The Jacob Brumbaugh Correspondence with Philadelphia Quaker, Mega-Landowner Henry Drinker (1734-1809)


The Jacob Brumbaugh-Henry Drinker Correspondence (1797-1799)

When examining most of Jacob’s long life, one must rely for the most part on official government records. There is, however, a cache of correspondence from Jacob and his eldest son Jacob, Jr. to the Quaker merchant prince Henry Drinker between the years 1797 and 1803, with some interesting connections also found in Drinker’s 1785 correspondence with others. 

Henry Drinker was one of the wealthiest and most well connected Philadelphia merchants. He was a leader in Quaker Meeting circles as clerk of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, as a member of the Meeting for Sufferings, as a trustee of the Westtown School, and as a Quaker martyr, having notoriously been exiled for nearly eight months during the British occupation of Philadelphia which began on September 26, 1777.[1] Despite his notorious exile, Drinker continued after the occupation to be a key connector— he was on the board of the elitist American Philosophical Society, a treasurer of various Quaker committees and an elected member of the town council in 1790. He also became one of the leading land tract speculators, and even survived the bursting of that speculative bubble. 

By the time of their correspondence, both men had aged—Jacob was 71 and Henry, 63. They were two hundred miles apart, but still found ways to bicker over contract details in their correspondence. At this time, Henry found himself beset by financial troubles, but still had a firm hand on the tiller of commerce, while Jacob was optimistic, energetic, and ingratiating even if forgetful, and struggling to keep himself on top of the deal.

The correspondence was certainly not on its face personal or intimate in any way even though Drinker calls his correspondent “Friend.”[2] It was the Quaker custom, even to the point, one might suppose, of disarming a business correspondent. How so? In common parlance the word implies that there is a special relationship of trust between the parties. With someone on the other side of a purely business deal, however, one should probably never infer that trust existed without some previous, clear and positive action indicating true friendship.

Partly, too, reviewing the correspondence can give one an insight into both Quaker modalities of speech as well as the difficult task of negotiating by mail. These letters also demonstrate how big city merchants used a network of agents in the country to carry out their business. Most importantly, it gives one a window into the personality and behavior of Jacob Brumbaugh, as well as Henry Drinker. 

These letters focused on the Brumbaughs’ purchase of two land tracts from Drinker, located in Bedford County. Jacob had already paid for one, called Corunna (381 acres), but Drinker had not yet conveyed it to him because Jacob had not instructed him how precisely he wanted Drinker to do so at that time. Jacob also purchased Dorfans Barn (475 acres), on which he made a partial payment of £338 in 1797. He still owed a £988 balance at the time of Jacob’s death in April 1799. 

Jacob’s first letter in 1797 to Henry Drinker discussed his payment of £338..90..0 to Drinker’s local agent John Canan. This statement illustrated that Drinker stood to make money in this deal. He added, “my son Jacob is concerned with me in the purchase as well.” He declared that he and Jacob, Jr. “wish to have articles of agreement with you for the purchase of said land.” He claimed the land had been formerly sold or leased to John Stouder. Commenting on the lease, he wrote, “I understand [the lease] is to continue for nine years which I did not know when I purchased.” One thus sees in this statement the lack of information he and other land purchasers dealt with as they tried to make deals. Launching into a complaint about the lessee Stouder, he argued:

I hope Stouder can be restrained from destroying the timber unnecessarily and confined to clear land where there is least timber. I am told his Brother is here who is a wagon maker [who] destroys a great deal [presumably of timber to make wagons]. [3]  

Jacob then volunteered to bring the money himself to Philadelphia, if Drinker instructed Canan to return it. He added that when in Philadelphia, he would “settle the balance of the three spring tract,” as well as “the cost of the Caveat you entered for me.” Evidently, these two had conducted business before, including the transaction that occurred in 1785. He further added, “the rest of the payments for the Yellow Creek land shall be regularly remitted to you by Mr. Jas. Ferguson of the place who goes to Philadelphia four or five [times] a year.” The “three spring tract” was the tract called Corunna.[4]

