Who Were the German Baptist Brethren?

The members of the German Baptist religious sect were known by their distinctive custom of baptism: full-body immersion by dunking (from tunken in German, to dip) three times forward while kneeling in flowing water  after a personal confession of faith, and often in full view of curious onlookers. Colonists consistently referred to this religious body as Dunkers, Dunkards, or Tunkards because of the peculiar physical act of baptism. Even the closest academic study of them done in the eighteenth century gave this unflattering description of them:

“They are called Tunkers in derision which is as much as to say Sops, from Tunken to put a morsel into sauce; but as the term signifies Dippers they may rest content with the nick-name, since it is the fate of Baptists in all countries to bear some cross or other. They are also called Tumblers, from the manner in which they perform baptism, which is by putting the party’s head forward under the water (while kneeling) so as to resemble the motion of the body in the action of tumbling.”[1]

Brethren were well known in this area, whether others thought of them as “Brethren” or by the more popular name ‘Dunkers’ is not so well known, as the colloquial name caught the public imagination and became another cross the Brethren had to bear. Elizabeth Drinker, a Philadelphia Quaker who kept a diary from 1758-1807 wrote a second-hand report of a Brethren baptism in Germantown as she temporarily resided there during the virulent yellow fever epidemic in 1793: “Seven persons Men and Women were this morning Baptiz’d or dip’d in a Creek about 1-½ miles from this place, they are of the Society of Dunkers, they … kneel in the water and are dip’d with their faces downwards as I am inform’d, great numbers went to see the performance.”.[2]

Drinker conveys accurately the sense of entertainment that non-Brethren, even a fellow sectarian, often expressed at viewing the physical manifestation of the Brethren ritual induction into the congregation. 

Throughout this work, these members will be referred to as Brethren, as they called each other and their community though if others have referred to them by different terms, this will be reflected accurately in the quotes used throughout this study. Although they shared much history and many religious practices with their fellow Anabaptists, the Mennonites, Brethren strongly disagreed with them over baptism. To Brethren, the Mennonite practice of merely pouring water to baptize was clearly wrong and, they believed, an insidiously evil thing to preach. 

The German Baptist sect had been formed in 1708 in the little village of Schwarzenau, Wittgenstein, Germany, by their first elder, Alexander Mack (b. 1679 Germany-d. 1735 Pennsylvania) who along with Peter Becker (b.? Germany- d. 1758, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania) and six followers practiced in the Pietist tradition then prevalent. They sought a personal experience with Christ rather than deep study of theology or participation in liturgy. They prayed together to make themselves more like Jesus in their everyday lives, and re-baptized each other as adults by total immersion in the flowing water of the Eder river, just as Jesus had done near Jordan.  The simple act of baptizing adults who had already been baptized as infants was illegal during this time in the Germanic lands. Taking on the name in Germany of Neue Täufer or new Baptists, to distinguish themselves from the Mennonites, also called Baptists, these early Brethren trod a very risky path.[3]

To put it simply, the Brethren were non-creedal, non-coercive, non-swearing, non-resistant, and non-conformist. They relied solely on the Bible, using the New Testament stories of Jesus’ teachings as their guide. Their ‘reform’ of previous practice lay in their methods of practice, not in new theology.  These individuals sought peace; they did not wish people to go against their consciences, and typically they did not serve in any public office because of the use of coercion or force in these positions. Brethren wanted above anything else for a person to follow his or her conscience. 

Refusing to take oaths, German Baptists believed that to swear and oath implied that one might not be truthful when not taking an oath. The Bible stipulated that one should not swear; therefore, they used the word of truth to bond them. Their word, they said, was their bond. They were willing to affirm by answering ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’[4]

One can classify these German Baptists as “nonresistants,” what we know today as pacifists. They used a metaphor with sheep and wolves to describe this complex ideology, and Brethren were the sheep.  Sheep have no defense or group mechanisms, no capacity to fight back or resist. Thus, when wolves attack sheep, they are just killed; they have no individual mechanism or reaction for fighting off an attacking wolf. This belief manifested itself in Brethren as a strongly felt, but meek pacifism; they saw war as anti-Christian. For Brethren “only spiritual weapons were thought to be consistent with Christian discipleship.”[5] Why did these sects believe so strongly in this pacifism, or, as they called it, this “nonresistance to evil”? What was the animating force or idea behind their belief? Following the example of Christ’s New Testament message answers this important question. The Gospel of St. Matthew, 5: 38-42 (KJV), read: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”[6]

On the cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke, 23:24 KJV).  There was never a finger lifted in resistance. When Indians attacked a Brethren settlement on the frontier, resulting in the scalping of women and children, the men stood and reportedly uttered, “God’s will be done.” (“Gottes will sei getan” in German)They did not put up any resistance. They modeled Christ’s behavior that demonstrated one should respond with love, not with aggression. In Romans, they found their creed:  “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans, 12:21 KJV).

The Brethren were non-conformist in that they sought separation from “the world” and “worldly” affairs like politics and other matters; such matters would only distract them from their concentration on the next world, where life everlasting awaited them through the intercession of their savior, Jesus Christ. They identified their lives most often with those of pilgrims; they just passed through this miserable world full of unimportant distractions.[7]

One extract from a Brumbaugh family Bible that a Brethren itinerant minister owned, made these revealing comments when recording his or her children’s birthdays:

             1783 …My daughter Mary was born into this burdensome world.

             1787 …My daughter Catharine was born into this world of misery.

             1792 …My son Jacob was born into this gloomy and troublesome world. [8]

Even at the birth of a child, which one associates with happiness today, brought Brethren, and people in the eighteenth century generally, stress and gloom.[9] Their general circumstances on the frontier included high infant mortality, frequent wars, clashes with worldly people and warlike situations, harsh frontier privation, and a sense that this world was just a woeful test to pass through as pilgrims in order to get to the next, glorious world.


[1] Morgan Edwards, Materials Towards a History of the American Baptists (Philadelphia: Joseph Crukshank and Isaac Collins, 1770), vol. 1: 64.

[2] 17 October 1793, Elizabeth Drinker, The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker, Elizabeth Foreman Crane, ed. (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991), 1: 519. Brethren Elder Alexander Mack, Jr. confirms the fact of the baptism of at least seven persons at the Brethren congregation that fall in his entry for 19 December 1793, when he states that for their congregational love feast in Germantown that day “Present were eight newly baptized persons.” Mack, Day Book, 121.

[3] M.G. Brumbaugh, Hist. G.B.B., 29-34. 

[4] The Holy Bible, New Testament, Matthew, 5:34 (KJV). 

[5] Peter Brock, Pacifism in the United States: From the Colonial Era to the First World War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 6. 

[6] The Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version (Philadelphia: The Westminster Book Stores under License from William Collins, Sons and Company, 1949), (hereafter Bible, KJV) New Testament, [page] 7, “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” 5:38-42. 

[7] It is interesting, ironic maybe, to note that in 1776, famed British historian Edward Gibbon published in 1776 the first of his six volumes of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which argued that because Christianity created a belief that a better life existed after death, with life eternal with the Lord Jesus, this belief fostered indifference to the present among Roman citizens, thus sapping their desire to sacrifice for the greater good of the Roman Empire and thereby contributing to its downfall.

[8] Ulrich Family Bible extract, Brumbaugh file, Pioneer Library of the Bedford County Historical Society. Record found in German Bible “published 1876” [sic] but inscribed “Samuel Ulrich, Bedford Co., Pennsylvania, Nov. 2, 1805” indicating likely a 1776 publishing date. Jacob Brumbaugh’s daughter, Mary, owned this Bible.

[9] See, for instance, Elaine Foreman Crane, ed., Introduction, The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker, xxxi, “new life was not always greeted [then, in the eighteenth century] with joy by parents (of any class).”

Jacobs Arrival in America, 1750

Jacob Brumbaugh arrived at the dock of Samuel McCall’s wharf in the port of Philadelphia on Monday, August 31, 1750, aboard the Nancy captained by Thomas Coatam, out of Rotterdam, Holland.[1] This ship was one among fourteen shiploads that year of German so-called “Palatines” docking in Philadelphia.[2] Palatines were German emigrants from what they called the Palatinate, an area in southwestern Germany. Upon the ship’s arrival, Captain Coatam, as required by Pennsylvania provincial law, immediately took his passengers to the courthouse. There, before Jacob Brumbach and the other German passengers could be admitted to the province, they were required to pledge and sign their allegiance. Examining this document closely, one can tell the percentage of male immigrants literate enough to sign their name versus non-literate immigrants. Of the eighty-two males age sixteen and over, eighty-six percent, including Brumbaugh, signed their full name, instead of a simple “X,” a fairly high rate for any eighteenth-century society. 

The pledge of allegiance repeated at the courthouse sounded innocuous enough: “We…[d]o solemnly promise and engage that we will be faithful and bear true allegiance to his present Majesty King George II, and his successors, and will be faithful to the Proprietors of this Province…to the utmost of our power and best of our understanding.”[3]


[1] See http://www.cowes.co.uk .

[2] See http://www.progenealogists.com/palproject/pa/

[3] William Henry Egle, Names Of Foreigners Who Took The Oath Of Allegiance To The Province And State Of Pennsylvania, 1727-1775, With The Foreign Arrivals, 1786-1808 (Harrisburg, Pa.: E. K. Meyers, 1892).

Place Names in Brumbaugh Story

Bedford County (Pennsylvania): formed in 1771 out of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania; 80 miles NW of Hagerstown.

Conococheague district: (pronounced Conica-‘JIG); named for particularly sinuous creek starting in Pennsylvania and running south to Potomac river at Williamsport, Maryland; where Jacob settled in 1753 until his death in 1799.

Clalands Contrivance: name of Jacob’s first farm; when added to, “Resurvey of C.C.”

Elizabeth Hundred: the small administrative district where Clalands Contrivance lay;

Hundreds were bigger than a town, smaller than a county—obsolete after 1810.

Elizabeth town: founded by Jonathan Hager in 1762 and four miles south of Jacob’s 

farm; became Hagerstown officially in 1813, but was often called that much before then.

Franklin County (Pennsylvania)- county just across border north of Washington County, Maryland.

Frederick County (Maryland)- formed out of Prince George’s County 1748.

Frederick town- founded by Daniel Dulaney, the elder, 1745; became county seat of county of same name.

Great Valley: valley in which Hagerstown sits between North Mountain on the west and South Mountain on the east; fertile plain on bedrock of limestone where Clalands Contrivance lay.

Hagerstown: founded 1762 as Elizabeth town; Washington County seat since 1777.

Huntingdon County (Pennsylvania): formed 1787 out of part of Bedford County.

Morrison’s Cove: fertile, agrarian valley in northern Bedford and Blair counties.

Washington County (Maryland): county formed out of upper Frederick County September, 1776. This is believed to be the very first of dozens of counties and towns across the country named for George Washington, here they adopted the name in 1776 when GW was an unproven commander in chief with little success to stake his claim on.

Conclusion on Jacobs Religious Affiliation

Early on this study, tried to determine conclusively whether Jacob Brumbaugh was a true German Baptist Brethren. Throughout the narrative sifted through evidence of status and motivation of eighteenth-century men. It has described Jacob’s whole life, and learned a great deal about the Brethren. What can it now conclude? 

One should first review the verifiable evidence: On the one hand, there are pieces of evidence that might lead one to believe that he was not a Brethren at all. His name appears on no lists of Brethren congregation members from the colonial period. There are lists for churches in his neighborhood, but either his name was never on them or lists that contained his name no longer exist. Very little that Jacob ever wrote survived, except for a few business letters to Henry Drinker, and certainly no writings that would indicate a positive answer to this question. Others in the revolutionary period never recorded his Brethren status, although some inferred it. Since records indicate that he was over age 50, he was not subject to the militia law anyway. His name does appear on a muster roll for Captain Clapsadle’s company of Maryland militia. This would be an indication that he was not a Brethren because it may have meant he actually had served in the company of soldiers. Evidence, however, is indeterminate. 

Now, one must analyze the many pieces of evidence that point to Jacob being a Brethren. He “affirmed” in 1775 the facts set forth in an application for a warrant on land in Pennsylvania. Brethren affirmed these documents. The Brethren would never ‘swear on oath’ as most other people would. In 1776, Jacob was also listed among the “Menonists and Dunkers” in the minutes of the Committee of Observation, and his young sons even paid fines that Brethren forfeited during the Revolution. Evidence also exists indicating his son John became a Brethren minister in Bedford County, while his daughter Mary married Samuel Ulery, a Brethren minister. His son Jacob Jr. married a Brethren sister, Catharine Rentch. Jacob Sr. spent the last fifteen years of his life (1785-1799) acquiring land in Morrison’s Cove among many Brethren and Mennonites, which illustrates his association with this community. 

After his death, Jacob’s inventory listed a “table and 16 benches upstairs,” which is the most convincing piece of evidence supporting his religious affiliation. While these utilitarian kinds of furniture could be used for numerous kinds of occasions, it was also consistent with Brethren who held ‘home church’ in that era. Again, the lack of guns and slaves on the inventory also points to him being a Brethren.  

Jacob’s name also does not appear on any lists of men who took the test or loyalty oath following passage of the 1777 Security Act in Maryland. This act of omission was Jacob’s sole positive act of conscience. Secondary sources state that his wife, Mary Elizabeth Angle, converted as a young woman to the Brethren church. Although Mary’s membership cannot be positively confirmed, her alleged father, or brother, Heinrich Angle (or Engel) lived nearby in Washington County. He may have been the same man who owned a tract of land in Bedford County, who purportedly left a cash bequest to the local Conococheague district Brethren congregation. If this man was her father or brother, Mary came from a dedicated Brethren family. Finally, Henry Drinker’s correspondence reveals a convincing detail about Jacob’s Brethren status. Henry gave the only known eye-witness description of Jacob in a letter to a lawyer in Frederick town. Henry wrote that Jacob was “a bearded German,” code words for a physical trait of Brethren men.

One often quickly discerns an individual’s religion by finding out where they chose to be buried. Jacob, however, decided to be buried on his own property. He may, however, have left a clue for historians to trace that shows his true religious stance: he did not wish to be buried with others outside his immediate family. Most Germans in his time had traveled in groups, but Jacob never did that. Likewise, he did not associate closely with any of the men identified as probable Brethren from the May 7, 1776 minutes. These aforementioned facts indicate that Jacob Brumbaugh was a Brethren, but still an independent individual, a separatist of a sort. He likely kept his own counsel. This ultimate description finds a parallel in the life of Christopher Saur I. He has been described as “fiercely independent,” in both religious and political views. In order to understand him, it was said that one must grasp his religious views. Although Brumbaugh was similarly independent, the key to understanding him was his family. 

