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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Swiss Letter

I touched a piece of Switzerland yesterday!
My Burkholder ancestors immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1754. They were with a group of other Mennonites immigrating from the Jura Mountain area of Switzerland. Some of the group did not have the funds to pay their passage so they were loaned the money from the Poor Fund of the church in Switzerland. The letter listed the names of those who received aid and the amount they were given. It stipulated that the money was to repaid to the Poor Fund so it could be used as intended to aid poor members in Switzerland. The letter was addressed to the church leaders in Pennsylvania. An identical copy was made and kept in Switzerland. The letter and funds were entrusted to Ulrich Engel, the leader of the group of immigrants.
The poor immigrants who had received aid settled in Brecknock and Cumru Townships, adjoining townships in Lancaster and Berks counties. (The county line runs through Brecknock Township.) They worshipped with three congregations known as the Muddy Creek district. None of them had a meetinghouse at that time so all worship services were held in homes or in Christian Good's mill. In time, all three congregations built meetinghouses known today as Bowmansville, Gehmans, and Allegheny.
The deacons of the Muddy Creek district administered their own Poor Fund and kept account books (beginning in 1744) of the benevolence funds. The records include repayment of passage loans and assistance to pay them as well as records of other needy people who received aid for various reasons. The records were written in homemade books made of sheets of paper stitched together with thread and folded to form a small book.
The 1754 letter from Switzerland and the deacons' Account Books were passed from deacon to deacon of the Bowmansville church for about 200 years until someone finally realized they should be preserved at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society.
Yesterday I opened the box that contains these valuable pieces of history and saw the original letter and record books. I actually touched something that came across the ocean on the ship with my ancestors! To prove I kid you not, here is the first page of the letter, written in German in Switzerland in 1754.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Romaine, your book Annie's Day of Light is wonderful! I found out that your Martin family is the same Martin family that I come from. On page 617 on the 7th generation, your Henry is a brother to my great, great grandfather Benjamin Martin. I believe they also had a brother named Moses and many other siblings. Their father was Benjamin Martin who is buried in the Yellow Creek Mennonite Cemetery, Indiana. I have been working on our Martin family history and would love to have a list of all the brothers and sister in the 7th generation. I hope to hear from you. My father is Earl Martin and he was born in Lancaster, PA