Drinker replied to Brumbaugh in September to say that John Canan had not come to Philadelphia for the convening of the assembly. On November 7, Drinker wrote again, telling Jacob that he had heard from Canan, which allowed Drinker to ratify and confirm the written agreement Brumbaugh signed with Canan.. Brumbaugh, however, wrote back explaining that he had given Canan the money already, and had asked for a receipt, which Canan refused to give. Jacob intended to deposit some money on the property, then “settle the price and the rest of the payments with you, and all I wanted of him was a receipt.” Canan, however, instead gave Jacob an agreement to sign. Brumbaugh retorted, “if I coud not make the two first payments my money was to be returned” which was never, of course, a part of the written contract he had signed.[5]

Brumbaugh agreed to “confirm the bargain on the following terms”: he would pay Drinker £261..11..0 by next June, which together with the first payment, would make a total of £600. He then agreed to pay Drinker a second £600 payment in four yearly installments of £150 in November 1799, 1800, 1801, and1802.  He told Drinker that he had signed the agreement with Canan because Canan would not otherwise provide a receipt. So, having already signed an agreement for a £1327 purchase price, he countered with an offer of £1200, adding it “is double what was marked on the platt of the land and I hope you will think it enough for the land, should you agree to this proposition you may rely on punctuality in the payments.” He then wrote, “should the dispute not be settled with Fifes [another party] I shall expect Interest on the payments already made and to be made in the spring until possession is given me.”[6]

Henry Drinker then sent his next letter to Jacob on June 9, 1798, full of the measured tones of a systematic businessman: 

while I am favoured with life & health, it is my desire, & I think it ought to be thine, that the Deed for the Tract formerly sold thee in Morrisons’ Cove should be executed, which may be done as soon as thou informs how the conveyance is to be made, to whom, the Township & County &tc as requested in my last Letter & when Executed how it is to be conveyed to thee? 

He added that Fifes, the party with a claim to the property, gave up their claim and confessed judgment, so that the title to the land Jacob had bought from John Canan “is now clear of all incumbrance or debts…I therefore hope thou’ll speedily make the payments.”[7]

Two months later in August 1798, Jacob replied, “Honor’d Friend Sir, I hope to make you payment in and by sending you 100 Barrels of good Merchantable Flower [flour] well packed in [torn] Barrels and if you would rather have it sent around to Philadelphia it shall be Done at my proper Cost.” 

Jacob did not want to leave any contingencies uncovered, so he added, “if said flower is not sufficient I will make up the Deficiency in Either Apple Brandy or Rie Liquor to the same Merchant.” Again he focused on the timber destruction by the lessee, Mr. Stouder: 

“I hope you will write to Mr. Cannan to settle with said Stouder concerning the said land as he occupies it in every respect as if it were his own…What he has done is done but I will pay him for nothing but if after he gets notice what he does in good order is to be settled for but not for Clearing land for that he has nothing to do with nor is he to be settled for by any means. [Give] notice [to] said Stouder to refrain from selling and Destroying timbers in and on said premises and not Destroy and let the fruit Trees be Destroyed nor the fences or house or Barn be demolished.” 

Again Jacob threatened to unravel the deal:

if you cant comply to these my proposals …I am willing to take my money that I paid you with Simple Interest which I think is no more than Reason between Man and Man in behalf of the same as I found the land not to be what I bought [the letter is torn here]… [the] plow land to be Barny [barrens or rough land] and Pine Land [page torn]. I Conclude and remain your Wellwisher,  [8]

This letter contained strong, well–practiced, even modestly elegant, language. It is hard to determine, however, if this letter was written in Jacob’s hand. Jacob Jr. had help writing his letters, so his father may have also. This letter also  contains legal phrasings, meaning Jacob likely contacted a lawyer about the points he wished to make.  Jacob was a determined old man who tried to insert completely new terms at this juncture in the negotiations for payment of the purchase price to be delivered to Baltimore not in cash but in kind, viz., produce of Jacob’s farm such as “Merchantable Flower [sic- flour]” or “Apple Brandy or Rie.” Henry Drinker replied sternly to Jacob after three months. Again, in his measured tones, he chided Jacob: 