More on Settlement of Jacobs Complex Estate

Settlement of Jacob’s Maryland Estate

Five years after the father’s death, Jacob Brumbaugh, Jr. filed his petition in the Washington County court regarding the death of his father Jacob “Brumbach.” In granting the commission, the court reviewed the Maryland properties that Jacob Sr. had owned, and appointed five “discreet sensible men” to examine the real estate. The judge then instructed this group to determine whether his Jacob Sr.‘s real estate “would admit to being divided [among multiple heirs] without injury, or loss to all parties entitled, and to ascertain the value of said Estate in Current Money according to law.”  Through the hand of “O. H. Williams, Cl[er]k,” the court’s chief justice William Clagett, Esquire, issued such a commission to Walter Boyd, John Schnebly, Jacob Zeller, Ludwick Young, and George Cellars who all affirmed an oath to “well and truly, and without favor, partiality, or prejudice” judge what the estate was worth and whether it could be so divided or whether it needed to be sold intact.[1]

More than a year and a half later, in November 1805, daughter Mary Brumbaugh Ulery and John Brumbaugh agreed to allow eldest son, Jacob, Jr. to take the whole of the Washington County real estate at the valuation of £4,100. Taking this property as his personal share, he then paid the other heirs for that privilege.[2] To do so, Jacob, Jr. paid each of his six siblings their 1/7th of £4,100, which was quite a large sum for that time.

Just a year later in 1806, however, son Henry bought[3] Clalands Contrivance from his brother, Jacob, Jr. who had originally taken that land as his share of the estate[4] Henry thus acquired full title to Jacob Sr.’s original 1753 farm) until 1846. Henry in 1846 sold the farm to his son Andrew.[5] Andrew died in 1859 and the farm passed on to his wife Margaret and their children[6] until his son Upton S. Brumbaugh inherited it. Then Clalands Contrivance lost Brumbaugh ownership after 130 years in the 1880s transferred to persons outside the family. 

Thus was the Maryland estate of Jacob Brumbaugh Sr. settled six years after his death. What about the dozen farms in Bedford County? The Maryland court had no jurisdiction over real estate outside of Maryland. 

                                    Settlement of Jacob’s Pennsylvania Estate

Next, the heirs had to settle the Pennsylvania estate. The administrators of Jacob Sr.’s estate petitioned the Bedford County court June 3, 1806, through attorney William Raynolds for the sale of real estate. On August 4, Jacob, Jr. affirmed in open court that he had given notice to all the other heirs about the petition; therefore, the judge approved his advertising of the estate.[7] In October 1806, this notice appeared in The Maryland Herald:

Application of Jacob Brumbaugh [Jr.] for the sale of real estate of Jacob Brumbaugh, dec’d. Rule that Jacob Brumbaugh, John Brumbaugh, Mary intermarried with Samuel Ulry, David, Henry, Samuel [sic- Daniel] and George, heirs of Jacob      Brumbaugh dec’d to show cause at the court at Bedford [County, Pennsylvania]         why estate should not be sold.[8]

This was a typically worded official notice Pennsylvania courts required to alert all heirs in Maryland that they had a deadline when settling estates. If they could not do so then they had to show cause why, thus putting the matter before the court.  The Brumbaugh family settled the matter amicably outside of court. They showed up with deeds and money to divide the Pennsylvania real estate among one another. They also had to compensate those siblings who took less real estate with money of equivalent value.  

It was not until March 1807, shortly before the eighth anniversary of Jacob’s death, that Indentures (contracts) were filed in the Bedford County court, reciting the non-residency of the deceased and laying out in several deeds the privately reached overall settlement among the heirs by conveying the several tracts to the various heirs in return for monetary payments to the other heirs. Land tracts named Albania and Rich Barrens, for instance, were sold to Jacob, Jr. and Daniel Brumbaugh in return for payment by them of current money to the other heirs, with over thirteen land tracts, on and on it went as they passed deeds and IOUs across the tables.[9]

One of the farms in Pennsylvania, Springfield farm, originally in Bedford County, was now located in Huntingdon County). In 1805 the heirs petitioned for a valuation by what the Pennsylvania court called an “Inquisition” of twelve , one of them, a John Brumbaugh, likely Johannes Henrich Brumbaugh’s son Johannes, “the stocking weaver,” valued the property at £1493, thus the court ordered the property to be sold. However, it never found a buyer and apparently languished unsold. Twenty years later in 1826, son George petitioned the court again and the property was re-valued, though now 437 acres, at $2,348 again by an Inquisition of the High Sheriff and twelve men, this time including a Jacob Brumbaugh among them; no comment made as to his relationship to the decedent, but probably he was the son of Johannes Henrich’s son by that date the late Jacob called “Jockel” who had died in 1816. 

These transactions bring the total value to $13,567. Whoever led the family through the extended eight-year settlement of Jacob, Sr.’s complex estate with its many administrative challenges, was surely something of a hero. Mostly that credit fell to the court-appointed administrators and, after Mary’s death, to Jacob, Jr.[10]

To Jacob, Jr. fell the often-thankless position of serving as administrator of his father’s estate. This responsibility included the task of working through the cash flow problem the estate had, with nearly £1,000 owed to Henry Drinker for Dorfans Barn. Jacob had to notify Henry Drinker of the death of his father, telling him that he and Mary assumed legal authority. Three letters from Jacob, Jr. survive from this time, one dated January 20, 1800, one from May 1802, and one from April 1803. These letters, the only written words left from Jacob, Jr., reveal interesting facts about this family. 

As it happened, Henry Drinker found out first of Jacob, Sr.’s death before his family notified him of it— his local agent in Huntingdon, John Canan, then a state Senator, likely wrote him of the death. In December of 1799, eight months after Jacob’s death, Drinker wrote to Jacob, Jr., “It is not long since I heard of the decease of your father.” Drinker merely told him he would have the deed conveying Corunna ready once he got instructions to whom to convey it. He also asked Jacob, Jr. to the pay the past due balance on Dorfans Barn, which came to £988.[11] Jacob, Jr. wrote back the next month addressing Drinker as “Dear Friend,” telling Drinker that, as the eldest son, he served as administrator of the estate, along with his mother. The letter in part read like a word-for-word dictation composed by the estate’s lawyer to Drinker as the chief creditor of the estate. It is a formal notice detailing the facts and legal requirements. It also reminded Drinker that the court required Drinker to prove his claim to the land formally. 

Jacob, Jr. reintroduced the complaints his father had made about the lessee Stouder’s destroying the timber on the land, and also added that due to costs relating to his youngest brother George’s accident (“a white swelling on one of his legs…a considerable time under the hands of physicians….[costing] above fifty pounds”), he would be unable to pay the balance. He ended by asking Drinker to appoint someone in nearby Chambersburg to act for Drinker if Jacob, Jr. came in to pay installments or settle the matters.[12]  

Drinker advised Jacob, Jr. by letter the next month that he had instead arranged for lawyer Richard Potts, Esq. of Frederick, Maryland, to hold the deed for Corunna, and receive payments on Dorfans Barn.[13] Jacob, Jr.’s next letter of May 1802 advised Drinker of the alarming news that the Dorfans Barn tract was “sold…by the Marshal of Pennsylvania for Taxes on account of a Mortgage from Samuel Wallis,” and asked Drinker to advise him by return post what this surprising development meant.[14] With only a four-day delay, Henry responded with the details of his legitimate title to the property and added that he hoped to convince the Marshal that an error had occurred.[15]

In the second letter, Jacob, Jr. has to make excuses again for not sending money as previously agreed, which proved difficult. Jacob wrote in his own hand:

[W]hatsoever was in My Power to Do I expect to pay the Ballance before next harvest[.] I wold have paid the Ballance long before this time but on account of misfortune it was not in my power. I will give you a memorandum of it[;] viz, the widow my mother Mary Brumbaugh keep a grate part of the Personal Estate in Money and Goods and will not give me any assitons in paying the Debts of the Estate[.] I wold tank you kindly for to send a few lines onto him [sic- her] with Sharp Notice for making pay to you as she is one of the Administrators[.] plus not Mention in the letter it hath been my Desien [.] this moment there is a neighbor of mine in Hagerstown gaol [jail] owing father’s Estate about £173-0-0[.] he went on that account to clean him self by the law of Maryland as an in Sol vent [insolvent] Debtor. the Plantation father bought last of you [the land tract Corunna] I Rented out for three years for £60-0-0 in the whole to a certen George Replogle his son of in the Middle of this last winder the Rent be kame due Spring and perhaps I never git one cent of it. the £25-0-0 I had to pay John Stouder[.] Shold bin yours as part of pay[ment]s.[16]

These administrators had to ensure that the bills were paid, income collected, and goods sold to raise money. Widow Mary exercised her option to claim some of the personal and household goods, thereby reducing the cash flow that a sale of goods would have otherwise provided. It was therefore up to Jacob, Jr. to explain his way out of this financial crunch. A debtor of their father, as previously stated, went to jail claiming bankruptcy in order to cleanse his own account of the £173 debt.[17] Also, Jacob, Jr. rented out a property to a lessee who perhaps did not pay his rent.  The estate had to pay one of Henry Drinker’s lessees, who evidently cleared trees, which required Jacob, Jr. to pay him £25. This money otherwise would have been used to pay down the estate’s debt. Jacob, Jr. even asked Drinker to intercede and send Mary, his mother and co-administrator, a letter telling her that payments must be made to him in a timely manner. He even pleaded with Drinker to “ not mention in the Letter that it hath been my [Jacob, Jr.’s] desien [design].” It is not likely Henry was foolish enough to intervene between a widow and her son. 

Jacob, Jr. then explained how much he had paid and where he had made payments. He had paid Richard Potts at three different places: “his house Frederick Town . . . at Ragan Tavern, Hagers Town . . .  in Lower Shosshouse in Annapolis.” In this last letter, Jacob Jr. admitted, “this is my own hand writing the former letters I have sent was the handwriting of school masters of Hagers Town he lately Deaset [deceased] by so Doing you will much oblige your friend . . . Jacob Brombaugh.”[18]

The success of the estate administration with that many assets in two jurisdictions was a remarkable achievement. He had to work with multiple lawyers, as well as his mother to ensure that his father’s estate was properly settled. Once in August 1803 he personally traveled to Philadelphia to deliver money to Henry Drinker in order to close the Dorfans Barn deal. There he “breakfasted” with wealthy and prominent Quakers Henry and Elizabeth Drinker, as recorded in her diary, paid the balance due, and took away the deed. The estate settlement was both amicable and orderly.[19]

By the time the children had completely divided both the Maryland and Pennsylvania estates, the estate amounted to nearly 3,500 acres of land in two states, plus tangible personal property, worth in the aggregate approximately the following:

            Maryland: Personal Property

                        Inventory of personal property           £  937

                        Amount by which vendue proceeds

                                    exceeded inventory value           139

                        Debts owed to Jacob by others               335

                                                                                   £ 1411

                        Dollar value at £1411=                                   $  3,763           

            Clalands Contrivance valued at £4,100, dollar value   10,933

            Pennsylvania: 11 farms, Bedford Co., valued at           13,567

                                    Springfield farm, valued £ 1493              3,981

                                    Grand Total Estate Value                   $ 32,244 (= £12,091)

In an apparent oversight, tangible and intangible personal property located in Pennsylvania was never appraised or recorded. Half of his jointly-held real estate in Pennsylvania was never valued because the joint holder who survived (with Samuel Ulery, Daniel Brumbaugh, and with John Snyder) owned it. Thus, the above calculation is a conservative valuation of Jacob’s entire estate. 

Each child had inherited in excess of 400 acres of good farmland, and cash of about $1,000.[20] If Mary needed £35 (or $93.33) per year for her widow’s allowance or maintenance money, one child’s cash inheritance of $1,000 would be equal to enough money to maintain ten persons for a year. Jacob’s wealth evidently made him the equivalent, for his time and place, of a fairly well-to-do farmer.

Work done by historian Aubrey Land compared the three rungs of wealth among farmers in the Northern Chesapeake part of Maryland, and Dr. Land commented that “The ascent from straitened circumstances to affluence sometimes took place within the lifespan of a single person, the architect of the family fortune.” Dr. Land added to that this assertion, “Such a man, even though in the top bracket of wealth, could not forget his humble origin nor entirely forsake his ways.”[21] In Jacob’s case, this proved to be true. 

In order to draw a more complete picture of Jacob’s standing in wealth, it is instructive to compare Jacob Brumbaugh’s inventory of goods and overall value with the inventory or the overall estate value of the following men that Jacob Brumbaugh was associated with in some way: 

Dr. Henry Schnebely, Jacob Brumbaugh’s neighbor and a post-Revolution Washington County judge, died in 1805 owning 2,800 acres of land in Kentucky, one lot in the District of Columbia, 500 acres in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, and a 2,300-acre farm in Washington County, Maryland.[22] This estate may have equaled or exceeded the value of Jacob Brumbaugh’s.

Philadelphia German publisher Christopher Saur II (1721-1784), a Brethren bishop-elder and publisher, died a poor man, but satisfied that he had paid all his creditors, despite his public humiliation for having given the appearance of being a loyalist. All his worldly goods were confiscated; his printing press and all other property was sold for the benefit of Pennsylvania at public auction in August 1778.[23]

* ——— *

Jacob Brumbaugh’s complex and valuable estate, the size of which far exceeded the £50 with which he had arrived as an immigrant, had been settled eight years after his death. Although to do so, required court filings his family had not “gone to law” to litigate or squabble relentlessly. They did not ask the court to decide how to settle the knotty questions of distribution. Such actions would have been frowned upon in the Brethren community. It is fair to suppose that Jacob may have verbally communicated his final wishes regarding his property, but unfortunately, that act cannot be definitively determined. There is, however, a comparative example. Mennonite Samuel Rohrer,who died 1786 in Washington County, gave land to his sons, as Jacob did, and those sons then made annual payments to Samuel’s estate until they paid the full amount. It was also the custom among local Mennonite farmers to provide each of their daughters a share of their estates equal in value to the shares of their sons in land or money.[1] In these respects, it is highly likely that the Brethren and Mennonites followed similar, if not identical, practices.  

What significance does the size of Jacob’s personal estate have? The late Jacob Brumbaugh’s estate, valued for the first time in this study at £12,091, proves that Saur was not the only German immigrant in this era whose estate exceeded that benchmark amount of £10,000.[2] This finding suggests that additional research by scholars might reveal other German immigrants of the era who achieved similar levels of financial success, and perhaps others who did so despite an earlier refusal to bear arms. 

There are caveats to consider when comparing one pile of wealth to another. First, there is the enormous complexity of eighteenth-century colonial monetary equivalents, which carried over into the new republic. Secondly, there is the issue of comparing one figure in 1784 to one in 1799, one form of asset may have fluctuated substantially in value. Thirdly, there is the disparity between English pounds sterling in England and in Pennsylvania. While these are the main caveats, it must be left to other scholars to sort out who was wealthier, and by how much, in more controlled studies than this author has the resources to make.[3]

What significance does Jacob’s wealth have in the larger Brethren narrative? For one, it means that Jacob Brumbaugh’s pacifism: his refusal to either bear arms or associate, and his refusal to take the test oath of allegiance to the new state and national government, did not adversely affect his economic prospects in the post-war world. He was not ostracized in that post-war economy. Nor did others hinder him commercially for his pacifist leanings. 

