Leonard Rieth, Pioneer
Six years before Conrad Weiser migrated from the Schoharie settlement in New York to make his home in Tulpehocken, Leonard Rieth led a band of 33 families into the broad valley that forms between the Blue and South mountains. In paying tribute to Conrad Weiser we sometimes forget that others shared the glory of those early years and Leonard Rieth was one of them.
Three Rieth brothers, Adam, Michael, and Leonhard, were members of the group of distressed Palatines who found their way to New York province in 1710 after suffering terrible hardships. For some time there was doubt about the name Rieth, because it did not appear on the printed lists of Palatines but recent research along these lines reveal that scholars misread the Niederlandish script on the original records of the ship lists of Palatines being transported from Rotterdam to London in 1709. The Rieth’s were among them but the first letter of the name was interpreted as a V instead of an R.
Leonhard Rieth was naturalized at Albany in 1715. His naturalization papers bore the signatures of two prominent names in New York, namely those of Peter Schuyler and Phillip Livingstone. When the trek to Pennsylvania began, in 1723, Leonhard was the acknowledged leader of the vanguard of Tulpehocken settlers. He took up 1,000 acres of land where the Millbach creek joins with the Tulpehocken, near present-day Stouchsburg. His house was built about a quarter of a mile below the junction of the two streams.
The name Rieth has been perpetuated in Berks history, largely through the erection of Rieth, or Reed Church in 1727. The original church the oldest Lutheran church outside of Philadelphia, stood upon a rising slop of land north of the Tulpehocken, on land donated by the Rieth’s. The churchyard is still there and the John Reed family of Stouchsburg, direct descendants of Leonhard Rieth are actively interested in maintaining the present Reed’s Church in Stouchsburg.
The death of Leonhard Rieth was one of the most tragic events in the early history of the Tulpehocken colony. He had erected a gristmill on the north bank of the Tulpehocken, not far from the junction of the two creeks. One day in February, 1747, Leonhard Rieth was caught in the cog-wheels of his mill and his body was terrible mangled. The first duty of the new clergyman at Tulpehocken, the youthful Rev. J.N. Kurtz, was to officiate at Rieth’s funeral. At the time there was great deal of dissension in the congregation at Rieth’s church and one of the factions tried to prevent the new pastor from performing his solemn duties.