All thou says about 100 barrels of Merchantable Flour, Apple Brandy, and Rye liquor is nothing to the purpose…in short Friend all thy long Story about the Land bought of Canan, the quality of it with many other ridiculous circumstances are too childish and affronting to common sense, that they deserve not serious notice. After having entered into a written contract, paid part of the purchase price, & prevented a sale of the property to other purchasers, to come forward with a number of new conditions and terms is really extraordinary. 

Henry ended this firm rebuff to Jacob’s last attempt to renegotiate by calling attention to the payment dates and amounts, and warns that a resort to federal court might be his next move, closing with “thou art warned by thy Friend.”[9] This was strictly business, not the relation of friendship.[10]

One must wonder if Jacob declined in his energy and drive. Looking, however, at his multiple purchases at the age of 72 and his feisty correspondence, one sees a hustling, yet ingratiating old man determined to get a deal.  

[1] See Wendy Lucas Castro, “‘Being Separated form My Dearest Husband, in This Cruel Manner’: Elizabeth Drinker and the Seven-Month Exile of Philadelphia Quakers,” Quaker History, 100, (2011), 40-63. 

[2] This was one of the ways that Quakers set themselves apart from the world as all the peace sects also sought to do. Other ways the Quakers reminded themselves and others of their commitment to their strict religious principles were disciplines that included plain dress, plain talk, an emphasis on ethics, a numerical way of listing the date (3rd month, 2nd day, not March 2), affirmation rather than swearing, asceticism, and moderation in all things. See J. William Frost, The Quaker Family in Colonial America (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973). 

[3] J.B, Jr. to H.D., 21 August 1797, Box 21, D.C., HSP

[4] Ibid. 

[5] H.D. to J.B., Jr., 7 November 1797, Box 21, D.C., HSP

[6] J.B, Jr. to H.D., 15 November 1797, Box 21, D.C., HSP.

[7] H.D. to J.B., Jr., 9 June 1798, Box 21, D.C., HSP.

[8] J.B. to H.D., 15 August 1798, Box 21, D.C, HSP

[9] The day Drinker wrote that warning letter, he himself warmed up for some tough negotiating by dictating a letter firmly rebuffing the attempts to renegotiate a bigger deal by another client, the then U.S. Senator from New York, Aaron Burr (later Thomas Jefferson’s vice president). See H.D. to Aaron Burr, 9 November 1798, Box 21, D.C., HSP.

[10] H.D. to J.B., Jr., 9 November 1798, Box 21, D.C., HSP

The Timeline of Jacobs Life and the Lives of His Children

Jacob Brumbaugh Chronology

1726—February 8: Johann Jakob Brombach born, Osthelden, Siegen, Westphalia, Germany. Baptized at the Evangelical church in Ferndorf. 

1750—August 31: Ship Nancy from Rotterdam via Cowes, Master Thomas Coattam, docks in Philadelphia carrying Johann Jakob Brombach and 87 other German passengers who sign a list (only known signature of JJB that survives) acknowledging their allegiance to the King of England.

1753 – Sept. 23: Jacob purchases Clalands Contrivance, a ninety-acre tract in Frederick County (later Washington Co.), Maryland, from Conrad Hogmire for £64. 

1754—Jacob purchases tract of one hundred acres called Ill Will (same area).

1755—Jacob purchases tract of fifty acres called Bromback’s Lott (same area)- total 240 acres. 

c1757—Jacob marries Mary Elizabeth Angle, daughter of Henrich Engle.

1757-58—Jacob participates as a scout in Capt. Jonathan Hager’s company of Md. militia; he also quarters six soldiers for six days during the French & Indian War.

c1758 – son Jacob, Jr. born.

c1759—daughter Mary Elizabeth born.

c1760—son John born.

