioux Indians on the Nebraska border. The locality used to bed frequented by numbers of deer and wild turkeys, the former coming for the brackish moss which covered the rocks, and the latter to brood in the sheltered nooks around the "falls." In a cavern or hollow beneath the rocks was accidentally found, some years since, a possible relic of a pre-historic race. It was a stone image, some eighteen or twenty inches in length, carved to represent a chief, with all his paraphernalia, even to the imitation of his head necklace. What has become of the figure is not known. It may possibly have been cut and placed there by some of the later Indians, or, perhaps, it was the invention of some ingenious white, who had a desire for exciting curiosity equal to that of the sculptor and secreter [sic] of the famed "Cardiff giant."
[p. 135] The first school-house at Neshannock Falls was built about 1835. It was a frame building, and has since given place to the present brick school-house, erected about 1871-2.
Thomas, John, and James Wilson built a flouring-mill on the Big Neshannock, about sixty rods above the present Wilson mill, in the neighborhood of 1826-7. It was a frame building, containing a four run of stone. Before the grist-mill was built, the Wilsons had erected a saw-mill, since torn away. The original dam was removed and a new one built on the same site about 1850. The present mill, owned by E. B. Wilson, was built in 1841, by the same parties who built the first one, and has four run of stone, two of them having been for some time in use in the old mill. After the new mill was built, the old one was remodeled and used for a woolen factory, and finally torn down. The present mill does a large custom and merchant business, most of the flour manufactured being shipped to New Castle, and some to Pittsburgh. Thomas, John and James Wilson were sons of Adam Wilson, who settled, in 1806 or 1807, near New Wilmington.
John Wilson built a paper-mill about 1852, and, after running it for two years, disposed of it to J. C. Shaw, who operated it until February, 1866, during which month it was burned down, and has not been rebuilt.
Samuel Holstein built a grist-mill and a saw-mill (the saw-mill first) sometime between 1835 and 1840, near the site of the present Holstein mill. A woolen-mill was built somewhere about the same time, but is not now running, though still standing. The old grist-mill was finally removed, and the present one built, about 1856-7, by Hugh and Thomas McConnell, for Mr. Holstein, they having the use of the mill for a term of years.
A saw-mill was built at the head of the present Holstein mill-race as early as 1810-12, by Hugh Watson, and was the first one in the neighborhood. It has long since been removed, as well as the old dam. It was running for several years subsequent to 1815.
The name "Neshannock" is of Indian origin, and has been preserved in all its music, instead of giving the stream the more commonplace title which Neshannock would probably become if translated into English.
An iron-furnace was built at Neshannock Falls about 1850-52, and belonged to W. G. & C. A. Powers, who also had a store--the first one at the place. The furnace was operated some ten or twelve years, the ore being taken from the immediate neighborhood, and much of it from the farm of James Banks. Charcoal was exclusively used for fuel. The ore was of a good quality, said to yield sixty per cent of iron.
The country along Neshannock creek is extensively underlaid with iron ore, but the "roof" is so bad, and the land is necessarily cut up so much in mining it, owing to its approaching so near the surface, that it is no longer taken out. The same trouble is met in getting out the coal; the vein is thin also, although the coal is an excellent quality.
The first store in Neshannock Falls was, as before mentioned, kept by W. G. & C. A. Powers, who, after carrying it on for a while, sold it to Holstein & Miller. These gentlemen had it until April, 1857, when they sold to J. C. Shaw, who has had it ever since. The first store, as does the present, contained a general stock. For sometime previous to the date Mr. Shaw opened, there had been no store.
Reuben Wisman built a carriage and wagon-shop about 1868, and has carried on the business ever since.
S. M. Perry has a blacksmith-shop above the wagon-shop, which he opened about 1859.
Neshannock Falls post-office was established about 1864-66. Samuel Holstein, Esq., was the first postmaster, and held the office some six or seven years, when J. C. Shaw took it and has held it since. The village and post-office are both named from the "Falls."
James Watson laid out this village into thirty lots and sold them at auction, February 8th, 1828. William Mays moved his house down from New Wilmington, and his was the first in the place. The next morning after getting it set up in Fayetteville, he sold it to Robert Calvin, who opened a tailor shop in it. Mays was also a tailor but kept no shop, and went around doing odd jobs from house to house; or, as the saying is, "whipped the cat."
The first school-house in the place was a frame building, erected in 1845 by James G. Thompson. It stood on the site of the present brick school-house. The brick for the present building was manufactured by David Stewart, and the house built, probably, in 1859.