Secondly, it is a metric by which Jacob Brumbaugh can be compared to other German immigrants whose estates have been valued in similar historical studies of the German immigrant population. This is particularly important since historians have pointed to the Christopher Saur family, or more lately to the Caspar Wistar family, as the wealthiest family of Germans in colonial America. 

Thirdly, one can appreciate the significance of Jacob Brumbaugh’s wealth for a father of seven children. He may have been highly motivated to furnish each with enough resources to begin their pilgrimage into adult life. One can also understand that providing farms for his sons and daughter would have especially motivated the typical Brethren congregant. Nearly all brethren were farmers and the accumulation of such a large acreage in land tracts in Morrison’s Cove could well have been the eighteenth-century equivalent of the ‘American dream’ for the eighteenth century Brethren. This conclusion is buttressed by a similar study of Mennonite farmers in the geographical area of Washington County. It concluded that rather than avarice being the primary motivating force, the German sectarians were rather concerned “with accumulating and distributing enough property to provide their survivors with a good livelihood,” and “the capital necessary to provide a moderate and comfortable life,” which in turn was firmly linked to ensuring “the social and religious stability of the [local] spiritual community.”[4] This animating goal rings true of the Brethren. 

Lastly, the level of wealth may also say something about the value of mutual aid to one’s co-congregants, which was practiced in sectarian religious circles. These plain sect folk illustrated the material value of mutual aid in life’s journey.

                                    A Measure of Jacob’s AchievementJacob’s progress through life can be described roughly as follows—- in his twenties he was likely an educated young man in an overcrowded farmland in Germany. He became, at 24, a lone immigrant to British North America, where he made a living in 1753 as a weaver embarking on farming in the Maryland colony. When the French and Indian War began in his area, he became a scout and quartering party to soldiers. There was also a family tradition he served as a “packman” on the Braddock Campaign. Afterwards, in the 1760s, he returned to life as a subsistence farmer on his way to commercial farmer status, and a budding landowner. He then survived a protracted period where, as a member of an outlier minority religious sect, became a non-associator, non-enroller, and non-juror. Probably despite his religiously principled, apolitical stance, Jacob contributed blankets, sold grains to the Continental Army, and paid his taxes and fines promptly enough to thwart any opprobrium from his neighbors. He became a successful commercial farmer and major local distiller on a 500-acre farm, which operated on a near self-sufficient basis without the aid of slaves. The expansive, and in some years soaring market for wheat and grains following the war’s end, and his personal success at grain farming, enabled him to become a substantial landholder of nearly 3,500 acres across two states who upon his death at age 73 could settle his wife of over 40 years and his 7 children and numerous grandchildren in excellent circumstances on fairly good-sized farms of their own, together with a not inconsiderable cash inheritance. 


[1] Edsel Burdge Jr. and Samuel L. Horst, Building on the Gospel Foundation, The Mennonites of Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and Washington County, Maryland, 1730-1970 (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2004), 145-146. 

[2]Dr. Henry Schnebely’s estate may have approached or exceeded this sum. Another German merchant family, an even earlier immigrant, whose wealth exceeded this amount was that of Caspar Wistar (1695-1752), for which see Rosalind J. Beiler, Immigrant and Entrepreneur, The Atlantic World of Caspar Wistar, 1650-1750 (University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania University Press, 2008), 2. He referenced a letter of Govorner James Hamilton to Thomas Penn dated September 24, 1750. He referred to Caspar Wistar as “worth sixty thousand pounds,” even much more than the wealthiest second- or third-generation English merchants of Philadelphia. 

[3] There is a website where these comparisons are being made. Launched in 2010 by the German Historical Institute, Washington, D.C., Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present is a new online project focusing on two important themes in American history: immigration and entrepreneurship, specifically listing personal wealth of German immigrants for different historical time periods where that wealth is known. http://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/overview.php .

[4] Burdge and Horst, Gospel Foundation, 145-147. 



[1] Otho Holland Williams was the nephew of a Revolutionary War general of the same name from Washington County who fought for the entire duration of the war. Of the five men appointed, Schnebely and Young (who had been a late appointment to the Committee of Observation, reportedly married to someone who was Mennonite) were also engaged to appraise all the goods and chattels. Schnebely went on to appraise the goods and chattels of Jacob, Jr. when he died in 1814. Washington County, Maryland, Estate Inventories and Appraisements, Book E, Folio 22-25. Jacob Zeller and George Cellers were likely sons of Capt. John Celler, commanding officer of the militia company in which Jacob, Jr. failed to enroll. 

[2] Land Records of Washington County, Maryland, Deed Book R, 484. 

[3] Ibid, 486. 

[4] Ibid, Deed Book S, 433. 

[5] Ibid, Deed Book I. N. 2, 335. 

[6] Washington County, Maryland, Estate Inventories and Appraisements, Book T, 530 (1859); Washington County, Maryland, Executors and Administrators Accounts, Book 20, 376 (1860). 

[7] Bedford County Orphans’ Court Abstracts-Docket 2, St. Clair’s Bedford, the History and Genealogy of Bedford County, Pennsylvania  6 (March 1987), 139. 

[8] The Maryland Herald, October 1806 (MHS). 

[9] Land Records of Bedford County, Pennsylvania, Book L, 322 and 329. 

[10] There is in the estate accountings filed with the court a substantial payment (£104..10..00) from Jacob, Sr.’s estate to Jacob, Jr., unexplained like all other payments, which may have been his commission due for serving as administrator. A “John Hager” (men of that name were numerous) is shown being paid in 1799 for “vendue two days.” 

[11] H.D. to J.B., Jr. 14 December 1799. Box 21, DC, HSP.

[12] J.B., Jr. to H.D. 20 January 1800, Box 21, Ibid. 

[13] H.D. to J.B., Jr. 17 March 1800. Box 21, Ibid. 

[14] J. B., Jr. to H.D., 27 May 1802. Box 22, D.C., HSP. Samuel Wallis (1730-1798) was a Quaker surveyor and pioneer entrepreneur, called the “Land King,” who got so caught up in leveraged land tract purchases and schemes that when he died shortly after the speculative land bubble burst, he left his wife and children penniless. It also turned out that, though he was an officer in the militia, he was a traitor to his country, secretly working for the British. This was only discovered in the twentieth century. Carl Van Doren, Secret History of the American Revolution (New York: Viking Press, 1941), 217-224.

[15] H.D. to J.B., Jr., 31 May 1802, Box 22, D.C., HSP

[16] J.B., Jr. to H.D., 20 April 1803. Box 22, D.C., HSP

[17] See Bruce H. Mann’s, Republic of DebtorsBankruptcy in the Age of American Independence (Cambridge, Mass.: The Harvard University Press, 2009), 78-109. This work addresses this phenomenon of that decade and the need for a new uniform federal law in the new Republic; Ibid, 184-186.  

[18] J.B., Jr. to H.D., 20 April 1803. Box 22, D.C., HSP. Richard Potts was not only Drinker’s local correspondent lawyer in Frederick, but he had been successively a member of the Frederick County Committee of Observation, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, the first U.S. Attorney in Maryland (appointed by President Washington in 1789), and the third U.S. Senator for Maryland. He was present at those various places to receive periodic payments delivered to him by Jacob, Jr. on behalf of the estate of Jacob Sr. Footnote to Letter to George Washington from Richard Potts, 12 June 1792, Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-10-02-0299 [last update: 2015-02-20]); source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 10, 1 March 1792-15 August 1792, ed. Robert F. Haggard and Mark A. Mastromarino (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002), 452.

[19] The date was 23 August 1803. Elizabeth Drinker wrote: “We have heard twice from the Valley, since Jab Downing left us, yesterday by Jesse Kersey, and this morning by Jacob Brombaugh [Jr. of course] who breakfasted here—he called their [sic, there—in the valley, probably Downingtown in Chester County] on his way from MaryLand to enquire where he should find our house, — having money to pay to HD.” Mrs. Drinker wrote a diary for nearly fifty years. It is a valuable source for knowledge concerning persons and manners of Philadelphia in the late eighteenth century. Diary of Elizabeth Drinker, 2:1677. The account book of Henry Drinker on “9th month 21st day 1803,” records that on August 23, Jacob, Jr. paid Henry £234..7..6 and Drinker recorded in his account log the statement “which I have agreed shall be in full.” Box 26, Journal 1798-1809, D.C., HSP.

[20] Derived from these monetary equivalents in 1800 Pennsylvania: 1s (shilling) = 90d (pence); 7s (shillings) 6d  (pence) = 90d = $1.00 Pennsylvania dollar 1800. £1 = 20s (shillings) = 240d (pence); £4,100 = 984,000d (pence) divided by 90d (pence) per dollar = $10,933.33. 

[21] Eddis, Letters, xviii (Introduction by Land). 

[22] Archives of Maryland, MSA SC.

[23] This website http://www.johnbryer.com/saur.htm (viewed 2013) is an excellent site for gaining a quick understanding of the Saur family along with a view of some of their printed products and hard assets. 

More on Jacob’s Farm

One can tell a great deal from closely examining the tax assessment in Salisbury Hundred for 1803-04, four short years after Jacob’s death. In that document, ‘Contrivence’ [sic] farm of  “Jacob Brumbaugh (dec’d)” was listed at 400 acres and valued at £37 per acre or £740.[1]

The average size of the 38 farms listed in his area’s tax return was 170 acres. His farm, which at one time stood at nearly 800 acres, remained at 394 acres, more than twice the size of the average farm.[2] Even in neighboring Elizabeth Hundred where the average size of the 32 farms on the first page of the tax collector’s return was 263 acres, only four farms were larger than Jacob’s and only eleven were assessed at a higher rate per acre. 

Of those 46 taxable persons on Jacob’s page in the 1803-04 tax assessment list, 19 of them or 41 percent owned enslaved persons. Other than one individual who owned eight, none owned more than five slaves. Brumbaugh’s sons sat among the slaveholders; David owned three, Henry two, and Daniel five. This finding is surprising. Jacob had left no indication that he ever owned slaves, and none were listed on his estate inventory or estate accountings. Now, suddenly, with father gone, a switch had been flicked. Even the 1800 federal census indicated that Mary, Jacob’s widow, now owned three slaves![3]

The three Brumbaugh men had 23 horses on the tract, more than anyone else in the immediate neighborhood, but not by much. Both Daniel and David owned stills. 

In other matters, the Brumbaugh family earned at the very least two dozen mentions for deaths, marriages, business matters, or general news in the local newspapers (The Maryland Herald, the Hagerstown Gazette, and the Torchlight) between 1799 and 1824, averaging at least one mention a year. While they were not elite businessmen, heirs of old planter families, prominent men of affairs, neither were they unknown or lost in the crowd. Their stability became an asset, having owned the same main farm for nearly fifty years. They had paid their dues, during the war, which made them a relatively well-known family in the community. 


[1] Washington County, Maryland, Tax Assessment of 1803-04, Western Maryland Regional Library website, www.whilbr.org (viewed Feb. 2013). 

[2] 1803 tax list; for comparison’s sake, the average size of a farm in Lancaster and Chester counties in Pennsylvania during the 1760s-1780s was 130 acres, according to Lemon, Best Poor Man’s Country, 108. 

[3] Listed as “widow Broombaugh” owning three slaves in Elizabeth Hundred next to Jacob “Broombaugh” (Jr.) in “The 1800 Federal Census for Maryland,” Ronald Vern Jackson, ed., (Accelerated Indexing Systems, 1973), 154. MSA. 

Jacobs Children & His Farm

     Jacob Brumbaugh Jr. (c 1758-1814): farmer, distiller, landowner.

           Wife: Catherine Rentch

     Mary Elizabeth Brumbaugh (c 1759-c 1828): minister’s wife, mother.

           Husband: Elder Samuel Ulery; Brethren minister.

     John Brumbaugh (c 1760-1829): farmer, Brethren minister.

           Wife: Mary Elizabeth Miller

     Daniel Brumbaugh (1772-1820)- farmer, weaver.

           Wife: Elizabeth Long

     David Angle Brumbaugh (1776-1842): farmer, postmaster, hotelier.

          Wife: Eve Kiessecker

     Henry Brumbaugh (1777-1854):  farmer; owner of Clalands Contrivnance.

           Wife: Margareta Rentch

     George Brumbaugh (1783-1837): brewer, tavern keeper, fiduciary, town           commissioner.

           Wife: Mary Louise Gelwicks

Looking at the lives of immigrants, whether dissident nonresistants or financially successful ones, one might ask how they did socially, especially after the revolution. Historians often inquire how they advanced the family’s fortunes. Did the children marry into other families of wealth? Did they gain political influence? Did they achieve success in business? These parameters that historians use do not entirely fit the Brethren. They never sought financial or social success except insofar perhaps as it kept the religious congregation stable and provided an advantage in reaching their goal of salvation in the next life. Nevertheless, one should examine how the parents’ goals and lifestyles in the Brumbaugh family are reflected in the children’s chosen paths and marriages. 

Of Jacob and Mary’s seven children, two, John and Mary, either became a Brethren minister or married one, and one, Jacob, Jr., married a German Baptist Brethren woman named Catherine Rentch while establishing other religious ties for himself. Three children, therefore, helped directly or indirectly to maintain the community of believers to which the parents belonged. Two children, Mary and John, moved to Morrison’s Cove in Pennsylvania, while five, Jacob Jr., Daniel, David, Henry, and George, stayed on or very close to Clalands Contrivance in Washington County, Maryland. At least five of the children married into families of German descent (Jacob, Jr.: Rentch; Mary: Ulery; David: Kiessecker; Henry: Rentch; and George: Gelwicks) and two married into families of could-be German names (John: Miller; and Daniel: Long) and very likely were, expressing a certain enduring German-centric-ness (the Fogelman study found that Germans rarely married non-Germans before 1800).[1] While the two children who stayed in the Brethren community produced numerous descendants who chose to become Brethren, even ministers, the other five were assimilated into more mainstream “church German” families: one became Evangelical Lutherans (David), and three chose the German Reformed Church (Daniel, Henry and George). Jacob Jr. was the only Presbyterian in this family.

Henry, as mentioned earlier, married Margaretha, a daughter of Colonel Andrew Rentch, who had served on the Committee of Observation, as a militia officer, and as a justice of the peace. This marriage indicates that Jacob Sr.’s refusal to bear arms did not significantly impede the social opportunities of his children, even though this was not a likely goal. 