1763—Jacob acquires 420 acres of vacant land contiguous to Clalands Contrivance; same year he acquires Timber Bottom (260 acres) and Chance (23 acres). This brings his total landholdings to high water mark of 798 acres. Ten years after his first purchase he owned almost ten times as much land as he first held.

1772—son Daniel is born.

1773—on a plot of land in then Cumberland Co. (later Bedford County), Pennsylvania, an improvement is first built on land (in 1785 Conrad Brumbaugh in John Brumbaugh’s application for warrant affirmed that said improvement on Jacob’s son John’s land was built about 1773 “and not before”).

1775—January: Jacob shows up in Bedford Co. land office to apply for warrants on two land tracts later sold (only tracts he ever sold) to Martin Houser; no further recorded visits by Jacob to that county for ten years; all county histories report that Indian depredations during the Revolution kept settlers away for those ten years.

1776—March 11: Jacob acquires warrant on 280 acres called Albania in Bedford Co., Pa. 

March 17: son David is born.

March 23: Jacob contributes two blankets to Committee of Observation of Elizabeth town (later renamed Hagerstown). 

May 7: upon questioning as to why he does not enroll in militia, Jacob tells Committee of Observation that he is over 50 years old, thus establishing that he was exempt from the military draft for men age 16 to age 50; sons Jacob Jr. and John each pay 3 pounds in non-enroller fines after they and 113 other men are summoned for May 7th hearing to answer as to why they 

Sept.: their portion of Frederick County is sliced off and named Washington County for a Virginia planter who has become the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.

            December 22: sons Jacob Jr. and John each pay the Committee of Observation of Elizabeth town a £3 fine as non-enrollers in the militia.

1777- Early March: son Henry born; Committee of Observation dissolves and new state government installed under the Maryland Constitution of 1776.

1778—March 1: by law of Md., before this date all men must swear or affirm their allegiance to the new government of the state of Maryland (the “test” oath); if refused, penalty of the triple tax for life and loss of civil rights; Brethren and Mennonites and others petition for relief as they cannot even affirm the new oath as it may commit them against their principles to militia service, even though the penalties include fines and loss of civil rights. Brethren do not take the oath. 

1780—March 8: Jacob sells six bushels of wheat and four bushels of rye to Dr. Henry Schnebely, acting as Washington County purchasing agent for the state of Maryland under Army Quartermaster; daughter Mary Elizabeth marries Elder Samuel Ulrich/Ulery.

1783—Jacob is assessed taxes on his 431-acre Clalands Contrivance in Salisbury Hundred of Washington County; last of his 7 children, son George, born

1785—March 2: Jacob and son John show up at the land office in Bedford County, Pennsylvania to apply for a warrant on some land; same day as Conrad Brumbaugh.

1786—Jacob shown as a “non-residentor” in Woodberry Township, Bedford County’s tax assessments.

1790—First federal census: Jacob is a “head of household” in Washington County, Md. 

1794—culmination of Whiskey Rebellion: Jacob’s name is not on the list of 116 men who were called to appear in Bedford County court in December that year to answer for whether they paid their federal tax on whiskey distillers.

1799—April 10: Jacob dies in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. His body is brought back to Clalands Contrivance in Md. to be buried in the family cemetery plot in the middle of the cornfield. 

            April 11: “duos for father” per Henry’s manuscript daybook. 

            June 9, 10: Public Vendue (auction) of Jacob’s personal property.

1800 – in second federal census widow Mary Brumbaugh is shown as doing something Jacob never did: owning a slave; sons own slaves as well: Daniel – 3; David – 2; and Henry – 5.

1803—April 2: Mary Elizabeth and Jacob, Jr. as administrators of Jacob’s intestate estate, petition the court for appointment of a commission to decide if the Md. real estate owned by Jacob “might admit of being divided without injury or loss to all the parties entitled, and to ascertain the value of such Estate in Current money according to law.”