John Collins built the first blacksmith-shop in the Fall of 1830.
The first wagon-shop stood where George Pearson's house now stands, and was owned, probably by a man named Miller.
In 1850, Henry Hoover also built a wagon-shop, and in 1854 Eli Woods bought him out and has carried on the business since, having in the meantime built the shop he now occupies. Some person may, possibly, have had a shop before William B. Miller opened his, but, if so, the fact is now forgotten.
A man named Lord, who had previously owned a store in New Castle, came to Fayetteville in 1837 and opened a general store, which he carried on for about three or four months--from June till October--when he left. Robert Lindsay opened another store the same month in which lord left, and kept it a number of years. After him, Thomas Elliott occupied it.
The old Sampson tavern--the "Blackwoods Tavern"--has been mentioned. After Fayetteville was laid out, the first tavern was opened by James Morrow. It was afterwards occupied by Simon V. Hodge, Daniel Davis and Daniel McLean. James Armstrong also kept tavern for a while in the house where John Young now lives, and William Meadow had one where Stirling's store now stands. The old Morrow tavern stood on the site of the house now occupied by Isaac Peters.
The Lutheran Church in the village was organized, and a frame building erected in 1854. The congregation was originally organized in New Wilmington, but no church was ever built there. When organized, the congregation consisted of about forty members. Its first pastor was Rev. J. H. Brown. A Sabbath-school was organized before the church was built, in 1852, and the first Sabbath-school was held in the Phillips' school-house, south of New Wilmington. The first superintendent was William Heime.
Fayetteville now contains one carriage shop, by E. Woods & Sons; three blacksmith shops, by E. Woods & Sons, Isaac Peters and J. W. Cochran; two shoe shops, by G. L. Pearson and J. R. Anderson; two general stores, by J. M. Sterling and J. P. Holmes; one Lutheran Church; one brick school-building, and one hundred to one hundred and fifty inhabitants.
In April, 1868, J. P. Locke came from Mercer county, Pa., purchased the grist-mill now owned by him, from Samuel Bowan, and also bought one hundred acres of land, on a part of which he afterward, (in 1872) laid out a town of some thirty lots, giving it the name Lockeville. Volant post-office was removed to the place in 1874, and from the post-office the railway station takes the name. The New Castle and Franklin railway was completed to the place in 1873. Part of the lots in the village are in Washington township, a small corner of which is on the west side of Neshannock creek. A new station will soon be built by the railway company, and the name probably changed to Lockeville. A covered bridge is also to be erected over the creek during the coming season--1877.
A church was built by the Methodist Episcopal society, and dedicated in the Fall of 1875. Rev. Mr. Crouch is its first and present pastor.
John and William Graham built a store soon after town was laid out, it being the first building erected in the new town. William Graham was the first postmaster after the office was removed to the village.
Jonathan Wilkin also has a store, and, besides these, there are two shoe shops, owned by George Carr and Frank Herman; one blacksmith shop by Isaac Kirk; two harness shops, by John Potter and Archibald Carr. The inhabitants number about fifty.
A grist-mill was built on the Neshannock on the site of the present one, as early as 1810-12. In 1815 it was run by Thomas Barber, who had a mulatto miller, named Vincent Proctor, "and a very good miller he was," says James Banks. The Barber mill has been changed materially, and is now the property of J. P. Locke.
One Jenne had put up a grist-mill on the creek as early as 1806 or "7, a short distance up the stream, in the limits of the present Mercer county. Jenne abandoned it and left the country, and the old mill went to ruin.
Locke's mill is a popular one among farmers, and does an extensive custom business. It is a frame structure.
About 1810 or 1812 a school-house was built on land belonging to William Hunter, the first teacher being James White. Among the other early teachers in this building were Master McCready, Hugh Watson and a Mr. Bellows. McCready taught for some time, and finally bought out William Hodge, who removed to another place in what is now Pulaski township. In this school-house George Carlon also taught--the same person who afterwards taught in the "Rich Hill" school-house.
A log school-house was built about 1810-12 a quarter of a-mile west of New Wilmington.
[p. 136] "Rich Hill" school-house was built of round logs, with a cabin roof, about 1824-25. Among the first teachers was George Carlon. This school-house gave place to a frame building 24 X 24 feet, built about 1835. The second building was put up in another place, in order to accommodate all the pupils in the district, and was afterwards burned. A third building was erected within thirty rods of the site of the second one, and stood until about 1868-70, when a substantial brick edifice was built, and is used by pupils from both Wilmington and Washington townships.
