November 20, 2014

Church Records Speak -- Lancaster's Slaveholders, "Elmer Ellsworth ___", 79th Pa Connections, Faith and Gender

Location: 31 South Duke Street, Lancaster, PA 17602, USA
Trinity Lutheran Church, Lancaster
(From Memorial Volume, 1861)
While it may seem that the Civil War has been studied from virtually every angle, one important but largely missing perspective is the experience of religious communities such as churches and synagogues on the local level.  Over the past ten years, I've thoroughly enjoyed researching Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (see here) -- one of Lancaster's more physically and historically prominent churches -- and have been lucky in the abundant high-quality primary source material that I have been able to glean.  This has better enabled me to better understand the war's effect on individuals at the local level, as well as take historical persons more seriously (sometimes a problem in Civil War studies) due to our shared institutional connection.

Since earlier this year, I've even been working with members of First Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh (the one at the base of the US Steel Building) to reproduce this line of research inquiries and see what we find.  A comparative lack of newspaper primary sources and turn-of-the-century industrial biographies for First Lutheran Church and Pittsburgh vs. Holy Trinity and Lancaster has made us turn to (1) published sources related to famous pastors Passavant and Krauth and (2) church records as staring points.  Studying church records prompted me to go back and do something during a recent weekend in Lancaster that I had not done before (at least not comprehensively): examine Holy Trinity's baptism, marriage, and burial records.  In this post, I'll give some thoughts based on my preliminary scan of these records.

Slavery in Lancaster


(This paragraph refers to an LCHS Journal Article: Ebersole, Mark. ‘German Religious Groups and Slavery in Lancaster County Prior to the Civil War.” Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society. Vol. 107, No. 4. Winter, 2005-2006. 158-187.)

I'll start by saying that it's rather jarring to someone with your last name (Schlauch, or its many Anglicized forms such as Slough and Slaugh) and connected to the same church listed as "one of the largest chattel-holders of the county" with eleven slaves.  It turns out that there's no perceptible genealogical relationship, as my Schlauch line only came from Germany to Lancaster in 1871 (Andreas Schlauch, from Baden Baden), but the somewhat surprising fact remains that some of Lancaster's and Holy Trinity's leaders in the mid-1700s owned African Americans as slaves.  Ebersole describes this essentially as a adaptation by select Germans of a more largely English practice.  While it may not have had the industrial scale of later forms of slavery in the cotton South, slavery in Lancaster still evidently involved the separation of families for profit and slaves and a system that some slaves tried to flee.  Clearly, it's a complex subject with a range of primary and secondary sources that I still need to study.

At Holy Trinity in the late 1700s and early 1800s, free and enslaved African Americans had some level of participation in church life through baptism, marriage, and burial (hence, the helpfulness of church records).  In the years after emancipation began as a gradual process in 1780, laymen and pastors of Holy Trinity supported the founding of African-American churches in Lancaster and later joined the Africa colonization movement.  Despite giving some prominent examples of slaveholders, Ebersole writes that "for the most part, the Moravian, Reformed, and Lutheran churchmen also stayed aloof from the English culture, and from all slavery practices, upon their arrival in the New World."  It will be interesting in future research to identify differences in opinion between members of the congregation, as well as the German-born Rev. Gottlob F. Krotel and the Pennsylvania-born Rev. F. W. Conrad,  Furthermore, what can we infer from the exclusion of African-Americans at Trinity-connected Woodward Hill Cemetery, or from the Ladies' Kansas Relief Meeting at Holy Trinity that so irked the Democratic Intelligencer (12/4/1860)?

I don't recognize too many family connections between the mid-1700s slaveholders and those active with Holy Trinity in the Civil War Era, with one exception: records exist of George Hopson Krug's grandfather Valentine Krug leaving slaves to George's father Jacob in his will.  The Krug family was known for its tannery, and George H. Krug was an important lay leader at Holy Trinity until his death in 1869.  At Holy Trinity in 1842, Krug's daughter, Rebecca, married a young Navy officer named William Reynolds, whose father was in the same Democratic Lancaster social circles (think James Buchanan) as Rebecca's father.  William went on to lead a remarkable career in the Navy, and his younger brother John Fulton Reynolds achieved even greater fame as a general in the Army of the Potomac.

Baby Names 


Col. Elmer Ellsworth
One rather interesting way to assess the patriotism of the people affiliated with Holy Trinity at this time is to look at trends at baby names.  And we're really talking about one trend: many people named their child after Elmer Ellsworth, the Union martyr who died one month into the war while trying to seize a Confederate flag in Alexandria, Virginia.  A total of nine(!) children (out of roughly 10-12 per month) baptized at Holy Trinity in the succeeding months would bear some version of his name (one baby born in April 19 was even apparently named retroactively).  Especially because the original Elmer Ellsworth was known pretty much solely as a martyr, these children seem to be a way for families to signal their willingness to sacrifice for the Union cause.  Here is a list:     

