Catoctin Mountain Park
Historic Resource Study
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Chapter One:
Settling the Catoctins (continued)

Settling Western Maryland

Who were these German and German-speaking Swiss immigrants? Most journeyed to the New World as a result of the religious, social, and economic chaos plaguing Germany in the decades following a costly series of religious-inspired wars. The War of Spanish Succession in 1701, in particular, ravaged the area along the Rhine known as the Palatinate, the homeland of many who later moved to the Monocacy and Catoctin region. [34] Not yet a united country, Germany contained what one historian called a "myriad of petty principalities," each with its own authoritarian leader, imposing his religion on his subjects. [35] Protestant sects such as the Dunkards (German Baptists), the Mennonites, and the Moravians often suffered persecution, as could Lutherans or Catholics if they found themselves in the wrong municipality. Likewise, land had grown scarce and costly. A twelve-acre farm actually represented a substantial holding in eighteenth-century Germany. [36]

There then existed compelling religious and economic "push" factors encouraging emigration. At the same time, honest men such as William Penn and less honest speculators and shippers, seeking to profit from the desperate population, aggressively advertised along the Rhine. The promise of land and help on the journey created powerful "pull" factors for already discontented Germans in the area. Not all the pull factors, however, proved quite to be all they were made out. Dishonest schemers lay in wait for the eager migrants, and some were cheated out of their money. For most, even under the best of circumstances, the journey to the new world was expensive and difficult. Forty toll barriers sat along the Rhine. Authorities often slapped taxes on migrants, and Dutch officials in Rotterdam also sought their share of money from the pockets of immigrants. Some travelers might actually go broke en route and suffer the indignity of being sold into servitude in the New World in order to pay off passage, a process known as "redemption." [37] But the allure of cheap land and religious freedom resonated for thousands of immigrants.

While often impoverished, the migrants did bring skills with them to America. Germans had the reputation of being particularly industrious farmers. Many had other skills as well. Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush noted of the immigrants, "the principal of them were farmers; but there were many mechanics, who brought with them a knowledge of those arts which are necessary and useful in all countries. These mechanics were chiefly weavers, tailors, tanners, shoemakers, combmakers, smiths of all kinds, butchers, paper makers, watch makers, and sugar bakers." [38] It is little wonder that one of the future settlements of these German migrants was christened Mechanicstown.

German and Swiss migrants settled throughout the North American colonies. But the majority established themselves--at least temporarily--in Pennsylvania. By the late-seventeenth century, Penn's colony was home to over 100,000 Germans. In fact, the vast majority of Germans and Swiss who settled the Catoctin region arrived in the early 1730s and initially settled in Pennsylvania before pressing on into western Maryland. [39]

One of the earliest settlers in the Catoctin area, Daniel Leaterman (also spelled Lederman or Letterman), a bishop in the Church of the German Baptist Brethren, emigrated from Germany in 1727. He briefly ministered to a church in Conewago, Pennsylvania before establishing himself in the 1740s on a farm he called Sandbergen (named for its sandy soil) southwest of the future Catoctin Furnace. [40] Yost Harbaugh (at times spelled Herbech) led his family from a village near Pfalz, Switzerland to Berks County and then York County, Pennsylvania. Yost's son George moved down the Great Wagon Trail to settle in what became known as Harbaugh's Valley in 1758 or 1759. The mountainous surroundings, it was said, reminded Harbaugh of his native land. In 1761 he married Catherine Willard, also originally from Switzerland. Later one of their daughters married a member of the Eyler family from Germany, who settled in the valley after having passed through Adams County in Pennsylvania. [41]

Some of the families later settling in Western Maryland actually traveled to the New World on the same ship. Such was the case with twenty-four year old Lenhart Firohr, who, in 1731, crossed the ocean on a ship with the Devilbiss family. Firohr arrived in Philadelphia, moved to Adams County and later settled east of Catoctin Mountain. Once in Maryland, the Firohrs found the Devilbiss family to be their neighbors to the south. In 1760, with area's population growing, the Firohr family acquired land for the construction of the Lutherans and Reformed Apple's Church. [42] A descendent of the original Devilbiss family, Alexander Devilbiss owned a plot of mountain land (tract 215), later incorporated into Catoctin Mountain Park.