The schools in the township now number seven, with an average attendance in 1875 of one hundred and seventy-five. The enrollment of school children in the township for that year was two hundred and seventy-two, of whom one hundred and thirty-four were males, and one hundred and thirty-eight females.
The old Beaver and Mercer State road was cut through about 1814, and opened for travel in a few places in 1815.
John Blair came early to the township and located east of New Wilmington on the farm now owned by Mr. Miller. Mr. Blair's father came from Scotland and his mother from Ireland. Mrs. Blair is yet living at the advanced age of eighty-nine years. Five of their children are yet living, and five are dead. One son, Samuel Blair, is living in New Wilmington.
An iron-furnace was built south of New Wilmington, about 1845-46, by Theodore powers and A. L. Crawford, on land purchased from William M. Francis. It was called the "Fremont furnace," and run for about seven years, Mr. Powers being business manager. Domestic ores were used exclusively, and were obtained in the immediate neighborhood. When the railroad was put through along the Shenango, and furnaces were started in the valley of that stream, securing for themselves greater shipping advantages, the "Fremont furnace" became obliged to shut down, although it had had a very successful existence. Remains of it are yet seen, in a ravine on the Wilmington & New Castle road. The price paid for the land was one hundred dollars per acre.
The oldest church organization in the township is the "Neshannock" Presbyterian Congregation, which was organized about 1800. The first pastor was Rev. William Wick, who was ordained September 3d, 1800, in connection with Hopewell, the latter congregation being at the present village of New Bedford, in Pulaski township. Mr. Wick was released from his charge June 30th, 1801, and the second pastor was Rev. James Satterfield, and original member of the Erie Presbytery, and the second preacher who settled within the limits of Mercer county. He was ordained and installed by the Presbytery of Ohio, March 3d, 1802, and installed as pastor of Neshannock Congregation in connection with Morefield, in the present limits of Mercer county. The first elders of Neshannock Church were William Jackson, Thomas Scott and Robert Stevenson. Mr. Satterfield was pastor until the early part of the year 1812. In July of that year Rev. William Matthews took charge of the church and served it till sometime during the year 1815. He was succeeded by Rev. William Wood, who in connection with Neshannock, until July 1st, 1828, when he gave all his time to the latter. He was released January 1st, 1837, after a pastorate of twenty-one years. The next pastor was Rev. Absalom McCready, who was installed October 14th, 1839, and released in 1857. The next pastor was Rev. Robert Dickson, who was installed in 1858, and released from his charge in 1867. The present pastor is Rev. John M. Mealy.
The number of communing members is at present about four hundred, with an average attendance of nearly, or quite, five hundred. From these figures the number has not varied materially for forty years. A number of other churches have been organized from parts of the Neshannock Congregation, among them the ones at Pulaski, Rich Hill and Unity, the latter in Crawford county.
The first church edifice at Neshannock was built of round logs. The fire was built in the center of the earthen floor, and a hole was cut through the roof in order to let the smoke escape. This church was thirty feet square.
Their next building was of hewed logs, and was thirty by seventy feet in dimensions. This was considered a very pretentious structure for that time.
The present commodious frame structure was built in 1839, being the third house the congregation has had at the place. The cemetery near the church occupies a part of the beautiful location, and is pretty well filled. Costly monuments are seen as well as humbler marble slab and the block of common "country" stone.
The following short sketches of the first two pastors of this congregation, William Wick and James Satterfield, will no doubt interest many.
William Wick was a lineal descendant of the Pilgrim fathers. He was the son of Lemuel and Deborah (Luptein) Wick, and was born on Long Island, N. Y., on the 29th day of June, 1768. He removed to Washington county, Pa. in 1790. April 21, 1791, he was united in marriage to Miss Elizabeth McFarland, youngest daughter of Colonel Daniel McFarland, an officer of the Continental army during the Revolutionary war. Her mother's maiden name was Sarah Barber. Her father emigrated to Washington county at the close of the war, and settled on a large tract of land on what was called Lower Ten-Mile creek.
In those days there was a great call for ministers, and Dr. McMillan sought out, among others, Mr. Wick, who, through the Doctor's influence, finally left his farm, and began a course at the Cannonsburg Academy, where he completed his studies in 1797, before the college charter was obtained. He was one of the founders of the Franklin Literary Society.
