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Jefferson County, WV


There was, as we have already said, a union church built of logs by the German residents of the settlement at a very early date. But the Protestant Episcopal Church was, in Colonial days, the denomination favored by Government, and the colonies were divided into parishes. The parish of Frederick had a vestry appointed in or about the year 1744, for we find in the April term of Court in that year the following order: "Ordered that the Clerk of this Court write to his Honor the Governor for a Power to Choose a Vestry for the Parish of Frederick in this County."

The law provided for the election of twelve of "the most able and discreet persons of the Parish." Yet there are no records of the proceedings of this vestry, except that they were highly unsatisfactory, and were accused (see Mr. Cartmell's History of Frederick County, page 181), of having misapplied or appropriated to their own use the sum of nearly $8,000, which they raised for the ostensible purpose of building chapels. In 1752 a new vestry was appointed for Frederick Parish. The members were Lord Fairfax, Isaac Perkins, Gabriel Jones, John Hite, Thomas Swearingen, Charles Buck, Robert Lemon, John Lindsey, John Ashby, James Cromley, Thomas Bryan Martin, and Lewis Neill.

There is no church record to be found prior to 1764. Bishop Peterkin, in his "Records of the Protestant Episcopal Church in West Virginia," says that there was probably a log chapel erected on the site of the old Episcopal church in Shepherdstown soon after the formation of the first parish. A stone chapel was completed on this site in 1769, as was attested by the date cut in a stone over the entrance. The vestry at that time consisted of the following members, who were chosen in 1764: Isaac Hite, John Hite, John Greenleaf, Thomas Rutherford, James Keith, John Neville, Charles Smith, James Wood, Jacob Hite, Thomas Worthington, Burr Harrison, Thomas Swearingen, Van Swearingen, Angus Macdonald, Philip Bush, Frederick Conrad, George Rice, Alexander White, James Barnett, Marquis Calmes John Macdonald, Edward Snickers, Warner Washington, Joseph Holmes, Benjamin Sedgewick, Edmund Taylor, John Smith, and Samuel Dowdal.

Of this vestry the two Swearingens were very active in completing the church at Shepherdstown, and are said to have contributed largely to the cost of its erection.

The history of the Lutheran Church in Shepherdstown has been lately written by Professor Duke of Shepherd College. He says: "History affords no more pathetic chapter than that of the devastation of the Rhine Palatinate by Louis XIV. It seems to have been the purpose of this cruel and proud monarch, when he found himself like a lion at bay in the presence of his Protestant foes, to surround himself and his beautiful France with a desert barrier as a protection against invasion. Consequently the fair Palatinate (as well as Alsace and some other provinces) was given over to fire and sword. Manheim, Old Heidelburg, Spier, Worms and Bingen (and many other towns) were destroyed. The Count of Tesse, to whom the spoliation of the country was entrusted, in reporting to his superior officer, Turenne, says: 'I do not think that for a week past my heart has been in its right place. I did not foresee that it would cost so much to personally attend to the burning of a town with a population in proportion like that of Orleans. You may rely upon it that nothing at all remains of the superb castle of Heidelburg. Four hundred and thirty-two houses have been burnt, and the fire is still raging.'

"Out of this region of desolation came the peace loving, God-fearing Palatines to try their fortunes in the new World."

Dr. Haithcox, the Lutheran minister now at Shepherdstown, lately wrote an article for the Baltimore American in which he says: "Across the Atlantic they (the German Protestants) came to find a land as beautiful and even more fertile than their Rhineland. From the Delaware along the Susquehanna, they spread through Pennsylvania's Carlyle Valley, across Maryland and its Antietam, over which they built splendid Roman arches of stone, one of these becoming so tragically famous in the Civil War; then crossing the Potomac, they came into the Valley of the Shenandoah. * * * They brought here the industry and thrift that had made a paradise of their fatherland. Accustomed to congregated town life, they gathered into villages, like Mecklenburg, to till the neighboring lands, unlike the English plantation lords of Lower Virginia, who built their manor house in the centre of their broad domains. The farms were smaller, better cultivated, and, with the vine, they transplanted the customs of their old home.