While many of the early settlers were members of either the larger German Reformed or Lutheran strands of Protestantism, members of the smaller Moravian sect also arrived in the Catoctin area. Among the more prominent Moravians in the area was the Harbaugh family. The Moravians also managed to attracted converts. Jonhann Jacob Weller from Diedenshausen, Germany, in 1737 stepped off the Andrew Galley ship in Philadelphia, a member of the German Reformed Church. By the time he settled in Western Maryland in what became Mechanicstown, Weller had become an active Moravian. For a time, traveling Moravian ministers actually conducted services in Weller's home. His cousin, Johannes Weller, who also settled in what was later the Mechanicstown area, however, was associated with the Lutherans. [43]

Other influential German families who settled in the area included the family of Lawrence Creager (Krueger), originally from a village northwest of the city of Marbugh (roughly 50 miles north of Frankfurt) in Westphalia. Creager moved the family to York County, Pennsylvania in 1738, then to the Monocacy Valley in 1747. [44] The Creagers later owned mountain land--a plot known as "Creegers' Surprise" (later tract 163). Friedrich Wiblheit (Willhides) and his wife Lucretia left their village near Sinsheim southeast of the Heidelberg in 1731. Their son Frederick Jr. bought land on the northeast side of Hunting Creek in 1752. [45]

The Rouzers, originating, as did the Willhides, from the area near Sinscheim also firmly established themselves in the Catoctin area. Unlike the others, the Rouzers, led by Gideon Rauscher, an elder in the Dunkard Church, settled first in New Jersey. Gideon's son, Martin Rouzer (1734-1777), then moved to the Rocky Ridge area. His son Daniel settled in Mechanicstown, probably in the late eighteenth century, where he began a tanning business. Daniel married Sophia Shover, the daughter of Peter Shover, Revolutionary War veteran and another owner of land later incorporated into the Catoctin Mountain Park. [46] Yet another immigrant from Sinsheim was Georg Philip Dodderer, who migrated in 1724. Georg's grandson Conrad later owned a mountain lot optimistically entitled "Worth Something," which was part of the park acquisition tract 153. [47]

Many of the founding families mentioned above probably owned land in the area that now encompasses the park and certainly the names of their decedents can be found throughout Catoctin mountain land records. Early land records, however, for the Catoctin area are incomplete. Along with the families and persons noted in census, tax, and church records, there were no doubt other records either lost or destroyed. Likewise, squatters, settling unofficially on land and avoiding taxation or other charges, also certainly occupied the mountain land.

One of the few original settlers who does show up in the limited land records of the eighteenth century was Leonard Moser, a fascinating pioneer figure. Moser arrived in Philadelphia in September 1732 aboard a ship appropriately named "Adventure." Probably in his twenties, Moser traveled from Germany with his large family, who ranged in age from eight to forty. Very quickly, Moser became caught up in the Pennsylvania-Maryland dispute as an ally of Thomas Cresap. In 1735, Pennsylvania authorities captured Moser just south of Wrightsville. After a brief prison term, young Leonard retreated further south with Cresap and by 1736 settled in the Monocacy area. A close friend of Jacob Weller, Moser eventually joined the Moravian Church in Graceham. Moser was a weaver by trade, and, in 1751, he took on eleven-year old Michael Coker, a relative of his wife, as in apprentice. Moser also owned land along Great Hunting Creek, and in 1764 sold a thirty-acre tract on what was called Nolin Mountain (park acquisition tract 91) to a farmer named Mark Harmon (see Map 1). [48] Moser's family remained very much an active part of life on and around the mountain--as the presence of Moser Road in Thurmont attests.

