Moral lapses of early Penn­syl­va­nia Ger­man cler­gy­men, Part 1

The Southern Berks News - - LOCAL NEWS - By Robert L. Wood

Very few Lutheran or Re­formed cler­gy­men im­mi­grated to Penn­syl­va­nia along with the flood of Ger­man speak­ing im­mi­grants in the early 18th cen­tury. In 1751 Ben­jamin Franklin de­spaired, “This will in a few years be­come a Ger­man speak­ing colony.” It was, in large part, Ger­man speak­ing al­ready with about 100,000 im­mi­grants from the war rav­aged Palati­nate who had risked their lives to get here in ves­sels lit­tle better than slave ships. About 90 per­cent of them were of the Lutheran or Re­formed faith. And more were on the way.

It’s safe to say very few Ger­man min­is­ters came to the rough-and-tum­ble wilder­ness of Penn­syl­va­nia. In Europe, cler­gy­men were highly re­spected and well paid while lead­ing a fairly up­per-class life. They were “or­dained.” Or­di­na­tion was, in a sense, a type of priest­hood wherein the cler­gy­man was in­vested with au­thor­ity to per­form sacra­ments: bap­tism, mar­riage, and com­mu­nion.

We of­ten find some ir­reg­u­lar­ity in the lives of the very few min­is­ters who came to Penn­syl­va­nia that caused them to be “ex­iled” to the new land, or they may have sim­ply fled some un­ten­able sit­u­a­tion.

As noted in pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cles, Ger­man im­mi­grants had no cul­tural mem­ory of build­ing and staffing their own churches since in the Ger­manic prov­inces the church was, in part, a branch of the govern­ment; and peo­ple were taxed for its sup­port. Here there were no taxes, no clergy, and few Lutheran or Re­formed churches.

Once here in the new land many of the “church peo­ple” were in­dif­fer­ent to re­li­gion. Rev. Muh­len­berg noted with dis­may that a rich farmer pointed to his ma­nure pile and claimed that it was his God be­cause it gave him “wheat and ev­ery­thing that he needed.” Still, with the bur­geon­ing pop­u­la­tion many oth­ers felt a need for the fa­mil­iar sacra­ments that they re­mem­bered. Also, there was al­ways a need for funeral ser­vices.

The first Ger­man Lutheran pas­tor in Penn­syl­va­nia was An­thony Ja­cob Henkel who for ten or eleven years was the only Lutheran pas­tor in the field hav­ing served sev­eral con­gre­ga­tions in Ger­many from 1692 to 1717. He prob­a­bly reached Penn­syl­va­nia in Septem­ber of 1717 when three ves­sels were known to have ar­rived with about 300 Ger­man im­mi­grants. There is ev­i­dence that some of his parish­ioners ac­com­pa­nied him. Henkel bought 250 acres of land about a mile north of the present New Hanover church be­side the 250 acre tract of his sonin-law Valen­tine Geiger. There is abun­dant ev­i­dence that Rev. Henkel or­ga­nized the first Ger­man Lutheran con­gre­ga­tion in Penn­syl­va­nia at New Hanover and per­haps spent the rest of his life there.

De­tails of his leav­ing Europe are sketchy. Ap­par­ently he had run afoul of au­thor­i­ties there, as they had been “mak­ing threat­en­ing ges­tures” to­ward him. For what­ever rea­son he left un­der a cloud, but all ac­counts of his min­istry here in­di­cate an up­right life with his de­vot­ing as much time and ef­fort to his min­is­te­rial du­ties as he could. He died in 1728 sub­se­quent to fall­ing from his horse or per­haps was stricken be­fore he fell.

In a sim­i­lar vein John Philip Boehm, school­mas­ter and later or­dained Ger­man Re­formed min­is­ter, had a quar­rel­some re­la­tion­ship with the au­thor­i­ties at his sev­eral unhappy post­ings in Ger­man lands. He too cast off the old world ar­riv­ing in Philadel­phia about 1720. He as­sumed the of­fice of pas­tor at the urg­ing of the Falkner Swamp con­gre­ga­tion in 1725 and served a cir­cuit of con­gre­ga­tions faith­fully un­til his death in 1749. With a large family and hav­ing to make his own liv­ing, he still trav­eled over 24,000 miles min­is­ter­ing, preach­ing and ad­min­is­ter­ing the sacra­ments.

On the other hand, some men of the cloth were of­ten found un­der the in­flu­ence of “Old De­mon Rum” or found them­selves un­der the wrong sheets.

Daniel Falkner, who had stud­ied for the min­istry but was not then or­dained, ar­rived in Ger­man­town in 1694, a mem­ber of a pietis­tic so­ci­ety called So­ci­ety of the Women in the Wilder­ness who named them­selves the Her­mits of the Wis­sahickon. He was or­dained as a Lutheran min­is­ter in 1701, but lived in Ger­man­town and at­tempted to ad­min­is­ter the large Ger­man Tract (now Pottstown, the Potts­groves, New Hanover, and Up­per Hanover). He preached in Ger­man­town and ac­cord­ing to one re­port was so in­tox­i­cated on oc­ca­sions that he al­most fell out of the pul­pit. He was, “some­times found sleep­ing on the side of the road with a brandy keg on his back.” When in 1704 he was taken to court on ac­count of some action, he ap­peared hung over and used “an abun­dance of foul lan­guage, rail­ing most griev­ously at the recorder and the bailiff.”

More se­ri­ously, it ap­pears Falkner worked in con­cert with Philadel­phia mer­chant Jo­hannes Spro­gel to de­fraud the Euro­pean own­ers of the Frank­fort Tract of their property rights and gain own­er­ship of it. Falkner then left Ger­man­town to serve a con­gre­ga­tion in New Jersey.

In­ci­den­tally, there is no ev­i­dence that Daniel Falkner ever trav­eled to New Hanover or preached here.

Next week: Part 2

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