Render Unto Caesar
Rev. John Henry Helfrich, a clergyman of the Reformed faith, served the congregations in Berks and Lehigh Counties from 1772 to 1810. As an itinerant pastor he ministered to his flocks in Wissenberg, Lowhill and Kutztown.
In 1799 the Fries rebellion broke out in the Eastern counties of Pennsylvania. Many of Rev. Helfrich’s communicants were involved in the organized resistance to authority which brought the federal troops into Pennsylvania. One day when the pastor was returning from a funeral service in Upper Milford Township, Montgomery County, he was forced to pass the encampment of the troops. The following is quoted from Harbaugh’s “Lives of the (Church) Fathers”:
The Army captain called out:
Mr. Helfrich gave his name. Not knowing him personally the officer continued:
“What is your business?”
“I preach the gospel and serve my god.”
“Do you also serve your country?”
“My God I serve first, and then also my country.”
“How are you disposed towards the present administration?”
“Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.” The officer was satisfied.
The causes of the Fries uprising grew out of some extremely unpopular acts of the John Adams presidential administration. Led by some radicals the Pennsylvania German people of Montgomery, Northhampton (Lehigh) and a few in Berks, had insurrected against the government and resisted the federal marshal when he tried to arrest the offenders. This told by way of explaining the captain’s last question to Helfrich.
The rebel leaders were captured and taken to Easton for trial. Reverend Helfrich attended their trial and pleaded for the acquittal, maintaining that the country folk were misled by “wily leaders.” Even the Fries and some of his henchmen were sentenced to death as traitors, their lives were spared later by a pardon from the President of the United States after a conference with his cabinet. It is believed that the parson’s pleas, entered into the minutes of the trial, were influential in bringing about the federal pardon.
The pastor had served his God and his country too.