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Daniel Ziegler, Christopher Batdorff, Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, mowing machine, ballads, strength, Annville, blacksmith


A handwritten manuscript compiled by Victor C. Dieffenbach, dated Jan. 26 1953. Within, Dieffenbach records two exceptional cases of large farming families: the Ziegler family with twenty-two children and the Batdorff family with eighteen. Dieffenbach then explains how each locality had a "bully" or someone with super-human strength.

Corresponds to:

Packets 577-210-69 to 577-210-73


Our Sturdy Forefathers – their Health and Longevity. (Addenda)

Big Families

While it was customary for the farmer of the 18th Century to have a big family, yet there were some exceptional cases.

A man by the name of David Ziegler, a dyed-in-the-wool Pennsylvania Dutchman, who lived on his 200-acre farm along the Swatara Creek near Mt. Aetna, would always tell to a stranger that he had two times twenty-two children; they naturally decided that he had forty-four –he only had 23 in all. He had been married four times and had twenty-one children by his three deceased wives. So when he married a fourth and had issue by her, there were twenty-two; but the child died. Later they had another one, and again there were twenty-two.

This man also had a big grist mill, and his father had been engaged in making sugar and molasses, raised on his own farm. He also had a number of slaves (negroes) but all free, as he was prominent in the under-ground movement prior to the Civil War.

Only a half mile to the north (and I am not sure if it had not included the Ziegler farm) there lived a pioneer by the name of Christopher Batdorff – “der Shtoffel.” He had eleven sons and seven daughters, all by one wife; and like Ripley says – “believe it or not” – they had twenty cradles a-swinging in a row and no stranger present. All the girls were tall and strong, and the mother the same. My grandfather used to tell of how those scythes would glitter as the entire family swung them in unison.

This farm was originally around 700 acres; later it was subdivided into smaller farms, each with a tenant house.

One of these stalwart sons had the unique record of inventing the first mowing machine in America. This farm and the flourishing family who practically hewed it out of the living wilderness were the subject of a Ballad – “Des Botdorreffa Dawl” (Batdorff’s Vale) in the P. Dutch dialect – the author unknown (of which more anon) ending with the feudal land-lord’s words – “ich bin de fett maus in der meal – de katz om grossa case!” (I am the big mouse in the mill — the cat at the big cheese!)

Feats of super-human strength were no rarity in those days. ‘One of the Kreiders' of the Annville region was known throughout the colonies as – “der Shtarrick Hans!” (John the strong!) He carried 12 bushels of wheat on his shoulders at one time— a 3 bu. bag on each shoulder and then one crosswise on these two in front, and one in the rear.

Each locality had a “Bully” – a superman who excelled in feats of strength and often was the champion at fisticuffs. Wherever folks would congregate, be it a sale, a shooting match or husking bee — even after the obsequies at a funeral, these bullies would engage in a tournament of strength and skill.

Once the numerous victories went to the winner’s head, eventually he would be carrying a chip on his shoulder; that was where the real fun began.

At one place the local bully was also the blacksmith. One day while busily pounding his anvil he saw a shadow fall across it; looking up he saw a big young man – a veritable giant, standing at the door, and watching him. The stranger advanced, his right hand outstretched in the customary greeting “We gates?” (How goes it?) He informed the blacksmith that he was – from –; and that he came to see – “eb Ich dich leddera con?” (To see if I can lick you!) In the vernacular of those days, “leddera” actually meant to take one over the knees or lap, and then “dust” the seat of his leather breeches with one hand, while holding him down with the other. Hence, when used as a challenge, it was belittling to the extreme.

The blacksmith calmly looked the stranger over from head to foot; and although the newcomer overtopped him head and shoulders, he seemed to be unperturbed. Taking off his leather apron he asked the stranger – “doosht do drinka?” (Do you drink?)

“Ya, Ich do!” – (Yes, I do!)

“Ya well! Ich hob gooter cider – don doona meer mull drinka – won do shundt so weidt doe runner goluffa bisht den morya don bisht do fermoot lich ort lich dorshtich! No, won meer gadrunka hen – no gaina meer don mull doe draw!” (Yes well! I have some good cider – we will drink some – if you have walked all the way down here this morning you are undoubtedly very dry by this time! Then after we drink, then we’ll try this once, and have a go at it!)

So saying he went out of the shop to where a hogs-head lay on some logs or skids; he grabbed it by the ends of the staves where they projected beyond the barrel-head, lifted it up in the air, up above his head, and drank out of the bung-hole. Gently laying it down into its “lager” he looked at the gaping giant, grinned at him and said “dort iss blenty – er iss goot-helf der selwert; un no wella meer ons fechta – Ich muss no witter on my arravet!” (There is plenty, and it is good – help yourself! And then on with the fight – I’ve got to get back to work!)

“Nay- Ich will kenner! Un Ich will dich fer – sei awe net leddera – Ich gay witter hame! (No, I don’t want any – and I’ll be darned if I want to fight you – I am going home!) And that is what he did.

Jan. 26 1953

Der Oldt Bauer


Signed in Dieffenbach's pen name of "Der Oldt Bauer" (The Old Farmer).


English and Pennsylvania German

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Our Sturdy Forefathers, Their Health and Longevity: Big Families, January 26, 1953



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