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Pennsylvania Germans, language, congregations, superstitions, bull bands, newlywed customs, Reformed Church, Sabbath Day, astrology, sheds


A handwritten set of notes from The Reformed Messenger transcribed by Alfred L. Shoemaker circa 1950. Topics include religious practice among the Pennsylvania Germans, the importance of vehicle sheds at churches, newlywed customs, and the German language.

Corresponds to:

Packet 716-1 to 716-4



Aug 23, 1848. Article on Rev. J. C. Helffenstein 1748-1790.

“Some were opposed to the private religious meetings, that were at that time introduced. Others were opposed to those who frequented these meetings, and who professed to have experimental religion and called them knee crawlers, (kniee rutchers)”.

Nov. 29, 1848. Sabbath Schools and Catechetical Instruction Among the Mennonites in Mont. County

Feb. 14, 1849. Article by Lydia Jane “Traits of German Character”

“They are perhaps prone to superstition, but their superstitions are beautiful as angels …”

May 30, 1849. German Psalmody and Singing by D. W.

“In many of our German congregations, the hymn is given out by the minister, line after line. This is a very disagreeable method of singing, and shows that the proper church spirit is wanting. It has often reminded the writer of the A. B. C. scholars in a common school, who will repeat the alphabet, letter by letter after their teacher.

“There is surely some reason, why in so many of our German congregations, the hymn is lined out through the minster. Some will say: ‘We can sing German, but we cannot read it.’ This is to be deplored, for it leads to the ruin of the German congregations. The young members of the congregation do not learn anymore the German language, because, even in their congregations, they stand no more in need of it, as the words of the hymn are pronounced by the minister. In this way, ministers of the Gospel support a bad cause, - the suppression of the German language.

“For to sing one line, and then to stop again, until another line is pronounced by the minister, must absolutely interrupt religious feelings. It would even be better to give out two lines at once; for in this way, the religious feelings would not be so often interrupted, and the memory of the hearer and singer would thereby be more strengthened. But the best way would be to make endeavors in our German Churches, in a prudent manner and by degrees, to set this practice, of giving out the lines of the hymns to be sung, entirely aside, for when Germans, from the other side of the ocean, hear this practice in our German Churches, they think: “That we are one hundred years behind the time, or entirely on the decline”.

In the year 1820, on the 26th of May, the writer preached in a German congregation in H-, a place which stands in high renown in the state of Pennsylvania, and in entering the church he was told, that the congregation could only sing one German tune, which was: ‘Es ist gervisslich an der Zeit’. And even in that tune some congregations will break down.

Ref. Messenger

July 18, 1849

“At a recent term of the Court of Common Pleas in Dark County, Ohio, a number of individuals were indicted and found guilty of riot, for serenading a wedding party with music disagreeable to ears polite. Judge Holt charged the jury in the following language:

“The assemblage of three or four persons with bells, horns, and firearms, and with these to approach the house where a family resides, rattling bells, blowing horns and discharging fire-arms, especially at the night season, calculated to alarm and terrify the inmates is against the peace, and riotous. Nor does it change the character of such transaction that a wedding was the occasion of it. Nor can it be justified on the ground that it was intended for a serenade, and was customary in the neighborhood where it was enacted.

“Some of the witnesses have spoken of a custom in that neighborhood to honor weddings with music of that kind. Such custom is illegal; it belongs not to civilization, and should not receive the sanction of a Court and Jury sitting in a civilized community. It has been said:

“Music hath charms to soothe a savage beast”:

“It must indeed be a savage beast that can be soothed by hideous sounds of cow-bells, horse fiddles, ram-horns and other like musical instruments rattling, ringing and commingling together and interspersed with occasional explosions of gunpowder.

“Such serenades are unlawful and riotous. Such is the law. The jury will find the defendants guilty or not guilty, as they find the facts.”

[They were found guilty accordingly.]

Aug 20, 1851. Exc. description of Sunday School celebration in Orwigsburg, Pa.