"In the village, the highest hill was crowned by a church spire like the ministers along the Rhine or in the high burgs of Germany. In these churches pealed forth the chorals of the German Protestants, and Martin Luther was to them a grandfather's fireside memory.

"In a few years they had retrieved their fortunes by their industry, were happy, contented, fearing God, minding their own business, and perchance cared little how soon the clouds of eternal vengeance came with thunderbolts upon their enemy, when their people, with the English duke, trampled the pride and plumes of the Grand Monarch in the bloody marshes of Blenheim.

"The Lutheran congregation (at Mecklenburg) was formed about the middle of the 18th century, though tradition avers that these were not the first white settlers on this spot, that it had been occupied by a group of Scotch Presbyterians who called the village Potomoke. It seems religion did not create friendly sympathy among these Protestants, though a like persecution did form a bond of union between the Lutherans and German Reformers, who came here together from the Palatinate, and ofttimes used the same union building on alternate Sabbaths, or, as in Mecklenburg, built their churches side by side in thorough good will.

"The old Lutheran church, built in 1795 and used up to this time with slight remodeling, stood on a hill east of town, and on the opposite side of the street from the German Reformed. The building was of brick, with no architectural interest, but strangely enough the old bell that rang for a century among these hills and mountains was also an emigrant from the city of Marseilles. It was thrown overboard by some explosion of the French Revolution that sought to abolish bell, book, and candle of the old religion; but its tones rang as cheerfully for these doughty German Lutherans as it had done to summon the French Catholics to vespers.

"The Church Register shows the names of many of the old German families and land holders hereabouts, such as Ernst, Entler, Baker, Kaufenbarger, Lechleiter, Ronemous, Humrackhouse, Mueler, Weiss, Reinhardt, Rightstine, Baier, and Fulk. Some of these names are still represented here in English forms. Naturally this congregation has held pre-eminence in the size of membership, though this has scarcely kept up with the years. It has, however, outgrown its antiquated place of worship, and has now built a beautiful stone church of the Gothic sytle on the hill opposite the West Virginia State Normal School. The site is peculiarly appropriate, standing forth in full view, so that across the Potomac from the Maryland approach to the railroad bridge this church is the most conspicuous object in the old town, the central and crowning point among the spires and pinnacles of the quaint old burg set upon its hills. The cornerstone was laid November 10, the anniversary of Luther's birth."

Professor Duke has translated a part of the early records of the Lutheran Church in Shepherdstown.

Those who entered into the service
of the
Protestant Lutheran Congregation at Shepherdstown
the Building of the Church in 1795.

"How the same was celebrated in this place by the solemn laying of the cornerstone on the thirteenth Sunday after Trinity which was the thirtieth of August.

"So long as Jesus remains Lord, every day dawns more gloriously. Jesus Christ, the Lord and Founder of His poor scorned, Protestant church, has given the great promise to the followers of the same: 'Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.' And although the Prince of Darkness, sometimes by bloody persecution, sometimes by other devices, has tried to destroy her; he has not accomplished his purpose; but she has borne away the victory, so that she sings with joy: "The Lord is my Strength, My Psalm and my Redeemer.' We glorify, therefore, and the Protestant churches praise Him with us. He has let the light of His gospel shine unto us, now for thirty days, unto us who were forsaken Germans in this land of the West. Yes, and He has let us continue to shine. The short history of this Protestant Congregation confirms this truth.

"In the year 1765 the first members of the Protestant church here in Shepherdstown, of whom there was at that time no more than nine in the town, united with one another and held divine service, which consisted of the singing of a few hymns and the delivery of a sermon by one of their number, in a house. Among these were the following: Henrich Biidinger, Sr., Heinrich Kuckos, Martin Endler, Philip Kleber, Nicolas Hahn, and Martin Wohlfarth.

"In July, 1776, Mr. Bauer, the first Reformed Preacher came here. Soon after this, they took into their services for the instruction of their children, a schoolmaster by the name of Kramle. He performed his duty by the children in a conscientious manner."