All of the children were farmers except perhaps George, who became a beer brewer, tavern keeper, and had a thriving practice as a professional fiduciary. (He served as an executor or trustee for about a dozen families). Most of the sons continued to distill grains into alcoholic spirits, and Daniel continued the weaving that his father had done. Henry maintained a substantial portion of the home farm of Clalands Contrivance for another forty years, and then passed it on to his son. David farmed and his wife Eve maintained a hotel in nearby State Line, Pennsylvania. At least three, Jacob Jr., David, and John, engaged in numerous transactions in real estate caused by the wealth of real estate their father had left them. His sons thus appeared to third parties as wealthy men in their own right. 

As stated earlier, Jacob seems to have been a fairly good planner all his life, given all that he accomplished. Nevertheless, uncharacteristically, he apparently failed to make out a will before he died. When reaching a certain age, some farmers from that era would divide up their wealth. They would give small items to their daughters as their wedding dowries, and divide up the land and cash items among the sons, retaining only the right to live on the farm until death. 

Each child had inherited in excess of 400 acres of good farmland, and cash of about $1,000.[1] If Mary needed £35 (or $93.33) per year for her widow’s allowance or maintenance money, one child’s cash inheritance of $1,000 would be equal to enough money to maintain ten persons for a year. Jacob’s wealth evidently made him the equivalent, for his time and place, of a fairly well-to-do farmer.


[1] Derived from these monetary equivalents in 1800 Pennsylvania: 1s (shilling) = 90d (pence); 7s (shillings) 6d  (pence) = 90d = $1.00 Pennsylvania dollar 1800. £1 = 20s (shillings) = 240d (pence); £4,100 = 984,000d (pence) divided by 90d (pence) per dollar = $10,933.33. 

The Hagerstown Airport now sits on the land that was once farmed by Jacob Brumbaugh. His original home, added to in the early 19th century by Henry, and later by others, is now the #1 most threatened historic building in Maryland. The Airport would like to tear it down but historic societies have held them to place it for adaptive re-use, though no one has of yet come forward.


[1] Aaron Spencer Fogleman, Hopeful Journeys, German Immigration, Settlement, and 

Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717-1775 (Philadelphia: University of 

Pennsylvania Press, 1996), 149.

Jacobs Estate

Jacob died at an age of about 73, without a will, leaving to survive him his wife Mary and all seven children, of which only his youngest, George, was then a minor, about age sixteen.[1] His wife and eldest son Jacob, Jr. were appointed by the probate court as administrators to settle his intestate estate under the guidance of the court. Jacob Sr. owned at that time 394 acres of land in Washington County, Maryland, on three tracts, Resurvey of Clalands Contrivance, Timber Bottom, and The Chance. In addition, he owned nearly 3,000 acres of land on a dozen different tracts in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. 

The estate, however, had an immediate cash flow problem. Three events conspired to set the family of this prosperous farmer back on their heels. The contract price for the largest of Jacob’s Bedford land tracts (475 acres), Dorfans Barn, had not yet been fully paid. He had also not yet acquired title. He had contracted with Philadelphia Quaker Henry Drinker in 1797 for the purchase at £1,326, but had so far paid only £338, twenty-five percent of the full purchase price.[2] A significant balance of £988 remained. Then, one of Jacob Sr.’s debtors owing him the considerable sum of £173, had decided that rather than pay the debt to the estate, he would submit to his own voluntary incarceration in the county jail under a new law enabling “insolvent debtors” to be legally absolved of a debt.[3]

Not long after the vendue, the family received an aggressive letter from Henry Drinker who, unaware of Jacob’s death, threatened him, demanding payment for his land. In this letter, he insisted: 

Should I not receive the sums due or a considerable part thereof without much further delay, it is my intention to put thy Agreemt into the hands of an attorney, to be prosecuted as the law in such case warrants. Life being uncertain, I desire thou would come to this City and receive the deed for the tract of land I sold thee in 1785 [a tract named Corunna] or inform me to whom I shall deliver it.  

Thy Friend [signed Henry Drinker].”[4]           

Drinker himself was ill, old, and felt he was near death (he died in 1809). He also became indebted and desperately sought cash to save his empire from the ravages of failed land speculation. 

If the Brumbaugh family were not able to pay Drinker, the largest debt of the estate, they might not obtain the benefit of whatever bargain Jacob had struck for Dorfans Barn. They also risked losing Jacob’s earlier down payment, plus interest on the sum and attorney costs. In addition, Jacob had already paid the full price of £476 for a tract called Corunna, but there had been no conveyance by Drinker to Jacob. These crises called for resolute and unified family forbearance on the one hand, as well as action by the administrators. 

Whatever the case, Mary and Jacob, Jr., as administrators, turned quickly to the business at hand, raising the money to meet these demands. Although they rose to this challenge, they did not receive the payment of £173 from that one bankrupt debtor.  

In 1800 the Drinkers deeded the long-ago purchased land tract Corunna to the administrators of Jacob’s estate. Over the next three years the administrators of the estate made sure to pay enough pounds sterling annually to keep the Dorfans Barn contract and pay off the huge debt. By 1803, both land tracts were added to the estate’s portfolio, making that portfolio even more land rich and cash poor.

Settling the estate, Mary renounced her legal interest of one-third of all the assets in return for an agreement by all the children, enforceable by the court, to pay her an annuity of £35. Accordingly, each child received 1/7th of the entire estate, either in cash or in kind and an obligation to pay Mary each year 1/7th of the annuity.

Meanwhile, the administrators of Jacob’s estate filed a proper inventory for tangible personal property owned by his estate. This was in accordance with an appraisal conducted on May 21, 1799 by John Schnebely and Ludwick Young.[5] They valued his goods at $2,501.13. (See a transcription of the inventory on this site along with the author’s comments).

Some key facts are revealed by the inventory, which are pertinent to the story of Brumbaugh. He owned no firearms and no enslaved persons at his death, which was consistent with his Brethren beliefs, and unlike most non-sectarian farmers.[6] He owned “12 old books” confirming his literacy, likely half religious and half farming books. In confirmation of Brethren practice, the listing notes that he owned “16 benches and a Table Upstairs.” This fact is consistent with holding home church services. Second-hand stories also described how Brethren drew together with their neighbors as a congregation without a church building. 

Jacob also owned two stills (a total of 200 gallons capacity; George Washington’s still, begun in 1798, had a 600 gallon capacity) and all the accoutrements of a significant distillery along with 450 gallons of whiskey in inventory, confirming his secondary occupation as a distiller of what were then referred to as ‘ardent spirits.’ 

Brumbaugh’s farm was well stocked with grains on hand, bushels of wheat, oats, rye, and buckwheat plus a myriad of tools and equipment, and supplies and products to maintain his buildings and grounds, plus crops in the ground, mostly grains, and several species of livestock and many horses. His farm had all the indications of a thriving ongoing operation despite Jacob’s 73 years. 

This inventory also shows how self-sufficient the Brumbaugh family was on their home farm. This enables one to gauge the striking degree of their thrift, a major contributor to the accumulation of wealth. According to a recent study of a general store in a neighborhood like Jacob’s in the approximate time frame, alcohol and textiles (including clothing) made up 57 percent by dollar volume of sales that other people (mostly non-sectarians) similarly situated spent money on. As Jacob’s family did not need to buy these products, their cash outflow was reduced, and they could keep more of the gross receipts of the sales of their farm products. 


[1] No petition for a guardian of a minor (his youngest child, George was then 16) was filed, or anyway none is extant in the files of the Register of Wills for Washington County, Maryland. 

[2] Land Records of Bedford County, Pennsylvania, Book F, 348.

[3] J.B. Jr. to H.D. 20 April 1803, Box 22, Drinker Archive, HSP.

[4] H.D. to J.B., 8 June 1799 Henry Drinker Papers, MS Collection 176, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Box 21. Drinker had in March of 1797 rebuffed Jacob Sr.’s effort to renegotiate his payments, calling Jacob’s arguments “childish” and not worth a retort, and chiding him for “imprudently” paying a tax needlessly. This correspondence is related in detail in Appendix V. 

[5] Washington County, Maryland, Administrations, Book B: WK 937-2, 307-310 (images 253-256), MSA.                 

[6] A review of inventories filed in the estates of five of Jacob’s children also reveals an absence of any firearms. The remaining two children, for which there are no inventories extant, were John and Mary. John was a Brethren preacher and Mary was married to one, so it is unlikely as well that either of them owned firearms. 

Newspaper Ad for the Vendue of Jacobs Personal Property

TO BE SOLD

                                                At Public Vendue,[1]

            On Wednesday and Thursday the 5th and 6th of June next [1799], at the late dwelling house of JACOB BRUMBAUGH, deceased, about five miles from Hager’s-Town, and one mile from Dr. Henry Schnebly’s, in Washington county Maryland, the personal estate of said Jacob Brumbaugh, constituting of a number of Valuable Horses and Colts, Milch Cows, Two yoke of oxen, a number of fine young cattle, sheep and hogs—Three Waggons and one Cart, Geers, Ploughs and Harrows, a Wind-mill, two Still Kettles, one containing 135 gallons, the other 70, with Hogsheads and other utensils thereunto belonging — Whiskey by the barrel—an Eight day Clock, a Kitchen Dresser, Iron and Brass wash Kettles, &ct. &ct. Grain in the ground—Wheat, Rye, Oats and Buck-Wheat by the bushel, besides a great variety of Household and Kitchen Furniture and farming utensils, too tedious to mention—The sale to begin at 9 o’clock, A.M. on said days and place, and due attendance given, by

                                    Jacob Brumbaugh [Jr.], Adm’or.

                                    Mary Brumbaugh, Adm’trix.

            May 16, 1799.

            ALL persons indebted to the estate of the said Jacob Brumbaugh, deceased, are requested to make immediate payment; and all those who have claims against said estate, will be pleased to render the same legally authenticated for settlement.[2]


[1] Vendue is “a public sale of anything, by outcry, to the highest bidder, an auction.” The word comes from the past tense of the French verb vendre, to sell. Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1913.  

[2] Maryland Herald and Elizabeth Town Advertiser, 16 May 1799, Maryland Historical Society.

The Brumbaugh Men and the Revolution in Hagerstown

The Brumbaughs Among the Pacifist Families of Wash. Co., Md.,

During the Revolution

Washington County retained for posterity detailed minutes of nearly eighteen months of Committee of Observation activity and decisions, taking up over one hundred printed pages, meetings on nearly eighty separate dates, scores of committee members’ names and names of persons who sat “in the chair” between their first meeting on September 14, 1775, and their last on March 3, 1777. These priceless records were published over ninety years ago in the Maryland Historical Magazine of the Maryland Historical Society over several issues including the names of all people who served on the Committee or even came before it for aid, inquiry, or censure in relation to violations of the boycott or for statements “inimical to the interests of the united States of America.” It is an extraordinarily revealing source for the history of the Revolution at the ground level. If not for the committee and its business-like minutes, the history of how at the grassroots level neighbors and patriots of different stripes, creeds, nationalities, and even languages forged the United States of America would have been lost.[1]

The Committee of Observation of Elizabeth town and the militias in Jacob Brumbaugh’s area were largely made up of farmers, millwrights, blacksmiths, craftsmen, tradesmen, and the like. Unlike some other towns like Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which had a small corps of elite wealthy merchants, no significant corps of an elite existed in Hagerstown: no great merchants, no resident owners of large plantations over say 5,000 acres, no families of great wealth or prominent lawyers from old, established families who took a leadership position in local civic affairs. Jacob Brumbaugh’s neighbors were very much on a fairly level socio-economic playing field. Most individuals who acted as judges, sheriffs, and administrators were English with a few Scots or Scots Irish.  The one notable exception to this rule was the ubiquitous Jonathan Hager. In 1771, he had been the first German settler in Maryland elected to the colonial assembly. 

While many of Jacob’s German neighbors joined the fight, many others were members of the pacifist Brethren and Mennonite sects. The pacifists saw the coming storm. They had often loosely associated with one another in German territories before emigration and had, as historian Jan Stievermann recently asserted, a shared “martyrological mentality,” which they brought with them from the old world.[2] They were prepared to suffer for their pacifism. A delegation of Mennonites met at the Quaker Meeting House at Gwynedd near Philadelphia in January 1775. The Quakers who attended this meeting brought a paper in the German language that emphasized their peace testimony and counseled patience and nonviolence. The Mennonites later circulated this.[3] A second meeting of the peace churches, this time Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, Schwenkfelders, and Moravians, took place in Reading, Pennsylvania, on September 1, 1775.[4]  Christopher Schultz, the Schwenkfelder preacher, also met with a Mennonite leader, John Bechtel, in order to resolve that their communities were prepared to become martyrs to sustain the peaceful principles on which Pennsylvania had been founded and the promised ‘liberty of conscience’ which had lured them there.[5] Would martyrdom become necessary?

This story of one family’s interaction with the committee is offered only to give broader context to and understanding of why the names of the Brethren Jacob Brumbaugh and his sons Jacob, Jr. and John appear multiple times in the town’s revolutionary committee’s minutes, especially when he and his sons, like other Brethren, never served on the committee. Breen further claims of the committee meetings: “For ordinary people, they were community forums where personal loyalties were revealed, tested, and occasionally punished.”[6]

                                               The Association’s Oath

Since the purpose of the committees was to help enforce the economic sanctions of the Association, the Association itself deserves some examination. The Convention of Maryland’s “Declaration of the Association of the Freemen of Maryland” on July 26, 1775, sought to have every male member of the community enroll; if a male was between age sixteen and fifty, he also had to enroll in the militia. Maryland’s Declaration, stating that is “necessary and justifiable to repel force by force” approved of the opposition by arms to the British troops, engaged to promote the continental association, restrain commerce with Great Britain, as well as “to promote good order and the due execution of the laws . . . as shall be adjudged by the civil magistrate, continental congress, our convention, council of safety, or committees of observation.”[7]

The oath looked both backward and forward in this transitional year of 1775. It looked backward in their stated “ardent wish” of a “reconciliation with Great Britain,” and coincidently it looked forward in its statement that the signers were “persuaded that it is necessary and justifiable to repel force by force.” 

In July 1775 committees of observation in Maryland required freemen to sign a pledge specifically supporting armed resistance against England.  They came, he states, close to proclaiming independence in a statement that set forth their specific grievances in such a serious manner that “they justified repelling force by force.”[8]  In the spring of 1775 the Maryland Convention in Annapolis urged the committees to confiscate any arms from those citizens who might not associate or enroll—this included loyalists certainly, but it also included those who for religious reasons were “conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms,” a phrasing of the exemption that seemed to take hold. It took many meetings, however, before the committee carried out this law in Elizabeth town. 

The Committee of Observation took over governing Frederick County from the date of the first meeting, September 14, 1775, until at least March 1777 when a formal state governmental structure was formed. The Committee exercised legislative, policy-making, administrative, and judicial power. These Committees were answerable to no one, they claimed, except the populace who elected them and the Maryland convention meeting at Annapolis. They maintained that they received their authority from the public at large in their jurisdiction and if they have committed a fault in the execution of that authority, they must be responsible only to that same public. There was in Maryland some oversight by the Convention, and occasionally the local committee sent along a petition or issue in need of resolution by that higher authority. 