His theological education was obtained at Dr. McMillan's log cabin, and he was licensed to preach the Gospel by the Presbytery of Ohio, August 28, 1799. Having accepted calls from Neshannock and Hopewell congregations, in Mercer county, Pa., he was ordained by the Presbytery of Ohio, and installed pastor of these congregations September 3, 1800. During 1801 he was released from the charge of Neshannock and installed for one-half his time as pastor of the congregation at Youngstown, Ohio. He was one of the original members of the Presbytery of Erie, also of the Presbytery of Beaver. His labors were principally confined to Youngstown and Hopewell, though he occasionally worked in the missionary field. He was the first permanent minister in the Western Reserve of Ohio.
On Wednesday morning, March 29, 1815, he died at Hopewell, Pa., (now New Bedford, Lawrence county), in the forty-seventh year of his age and the sixteenth of his ministry. At his own request he was buried at Youngtown, Ohio. It is recorded on his tombstone that during his ministry he preached one thousand five hundred and twenty-two sermons, and married fifty-six couples. He was the father of eight sons and three daughters, most of them now deceased.
James Satterfield, the son of James and Margaret (Mead) Satterfield, was born in Queen Anne county, Maryland, in August, 1767. He was the fifth child of a family of six children. His father dying in Maryland, his mother married Mr. Davies, and removed to Washington county, Pa., in 1786 or '87, and settled on a farm. Here Dr. McMillan sought the young man out, and through his influence Mr. Satterfield finally became a professor of religion at the early age of fourteen years. He went to Cannonsburg Academy and pursued his studies, in the meanwhile becoming one of the founders of the "Philo Literary Society." He studied theology with Dr. McMillan, and was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Ohio, September 3, 1800. After his licensure, he was sent as a missionary to the Indians, and traveled as far west as Detroit, Michigan. In 1801 he removed to Mercer county, Pa., and on the 3d day of March, 1802, was ordained and installed pastor of the congregations of Moorefield, Mercer county, Pa., and Upper Neshannock, afterwards Neshannock, Lawrence county, Pa.
He was one of the original members of the Presbytery of Erie. In 1808 he was set off with others to form the Presbytery of Hartford, now Beaver. He was released from the charge of Neshannock in the beginning of the year 1812, and from that of Moorfield in 1834. He continued with his connection with Hubbard until April 6, 1831, and with Moorfield until he demitted all pastoral labor. During the last years of his life he had no regular charge, but preached quite frequently to vacant churches, and assisted at communion occasions.
Mr. Satterfield was thrice married. His first wife was Miss Polly Orbison, of Washington county, Pa., to whom he was married October 28, 1800. She died July 23, 1802. March 27, 1804, he was married to Miss Ann Gibson, a member of the congregation at Neshannock. She died September 12, 1815, leaving two sons and three daughters. His third marriage was with Miss Sarah Mead, a daughter of General Mead, of Meadville. This marriage took place September, 1816. She died May 22, 1823, leaving one son and one daughter.
Mr. Satterfield's last illness continued but three days. His death occurred at the old homestead, near Middlesex, Mercer county, Pa., on the 20th day of November, 1857. Mr. S. was, at his death, a few months over ninety years of age, and had preached the gospel for over fifty-seven years.
RICH HILL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH was organized at the Spring Session of 1840, by a committee from the Presbytery of Allegheny (now Butler). It takes its name from the tract of land on which the church is located. The lot was purchased from B. Anderson, formerly of Bucks county, Pa., the owner of the tract. The original congregation consisted of about thirty [p. 137] members, and was made up of members from the Neshannock congregation principally. Some came from New Castle, some from Mercer, and some from Plain Grove. The church stands on the old Beaver and Mercer State road.
This church sprung from a Sabbath-school which had flourished for some twenty-five years, holding its meetings in the old school-house. They also occasionally had preaching--Rev. William Woods and Rev. John Munson occasionally holding evening meetings, some time before the church was organized.
The first preacher regularly settled over this congregation was Rev. Newton Bracken, who ministered for fifteen years, and afterwards went to Ohio, and finally to Kansas, where he is now living. The church is in the south-eastern part of Wilmington township.
THE AMECH OR OMISH MENNONITES have built a church about two miles south-east of New Wilmington. It was built in the Summer of 1872, and is the only one of the kind in the county. Rev. Shem King was their first preacher, and Jonathan Lance was appointed very soon after. Mr. King died September 25th, 1876.
One of the first of this denomination to settle in Lawrence county was Abraham Zook, who came in the Spring of 1846. Shem King brought out his family in August, 1847. Nearly all the families were from Mifflin county, Pa., and settled in Hickory, Wilmington and Pulaski townships principally, with perhaps a few in Neshannock. The church has about sixty members, and the entire settlement of these people will probably number from two hundred and fifty to two hundred and seventy-five individuals.