  • Elmer Ellsworth Filler (b. 4/19/1861), son of Henry and Juliana Filler (sponsor).   
  • Elmer Ellsworth Shreiner (b. 6/15/1861), son of Henry Michael and Mary Shreiner (sponsor). 
  • Ellsworth Leibley (b. 6/20/1861), son of Jacob and Elizabeth Leibley (sponsor).  
  • Elmer Ellsworth Winour (b. 7/15/1861), son of George Washington and Fanny Winour. Sponsored by Amelia Sensendorfer.  
  • Charles Ellsworth Peterman (b. 8/2/1861), son of George and Frances Peterman (sponsor). 
  • Ellmer Ellsworth Steigerwalt (b. 9/5/1861), son of Michael F. and Martha Steigerwalt (sponsored by both parents).   
  • Charles Ellsworth Bowman (b. 9/23/1861), son of William and Catherine Bowman (sponsor).
  • Ellsworth Holtz (b. 8/9/1862), son of George Washington and Mary Ann Holtz (sponsored by both parents).
  • Edward Elmer Ellsworth Cogley (b. 12/13/1861), son of Joseph and Sarah Ann Cogley (sponsored by grandmother).
A couple other names show up in the records, but none with the concentration of Elmer Ellsworth:
  • George B. McClellan Killian (b. 4/18/1863), son of Henry K. and Pricilla Killian (sponsored by both parents).  I wonder how ardent abolitionist F. W. Conrad felt baptizing this child.  
  • Abraham Lincoln Mishler (b. 11/9/1865), son of Isaac and Catherine Mishler.  Sponsored by mother.
At least two children were also named after the Rev. Dr. Gottlob "George" F. Krotel, who had earned the admiration of much of the congregation before his departure to Philadelphia in 1861.


  • George Krotel Bender (b. 8/17/1861), son of Benjamin S. and Hetty Bender (sponsor).  
  • George Frederick Krotel Erisman (b. 2/23/1863), son of Emanuel J. and Mary Erisman (sponsor not listed). 

79th Pa Connections

79th PA Monument, Chickamauga

From the baptismal records, I also recognized a few 79th Pennsylvania connections, which I note here for future biographical or genealogical research or investigations of the social networks from which the Lancaster County Regiment was raised:

  • Capt. Jacob Gompf: Jacob Augustus (b. 10/14/1860) baptized 3/14/1861 with mother Susan as sponsor.  
  • James P. Dysart (brother of 79th PA captains): Henry Scherff (b. 11/26/1860) baptized 4/18/1861).  Sponsored by grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Henry Scherff.
  • Capt. Edward Edgerly: Edward Everett Edgerly (b. 9/3/1859).  Son of Edward and Rosanna Edgerly. Sponsored by grandparents John and Rosanna Stehman.  
  • Lieut. William P. Leonard.  Three children with wife Harriet baptized on 6/10/1867.  Daughter Emma Virginia (b. 6/24/1846) baptized on July 15, 1846.
  • William F. Dostman (b. 10/8/1841), son of John Peter and Catherine Dostman (sponsor).  
  • Horace Binney Vondersmith (b. 5/6/1844), son of Daniel B. and Clara Elizabeth Vondersmith.  Both parents sponsored.
  • Robert M. Dysart and Lyman G. Bodie: both listed in death records for mid/late-1860s which I did not copy.

Note that Dostman and Vondersmith are the color bearers depicted in the 79th Pennsylvania's Chickamauga monument.  In the battle, Dostman was fatally wounded by an exploding shell and Vondersmith carried the flag forward.  As an aside, Vondersmith's father, Daniel B. Vondersmith, had become infamous during the 1850s when he fled the United States on charges of fraud in a pension forging scheme.  He later returned to serve jail time before being pardoned.  Later in life, he could be found as the cashier for a traveling circus.  His son, meanwhile, earned a sterling reputation as Lancaster's fire chief.  I'll have to document the lives of the father and son Vondersmith in a future post.

And connections to other notables:
  • Oliver J. Dickey (Republican politician): Mary Elvira (b. 9/10/1858) baptized 11/10/1860.  Sponsored by mother Elizabeth.
  • Rebecca Reynolds Krug (b. 6/23/1861), daughter of John H. and Henrietta Krug.  Named after her aunt, wife of future Admiral William Reynolds.  Baptized 8/12/1861. Sponsored by grandfather George H. Krug.  Rebecca Reynolds Krug and Rebecca Krug Reynolds seemed to have a mother-daughter relationship (see latter's obituary). 
  • Emlen Franklin (Col., 122nd PA): Emlen Augustus (b. 2/23/1864) baptized on 12/3/1865, son of Emlen and Clara Amelia Franklin.  Both parents were sponsors.  
  • George Unkle (correspondent and Pvt., 9th PA Cavalry): Ann Elizabeth Unkel (b. 2/11/1845), daughter of George and Ann Adelaid Unkle.  

Future Questions -- Gender and Faith


One thing that stuck out is approximately one-third to one-half of the baptisms only seem to have the mother as the sponsor.  What does this say about church membership and gender roles?  Is this specific to Holy Trinity or to Lutherans?  Was there a lost generation of men in churches in the mid-1800s?  Were maternal lines more important in determining a family's religious life?  Or is there some other reason to explain the trend?  I'll have to pay attention to these questions as I look at other churches' records and dig up Lutheran newspapers to see if any editorialists comment on a trend.

I'm glad I finally took the time to flip through Holy Trinity's records.  It's given a few interesting data points to help characterize the Union cause and will help to fill in some holes about 79th Pa personalities.  I haven't even touched on the weightier themes of the interplay between competing Lutheran ideologies and competing national ideologies regarding the Lutheran identity, race, patriotism, and church life.

Look for a future posts with a more biographical focus on members of Holy Trinity to enhance our capacity to imagine and study how the war affected communities and individuals.

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