The royal governor of Maryland, Robert Eden, suspended the legislature in order to keep it from acting in support of Boston. In doing so, he effectively abolished his own job. Unlike several other colonial governors, who mostly fled, he stayed physically present in Annapolis until May 1776. Eden was the very last colonial governor to leave. William Eddis wrote to a correspondent in England that the “Government is almost totally annihilated, and power transferred to the multitude…[the] sword is drawn, and without some providential change of measures, the blood of thousands will be shed in this unnatural contest.”[9] Individuals, such as Eddis, did not know if fighting would erupt here as it had already erupted in New England, and if so, who would take up arms in the fight.

                         The German Sectarians’ Position in 1775

One German sectarian reflected on the atmosphere in the colonies, and what it meant to them. In a letter dated July 22, 1775, he wrote to a fellow German: 

Since the first blood was shed by the British you can not believe what a flame of war-spirit like a lightening stroke has set on fire all our provinces and caused them to glow. All are armed, in full battle array. In cities even the little boys form companies and conduct military exercises. Ducking and stooping and guarding of words must be studiously practiced if great danger and the military roll are to be avoided, which latter our people have thus far escaped.[10]

[No indent intended] A group of men in nearby York County, however, with a view to their neighboring dissenting pacifists enunciated a different view, stating that they had “ever since the beginning of the war been in some measure possessed of a sense of malignancy of the exterior enemies, and much more of the internal enemies of American independence . . . In this great struggle, he who is not with us is against us.”[11]

Many German immigrants felt torn. Many of them, such as Jacob Brumbaugh were genuinely grateful to the British for the relative freedom in America. Maryland had proven itself to be much better than the lands from which they had emigrated. There, along the upper Rhine they had suffered the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), closely followed by decades of murderous raids and widespread destruction by soldiers under Louis XIV of France, and later by The War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714).  

Another factor in the Germans’ response was that they did not have nearly the same stake in trade with Britain as many other colonists. They were mostly grain farmers and not tobacco planters. They were not city-dwelling tradesmen, merchants, and professionals who depended more on the Atlantic economy. German sectarians generally shunned British goods. Sectarians, Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethren alike, strongly discouraged vain display or “worldly ornament,” so many of the more expensive British goods were not even considered for purchase (there were exceptions among the urban Quaker merchants). 

As Benjamin Franklin supposedly commented wryly about the German inhabitants: “The Dutch under-live, and are thereby enabled to under-work and under-sell the English who are thereby extremely incommoded, and consequently disgusted.”[12] By this statement, Franklin meant that the Germans lived “down,” so to speak, or below the level of spending which corresponded to their level of income or wealth. 

One astute commentator, writing about the Saur family, contends that because Brethren were opposed to war and all forms of resistance, they “consequently support[ed] the conservative element in most crises and would attempt to appreciate the opponent’s point of view.” From the life of the elder Saur this author draws these examples: firstly, Saur published an article saying the Indians were likely to side with the French, given how “meanly” the Christians in the British colony had treated them; secondly, he showed a sympathetic understanding of the Indians’ argument that the colonial government did not respond to their claims quickly; and thirdly, when the Stamp Act crisis arose, Saur II proposed holding a convention to petition the British government for repeal of the tax, instead of the more aggressive promotion of the economic sanctions that were devised by patriots.[13]

One last tie of sorts that the Germans did have with England was this: immediately upon docking at the port of immigration in Philadelphia, non-British subjects had had to swear that oath of loyalty to the British king mentioned earlier that included these solemn promises: “I, A.B., do solemnly…declare that I will be true & faithfull to King George the Second… & to him will be faithfull against all traitorous Conspiriacies & attempts whatsoever which shall be made against his Person, Crown & Dignity.”[14]

For many of the German sectarians, they believed that ‘their word was their bond’ and even feared that breaking the oath might enable the government to take back their lands. They would not want to break that oath of allegiance to the King, even though some might have regretted that oath, which they made under duress minutes after landing after a two-month crossing. Swearing loyalty to the new revolutionary government would directly contradict their earlier oath and that, they said, made them uncomfortable. Some asserted to do so meant perjuring themselves before God, which would prevent their salvation.[15]

Lastly, to the German inhabitants of Pennsylvania and Maryland, such as Jacob Brumbaugh, the colonists’ cry for their “natural and Constitutional rights as Englishmen,” did not mean much to them. England’s system of rights was different from their limited experience of political matters in German lands. They therefore did not share this feeling that England was attacking their rights. 

Brethren and Mennonite men thought about war rather differently than their German, church-going neighbors. Because of their dubious expressions and unworldly understandings, they faced not only skepticism and doubt, but also serious personal and financial consequences if they did not persuade those neighbors that they sincerely believed in their religious duties. The core of their belief was that Christ taught them to be nonresistant.

In June of 1775 the city of Lancaster, similarly surrounded by many German sectarians, also grappled with this issue of how the sectarians and their pacifist principles fit into the general atmosphere that could occur during wartime. In Lancaster the Committee of Observation and Inspection had the wisdom to publish a broadside, the existence of which historians only recently discovered that served in a direct way to put this crisis into perspective for the entire community. 

The broadside, published in both English and German, addressed the situation of those who were “conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms.” The Continental Congress, the broadside stated, has taken into account the many pacifists in the colony and therefore made plans to protect all the people of the colony.  The local Committee called this:

[A] Measure so very indulgent to all…who are conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms and they urge those persons to contribute toward the necessary and unavoidable expenses of such proportion as may leave no Room, with any, to suspect that they would ungenerously avail themselves of the Indulgence granted them, or under a Pretense of Conscience and religious Scruples keep their Money in their Pockets and thereby throw those burthens upon a Part of the Community, which, in a Cause that affects all, should be borne by all.  [Italics are the Committee’s.]

“The issue of how to convince men to serve, and what to do about those who could not, troubled Pennsylvanians throughout the war, and it divided the Lititz Moravian community, in particular, in 1777,” says Scott Paul Gordon, a scholar of the Moravian experience. “This broadside shows a very early effort by Lancaster authorities to devise a plan to deal with conscientious objectors.”[16] As a general rule, events like this, which affected the German sectarians in Lancaster, traveled by word of mouth and letter to Hagerstown’s German community. In Philadelphia, where Quaker pacifists were a large presence, militants, spurning a Moravian pitch for exemption from the oath, maintained:

Many persons amongst us preferring a slavish dependence on the British King, from prejudice, expectation from lucrative offices, or the most unworthy motives, and screening themselves from the notice of Government, by a professed neutrality, have, nevertheless, as soon as opportunity offered declared themselves in favor of our Enemies, and became active against the liberties of America.[17]

In addition to being pacifist, Brethren and Mennonites also held on to the belief that God ordained Kings, or the notion of Divine Right.  Although the English generally shared that notion, many of those living in North America, other than Quakers, had lately shed that belief.

The Hagerstown district’s Committee of Observation, when carrying out its functions, certainly had to deal with Jacob Brumbaugh, his sons, and the other dissenting sectarian pacifists in their neighborhood. Their most pressing function, however, was that of supplying militia companies. This duty pushed the pacifists far to the background at times. 

The Maryland Convention asked for a regiment of militia to go to Boston, choosing Frederick County, home of frontier sharpshooters, as the county to send it. They sent their first regiment of militia to support General Washington, departing Frederick County on July 19, 1775. After a 550- mile march they arrived twenty-two days later on August 10 without losing even one man on the way.[18] Throughout the coming months, Frederick and Washington counties cultivated a reputation of meeting expeditiously and zealously whatever demands the Maryland Convention asked of them. 

                                    Elizabeth town District

According to the Maryland 1776 population census of Elizabeth town where Jacob lived, which included both the town and the rural area north of the town, encompassed approximately 2,914 white residents and 79 Negroes.[19]

The Mennonites had approximately fifty to seventy families, translating to a total of about 150 members in the Elizabeth town area.[20] Brethren could count among them about 155 families and about 373 baptized souls in this area.[21]

This was a deeply divided area, but the patriots, as opposed to the pacifists, had the distinct advantage in organizational support in that they received advice and intelligence from the Continental Congress funneling down through the provincial Maryland Convention to form local committees and carry out an agreed on program of economic protest. 

In the early days of the revolution, one’s patriot neighbors wanted to know where others stood; specifically they wanted to know that all male citizens aged 16-50 to joined by signing their signatures as an “enroller” in the militia or at least as an “associator.” There were many loyalists around who believed equally as strongly in their ties to the Crown and to England. Many loyalists sought to help the British retain the colonies by undermining efforts of the patriots, by spying, or at least by making it more difficult for the colonies to break away. 

In Philadelphia at the Second Continental Congress, different factions quarreled over whether a man who had ‘scruples of conscience’ and refused to bear arms should have to pay money in lieu thereof, or whether he could be exempted, too, from the money equivalent. Parties on all sides—Quakers, the Philadelphia Committee of Safety, the Officers of the Military Association of Philadelphia, as well as the Privates of Philadelphia, all filed briefs or petitions relating to this topic. Other than the Quakers, most felt that a man who did not bear arms must pay a monetary equivalent. At first the Continental Congress thought such persons should be encouraged to contribute liberally, but eventually the other groups’ notion that there should be a mandatory “tax” payable of £2..10, for starters, became the rule and that became the answer that went forward.[22]

If a man would not enroll in the militia or sign on as an associator, then the committee required that person to pay a fine.  If he would not pay the fine (between £2 and £10 possibly according to what assets you declared or what people thought you were “worth”) as a “non-enroller,” then the committee might suspect the individual was a loyalist or Tory. They could then summon the man, take testimony, and convict him of actions “inimical to the interests of the United States of America.” He could be exiled or have his assets confiscated and sold at public vendue for the war effort. If they found the man guilty, he could be jailed and required to pay the costs of his own jailing. Neutrality was not a popular stance in those days. The neighboring Pennsylvania revolutionary government confiscated over 43,000 acres of land from 112 loyalists.[23] Maryland’s new government pursued a similar path. 

The early war years truly were ‘the times that tried men’s souls,’ in the words of Thomas Paine’s best-selling pamphlet Common Sense. The local committees operated under immense pressure to assemble ever more companies of soldiers in support of General Washington and the Continental army. 

Whether the Brumbaughs’ non-sectarian neighbors would understand and tolerate their religious principles, no matter how sincere, in the face of this most practical and concrete of crises was a matter of great concern.

                                                 * ——— *

On Monday, November 6, 1775, a tragic blow struck the community hard: Jonathan Hager, the town founder, entrepreneur, and sole Maryland provincial legislator of German origins had been accidentally killed. The accident happened while Hager and others had been building the new Zion Evangelical and German Reformed church in a prominent place in Elizabeth town. Shockingly, Hager had been crushed when a large log that had broken free crushed him.[24] It must have been a psychological blow to all the community— a well-loved man, a large landowner (more than 10,000 acres during his lifetime),[25] the first and only German political leader (elected to the Assembly in 1771 and re-elected in 1773), suddenly killed in an accident while building a church. 

The year 1775 had been a roller coaster ride for colonists in America. Although 1776 is generally lauded in American history as one of the most significant years of the war, 1775 is now receiving increased attention as the seminal year of the forward movement towards revolution.[26] The colonists’ experienced victories at Lexington and Concord, then at Bunker Hill, a loss that was a pyrrhic victory for the British. Militias were forming and marching on the town greens, honing their skills to fight back. Washington had been appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in June, taking actual control in July. In October, the King of England had formally declared the colonies in rebellion. The First Continental Congress had organized a boycott and other commercial measures to show the British their intention to resist, and in order to execute that plan, the committee was educating the populace at the grassroots level. 

In rural Elizabeth town, a local hero of sorts had been killed in a needless accident. For four years Captain Jonathan Hager had been a bridge between the Maryland Assembly, the legislative body in Annapolis, and the German community around Hager’s town. He likely had helped German settlers, such as Jacob Brumbaugh and his neighbors, become more comfortable with the British legal and legislative system with which most Germans were unfamiliar. He was even a spiritual seeker, befriending particularly Moravians and German Reformed, but also associated with Brethren like Jacob and sold land to Mennonites. Now, in the midst of an English civil war of sorts, that vital link was suddenly gone. That bridge no longer existed. A bond between an important civic leader and the German pacifists had suddenly disappeared. How would they cope with this loss? 

The conflict developed a fast pace in 1776. In January, Thomas Paine’s Common Sensewas published; its logic and tenor spread revolutionary sentiments like wildfire. By March 17 the British had evacuated Boston Harbor. The Maryland Convention and the local Committees of Observation were fully operational and their manner of working with the disenting sectarians constantly evolved throughout the year, which reflected events that were being experienced by Washington’s army in the field.

The need for locally recruited soldiers rapidly increased. The local Committee in Elizabeth town set a deadline of March 1, 1776, by which time it summoned all men who had not yet enrolled in the militia for questioning; if their answers were insufficient, they had to pay the fine of £2..6..0.. for not mustering and additional non-enroller fines that ranged from £2 to £10. They did not meet that deadline, but the date for a summons loomed on the horizon.This chapter traces direct references to Brumbaugh in the minutes as well as more indirectly how Brumbaugh’s cohort, the Brethren sect, was being treated in his district.[27]

                                             Blankets

As this mounting tension continued, the Committee needed to provision the current militias; they struggled to supply them with basic essentials, such as blankets. The Maryland Convention in Annapolis put out a strongly worded letter in March 1776 stating that the troops needed blankets.

Jacob Brumbaugh during this time was occupied with purchasing land and having his fifth child in March, but he still managed to contribute significantly to the war effort.[28] In the minutes of March 23, 1776, the Committee’s clerk recorded the collection of blankets and rugs, and in particular the collection of two blankets from Jacob “Breembaugh” (misspelling Jacob’s surname as was often done).[29] Blankets were sorely needed for the Continental army, therefore each county had been asked for contributions. Of the 41 men providing blankets to the army in Hagerstown, Jacob Brumbaugh contributed two blankets, which were appraised at the second highest value. This may have been Jacob’s subtle signal to his peers that while on religious principle he would not enroll to bear arms in the county militia, nor sign the Association, he would back his neighbors’ patriotic efforts. 

Those neighbors who served as committee leaders had to each head up a company of soldiers; at this point, the committee asked them to check with all eligible men in their district to find out where they stood, meaning whether or not they enrolled or became an associator. If not, these leaders sent them before the committee to explain their stance. Going before this governing body, these individuals had to answer why they would not enroll. They conducted these summonses in order to separate the truly religious or conscientious pacifists from those who might use religion to cover up an underlying sympathy for England. 