Jan 21, 1852 Organs in Church

“Thirty years ago, there was perhaps scarcely a Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist, or Methodist church in the land, that had the least idea of tolerating such a thing as an organ in a church.”

July 6, 1853 Shocking Sabbath Desecration

“And in some sections of our land, this species of sabbath-desecration obtains to a most shocking extent; especially in connection with unusual public occasions, such as the laying of corner-stones and the consecration of churches. On such occasions, may be often seen, not a stone’s cast from the preacher’s stand, rows of Booths, of Huckster's tents, surrounded by hundreds and even by thousands of Sabbath-breakers, who within sound of the preacher’s voice, are buying, eating, and drinking, and thus pouring contempt upon a holy and righteous God who has commanded us to “remember the Sabbath-day and keep it holy.” In these circumstances on is strikingly reminded of those “money changers” and those “who sold doves”, whom our Savior with a scourge drove out of the temple. It is not difficult to predict what the Savior would do, should He condescend to be present on such an occasion.


Dec 6, 1854: The pretended astrologer, Roback, who has been driven out of Philadelphia by legal parties and the public press, has, we perceive, located himself in Baltimore. He is advertising in some of the Maryland papers; and is distributing his almanacs all over the country. Our own place, it seems, has come in for a plentiful share of them. It is truly humiliating to think there is ignorance enough in our age to sustain such bold impostors. We hope none of our citizens will be silly enough to lend him any countenances. The Lancaster “Saturday Evening Express” informed the public some time ago, that it had a batch of important documents in relation to Roback’s operations. We trust he will use them for the purpose of driving him out of his present locality.


Jan 17, 1844 Boem’s Church in Whitpain T., Mont. Co. by Samuel Helffenstein, Jr.

“Some five or six years back the congregation erected on the site of the church a number of sheds for the accommodation of the worshippers with their vehicles and horses. And here let me call attention to the singular and surprising fact, that Boem’s is the only German Reformed Church within the writer’s knowledge, that possesses that useful, I may say indispensable appendage.

Formerly our old people tell us their hardy Fathers frequented and sat in the house of God during divine service, without stove or fire in the winter; this certainly unnecessary penance is now universally dispensed with.

Still as the traveler views the fine and costly temples of the Lord everywhere found in our German settlements, he casts his eye around in vain to discover the unpretending but most serviceable shed. However far departed we must and do regard “the Society of Friends” from the true light of God’s word, yet in this particular they are an example. Wherever you see a Quaker meeting house (and the sight is frequent in these parts) there also you see the inseparable and indispensable appendage the shed.

Feb 28, 1844 article by Nevin: Honest Pa.

“She [Pa.] was originally the Quaker State. She has become since emphatically the German State.”

March 6, 1844 “The finger of scorn is often pointed at an individual because he is “Dutch”.

April 10, 1844 About [illegible] of the American Trade Society

“There is at present a great commotion in Berks County. Some say, he carries about with his fanatical books (Strabter [sic] Buecher.)”

April 24, 1844 “Even my pony seems to partake of my own feelings, and on we dodge and jolt, until, halfway to the end of my journey, the mist of the mountain has become imbercated as Dr. Johnson would say, and I have to draw on my over-coat, and unstrap my rain-apron.”

July 23, 1845 A Mountain Tour

(into Western Pa’s Ref. churches by F. W. K of Chambersburg)

“Wherever we turned our eyes, we beheld the little company of laborers cutting the plentiful harvest, whilst gratitude for their rich reward might be read from many a countenance. Although there was joy and gladness; yet nothing was seen but the strictest propriety. Not a battle did we see - not a profane oath did we hear. Bacchanalian orgies - profanity and contention, formerly so common in the harvest field are now scarcely ever witnessed - they are among the disgraceful things that have been.”

Feb 11, 1846: Reformed Mennonites



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Notes From the Reformed Messenger, 1844-1854



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