ALLEN COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY
A HISTORY OF THE WILHELMS AND THE WILHELM CHARGE ~ BY THE HISTORICAL COMMITTEE
THE WILHELM PRESS ~ MEYERSDALE. PA. 1919; Copyright, 1919 by L. NEVIN WILSON
To the memory of the WILHELMS benefactors of a Church and of a College
This Volumn is Dedicated
UNFORTUNATELY we have very little definite knowledge of the generation of Wilhelms immediately preceding those with whom this history is concerned. We gather from the inscription on the tomb stones of Christian Wilhelm and his wife, Elizabeth, that Christian was born February 14, 1758 and died October 14, 1835, at the age of 78 years and 1 month; and that Elizabeth was born July 22, 1758 and died November 22, 1840, at the age of 82 year and four months. They are buried in the old Salisbury graveyard, and their resting place is appropriately marked by two marble slabs. These people are of German origin, but whether they were natives of Germany does not appear. There is a tradition that prior to their settling in Somerset county, they lived near Frostburg, Maryland, disposed of their land and took up other land in Somerset county. This supposition seems to find confirmation in the fact that one of the daughters, Hester, married John Griffith, of the Frostburg region, a man whom she is supposed to have known in her youth before she moved with her parents to Somerset county. It is also pointed out that Peter and Benjamin were interested in some Frostburg real estate, and their interest came from the old parental associations. It is true that these men did own some town lots in Frostburg; but as for Christian Wilhelm holding land in Garrett county (then Allegheny[sic] county), Maryland, the records at Cumberland are silent.
If Christian Wilhelm ever lived in Allegheny[sic] county, he must have been a farm hand, a renter, or else he engaged in business. The children, in referring to their father's wealth, took delight in the fact that he started with nothing, that he could have carried all his belongings in a handkerchief, as they put it. By dint of close application and strict economy, he accumulated sufficient money until he was forty years old to buy a farm. Christian Wilhelm and his wife took up land in Somerset county as early as 1798. In that year they bought the tract upon which Alex Speicher now lives, consisting of 301k acres, which they purchased from Jacob Smith and wife, Eva, for 1,000 pounds (about $5,000) "of lawful money of Pennsylvania". Jacob Smith held the land by patent from the land office at Philadelphia, the instrument bearing the signature of Benjamin Franklin, and dated June 27, 1787.
In 1816, Christian Wilhelm acquired the "Cold Day" farm, on the south fork of the Elk Lick Creek consisting of 305 acres for $1500. He added to this in 1823 the "Bucks Horn" farm, on the north fork of the Elk Lick, consisting of 231^4 acres, which he purchased of the Wilcock's heirs for $500. These two farms are commonly known as the Matlick. In 1830, he purchased from Shaphat Divire for $3000 the farm which Ross Sechler now owns, which consisted at that time of 246?^ acres. The "Cox Farm", along Tub Mill Run, upon which William Wagner lives, consisting of 200 acres, was acquired in 1834 for $1800.
Christian Wilhelm and his wife were of Reformed and Lutheran origin, and they brought up their children in the traditions of their faith. Settled, as they were, rather remote from any church of their own kind, they were rather worldly people and perhaps did not keep up their church connections.
They reared a family of eight children, three sons and five daughters: Abraham, Benjamin, Peter, Hannah (married Smith), Hester (married Griffith), Elizabeth (Betsy), Catherine and Anna Marie (Polly).
When Christian Wilhelm died in 1835, the greater part of his property passed over to his three sons whom he named as executors in his will. To his wife he directed that $500 should be paid immediately, and that she should continue to reside in the mansion house with Benjamin and Peter, who were "to provide sufficient and comfortable meats, drink, fuel, clothing and all other nice fancies as she may require." To Hannah and Hester he left $530 each; but the will is very emphatic in stating that not one cent of Hester's inheritance should be paid to her husband, John Griffith. Polly, Elizabeth and Catherine were to receive each $1600 and three good milk cows. He remembered Peter Goldle, a young man living with him, with $100, provided that he should remain with Benjamin and Peter until he was 21 . Abraham, by the terms of the will, acquired the Ross Sechler farm, which continued to be the residence of Abraham and Catherine during their lifetime. The Alex Speicher farm and the Matlick went to Benjamin and Peter. No reference was made to the Cox farm, as it was acquired after the will was drawn up but by the terms of the will, this farm together with all the other property went to the three sons, share and share alike.
The Wilhelm heirs thus came into possession of nearly 1500 acres of land. During their life time they added tract to tract until they owned conjointly about 3200 acres, scattered over Elk Lick, Greenville, Addison and Summit townships.
According to values at that time, their income was considerable. The estate was dotted with huts and cabins where resided a number of tenants, who farmed the clearings, cared for fine herds of cattle and droves of horses, and gathered sugar water for the manufacture of sugar and syrup. At one time the Wilhelms owned nearly the whole of Summit Mills where they operated a company store, in which Reuben Kretchman, David Hay and Ephriam Miller also had an interest. The merchandise which was handled was hauled over land from Mt. Pleasant, Connellsville, Johnstown and Cumberland.