June 18: widow Mary Elizabeth releases her dower interest in all Jacob’s real estate for consideration of £35 per year to be paid to her by the 7 heirs.

August 23: Jacob, Jr. breakfasts with Henry & Elizabeth Drinker at their home in Philadelphia and pays Henry the final balance on Dorfans Barn. This gives this land tract to the estate as Jacob Sr. had originally contemplated when Jacob Sr. signed an agreement in 1797. 

Feb. 5: Pa. conveys patent to Jacob and son Daniel on Good Intent 407 acres on Piney Creek in Morrison’s Cove, Bedford County, Pennsylvania.

            Amicable settlement of Jacob’s Maryland estate.

1806—Nov. 28: Mary Elizabeth Brumbaugh dies, according to Henry Brumbaugh daybook.

1807—amicable settlement of Jacob’s Pennsylvania estate with conveyances of deeds to various tracts there and monetary consideration passing back and forth among the seven siblings in several separate, but coordinated, legal transactions (one land tract Springfield farm is not settled until 20 years later). 

Subsequent Deaths of Jacob’s and Mary Elizabeth’s Seven Children and Spouses:

1814—Jacob Jr. dies in Washington County at 56.

1820—Jacob Jr.’s widow, Catharine, dies.

1822—Elder Samuel Ulery, young Mary Elizabeth’s husband, dies Bedford Co.

1824—Daniel dies in Washington County at 52.

1828—Mary Elizabeth Ulery dies after this year in Bedford County at 69.

1829—John dies in Bedford County at 61.

1837—George dies in Washington County at 53.

1840—George’s widow, Mary Louisa dies in Washington County.

1842—David dies in Franklin Co., Pennsylvania at 66.

1845—David’s widow, Eve, dies in Franklin County. 

1849—Henry’s widow, Margaretha, dies in Washington County.

1854—Henry dies in Washington County at 77.

1860—Daniel’s widow, Elizabeth, dies in Washington County.

Donoghue Gave Annual Meeting Address in October at Conococheague Institute & Museum near Mercersburg, PA

Ned Donoghue spoke about his research on Johann Jacob Brumbaugh, the Dunker farmer in Hagerstown who was among the Dunkers and Mennonites of that area who refused to bear arms during the American Revolution. The audience was an

The crowd in CI's charming and authentic frontier log house that serves as their Visitors' Center.  Many thanks to Executive Director Heather Wade for the early invitation to speak.

The crowd in CI’s charming and authentic frontier log house that serves as their Visitors’ Center. Many thanks to Executive Director Heather Wade for the early invitation to speak.

SRO crowd of over 40 people in CI’s charming and authentic frontier log house Visitors’ Center.

Update, September 2013: A Revolutionary Peace

The manuscript, tentatively entitled A Revolutionary Peace: Conscientious Objection During the Birth of a Nation has been completed and is being submitted to potential publishers. It is about 133,000 words, over 315 pages, and has 600 notes for citations to sources and discussions for further reading. It contains an extensive bibliography, a chronology of its main protagonists, a cast of characters and place names, and maps. It will also have illustrations of various kinds including primary source documents.

Excerpt from a 1770 piece by Morgan Edwards in History of the American Baptists

Excerpt from a 1770 book by Morgan Edwards in History of the American Baptists

Morrison’s Cove community website (Bedford Co., PA)

The above is an excellent website for the community in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, where many Brumbaughs have lived since the 1780s– including Jacob’s second son John and Jacob’s only daughter, Mary Elizabeth Brumbaugh Ulery (wife of Brethren Elder Samuel Ulery a/k/a Ulrich, whose father and brothers also settled there). Many Brumbaughs still live there today. There is also a Brumbaugh Mountain and a Brumbaugh road in the southern end of the Cove, and a Brumbaugh cemetery in the northern end. The image below is of a survey from 1786 of one of Jacob Brumbaugh Sr.’s land tracts in New Enterprise where John and the Ulerys also settled. When the book is published, you will be able to learn what hazards Jacob had to overcome to buy the land but at the same time avoid being sucked into the cesspool of land speculation schemes and personal bankruptcies of the land speculators, particularly Samuel Wallis, that followed the bursting of the land bubble in 1796. Hint: a noted pacifist martyr in Philadelphia helped him, although the correspondence detailing their bumpy negotiations over price and other terms will leave you laughing as these two old men, pacifists from different worlds, locked horns!