The Summons

In the committee’s minutes for April 29, 1776, the secretary alluded to what was to come:  

It is ordered that the Clerk Issue summons directed to the several Captains for the afores[ai]d Men to appear before the Committee of Observation at Hagers Town [even then they sometimes anticipated the day when the name would be changed from Elizabeth town] on the 7th day of May next, to show Cause why they do not enroll and associate, agreeable to the Resolves of the Convention, and shall not be fin’d and obliged to deliver up their fire arms except Pistols to this Committee. 

And also for the following Persons returned [i.e., named on a list turned in to the Committee—this may be the actual muster list detailing who appeared and who did not] by Capt[ai]n John Cellars viz Jacob Broombaugh Sen[io]r, Jacob Broombaugh Jun[io]r, John Broombaugh…John Miller Dunkard, … John Long… John Clapper…[there were 116 names in all].[30]  

Failure to appear before the committee was not an option. If they showed up, they could argue their cases. They could potentially plead exemption for various reasons, such as they were not of draft age, they were a member of the clergy, or had physical disabilities. They also had the option to take a religious stance by declaring that they were “conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms” in all circumstances.  This declaration would likely take some persuasion even if they proved that they belonged to a Mennonite, or Brethren congregation or a Moravian settlement or Quaker meeting.

The Committee of Observation had summoned Jacob to appear alongside his two eldest sons in front of more than a hundred other men on a matter of conscience and religious principles. This was an intimidating situation for those questioned. They showed up on Tuesday, May 7, 1776. Although the Committee of Observation in Elizabeth town did not keep records for the May 7 interrogation, if it occurred, there is a list of the people summoned in the following day’s minutes, along with judgments rendered by the committee for each one. 

The committee evaluated each man’s reasons, looking for any sign of loyalist sympathies. One can imagine that some men were much more believable or articulate than others..  

How did Jacob respond under the stress of interrogation? It is unlikely that he made a speech to the committee that day. There was no evidence that he acted as a leader or spokesman. 

If he or another Brethren had made a speech on behalf of their congregation, the speech would have likely made references to the promises of religious tolerance made by William Penn and the Calverts, and to the oath of allegiance to the king, which men took upon arrival in Philadelphia. A speech might have expressed gratitude for the liberties and opportunities afforded to the congregation in British North America. The speaker might have spoken of the biblical admonitions such as “Resist not evil” (Matthew 5:39, KJV); “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44, KJV); and “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13, KJV), all of which were central to Brethren belief.  The speaker might have spoken of a citizen’s duty to pay the tribute penny. At this time, their willingness to pay taxes and contribute blankets distinguished the Brethren and the Mennonites from the Quakers who by virtue of their denomination’s policy statements (the “Testimony of the People called Quakers” and the “Ancient Testimony”) refused all participation related to war. 

To put the Hagerstown summons before the committee in perspective, one must compare it to similar cases. In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, for example, the process of recording the non-enrollers was done slightly differently. The committee recorded both the names of men who came before them and their declarations using short-hand: “Christian Witmer . . . don’t b[ear]. Arms; Marks Grove . . . conscientiously Scrupulous Bearing Arms . . . fined 9 pounds. Jacob Hoover . . . could not leave home twas seeding time. Conscientiously scruple: b[earing]. arms . . . fined 5 pounds, 5 shillings.”[31] [Emphasis added] These men were listed on the muster roll in “Colonel Hambright’s Battalion, Captain Lightner’s Company.”[32]

In cosmopolitan Philadelphia, the revolutionary committee served the same kind of summons, however, the audience before the committee differed from others. There, the Quakers were the main religious dissidents who had, hewing to a stricter practice, refused not only to bear arms, but also to pay fines associated with this refusal. Thomas Fisher and his brother Samuel, along with John Drinker, were brought up before the Committee of Inspection and Observation for refusing to accept the Continental Congress’ currency, claiming “scruples of conscience” against “money emitted for the purpose of war.” The Committee of Inspection and Observation on February 5, 1776, however, ruled against the defendants. Historian Sheila Jones asserted that “this defense was inconsistent with their business practices” since, the committee members charged, they had accepted provincial currency before when it had been emitted for mixed purposes of defense and normal public expenditures. As a result, the committee declared, “This Committee do hold up to the world the said John Drinker and Thomas and Samuel Fisher, as Enemies to their Country, and Precluded from all Trade and Intercourse with the Inhabitants of these Colonies.” Other citizens were admonished not to trade with these men.[33]

The Hagerstown committee minutes for the meeting on the next day, May 8, record that all eighteen of the committee members except three of the captains appeared on May 7 to participate in or at least hear the questioning of those summoned. These men had certainly stated religious objections against the orders. Had men cited the early charter of Maryland, that guaranteed religious freedom, the Toleration Act, or William Penn’s promises, Penn’s book Liberty of Conscience or the colony’s liberal charter, which had induced them to re-settle here?  It cannot be definitively determined. 

As previously stated, many Anabaptists read a famed book translated from the original Dutch into German called The Bloody Theater or The Martyrs’ Mirror. It compiled stories next to engravings of frightening scenes, depicting the last minutes at the stake of courageous Christians throughout the ages. By the terms of its own Introduction, it is a “representation or exhibition of the blood, suffering, and death of those who for the testimony of Jesus Christ, and for their conscience sake, shed their blood.”[34]

In the May 8 committee minutes, the clerk recorded that the Committee collected firearms from some, and fined those not among the “enrolled” or the “associated.” Here it listed more than 65 men’s names, exempting several who were disabled, or over 50 years old. The clerk also listed how many pounds the committee fined those who were “religiously and conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms”: 

Key: Do = ditto    3..0 = 3 pounds Sterling and the words “common money” mean currency valid in the province of Maryland.   
 
   Jacob Broombaugh Senr.   50 yrs. a Gun to Captn Jno Cellars
   Jacob Broombaugh Junr      3..0 Common Money to pay to    Do    [3 pounds Sterling]     
   John Broombaugh               3..0 [pounds paid to]                 Do  
   …
   Jno Miller Tunkard             Do 5..0             Do   [35]

The committee did not indicate that Jacob and his sons were ‘Dunkers.’ The minutes clearly indicate, however, that Jacob Sr. had claimed he was over 50, and therefore exempted from enrolling in the militia. As this was May of 1776, Jacob’s claim tends to confirm that the man born in Osthelden in February of 1726 was standing before the committee in Hagerstown.

As to his sons, the committee assigned three pounds Sterling (£3) fines as religiously scrupulous non-enrollers. From this notation, one can infer that they both were eligible for military service, but claimed exemption on religious principles. There was no reason for Jacob Sr. to self-identify as a Brethren, as he opted out on the age limit. The clerk did not identify any other men except John Miller by religion. No others were expressly identified in the minutes as Quaker or Mennonite. The clerk most likely identified John Miller’s religion because more than one John Miller attended the interrogation. He differentiated amongst them using unique characteristics. “John Miller, Constable,” mentioned in later minutes, is likely the other man present in the interrogation.[36]

Even when excused on the grounds of religious principles, the committee asked these men to deliver up their guns to a militia officer; Jacob Sr.’s went to Captain Cellars. The Committee could not in these treacherous times risk having a person they thought to be a religious pacifist turn out later to be a secret militant loyalist or Tory working against the cause.

                         The second Mennonite and Brethren petition:

                   “being truly sensible of the Justness thereof”

Little more than a month later, on June 29, 1776, the Committee of Observation recorded that the “Menonists and German Baptists” placed before the Committee a second petition — again, no copy survives in any of the relevant archives.  This time the minutes record simply: [a petition] praying Interposition with the Convention [of Maryland, meeting in Annapolis] that they [the petitioners] may be indulged with giving Produce instead of Cash for their [non-enroller] fines.”[37]

The sectarians asked if the convention would intervene with the local Committee on behalf of the dissenters. The dissenters wanted to pay their fines in produce such as wheat, rye, and barley, instead of currency because cash was scarce. The local Committee accepted the petition respectfully. They then sent a letter on July 3, 1776, to the Convention in Annapolis, stating that “the inclosed petition was laid before the Committee [and we have] therefore taken the Liberty (being truly sensible of the Justness thereof) to recommend the [petition] to your Consideration & that you will . . . grant such relief as your Hon[ora]ble house [the Maryland Convention] may think proper[.]. . . Sam[ue]l Hughes Chairman.” [38]

The sectarians had the temerity to ask this new governing body for a special, more complicated way to pay the non-combatant fine. In seeking an answer, the committee even ‘telegraphed’ by their parenthetical remark, “being truly sensible of the Justness thereof,” how they hoped those in Annapolis might favorably decide the issue. 

While these events were taking place, the Declaration of Independence was completed in Philadelphia and sent to the printer. The break with England had finally occurred and would be announced on July 8 with public readings. The Second Continental Congress asked General Washington to have the Declaration read publicly on the parade grounds in a stentorian voice to the troops under his command outside of New York City. Americans in towns and villages throughout the colonies repeated this act. While printer John Dunlap had the distinction of printing the Declaration of Independence’s first version in English, on July 5 or 6 German publishers in Philadelphia, Steiner & Cist, printed the Declaration in the German-language newspaper Pennsylvanische Staatsbote on July 8.[39] In Maryland, the Council of Safety told “the several Committees of Observation in each County and District of this Province” to proclaim the Declaration in whatever way seemed “most proper for the Information of the people.”[40] As they made history, they had to also amass more troops to fight. 

While the convention considered the second Brethren and Mennonite petition that fateful summer, the committee at Elizabeth town busily formed  “two Companys of Germans, and one company of Ryflemen to be raised for the continental Service by order of the convention.”[41]

Some German immigrants thus took the initiative to create their own companies of men to fight for their new country. While this act threw a kinder light on the German immigrant group as a whole, it may have placed an even brighter spotlight on those other Germans, the sectarians, who would not serve. Typically, it was the church Germans—the Lutherans and Reformed—who comprised the bulk of these recruits, but Moravians from their Graceham settlement in Monocacy, Maryland, also likely enlisted, in spite of the official prohibition against fighting.[42] Would the requests for indulgences by the Brethren and Mennonites continue to be respected?

 On August 17, the committee for Elizabeth town reported receiving a response from the convention: “On reading a Petition of the Society of Menonists and German Baptists

Resolved, that the several Committees of Observation may in their Discretion . . . may remit the whole, or any part of the fine by them assessed; and it is recommended to the Committee to pay particular attention and to make a Difference, between such persons as may refuse from religious Principles or other Motives.”[43]

The committee in Annapolis thus did not directly say whether the German Baptists could pay in produce rather than currency. Instead, it left this decision, as well as other details, to the discretion of the local committee in Elizabeth town. The convention did, however, urge them to discriminate between those persons who refuse “from religious Principles,” which seem at this point in time to have near universal respect in this colony, and those who refused on “other Motives.” If among the other motives the committee discerned a loyalty to the King over the colonies or a comment were to be made which the committee judged “inimical to the interest of the united States,” the practice was to bear down hard on that person with the goal of changing their minds. 

On October 10 the committee met again with these particulars in mind:

Jacob Huffer [identified by scholars as a Mennonite] Complained his fine        was too high the Committee took the same into consideration & made abatement of £2..10..0

Capt Cellar [captain of the company to which son Jacob Jr. was initially assigned] Fakler T Lersner and Clapsadles Lievtenant [sic- Jacob Sr. and son John were before May 7 assigned to this company] Complained [presumably of the fine being too high as above] Apply to Committee for authority to Enable them to Collect the fine of such [persons] in their Respective Companies as have Neglected to attend musters on which the Committee allows such fines to be Collected according to Resolve of Convention the Committee adjourns.[44]

This last comment indicated that the captains Cellar and Clapsaddle, of the companies to which the Brumbaughs had personally been assigned, requested approval from the Committee to collect from dissenters’ overdue fines for not attending weekly and monthly musters. It should also be said that the pacifists never wanted to “volunteer” these war fines; they felt comfortable only paying the tribute penny when forced to by the government.  This theological point made for a tricky landscape for these dissenters.

In September of 1776 the geographical area covered by the upper District of Frederick County was carved out of Frederick County and formally re-named Washington County— the first of 31 counties to be named for General Washington—over time. Going forward, the Committee proudly used that name in connection with the militia and indicated they would “support the union of the Colonies with our Lives and fortunes,” echoing the words of their more elite delegates in Philadelphia and Annapolis.  

Throughout the fall of 1776, the convention worked on a state constitution for Maryland, as did similar conventions in other states, at the suggestion of the Second Continental Congress. There was both a positive message for the Brethren in it and a negative one. On October 31, 1776, a Declaration of Rights was introduced into the Maryland legislative assembly in which the convention took the time to pass a resolution giving Brethren and Mennonites the same leeway to “affirm” legal documents as they had previously given Quakers.  It provided, however, a negative message in Article IV when it asserted that “The doctrine of non-resistance, against arbitrary power and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.”[45] Pennsylvania’s much more radical and liberal, new Constitution, though by contrast more generous to more people on the whole, nevertheless stated, “Nor can any man who is conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms, be justly compelled thereto, if he will pay such equivalent.”[46] In Pennsylvania a man not wishing to serve had to pay a substitute to serve in the militia in his place or pay a substitute fine in which case the company commander would find the substitute, and charge the cost to the person in whose place the substitute was marching. 

In December 1776 the committee in Elizabeth town resolved, “that the Dunkards and Menonists be advertised, to pay their respective fines, to the Committee, on Tuesday next, otherwise, they may depend, that rigorous measures will be immediately taken to Compel Payment.”[47]

The tone of these documents indicated that fines previously assessed had not yet been paid, and the committee now desired to collect the money in order for supply and equip the new troops. Given the companies to which they were assigned, this warning pertained to Jacob Brumbaugh’s sons, among others. Although the Maryland Convention had extended local discretion, it wanted to insure the money was collected and therefore the committee threatened “rigorous measures.” One wonders why the committee had an air of desperation surrounding its requests.

                           The Desperate December of 1776

There have been entire books written on how desperate the situation was that December of 1776.[48] Washington himself despaired, thinking he would not survive the year. It was that very month, those very days around Christmas that year when General Washington, with a sense of the greater desperation for the whole cause, crossed the ice-clogged Delaware River with a few companies of nearly barefoot men and organized a surprise attack on the British and Hessians at Trenton. He succeeded in not only surviving the year, but also winning a sorely needed victory to buoy morale and carry the troops through a hard winter. Perhaps that stress flowed downstream to Hagerstown. 