The wealth of the Wilhelms may have been over-estimated, but that they were regarded as men of no ordinary means the following story will illustrate.
Peter, one day was loafing in a hotel in Meyersdale. He was not disposed to buy any whiskey, and the landlord ordered him out, remarking that he did not want any bums around his place. A by-stander, who knew Peter, is reported to have said: "Bum! What do you mean? Why that man could buy out the whole town."
That the Wilhelms keep large amounts of money in the house was generally known. Two large baskets were used as receptacles for their gold and silver respectively. Later on they used a safe. The story goes that Urias Bockes, a boy whom they raised, was the only one of the household that knew the combination. When one of the Wilhelms wanted money, he called for Urias, "Ich muss gelt haben" [I must have money] One time Urias and some of his companions planned to rob the safe. Young Bockes was to open the safe and his companions were to take the money, after which they were to divide the plunder. They were already in the room when Urias' heart failed him, and the robbery failed to materialize.
When J. M. Hay was a boy, his uncle, Peter S. Hay, who was engaged in the mercantile business in Elk Lick, sent him to the Wilhelms to borrow $4000. Mr. Hay proposed to buy a large quantity of butter for shipment to eastern markets where it was commanding a large price. Young Hay found the Wilhelms plowing in the field. They thought that they were a little short of the amount desired, and they sent the boy back to Hostetler's to get $1000. When he came back to the Wilhelms, they had the money counted out on the bed between them. The strange thing was that they entrusted the money to a boy, and without note or other security, save the integrity of the borrower.
The chief characteristics of the Wilhelms, and the traits that made them to be respected and honored among a pioneer mountain people, stand in sharp contrast to the description that accompanies their names as benefactors of a Christian college. As a matter of fact they were plain, blunt men, large of stature, muscular, coarse and illiterate. By their strength they awed their employees into submission and raised the astonishment of their neighbors to admiration. It is said of one of the Wilhelms, that in a single day he licked four different men. Benjamin was the most powerful of them all. His long suit was hay pitching. In those days when the whiskey jug was as necessary to haymaking as a pitch fork, the Wilhelms were wont to take a barrel of whiskey with them when they went to the Glade to make hay. The Glade was on Negro Mountain and was overgrown with tall native grass. They drove four horses to the wagon; two men loaded and two pitched. On one occasion a new hand appeared on the job, who boasted of his strength and endurance. Peter decided to try him out and took his place on the wagon. Benjamin pitched on the one side and the new man on the other. The teams started down between the rows of shocks and kept going. Benjamin, with perfect ease, pitched his side and kept up with the wagon. The new man was soon far behind, and was compelled to call a halt. Benjamin won the day and his friend had no more to say on the subject. The Wilhelms were not only giants in strength but they were notoriously profane. They habitually emphasized their speech with oaths. While we hear nothing of their intoxication, it is true that they drank vast quantities of whiskey. They were men also of strong prejudices, holding in contempt alike, the Dunkards and the Abolitionists. At times they quarrelled among themselves, and in one instance two members of the family refused to exchange words for a period of two years.
The Wilhelms were noted for their generosity. During their life-time, attendance upon public worship was encouraged by the fact that those who came from a distance were not permitted to return to their homes until their hunger was satisfied. It was no uncommon occurrence for nearly the whole congregation to adjourn to the homes of the Wilhelms for dinner.
The Wilhelms made the store of Peter S. Hay their loafing place. On one occasion Mr. Hay suggested to Peter that St. Paul's should give Pastor Heilman a donation. That was enough. Word was passed around to all the members. Peter led the procession with a four-horse load of hay; another member a load of coal; another, oats and corn; and so on down to the least of them. Mrs. Heilman happened to be in the store as the procession passed by and she inquired who was moving. A conservative estimate placed the value of the donation at $150.
The liberality of the Wilhelms is further evidenced by the following account, which Mr. J. M. Hay was wont to relate with a great deal of delight. Mr. Hay thought to remember his pastor at butchering time with some fresh sausage and spare ribs; and as he was about to present his donation, to his suprise and embarrassment, one of the Wilhelms walked in with a whole hog for his pastor.
On one occasion, the women of the church decided to make a quilt for the pastor. The plan was for each of the women to furnish a patch. When Polly was approached on the subject, she exclaimed:
"A patch! a patch! why I'll give a quilt"; whereupon she went to her clothes-press and brought out a fine wool coverlet.
The Wilhelms held their pastors in high regard, and particularly Rev. A. B. Koplin. On the corner of the lot across from the white church they built a stable for the pastor's horse; and singularly enough one of the members at the next service inquired whose smoke house the building was.
It set hard with the Wilhelms when Pastor Koplin resigned his work to go elsewhere. They were especially grieved that opposition to Mr. Koplin had arisen in the town congregation. In this connection, Peter, speaking in German in the presence of young Bockes remarked: "Well, if Salisbury won't have Koplin any longer, then the bell won't play and the organ won't ring." Young Bockes laughed. "You * * * fool", said Peter, "what's the matter with you?"