Pioneer life in the Catoctin region was hard at first. Migrants, generally chose homesteads near running streams or creeks and built homes from logs. In the absence of nails, they carved notches into the logs to fit walls together. Rocks and clay provided raw materials for chimneys. As farms prospered, Germans and Swiss sometimes abandoned their log houses and constructed larger homes of wood and limestone, utilizing traditional German designs, often featuring central chimneys. In other cases, log houses were sheathed in clapboard or vertical board. Barns were large and built into bank slopes. The barn basement served as a stable and the first floor for storage and threshing. A popular German feature on barns were decorative ventilation slits on the gable ends. [49] Alongside their sturdy architecture and productive farms, Germans quickly gained notice for their hearty baked dishes that incorporated preserves made from huckleberries (generally found on the mountain, especially burned-over land), strawberries, grapes, and cherries. [50]

While early historians of the upper Monocacy Valley postulated the existence of a lost town called Monocacy somewhere south of later Creagerstown, such a town appears never to have existed. Instead, settlers established dispersed farms, eschewing the example of the cramped villages of Europe. [51] In the Monocacy Valley, Germans kept close kinship relationships, helping to preserve German culture for generations. Until the 1830s, German was the dominant language of central and northern Frederick County. Remarkably, today many of the same founding families continue to occupy the region in significant numbers, and evidence of traditional German culture can still be found.

Religion alongside kinship was the other glue that held early Catoctin society together. Germans brought numerous versions of Protestantism with them to North America. "There exist so many varieties of doctrines and sects," noted an observer of the Germans, "that it is impossible to name them all." [52] Settlers constructed the first church in the region, known as the Monocacy Church, out of logs as early as 1745. According to local historian Elizabeth Anderson, the church sat at the present junction of Hessing Bridge and Blue Mountain Road. [53] While apparently of Lutheran denomination, the church appears to have served all of the early settlers. With a great shortage of ministers in the back country, traveling Lutheran missionary Pastor Johann Caspar Stover from Pennsylvania served the church as part of his regular rounds. [54]

Very quickly, however, dissension between religious sects broke up the early ecumenical Monocacy Church (also known as the Log Church, see Map 1). The 1740s, the era of the Great Awakening, was in fact a time of great religious enthusiasm. Germans enjoyed their own revival of religious fervor. German missionaries, such as Michael Schlatter of the German Reformed Church traveled through the Maryland frontier attracting large audiences. Despite the language differences, Germans also flocked to the religious revivals held by English evangelical George Whitefield. [55] With the population growing and farmers increasingly prosperous, settlers wanted their own churches in which they could worship their own way. Moravians began meeting at the home of convert Jacob Weller and, in 1758, built their own church in Graceham. Meanwhile the Lutherans constructed Apple's Church in the future Mechanicstown. Later, as settlers began filling up the west side of the mountain, the Hauver family, led by German immigrant Peter Hauver, and area Lutherans built the Mount Moriah Lutheran Church (on present-day Foxville Church Road, see Map 1). [56]

Writing in the nineteenth century, historian of western Maryland, Thomas Scharf reported real rivalries and occasional violence between "Swizzers" (Swiss immigrants) and Germans in northern Frederick County (at this time Frederick County included present-day Montgomery, Frederick, and Washington Counties). These conflicts, Scharf suggested, were outgrowths of political tensions. Unfortunately, he provided no evidence for his claim, nor can any be readily found. One can surmise that there were differences, especially along the lines of religion, but any real conflict went unrecorded in historical sources. [57]

Rather than conflict between nationalities, the pioneers appeared more interested in material gain from increasingly commercialized agriculture. Upon arrival, first generation settlers quickly surveyed and appropriated the best land in the region, most acquiring tracts averaging 152 acres. The settlers cleared and plowed fields and established a grain-based mixed farming economy in sharp contrast to the tobacco grown in Eastern Maryland. Wheat was the primary crop but the German migrants also raised livestock, and grew small grains such as rye, barley, oats, buckwheat, flax, and hemp. [58] Credit networks among the settlers helped the Germans establish themselves and, sometimes, expand into more commercial farming. [59] While most farms remained family operations, more prosperous farmers did hire servants and some bought slaves. The first generation of Catoctin area farmers thrived despite adversity. Land holding at death frequently exceeded 400 acres. [60]