This record goes on to give the names of the Lutheran ministers who preached in Shepherdstown, and is too long for the limits of this volume, which deals mainly with the period from the first settlement of the town to the conclusion of the Revolution.

Dr. Graham's idea that there was a settlement of Scotch Irish here very early in the 18th century, and that they called the place Potomoke cannot, we think, be sustained. The river here was not called the Potomac, but the Cohongoroota until after 1745, as is abundantly proved by old deeds, etc. That there was a small settlement at the Pack Horse Ford and that it was known by the name of Pack Horse Settlement there can be no doubt. But, as we have seen, the name of Mecklenburg does not occur before 1759 or 1760, and before that time people spoke of our village as Swearingen's Ferry. It is probable that Thomas Shepherd began to lay out the present village about 1755 or 1756, and after that time the name of Mecklenburg appears to have been given to it.

It may surprise many readers to learn that in 1765 there were only nine families of Lutherans in the place. One of these, Heinrich Biidinger, was Henry Bedinger, as the name was anglicized. Martin Wohlfarth was, very probably, a son or grandson of the evangelist, Michael Wohlfarth, who, "in the year 1722 visited Conrad Beissel, the famous Pennsylvania mystic, at the Muhlbach, while on a journey to North Carolina by way of the Valley of Virginia." (See Wayland's German Element of the Shenandoah Valley, page 9.)

It appears, therefore, that Michael Wohlfarth visited the settlement here in the year 1722. It is not impossible that he afterwards came to live at this place, where his descendant, Johann Martin Wohlfarth, is buried. His grave may be seen in the old graveyard now called the German Reformed graveyard. It bears his name, Johann Martin Wohlfarth, and the date of his death, 1780. It may be that the sermons read when the little band of Lutherans met in (perhaps) his house, or that of Heinrich Biidinger, were those of the evangelist, Michael Wohlfarth, cherished possessions of his descendant, Martin.

The Kuckuses, as we have seen, were here as early as 1725, for the grave of George Kuckus, a child of three months, is still to be seen with the date, 1725, plainly cut upon the half-buried sandstone. That part of the town where are the two old German churches, their graveyards, and the lots immediately around these churches, all belonged to the Kuckuses, or Cookuses as they were afterwards called. This part of the town was not included in Thomas Shepherd's fifty acres, but was added to the place in 1798 under the name of "Cookuses' Addition."

Soon after 1765 some of the Lutherans of this settlement became dissatisfied with the form of worship in their church, and desired to have the services read in English. It is said that, for a time, the services were read in German and English on alternate Sundays, in the hope of pleasing both factions. This course appears to have been unsatisfactory, for a number of Lutherans left that church before the year 1769, and went over to what they called "the English Church," meaning the Protestant Episcopalian.

Mr. St. John Byers, who has written many interesting articles on the antiquities of Shepherdstown, remarks in one of these: "There should be no jealousy between the German and Anglican forms of the Protestant faith, as both of them have the broader gauge principles of modern Christianity, and have never narrowed their creeds to the hair-splitting doctrines which have produced such a variety of sects in this country. In fact, it has been a source of regret that the German Church did not, in adopting the English language here, transplant itself entirely into the English Church, as many of the Lutherans did hereabouts, when there were dissentions about having the service in the language of the country, as, for instance, did the Bedingers, Van Swearingens, Towners and many others."

The Swearingens, as we have already seen, probably left the Lutheran Church before 1762, and so must some of the Kites and Lemons, if they ever belonged to it, as we find all three names in the vestry of the Protestant Episcopal Church elected in that year. The Bedingers came to Shepherdstown from Pennsylvania in 1762. It is recorded that Henry Bedinger was naturalized, and also that he took communion in the Protestant Episcopal Church in Mecklenburg or Shepherdstown in the year 1769.
["Historic Shepherdstown", Chapter 3, By Danske Dandridge - Submitted by K. Torp]

Trinity Episcopal Church
Shepherdstown, WV

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