On the next Tuesday, December 24, when the Brethren and Mennonites had to pay their overdue fines, the committee passed a more aggressive resolve containing a series of five additional demands made, again in firm but genteel terms, towards the Mennonites and Brethren:

On motion of Col’l [Andrew] Rench & seconded by S Hughes [the Committee member and iron forge owner who wrote the tactful cover letter sending the second petition to the Maryland Convention] Resolved Unanimously that such of the young Dunkards and Menonists as have not enroll’d nor associated, shall immediately be requested to march with the Militia, in order to give their Assistance in intrenching and helping the sick and all such as will turn out voluntarily agreeably to the above Request, shall have their fines remitted [refunded].[49]

The committee offered Brethren the opportunity to provide an alternative service, “intrenching and helping the sick” while marching with the militia. These options lay at the origin of what today would be considered “alternative service” options for conscientious objectors. In the months just previous to this the committee had specifically addressed concerns brought up about Captain Clapsaddle’s Company and Captain Cellar’s company, the very companies to which we find the Brumbaughs had been assigned. It seemed clear that these new orders in December were likely directed specifically at, among others, the Brumbaughs. This was the stick—“march with the Militia in order to give their Assistance in intrenching and helping the sick”— and the carrot was that they “shall have their fines remitted [refunded]” for doing so.[50] This proposition tempted these frugal sectarians. It was very tempting indeed.

Whether the Brumbaughs did what the committee tantalizingly placed in front of them is a question. The lack of records on these militia companies prevents one from definitively knowing. Although it was possible, they most likely did not partake in this opportunity.[51]These men would have felt that marching with the army in whatever capacity would have tainted them too seriously with the brush of war. 

The saga of the committee and the pacifists continued. It formed teams “for the protection and relief of such families as shall be left without Assistance” These companies sent out a member once every two weeks to see if anyone in the company’s district or neighborhood needed assistance once the men had gone to war. If those families did not have enough supplies to provide aid, then the committee ordered that “they [these families in need] are required to apply to the Brethren and Menonists residing nearest to give their assistance.”[52] It was thereby acknowledged openly that many of these German sectarian men would not be marching off to war. The Brethren and their allies were thus given a social welfare mission in the community since they chose not to participate fully in a military one. If the Brumbaughs did not march off with the militia in their civilian entrenching and medical capacity, then they were likely home taking care of their neighbors, providing food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, according to their religious principles. 

The Committee directed the Brethren to support the war effort in a way consistent with their consciences. If the Brethren wanted their fines refunded, their sons or fathers had to march with the militia performing non-combatant chores such as “intrenching” and caring for the sick and wounded. The committee exhibited a tough resolve towards the nonresistants. Its members determined further “to compel the Dunkers and Menonists to give their Assistance, if they should refuse upon Application.”[53]

That same day in December 1776, the committee ordered certain persons “impowered to collect from the Dunkards and Menonists, or from any other Person, all the Waggon Cloaths, that can be got, and make Return thereof [i.e., turn them in] to this Committee, who will appraise them and pay for the same.”[54]

“Waggon cloaths” referenced the coarse canvas fabric laid over the metal hoops forming the roof of a Conestoga wagon. Once the men obtained these from the sectarians, they were directed to turn them in to the committee for appraisal and payment. They would then be sent to the troops. The committee continued to act firmly, but showed respect by paying for them. At the same relative time “In western Maryland some of these men [not necessarily but possibly Elizabeth town men] mustered in heavy snowstorms during the month of December 1776 and began their own march to the Delaware River in bitter weather.”[55] One of the committee’s final statements read: “Resolved that the militia of Washington County be requested to march to the Assistance of General Washington to continue ‘till the 15th day of March next, unless sooner discharged.[56]

Jacob Brumbaugh’s immediate neighbors Adam Ott, the Schnebleys, and the Stulls remained involved in the leadership of the area’s military and civilian forces during this. So many of the names found on Committee-member lists  such as Schnebley, Ott, and Stull, are also found serving as witnesses to Brumbaugh family deeds in ensuing years. 

In this last note found in the committee’s minutes for December 24, 1776, Christmas Eve, it indicated sectarian payments. It read:

Dr. Col’l Stull Treasurer for Washington County:
         1776 Dec’r 24 For so much [an accounting of the amounts] received from the Dunkards and Menonist [sic] for their Fines v[i]z:
 
               …received from John Miller £54 paid to him by the following:
            Jacob Broombaugh Jnr. £3..0..0        [Jacob’s eldest son, three pounds]
             John Broombaugh         £3..0..0        [Jacob’s 2nd son, three pounds]
               …[others]….[57]

One finds here an even more positive indication that, indeed, Jacob’s two elder sons identified as “Dunkards or Menonists.” Their fines were even collected by “John Miller Dunkard” who elsewhere was specifically identified in the minutes as a Dunker.[58] This circumstantial evidence provides a solid foundation for making the argument that if his eldest teenage sons believed in the Brethren faith, Jacob himself and his wife Mary Elizabeth most likely did also. There were 67 men fined that day, of which Lehman, the Mennonite scholar, identifies 35 as Mennonites;[59] thus, the rest were likely Brethren[60]and maybe a few Quakers or a Moravian. 

Jacob’s sons had been fined that year £6..0..0—and Jacob had given up a gun, blankets, perhaps also wagon cloths. The newly independent nation’s fortunes were shaky that December and the Brumbaughs, while ostensibly accorded exemptions, were yet under the most relentless pressure they had ever faced. All in all the committee considered the position of the non-enrollers and non-associators on twenty different occasions during their eighty meetings. The committees of Maryland and Pennsylvania concentrated intently on handling the pacifist, non-enrolling, dissenters. 

                                    Service in the War

Questions remained whether Jacob and his sons served in the militia during the Revolution, whether they gave in to the pressures on them, whether they compromised their principles against war. If so, is there evidence, preferably primary source evidence, contemporaneous to the events?

This work has previously established that despite intense pressures from the local Committee of Observation, Jacob Brumbaugh and his sons remained steadfast in 1776 among the pacifist Brethren, a small minority not participating in the militia of their community of middling farmers and artisans. Instead they contributed needed blankets, a gun, wagon cloths; his sons also paid cash fines as non-enrollers. 

Brethren and Mennonites had been effectively exempted from military service in the early months of the Revolution. Locally, however, a man seeking exemption had to stand up in front of the committee and say that he actively practiced one of the pacifist sect religions. As previously stated, Jacob Sr. did not have to do this, as he was over the maximum age of service. 


Yet consider this seemingly contradictory evidence. The names of Jacob Brumbaugh and his son John are found listed on the muster roll of Captain Daniel Clapsaddle’/s company.[61] Jacob Jr. is also on the muster roll of Captain John Cellar’s company.[62] What does this contradictory evidence mean? 

Muster rolls often listed all persons in a district who were eligible for military service. The three Brumbaughs are listed as privates among the soldiers in the Washington County militia. Does this mean they actually served in that militia company when it marched off to war? Not necessarily, and most probably not. 

According to the muster roll, Jacob was assigned to Capain Daniel Clapsaddle’s Company, 1st Battalion in the Washington County Militia. [63]  Jacob Sr. is listed as a private in the 8th class in the Company of 80 men. Not surprisingly, it was a family affair, as at least 29 of the men shared a surname with at least one other man. The Downey family, for example, had seven men and another (Lighter) four scheduled to serve alongside each other in the same company. 

Some sources indicate that Clapsaddle’s company was part of the Continental Congress’s “flying camp” strategy for the first years of the war.[64] This military grouping’s duties included being available on short notice to move with lightning quickness to one or the other of several flashpoints in the middle colonies. They may also have guarded vulnerable supplies or ports. A Thomas Long of Washington provided food and drink for the companies of Captains Clapsaddle and Reynolds in January 1777. Therefore, this company may not have marched off to war, if they ever did, until some time later in 1777.[65]  

It is difficult to determine if these companies fought, and whether the Brumbaughs were fulfilling their agreement to march and aid soldiers. It is even hard to tell whether, despite their sect’s pacifist principles from day one, they had marched out of Maryland as ready, willing, and able soldiers in the fullest sense. 

Having a Brethren’s name found on a revolutionary muster roll, however, is far from conclusive proof of that person’s actual military service.[66] The muster rolls were similar to taking the census of all eligible men in the district. The Committee of Observation mandated that the officers take that census in their district. In doing so, they assigned these men, without first asking if they would serve, to specific militia units, and they were likely called to service. The officers told them to report at a certain place and on a certain day. Once there, they likely were asked to sign an enrollment list and take an oath of allegiance. Most German Baptists and Mennonites, however, could not remain true to their consciences if they bore arms or swore such an oath. There is simply no way to know what these men did because few records exist. Given their known religiously inspired pacifist principles, Jacob and his two sons very likely either stayed home from the war or, less likely, took the other option: marching and “entrenching and caring for the sick.” [67]  

There were, however, times when young men of Brethren families did serve in the military during the revolution. Many young men of Brethren families attended Brethren congregational services as non-members, and did not officially join the congregation (receive that cold, total immersion dunking in the creek) until they were older or when they got married. They, thus, could have served in the military when young, and later repented and still joined the church. The Brethren gave leeway for repentance in the process of joining the Brethren congregation.

If a man is known to have been a German Baptist or Mennonite, and then is found on a muster roll, the researcher must look for other evidence, such as the word “served” contemporaneously scrawled after his name. Thus, some experienced Brethren historians today believe that many men from the revolutionary era whose names were listed on muster rolls never actually served in that war.[68] Given their religious sect’s determined stand, one can infer that the Brumbaughs refused to bear arms or take any oath of allegiance to their new government.[69]

The actions of their religious sect nevertheless played an integral role in this country’s history. Those who fought in the Revolution did so for certain principles. Those among the dissenting sectarians who did not fight with guns struggled nevertheless in their own fashion to establish important principles— principles like freedom of conscience and freedom of religion— that formed an important part of the culture and tone of this country. How Americans treat the still non-conforming Mennonite and Amish citizens in Central Pennsylvania today has always been an important part of American culture. In struggling with the committee to maintain their liberty of conscience, these people worked out in practice some of the founding principles of alternative service. These principles were later applied to those who became known as “conscientious objectors.” The term first applied in the 1890s to those objecting to vaccinations. In World War I, the meaning of the term expanded to include those exempted from the military for their religious convictions, as long as they performed non-combatant service or went to jail. These principles and options have been applied during most of the American wars that followed the revolution. 

One must also consider how the Committee of Observation treated dissenters in Elizabeth town following a mysterious shifting of membership. What happened to the committee in its final stages after December 1776 until it shut down on March 3, 1777? Historian Lehman found that by January 15, 1777, it was composed of a largely different body of men; only six of the seventeen members it previously had still served; the others mysteriously dropped out of sight, including Ludwig Young with Mennonite associations—December’s meetings could have been hard on his personal relationships at home. Some may have gone off to war, some may have resigned, some may have died, and some may have rotated off for a rest. Lehman, the Mennonite scholar, asks and answers this critical question regarding the changed composition of the group: 

Could another reason have been that the Committee received adverse community reaction against harassment of certain peoples? [By which he means the German sectarians.] It is possible to reach such a conclusion from the evidence. At any rate, from this point until March 1777 when the Committee dissolved, no more general fines or strong measures against Mennonites and Dunkards appear.[70]

Historian Lehman’s assertion that the committee likely received “adverse community reaction against harassment” of the pacifists, is not totally convincing. It is likely that the Washington County community acted harshly toward the pacifists at times, but not unduly so under the circumstances— who could fault them at a time when others were dying for what many people felt was a necessary fight against a tyrannical foe? And, if they lost this fight against the British, the penalties on all those who fought would be severe. Despite this, it is possible that that those who were in favor of that fight could have been much less respectful of the Brethren and Mennonites in this area than they indeed were, and we shall see how they could have been harsher in several instances across the border in Pennsylvania, where admittedly there were more battles and many more troops encamped for long periods. Leaders locally in Washington County had warded off vigilantism in the early going, after that they respected the “conscientiously scrupulous” exemption and worked honestly and openly at finding alternative means of service for the Brethren and Mennonites. There appears for the most part to have been amicable cooperation between the committee and the sectarians. The clerk of the committee, perhaps expressing his own weariness from the months of intensity, rather than his personal piety, said it well when the committee’s last minute was written on March 3, 1777: “And the committee adjourned forever Amen.”[71]

Had the Brethren and Mennonites been forced to march with the militia, Jacob and his two eldest sons would have left on their farm at home in 1777 to fend for themselves wife Mary (then about age 37) and daughter Mary, the eldest child at home, probably 18, as well as sons and adolescents Daniel (5) and newborn infant David born on March 17, 1776. Son Henry was born in that March of 1777. Son George was not born until 1783.

Among loyalists there was movement, too. It was only on June 6, 1777, however, that our commentator, customs and currency commission staffer, William Eddis, in Annapolis, his leader Governor Eden having exited the capital fifteen months earlier, could finally board a ship for return to his native England whence he had come eight years earlier looking for his own path up the economic ladder, which had been denied to him at home.[72]


[1] Minutes of the Proceedings of the Committee of Observation of Elizabeth Town [Washington County] for 1775, 1776, 1777, the originals of which are at the Maryland Historical Society (Papers 1775-1776, MS 577, Maryland Historical Society). They were published in the Maryland Historical Magazine (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society) in the following volumes: 12: 142-163, 261-275, 324-347; 13: 28-53, 227-248 (hereafter Minutes, MHM, vol.: page); Extracts of the minutes were formerly published in John V.L. Findlay, Extracts from the minutes of the proceedings of the Committee of Observation for the Elizabethtown (now Hagerstown) District during the years 1775, ’76, ’77  (1862). There is also a selective narrative summary of these minutes consisting of about twenty-five pages, but absent of any contextual background, in Bernard C. Steiner, Western Maryland in the Revolution (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1902), part of Series 20, Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, J.M. Vincent, J.H. Hollander, W.W. Willoughby, editors; and also a narrative loosely based on those minutes in Edsel Burdge Jr. and Samuel L. Horst, Building on the Gospel Foundationthe Mennonites of Franklin County, Pennsylvania and Washington County, Maryland, 1730-1970 (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2004), 109-120.   

[2] Stievermann, The Politics of Martyrological Self-Fashioning, 288-289, 294, 296. 

[3] The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, Jack P. Greene and J. R. Pole, eds., (Cambridge, Mass.: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1991), 1046.

[4] Richard K. McMaster, Conscience in Crisis, 257-260, cited in Stievermann, “Defining the Limits of Liberty, Pennsylvania’s German Peace Churches During the Revolution,” in Stievermann, Peculiar Mixture,__page________.  

[5] Stievermann, Peculiar Mixture, 220. 

[6] Breen, Insurgents, 185. 

[7] William Hand Browne, ed., Archives of Maryland / Journal of the Maryland Convention July 26–August 14, 1775 / Journal and correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety August 29, 1776–July 6, 1776 (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1892), 66–67; also in Proceedings of the Conventions of the Province of Maryland, the City of Annapolis, 1774, 1775, & 1776 (Baltimore: James Lucas & E. K. Deaver,
Jonas Green, 1836), M.A., 78, 17. The original of this document is held by the Archives of Maryland, in the Hall of Records, Annapolis. (Emphasis added). Breen, Insurgents, 238.

[8] Breen, Insurgents, 238.

[9] Eddis, Letters, 26-27 July 1775, 21:113. 

[10] Howard Wiegner Kriebel, The Schwenkfelders in Pennsylvania, (Lancaster: Pennsylvania German Society, 1904, 150.