The French and Indian War

Despite the general success experienced by the pioneer generation of Germans and Swiss in the Catoctin area, the area suffered a significant upheaval in the decade following the initial settlement. As the English colonial frontier edged westward, conflicts grew over the fate of the Ohio Valley, claimed by both France and England. The two nations long had been at each other's throats and had fought several wars, the most recent of which ended in 1748. Seeking to lay a claim to land west of the English colonies, the French, with the help of their Native American allies, built a series of forts in western Pennsylvania in 1752 and 1753. Their efforts culminated in 1754 with the construction of Fort Duquesne (present site of Pittsburgh). Angry English authorities sent a young George Washington and a small group of Virginia militiamen to warn the French away. But the future president and his forces met a much more determined enemy than they had expected. Fighting broke out and the overwhelmed Virginians were forced to flee eastward.

Washington's defeat sparked an international war--the Seven-Year's War. The war in America put the colonists in a difficult position. Many, especially the Germans, had little loyalty to the British. Mennonites and Moravians, as pacifists, opposed both oath-taking and bearing arms; they felt particularly uncomfortable under pressure to fight for an imperial power with which they had little connection. Even colonists of English descent seemed to feel no great commitment to the battle. There was little interest in organizing a central administrative body among the colonies and real resistance to supporting financially the English army in the colonies.

Angry at the American colonists but determined to defeat their enemies, the English, in the summer of 1755, organized a large army under General Edward Braddock to march on Fort Duquesne. Braddock spent several weeks marshaling his forces at Fredericktown, where he headquartered at a Tavern on West All Saint's Street. There, he was joined by Washington and about 250 Virginia militiamen as well as by Thomas Cresap and a contingency from western Maryland. The colonists found Braddock to be an arrogant commander, contemptuous of their advice and knowledge of the back county. [61] In June Braddock rallied his troops, numbering some 2,500, toward Fort Duquesne. They stayed their first night on South Mountain before pressing further west. [62]

Although the English greatly outnumbered their adversaries, the French with the aid of a group of war-seasoned Indians took the offensive. They ambushed Braddock's army as it attempted to cross the Monongahela River, roughly six miles from the fort. Braddock and nine hundred men died in the fighting. Washington had two horses shot from under him. Defeated for a second time, Washington led the remaining forces back to Frederick County.

Settlers on the Maryland frontier reeled in horror at the specter of their defeated troops in retreat. Now there was nothing between them and the French and Indians. Hundreds of settlers fled their farms to the relative safety of Fredericktown, which quickly became an armed camp. [63] Paranoia swept not only western Maryland but the entire colonies. Fears swirled of Indian attacks, slaves uprisings, and Catholics plots. [64] Worried about their own security, eastern Maryland elites seemed little concerned with the fate of western homesteaders. Thomas Cresap, infuriated that the colonial government had not sent reinforcements west, threatened to lead a protest march on Annapolis. [65]

But Cresap and the other pioneers could not leave their western holding for fear of a French and Indian invasion. They organized a volunteer militia at Elizabethtown (the future Hagerstown), and Cresap turned his Potomac River outpost at Oldtown into an armed fort. [66] Tensions grew even greater as Indians began raiding and attacking settlements in western Maryland. Spurred by their French allies, Native Americans attacked Emittsburg. The small Moravian church at Graceham recorded 1756 as a year of "great danger and distress." [67] The Maryland Gazette, the colony's main newspaper, reported numerous scalpings in 1756 and 1757. Equally horrifying were the abductions. Native Americans kidnapped colonists, especially women and children, holding them hostage, sometimes for several years. In the Catoctin region, Indians abducted the daughter of Caspar Schmidt, listed in the Graceham Moravian records as a "farmer in the mountains," in 1757. The kidnapping apparently took place directly in front of her father. With a treaty signed in 1758 requiring the release of all captives, the Schmidt girl found freedom but was apparently claimed by a family living in Philadelphia. Schmidt was forced to travel north to reclaim his daughter and the final outcome is unrecorded. [68]

The several years of war had a profoundly dislocating effect on life in the Monocacy Valley. After having established farms, churches and homes, the settlers abandoned everything and fled. With the English victory in North America in 1760, the pioneers were eager to reestablish themselves and, no doubt, hoped for peace. But war, tumult, and change continued.

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Last Updated: 21-Nov-2003