BRUMBedCoBook P pg 448 - Version 2

Jacob bought three land tracts from Quaker merchant prince and pacifist Henry Drinker

Only after 2 years of research did I find that there was archived correspondence between Quaker merchant Henry Drinker and Jacob Brumbaugh and later his son Jacob, Jr. Henry had been one of twenty Philadelphia Quakers exiled to Virginia by Philadelphia authorities shortly before British Gen. William Howe arrived to occupy Philadelphia for the winter of 1777-78. Jacob first bought a land tract from Henry in 1785, then signed an agreement for another one in the early 1790s and one also in 1797, which was not completed until 1803 after Jacob Sr. had died in 1799. Jacob Jr. personally brought the last installment to Drinker’s home and breakfasted with the Drinkers in August 1803. Drinker’s wife Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker recorded that fact in her 50-year diary which is the most complete contemporary record of manners of eighteenth-century Philadelphia and is  lodged at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Henry Drinker

Morrison’s Cove and Jacob Brumbaugh

Jacob purchased nearly a dozen land tracts in Morrison’s Cove, Bedford County, Pennsylvania, between 1785 and his death in 1799. Morrison’s Cove is a lush green valley between ridges of the Alleghenies which is still today largely agricultural as it was back in the late 18th century. There were many German sectarian groups there then and there still are now, along with a Brumbaugh Mountain, Brumbaugh Road, and Brumbaugh cemetery. Image

What was the second language of Pennsylvania in the 1770s? Who were “Palatines” back then?

This gallery contains 1 photo.

German was the second language. About 1/3rd of those inhabiting the Pennsylvania colony before the Revolution were German immigrants. About 100,000 of them arrived over the course of the 18th century, and as they did it was announced in the newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, that more Palatines were due to arrive on the next few […]

They were “conscientiously scrupulous” of bearing arms. What does that mean?

The German Baptist Brethren or Dunkers were pacifists. If you “scrupled” about something you hesitated to do it for fear that it might be morally wrong. Well, they scrupled about bearing arms. And they did not just do it because this or that armed conflict was a bad one, they did it consistently for every such conflict. They were conscientious in their scruples. Therefore, another way of phrasing it back then is that they were “conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms.”

They thought differently than their neighbors about war. They believed very strongly that Jesus had taught them to turn the other cheek and they should pray for their enemies as much as their friends. They believed that all wars are wrong. They believed that their members should have nothing to do with preparations for war. They supported one another at barn-raising time and they supported one another when they were asked to bear arms for the future of their country. When they were asked to attend the muster of the local militia once a week on the town green, in maybe 1774 after the Boston Tea Party the December before, they refused to go. They continued refusing in 1775 and 1776. There had been exemptions from military service now for decades for those people who were conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms– the Quakers were the most prominent because of the large part they played in founding and administering early Pennsylvania.The Moravians too had negotiated an exemption as early as 1749. The Mennonites too had been early pacifist leaders. The Mennonites had petitioned against military service in 1755. During the Revolution, the Dunkers of Maryland allied themselves with the Mennonites. They were much like the Mennonites in their plain dress and simple humility, men sporting long, untrimmed beards. DUNKERS AT EPHRATA, 1880. - German Baptists on their way to the meeting at Ephrata, Pennsylvania. Wood engraving after Howard Pyle, c1880.

In the run-up to the Revolution your neighbors wanted to know which side you were on? Are you with us or against us? How would these people answer those questions? The narrative of this personal and denominational struggle is the gist of the book.