[11] Gregory T. Knouff, The Soldiers Revolution (University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004), 214. 

[12] Ruth, ‘Twas Seeding Time, 21.

[13] Knauss, Christopher Saur The Third, 3-4. 

[14] Reprinted in William Henry Egle, ed., Names of Foreigners who took the Oath of Allegiance to the Province and State of Pennsylvania 1727-1775 (Harrisburg: Myers, 1892), 3.

[15] Francis S. Fox, Sweet Land of Liberty, The Ordeal of the American Revolution in Northampton County, Pennsylvania (University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000), 87.

[16] Lititz Record Express, 22, September 2011, “Moravian Document Provides Glimpse into Local Colonial Life.” http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/464763_Moravian-document-provides—glimpse-into-local-colonial-life.html?page=1#ixzz2J0UubDYf (viewed Jan. 2013); The History Blog, http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/12712(viewed June 2014).

[17] Peter C. Messer, “‘A Species of Treason & Not the Least Dangerous Kind’: The Treason Trials of Abraham Carlisle and John Roberts,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 23, (1989), 312-313.

[18] Scharf, Hist. W. Md., 131. That amounts to 25 miles a day without rest for three weeks. 

[19] Gaius Marcus Brumbaugh, ed., Maryland Records: Colonial, Revolutionary, Court and Church from Original Sources vol. 1 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., reprint; 1975), 256.

[20] Lehman, Mennonites, 201; Burdge and Horst, Gospel Foundation, 96. 

[21] “Morgan Edwards on Maryland Congregations,” in Durnbaugh, Brethren Col. Hist., 187-188. The Conococheague German Baptist Congregation (founded 1743) claimed forty families and 130 persons baptized; the Antietam congregation (1750) claimed another forty families and ninety persons; Middle Creek (1747) about the same at 40/52; and Pipe Creek (1756) at 35/70. The population of Brethren adherents in the overall thirteen colonies at the time of the Revolution is said to have been either 800 or 1500 baptized souls. The former figure is from Peter Brock, Pacifism in the United States From the Colonial Era to the First World War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 170; and the latter is from Donald Durnbaugh’s The Church of the Brethren Past and Present (Elgin, Ill.: The Brethren Press, 1971), 48. The author of the report on the Brethren congregations, Morgan Edwards (who was not himself a Brethren), adds “It is to be remarked that there is no [Brethren] meeting house in any of these places; they preferring to assemble in each other’s private dwellings in imitation of primitive Christians.” The Brethren and the Mennonites totaled 523 out of a total of 2,993, thus seventeen percent or one in every six of the overall population. This corresponds closely to the 19 percent that Wellenreuther found did not associate in Washington County. Many commentators say that approximately 20 percent to 33 percent of the general population, 600 to 1,000 people here in this area, were loyalist Tories, so the balance of 50 percent to 63 percent were the very militant, pro-rebellion patriot population. That comes down to one pacifist, two Loyalists, and three patriots out of every six persons. 

[22] Philip Hamburger, “Religious Freedom in Philadelphia,” Emory Law Journal, 54 

(2005), 1606-1622. 

[23] Norman B. Wilkinson, Land Policy and Speculation in Pennsylvania, 1779-1800, A Test of the New Democracy(New York: Arno Press, 1979), 1. This sum did not include the 24 million acres of land confiscated from the proprietary Penn family.

[24] Some say he was killed on the grounds of the church construction, others at the saw mill; Nelson, What God Does, 47; J. Thomas Scharf, History of Western Maryland, vol. 1, 1060; Williams, Hist. Fred. Co., vol. 1, 66. While some think Hager affiliated with the Reformed church, others note his closeness with many Moravians and his expressed desire to visit their Bethlehem headquarters, but his personal religion is a mystery according to his chief biographer, Nelson, in “What God Does is Well Done.”  

[25] Ibid, 22. 

[26] See, for example, Breen, Insurgents and Kevin Phillips, 1775, A Good Year for Revolution (New York: Penguin Group, 2012). 

[27] By way of comparison, in Pennsylvania the fine increased in April 1776 to £3..10..0 from £2..10..0. Both states added additional monetary fines on the pacifists as the months of war continued. Pennsylvania’s fines seem heavier than Maryland’s, but the evidence is more anecdotal than precise.

[28] Land Records of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, warrant 60, 10 February 1763; patented as Albania (described as “12 Mi. from Head Morrison Cove nr. South Mt.”) to “Jacob Broombaugh” per patent P 14-363, 17 November 1788; survey C44-114, 22 April 1766. On 11 March 1776, Jacob had bought in a transaction with a Philadelphia lawyer a 280-acre land tract named Albania in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, eighty miles away. Then six days later his fifth child, fourth son, David, was born on 17 March.

[29] There is a large, bronze plaque attached to a stone in front of Zion Evangelical (German) Reformed Church (today’s Zion Reformed United Church of Christ) at 201 North Potomac street in Hagerstown. The one Hager was helping build at his death, and for which he donated the land, recording that the blankets for the revolutionary army had been collected from the local populace right there at the church. It reads, “Captain Wilhelm Heyser, builder of the church, led a company of Germans in the American Revolution. Guns, powder, tomahawks, grain and blankets collected here were sent by wagon to General Washington. Eleven patriots of the American Revolution are buried in the church yard.”  

[30] Lehman, Mennonites, 211.  Of the 116 men cited in the text of the minutes above to be summoned, Lehman (a Mennonite scholar) maintains that 45 are believed to be Mennonites, which would leave 71 Brethren, less any men that are Quakers or men that Lehman might not have been so bold as to guess were Mennonites (it was an inexact science), and yet actually were Mennonites. M.H.M., 29 April 1776, vol. 12:160.

[31] This report, with the wryly humorous excuse for not mustering, is likely the inspiration for the title of Ruth’s ’Twas Seeding Time.

[32] Rollin C. Steinmetz, Loyalists, Pacifists and Prisoners (Lancaster: Bicentennial Commission, 1976), 29, 43. This book, though well targeted in subject matter, contains no source citations. 

[33] Peter C. Lloyd, “In Committee of Inspection and Observation, Feb. 5,1776,” Pennsylvania Gazette, 4 February 1776, The Pennsylvania Gazette, 1991, 3. Sheila Jones article ____.

[34] Martyrs’ Mirror, Introduction ____________.  

[35] In the text as printed in Maryland History Magazine in 1917, next to JnMiller it 

says “Dunkard,” but in the original manuscript of the Minutes it clearly uses the Germanized word for the same thing, “Tunkard.” MinutesM.H.M., 8 May 1776, vol. 12: 263.

[36] MinutesM.H.M. 6 April 1776, vol. 12: 268. 

[37] Ibid, 3 July 1776, vol. 12: 328.

[38] Hughes and his brother Daniel owned iron foundries where some of this country’s first cannon were manufactured, including those at a site called Mt. Aetna in northeastern Washington County. They were “major suppliers of arms to the Revolutionary army and [the Mt. Aetna foundry] the largest military iron-processing facility in Maryland.” See Michael Robbins, “Maryland Iron Industry During the Revolutionary War Era” (Baltimore: Maryland Bicentennial Commission, 1973), and Thomas J. Scharf, History of Western Maryland (Baltimore: Regional Publishing Co., 1968), 983, 1011; Minutes, M.H.M. 3 July 1776, vol. 12: 328. 

[39] Karl J.R. Arndt, “First German Broadside and Newspaper Printing of the Declaration of Independence,” Pennsylvania Folklife, 35 (1986), 98-107. Peter Miller of Ephrata, the official German translator for the Continental Congress, translated this document.

[40] Pauline Maier, American Scripture, Making the Declaration (New York: Vintage Books edition, 1997), 159.

[41] This became the 8th Maryland regiment authorized by the Continental Congress in May in Philadelphia. 

[42] 27 June 1774, congregation count in church register for Graceham Moravian Church 

(opened 1758), Graceham, Maryland. In 1774, it had 137 people; register located at Moravian Archives, Northern Province, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 25. A. L. Oerter, “Graceham, Frederick County, Md., An Historical Sketch,” Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society, vol. 9, (1913), 119-305.

[43] M.H.M., 17 August 1776, vol. 12:335.  

[44] M.H.M., 10 October 1776, vol. 12:337.  

[45] This constitution was framed by a convention which met at Annapolis 14 August 1776, and completed its labors 11 November 1776. It was not submitted to the people. It was led by long entrenched legislators who owned vast amounts of property and other wealth. Gary Nash, Unknown Revolution, ___. 

[46] The Great Law of 1682 (Document #26.2.7), website of Pennsylvania State Archives http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/gateway/PTARGS_0_2_141033_20421_998171_43/http%3B/pubcontent.state.pa.us/publishedcontent/publish/cop_environment/phmc/communities/extranet/history/ourdocumentaryheritage/documents_from_1681___1776/great_law/great_law_3.htm.

[47] M.H.M., 18 December 1776, vol. 12: 341. 

[48] _________________________.

[49] M.H.M., 22 December 1776, vol. 12: 341.

[50] M.H.M., 29 November 1776, vol. 12: 341

[51] Ruth, ‘Twas Seeding Time, 98. Ruth interprets the fact that the Committee collected £206 from the Brethren and Mennonite non-enrollers to mean that they did not accept the offer to come along with the militia and do the entrenching which would garner them refunds of their non-mustering militia fines. The payments were also an indication that the local committee had not let the pacifists pay “in kind” with farm produce as they had requested. 

[52] M.H.M., 29 December 1776, vol. 12: 342. 

[53] M.H.M., ___________________. 

[54] CITE_M.H.M., 30 Dec. 1776, v. 12: 345. __CHECK________________.

[55] James H. F. Brewer, History of the 175th Infantry (Fifth Maryland) (Baltimore: 1955) and Robert K. Wright, Jr., The Continental Army (Washington: 1989), 109 cited in David Hackettt Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004) (hereafter Fischer, Washington’s Crossing), 151. 

[56] M.H.M., 30 December 1776, vol. 12: 346.

[57] Identified specifically as a Brethren earlier in these minutes, he may be the father of son John Brumbaugh’s wife. Mary Elizabeth Miller. As John Brumbaugh was later known as a Brethren elder, it seems likely that he married a young woman in the faith, although it has also been said that the woman named Miller that he married came from Bedford County, Pennsylvania. M.H.M., 24 December 1776, vol. 12: 345.

[58] M.H.M., 8 May 1776, vol. 12: 263. 45; as opposed to the “John Miller Constable” who was a local law enforcement official, not a Brethren].

[59] These thirty-five men are identified, per pages 214-215 and footnote 6 on page 201 of Lehman’s article, as Mennonites by Amos C. Baer who was reported to have done the “most extensive research on early Mennonite families” and lived at the time of the article (1976) in Hagerstown, Maryland: Henry Avey, Isaac Bachley, Samuel Bachley, Jr., John Bomberger, John Bowman, Joseph Bowman, Henry Funk, Henry Funk, Jr., John Funk, Joseph Funk, Martin Funk, Samuel Funk, Abraham Gansinger, Abraham Good, Christian Good, John Good, Jacob Hess, Christian Hoover, Jacob Hoover, John Hoover, John Hoover, Jr. Olerick Hoover, Abraham Houser, Jacob Huffer, Abraham Lidey, Christian Newcomer, Jacob Rohrer, John Rohrer, Martin Rohrer, Christian Shank, Michael Shank, Samuel Vulgamet, John Washabaugh, and Chrisley Weldy. By default, but not by positive identification, these 32 men from the same list of Lehman’s article, not having been identified as Mennonites on pages 214-215, as above are at least “likely” Brethren or others who were religiously scrupulous of bearing arms: Samuel Baker, Michael Boovey, Jacob Broombaugh, Jr., John Broombaugh, Joseph Byerly, Henry Calgesser, Christian Coogle, Christian Coogle (Jr.), Jacob Coughinour, Michael Gerber, Jacob Herr, Henry Keedy, Jacob Lesher, Jacob Line, Bar Miller, David Miller, David Miller (son of Philip), John Muskberger, Benjamin Noll, Adam Pifer, Andrew Postalar, Jacob Sook, Jacob Sook, Jr., Matthias Stauffer, Jacob Stover, Jacob Studebaker, Christian Thomas, Jacob Thomas, Jacob Thomas, Jr., Michael Thomas, and Peter Thomas. Thomas J. C. Williams, A History of Washington County, Maryland (Baltimore: Regional Publishing Company, 1968 reprint) 45; Red Books, Maryland State Archives, MdHr4590: 72; Revolutionary War Military Collection, Manuscript Division); F. Eugene Clemens and F. Edward Wright, eds., The Maryland Militia in the Revolutionary War (Silver Spring, Md.: Family Line Publications, 1987),  236. M.H.S., Manuscript Division, 1146: 236.

[61] Muster rolls. 

[62] ____________________________.

[63] Daniel Clebsadle, age 42, appears on the 1776 census of Maryland, G. M. Brumbaugh, Colonial Records, 1:239. 

[64] M.H.M., 25 January 1777, vol. 12:51. 

[65] Worthington C. Ford et al., eds., Journal of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 (Washington, D.C.: 1904-37), 5:762. 

[66] See Emmert F. Bittinger, “The Maryland Brethren During the Revolutionary War: Interpretations and Clarifications,” Mennonite Family History, 12 (1997), 33-34. He writes that “It is quite ironic that many Mennonites and Brethren have been accepted by family researchers as war ‘patriots,’ when examination of the lists of those fined would reveal the fact that many of those same persons had repeatedly refused to affirm loyalty, to enroll, to attend muster, and had never fought.” Bittinger’s article corrected an earlier article in the same journal by John Hale Stutsman, “A Revolutionary War County of Maryland Militia Which Included Members of the Brethren Community,” Mennonite Family History, 12 (1996), 41, where the author had taken the appearance of names of known Brethren on Revolutionary muster rolls as evidence that those men had actually fought in the war. Bittinger also maintains that if several young men did associate or muster, it was often because they were still young and had not yet been “baptized into the faith,” further asserting that some even became Brethren ministers later.  

[67] There were no Revolutionary War pension applications made by these Brumbaughs or on their behalf; nor is there any claim on John Brumbaugh’s twentieth-century tombstone that he fought in the Revolutionary War. 

[68] Discussions of such matters online can be had by joining the Brethren History and Genealogy Listserv (http://www.cob-net.org/listbhg.htm). Particular surnames and congregations are often mentioned in this informal forum. See also Burdge and Horst, Gospel Foundation, 117. 

[69] Their names do not appear in any of the lists made by the Justices of the Peace of Washington County of those men who took the Loyalty or test oath to the new government. Maryland Archives, Hall of Records, Annapolis, Maryland.

[70] Lehman, Mennonites, 216. 

[71] M.H.M., 3 March 1777, vol. 13: 239.

[72] Eddis, Letters, xxx (Introduction by Dr. Land).