The following account is translated from the Fifth Volume of Der Deutsche Pioneer, published in November 1873. It was written originally in the German and translated for this column by Dr. Preston A. Barba, of Muhlenberg College. The story belongs to Berks and Lebanon counties.
Although many inhabitants of Reading, the county seat of Berks County in Pennsylvania, sneer and smile scornfully when the village of Womelsdorf is mentioned, and even dislike to visit the same, these are indeed prejudices, for surely there is no other rural village in old Berks, which possesses more natural beauty, and more that is interesting and historical, especially for the German inhabitants, than the village of Womelsdorf.
To the stranger who has not visited our village I wish to say that it is situated on an elevation in the best, most fruitful and healthful part of the Lebanon Valley. Nature has adorned it with the most beautiful surroundings and hemmed it in with South and Blue Mountains.
Near Womelsdorf lies the grave of Conrad Weiser, that German who was so useful to this country as an interpreter during the wild wars with the Indians and French, who rescued the lives and property of hundreds of settlers. His descendants, the Weisers and the Muhlenbergs, continue to serve their country to this day and have shown themselves worthy of their ancestry. A short distance from the grave of this good man is situated the large, beautiful, and charitable orphanage. And in the village itself stood, up to a short time ago, the house in which the great Washington, on the occasion of his visit to Weiser’s grave in 1797, spent right happy hours with his Reading friends.
After passing the last houses in Womelsdorf, in a westerly direction, one sees a little mound, in which a locust tree stands. According to the legend the remains of the last Indian in Berks County are said to rest there. The legend, which seems to be founded upon truth, lingers today only in the mouths of a very few, and I give it here as it was told to me several years ago by a venerable old pastor living in Stouchsburg.
Indian Today 3/7/1945
In the years 1801-1802 one still frequently met an old Indian, who roamed about in the vincinity of Womelsdorf, about in the vicinity of Womelsdorf, Newmanstown and along the Millbach. They called him Toby, and since he was quiet and peaceful old man, who did not appropriate other people’s possessions, and who also spoke Pennsylvania German fluently, he was welcome wherever he came. He accepted food and drink gratefully, but no one could persuade him to spend the night in a house, not even in the coldest winter. Also he sought as much as possible to pay for what he received by making himself useful after his own manner. He gathered healing herbs, brought bear fat (then so much in demand), deer skins and fox pelts, fish and other articles, wherewith he believed to make his benefactors happy.
And especially did he like to carry messages, which he would deliver punctually and scrupulously so that the farmers along the Tulpehocken and Millbach and in Upper Heidelberg were, as they said, indeed happy to have such a messenger at their convenience. And woe to him who would have done Indian Toby any harm!
When according to ancient German custom, the market fairs, lasting usually two days, were held at Reading and Scheffferstown in springtime, and wehre, just as in the small German market towns of Europe, things went merrily, and wither especially the swains and the maidens streamed, then surely no one missed the opportunity of giving old Toby a “marksstick” (in those days the name for a gift); for the same Toby, they well knew, had often been the carrier of their love messages, indeed he had brought about many a happy marrige, as well as warned many another when ill fortune was in the offing!
Of his own life he related that he had been born in the Blue Mountains in the vicinity of the present village of Hamburg; that his parents had been pure, full-blooded Indians, of the tribe of the Delawares, who, when he was about ten years old, ahd started forth, with their own tribal and other Indians on the warpath to Allemangel (Albany Township).
There he was taken prisoner and brought to the Tulpehocken settlement. Since the palefaces, and especially Conrad Weiser, had treated him well, he was glad to remain there. Of his parents he had never heard again.
One frosty November day in 1802 a long funeral procession wended its way long the Tulpehocken Creek towards Womelsdorf. They were bearing the body of good old Toby, the last Indian in Berks County. He had been found dead in a barn where Fischer’s Mill now (1873) stands, and now they were bringing him to his last resting place, where he liked to tarry so much in life and where he could so often be found.
When the large number of mourning neighbors had gathered about the grave the Rev. Pastor Schulz, son-in-law of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, took it upon himself to say a few hearfelt words at the grave of this noble himan being, even though he was but an unbaptized heathen.
The grave closed over him and not an eye was void of tears. time passed and with it also the memory of good Toby. Only by accident is it granted me to revive his memory.
Your (Reading Post)
L.A. Wollenweber (Alter vom Berg)
We have reproduced this translated verison of the account of Toby, the last Indian in Berks County, as it appeared in German in 1873. Now we wonder whether any of our readers can shed additional light upon this tale. And where was Fischer’s Mill, near Stouchsburg?
Image Source: Echoes of Scholla Illustrated Choice Bits of Berks County History and Lore by Arthur D. Graeff and George M. Meiser, IX. The Berksiana Foundation. The Kutztown Publishing Compnay, Inc. 243 W. Main Street, Kutztown, Pa. 19530