A Colonial Charlatan
This sketch is intended to reveal the devious ways by which the plodding student arrives at truth and the thrills that come as rewards.
Many years ago we came upon the account of Gustav Mittelberger’s “Travels in Pennsylvania in 1754,” in which he revealed that a preacher in Oley, Berks County, gave a disgusting performance. Betting that he could preach in such a way that those in front of him would weep while those behind him would laughed, the self-styled clergyman talked of dolorous matters while he made disgusting gestures with his hands behind his back. Mittelberger did not name the offender and, consequently, we were in no position to clear any of the men of the cloth who served Oley congregations.
Less than ten years ago, in the writings of the Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, we learned that the uncouth one was an imposter who called himself a Prince of Wurtemberg. According to the Rev. Mr. Muhlenberg the man, described as a “vicious vagabond,” was named Charles Rudolph, but the worthy divine had his doubts as to whether this was the man’s real name or not. According to the great Lutheran pastor this scoundrel had escaped the gallows in Georgia by stealing a boat and rowing to Spanish territory. From there he had drifted into Pennsylvania.
Now we think we have identified the imposter as one Earl Ludwig. In Christopher Saur’s newspaper of August 16, 1753, we find the German editor warning his readers against the manchinations of one Earl Ludwig who called himself the Prince of Wurtemberg. According to Saur, the blackguard was a horse thief, a seducer of young girls and a polygamist, as well as an imposter in the black cloth of clergy.
Saur records how Sebastian Zimmerman, of Maxatawny, Berks County, foiled an attempt of the “Prince” to seduce the daughter of the house. Two of the men of the Zimmerman family waited at the trysting place and as he approached “they attacked him with horse-whips and hog-cudgels and thrashed his priestly skin.”
The “Prince” was a learned person, familiar with Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and able to preach in either English or German. He strolled about the Berks countryside performing marriages ceremonies and baptizing children with holy water and getting drunk on firewater.
One suspicious magistrate asked Ludwig to show him his “Ducal star.” The feudal emblem which marked the rank he claimed, but Ludwig replied that “he wore not the star on his breast, but beneath, not above, but below.” By such feats of specious talk he extricated himself from tight spots.
In warning the public against the man the editor, described him as “not large of stature, has a round face at times clothes himself in black so that the prospects should have more respect for him . . . when he begins to preach he presents himself and looks upon things as if he himself believed in what he preaches. It is well known that he cannot stand still, or sit quietly, nor remain silent for a long time.”
Thus, by three links, we have established the chain by which we know who was referred to as the lout who preached at Oley, for Saur includes that incident in his account of Ludwig, and knowing, we can now absolve all of the respectable men of God who regularly served the devout peoples of the Oley Valley in colonial days.