The Mennonites came to Germantown, Pa. in 1698, and since that time their numbers have largely increased in the United States. They have their societies in nearly or quite all the Northern States, from New York and Pennsylvania to Iowa. Large numbers of them have settled in the fine agricultural regions of Indiana and Illinois, and their improvements are always of the best kind.
"The founder of the society was Simon Menno, who was born in Friesland, a province of the Netherlands, in 1505. When still young and very ignorant he was consecrated as a priest. Soon after, he began to be perplexed by doubts with regard to the doctrine of transubstantiation. In vain he confessed, and prayed, and strove against them; he could not throw them off. His religious convictions were not strong enough, however, to prevent his leading the loose, irregular life to which the clergy were then too prone. At length a copy of the New Testament fell into his hands, and he was soon convinced that many of the Romish doctrines were contrary to its teachings. Still for years he continued to preach them, and strove to drown the voice of conscience in sensual pleasure.
"The disciples of Carlostadt having penetrated into Friesland, the authorities became alarmed at the rapid spread of their doctrines. Menno undertook the defense of orthodox principles. His arguments failing to convince these stubborn heretics, more potent weapons were called in. The poor fanatics were tortured, put to the sword, burned at the stake. Maddened at length by their sufferings, they stood at bay, and took up arms against the imperial soldiery, but after a short struggle were overpowered and massacred, meeting their fate with unfaltering courage. This was the turning point in Menno's life. The zeal of these poor victims for what they believed to be the truth, deeply touched his heart. His conscience gave him no rest till he threw off the mask, and proclaimed the doctrines he had long held in secret. The Bible he declared to be the only rule of faith and practice, and denounced war, transubstantiation and the celibacy of priests, as directly opposed to Scripture.
"The storm soon burst upon him. The clergy furiously demanded that he should be brought to justice. A price was set on his head. Assassins and robbers, it is said, were released from prison, on condition of capturing and delivering up the bold schismatic. No one might harbor him on pain of death.
"After leaving the Catholic Church, Menno married, and his own trials were embittered by the sufferings of his wife and children. Having endured bitter persecution for many years he was at length forced to leave his native country, and seek a refuge elsewhere. After untold miseries and hardships, he succeeded in gaining the North of Germany. There he continued to proclaim his opinions. Calumny had been busy during all these years, and had covered his name with reproach. He was charged with holding the worst doctrines of John of Leyden and his fanatical rabble. This caused many worthy persons to regard with approval the severities inflicted on the reformer and his followers.
"At length this asylum failed him. In touching words Menno describes the trials and sufferings of his sad life. While the priests were sleeping on luxurious beds, he, his poor, feeble wife, and little children were compelled to take refuge in solitary wastes and desert places. For eighteen years they suffered horrible agonies, oppression, grief, nakedness and persecution. 'While on days of wedding and baptism, they,' he says, 'were diverting themselves to the sound of flutes and tambourines, we had to watch to see whether the sergeants were pursuing us, and to crouch like foxes. While every one addressed them as Doctors, Masters and Apostles, they bawled after us, 'Anabaptists, Schismatics, imps of hell, may heaven confound you!'"
"But now a gleam of light came from the North--the first that for years had brightened the horizon of his life. A nobleman of Holstein--the Lord of Fresenberg--who had served in the Netherlands, shocked by these cruel persecutions, offered Menno and his followers an asylum. They were allowed to publish their doctrines and to refute the calumnies which had covered their name with unmerited reproach. A district in Holstein was set apart for the Mennonites, and thousands of the persecuted sect flocked thither. By their knowledge of agriculture and trade, their example of industry and obedience to law, they more than repaid this generous hospitality. Here, in the midst of his devoted followers, Menno peacefully ended his troubled, unquiet life.