The Wilhelms could not endure the Dunkards, who were at that time a thriving sect in this locality. Their odium dates from a law-suit with one John Peck, whom they accused of swearing to a lie in order to win his case. Whether their prejudices arose from the perfidy of one man or from the stress that the Dunkards placed on immersion, cannot be said. At any rate, the Wilhelms had no use for the Dunkards; and Peter is known to have given, on one occasion at least, twenty-five dollars to Pastor Koplin to go back in the mountain and hold a joint debate with the Dunkard preachers on the subject of immersion. Pastor Koplin knew too well the feeling of his parishioners on this subject, and often preached against immersion to the great delight of the Wilhelms. After a remarkable sermon of this kind, Peter approached his pastor with some word of approval. Mr. Koplin is reported to have hinted that if he had some money to buy books, he thought he could handle the Dunkards a little more ably. It is unnecessary to state that the money was forthcoming.
That the Wilhelms were slave-holders, is not certain. The recollection of the oldest citizens does not fully establish this point. Mr. Wm. H. Hay thinks that the colored help that the Wilhelms employed were run-a-way slaves, who found these people kindly disposed toward them. However, the Wilhelms were bitter against the Abolitionists, and it would have been inconsistent for them to have offered a refuge for run-a-ways. The evidence seems to indicate that, before the war, certain negroes were held as slaves, and, as their names were Freeman, that they gained their freedom with the Proclamation of President Lincoln, and continued to live upon the Wilhelm estates.
Three names come down to us: Black Mose, Yellow Jane and Blue Bill. The last named lived in a little shack back toward the mountain on the farm now owned by Howard Maust, and lost his life when his cabin burned. Black Mose and Yellow Jane lived with their mother in a little shack, the site of which is near the house of Mr. Ben Winters. Here the mother died and was buried in a wood nearby. Black Mose and Yellow Jane were employed by Abraham Wilhelm, the former upon the farm and the latter as a house-hold domestic. Abraham, in his will, remembered Black Mose with $400, and Yellow Jane with $300. After the death of Abraham, they found employment with other people; Black Mose eventually finding his way to the poor-house where he died. Yellow Jane continued as a domestic in the neighborhood of the Center (Lutheran) Church, where she died and lies buried in the adjoining church-yard.
During the life time of the Wilhelms, these worthy people paid nearly all the pastor's salary. After their death, and that of David Hay and Reuben Kretchman, the congregation suddenly found itself under a load of responsibility. New leadership arose in the person of J. M. Hay, who proceeded to apportion himself, N. D. Hay, Wm. H. Hay and A. C. Lepley, each $25 toward the salary. Others were asked to give smaller amounts, as they were able. On his collecting tours Mr. Hay remarked that he had no more interesting contributor than Mrs. Samuel Maust, who always had her money stowed away in a cup in the cupboard.
Abraham died February 14, 1861 at the age of 72 and was the first to be buried in the St. Paul's cemetery. He left the major part of his property by will, to Benjamin, Peter, Polly and Elizabeth. Catherine had preceded him to her eternal rest and was interred at Salisbury. To Hester and Hannah, he willed one dollar each. He named as his executors, his "trusty friends", David Hay and Reuben
Elizabeth died on September 7, 1866, at the age of 72. Her body was interred in the Salisbury graveyard, but was subsequently removed to St. Paul.
Benjamin died September 17, 1873, at the age of 80 years, two months and nine days. His body was carried across the fields, a distance of half a mile, to the cemetery. In his will he gave direction for his funeral, requesting burial in the cemetery at St. Paul, according to the rites and ceremonies of the Reformed Church. Prior to his death he conveyed all his lands in Somerset and Allegheny
counties to Peter for the consideration of ten dollars; what property he held in common with Polly, he conveyed to her for one dollar. His "esteemed friends", Samuel Compton and William J. Baer, were named as executors.
Peter died March 13, 1878, at the age of 78 years, eight months and five days. His sickness was of short duration. Peter was worried over the condition of his friend and advisor, David Hay, who was confined to his bed by a lingering illness. Peter remarked that he would have no business advisor, if Mr. Hay were taken. Peter's end was nearer than he knew. He soon took to his bed, made a will in which he left the bulk of his property to Franklin and Marshall College and the Theological Seminary, and died in less than a calendar month thereafter. His will and the controversy that it occasioned forms another chapter in this history.
The funeral was regarded as elaborate for the times. The services of an undertaker was called, who adorned his body with a collar and neck-tie, quite unlike his habit, and carried his remains in a hearse, which was an inovation in this section.
Polly was now alone in the world. Hester married John Griffith and moved to Allegheny[sic] county, Maryland. Hannah married Frederick Smith and took up her residence in Preston county, West Virginia. These too were now deceased; and they had never been very agreeable to the other members of the family, especially Hester, on account of her husband, whom they disliked. After the death of Peter, it was necessary for Polly to find a home among strangers. Jeremiah Folk was living on the Abraham Wilhelm farm and consented to care for Polly during the rest of her days. Polly could not console herself and was often seen on the porch, looking off in the distance and crying out: "Pater, Pater!" She died November 25, 1882, at the age of 85, her death being caused by falling down stairs and breaking her neck.