"The Mennonites were regarded with more favor as their doctrines were better understood, and after a while they were permitted to settle in the Netherlands, in Prussia and Switzerland. But ere long the exigencies of the State aroused a persecution as bitter as that inflicted by religious bigotry. The Thirty Years' War was impending, and menaced liberty of conscience throughout Protestant Europe. The free cantons of Switzerland did not shrink from the inevitable conflict. In Zurich, every citizen capable of bearing arms was ordered to appear on a certain day for military drill. The day arrived. From lowland field and mountain chalet poured forth the brave peasantry. National independence, religious freedom, all she held most dear, Switzerland owed to the strong arms, the undaunted patriotism of her sons. But now a sad defection menaced her liberties. On the parade-ground not a Mennonite appeared. With alarm the magistrates heard that the "Non-resident Christians" refused to take any part in the struggle. Was Switzerland no longer to show a united front against despotic power? Earnestly they besought the Mennonites not to desert their country in her hour of peril. This availed nothing. Threats were resorted to; then harsher measures. It was forbidden to harbor or in any way aid those who refused to aid their native land. Their worship was prohibited. Hundreds were banished and their goods sequestered. Many died in prison. A few perished on the scaffold. Patriotism, not religious bigotry, prompted these severities. Wherever the Mennonites submitted, a full restitution of their property was made. But by far the greater number left their homes and went forth to seek another country among a strange people.
"Many sought refuge in the canton of Soleure, in Switzerland, and the Palatinate, where great indignation had been excited by this harsh treatment of the unresisting Mennonites. In the forest-covered valleys and plateaus of the Vosges, numbers of the Mennonites took refuge. These wild gorges or mountain passes, then an almost unbroken solitude, were like a wall of strength around the little band. They leveled the forests, planted fields and orchards, and transformed the wilderness into a fertile district. Withdrawing themselves entirely from political strife, they lived in peace, unmolested, and almost unknown.
"The terrible fate which swept thousands of brave nobles and industrious artisans from the soil of France, for a time menaced their fellow religionists in Holland. The brave little Republic, weakened by internal dissentions, had bowed for a brief period to the yoke of the most Christian King. Though he had determined upon revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Louis XIV did not dare at first to touch the Calvinists, who were the dominent [sic] party in Holland, and powerful still in France; but he resolved to pave the way by crushing the weaker sects. An envoy, dispatched to Holland for the purpose of obtaining full information respecting the Mennonite views and practices, brought back, however, so favorable a report that the king consented to tolerate and protect them. It was probably their doctrine of non-resistance rather than their piety, industry and good morals, which gained the favor of the ambitious monarch, who would willingly have seen this tenet spread over Europe. So, while thousands of noble exiles were struggling with poverty for a bare subsistence, these humble sectaries, protected by their very weakness, quietly pursued their peaceful occupations. War clouds lowered. Rival dynasties contended for the mastery of Europe. But the little sect, strong in its helplessness, was spared and protected by all.
"A century passed away. The French monarchy was destroyed, and the Republic planted on its ruins. But enemies menaced her on every side, [p. 138] false friends, hostile sovereigns, armies ready to pour down upon her exposed frontier. To maintain their new-found liberties, a sweeping conscription was ordered by the Committee of Public Safety. Before this terrible body appeared the deputies of the peaceful Mennonites. To hope for entire exemption was useless. But they entreated that, as their consciences forbade them to bear arms, they might be employed in the wagon trains, or such other service as did not necessitate the shedding of blood. Couthon, St. Just, Robespierre--to them was this request made--fanatics who considered the striking down of a tyrant the first and highest duty, and who gloried in shedding the noblest blood of France. Yet so impressed were these tyrannicides with the virtues of the Mennonites, their sincerity and simplicity of heart, that their request was granted. Nor did the first Napoleon show them less favor. Through the long campaigns of the Republic and the Empire, no Mennonite drew a sword or fired a musket. The cannon and the bayonet, which make no nice distinctions, spared not, indeed, the noncombatants who brought supplies or conveyed munitions of ward. But strong in the convictions in which he had been educated, the Mennonite held fast to his faith. Though the death-missles [sic] were flying thick around him, he would not raise a finger in his own defense.
"At the close of the last century the Emperor Paul offered an asylum in Russia to the Mennonites. The little colony rapidly increased; and, under the fostering care of government, manufactures have been established, agriculture has flourished, and thriving communities have sprung up where was once a wilderness. This protection is now withdrawn. To us the decree which banishes so many of these devout and inoffensive people from their homes in the Old Word[sic], will prove an unmixed blessing. Wherever the Mennonites go they carry the best elements of civilization--simple and fervent piety, trained skill, persevering industry. As the banished Huguenots founded the silk factories of Germany, the lace and woolen manufactures of England, so this Mennonite immigration will bring to our shores thousands of skillful workmen, who will teach us to rival, and, in time, surpass the Old World industries."--Christian Union.
From the 1770 - 1877 History of Lawrence County by S. W. and P. A. DURANT.
Explanation and Caution | Abbreviations | Lawrence Co. Maps | 1877 Portraits
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Updated: 21 Mar 2001, 18:37