Scholla: Building Towns in Berks

Building Towns in Berks

Most of the older towns of Berks County had their beginnings during the middle of the 18th century. Just as land hunger sometimes grips whole communities and sends land values into a spiral, so there are periods when people want to found towns. This is the account of the efforts to build three towns in Berks.

In 1756, the soldiers stationed at Fort Henry in Bethel Township planned to build a town near the spot where the Seven Star Hotel now stands on Route 83. It was to be known as Snavely, because the building lots were cut out of Hannes Schnabele’s farm. Twenty lots were surveyed and a quit-rent of seven shillings was fixed as the price. In a letter from Colonel Busse of Reading to Conrad Weiser, January, 1757, the information is supplied that the soldiers at another fort planned to lay out a town on Eperecht’s farm. We do not know where that was. Can anyone supply the information?

The third account has to do with the founding of Reading. Conrad Weiser, as one of the commissioners for the town to built on the widow Finney Farm (now Reading), had it as his duty to see to it that purchasers of lots erected houses upon them within the stipulated period of time. His methods were not always tactful but they got results. On March 16, 1752, Richard Peters informed Thomas Penn as follows:

“It is very fortunate that I gave the management of that town (Reading) to Conrad whose imperiousness has been of great service, for they build regularly, or if they don’t, or are in any way abusing, Conrad deals about his blows without any ceremony and down drops the man who dares to resist his ponderous arm. But with all I must say that it is guided by good sense and a necessary fortitude.

Along this line, it is interesting to note one of Weiser’s own statements in which he reveals his methods. Two men, Jacob Heller and Michael Greter, both for lot No. 310 in Reading. “I gave Jacob Heller the return,” says Weiser in a letter to Richard Peters, “and ordered him to go and get a patent or be kicked – which he would (have been), I was then quite out of humor.” Decidedly.

Reading, PA looking over the Lebanon Valley. Source:
Reading, PA looking over the Lebanon Valley. Source:

Scholla: Sergt. Henry G. Brehm, Hero

Sergt. Henry G. Brehm, Hero

High in the annals of American heroism stands the name of Sergeant Jasper, who rescued the drooping American flag from the bastions of Fort Moultrie. None the less glorious  and even more spectacular is the record of devotion to the flag established by Sergt. Henry G. Brehm, of Myerstown, PA, on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg. With his companions, F.M. Lehman, John Friddel, H.H. Spayd, all of Myerstwon, and Fred Hoffman of Newmanstown, he was the color bearer for the 149th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers. Not only did these men risk their lives for the defense of the colors but by their brave deeds saved a regiment from annihilation.

Sergeant Brehm, a lineal descendant of Conrad Weiser, gave his life in the performance of a strategic maneuver by which the color guards of the regiment were deployed in a detached position from the regiment in order to confuse a superior enemy force. Most of the other members of the guard were severely wounded. The flags were finally lost, but the regiment was saved. In performing this service Brehm and his Lebanon County men acted with courage greatly in excess of the line of duty.

Sixty-four guns of the confederate line enfiladed and enveloped both wings of the Federal lines during the first encounter at Gettysburg. Col. Roy Stone, commander of the 149th Regiment of Volunteers from Pennsylvania decided upon a ruse to draw off the enemy fire. Captain Daniel Bassler, also of Myerstown, was instructed to detach the color guard from his company and deploy it in such a manner that it would appear that the regiment had changed its position. Brehm carried the Stars and Stripes and Lebanon held the state flag high as the six men took their hazardous positions drawing the enemy fire upon themselves.

Hoffman was sent back to the headquarters to report the perilous position of the color guard. While he was away the five staunch defenders were startled by the “rebel yell, “Yip-e-e-e.” Rising from hidden positions in a wheat field a body of southerners attacked the five Lebanon soldiers. One Confederate clutched at the national flag but Brehm felled him with one well aimed blow. Another Southerner tried to snatch away the flag while Brehm was off balance after the fisticuff. Friddell aimed and shot this enemy while Hammel accounted for another. When Brehm regained his balance the Union men started to run to return to their regiment. Hoffman had not returned, he had not been able to find the officers. Stone had been seriously wounded in the meantime.

In their haste to return to the regiment the color guard ran right into the enemy ranks. In the smoke of the battle that had mistaken the approaching column. It was too late to turn back and therefore, carrying the two standards high the Lebanon men plunged right through the Confederate line, the startled enemy withholding fire or attack until they realized what had happened. In the pursuit which followed Brehm was shot, the ball entering his shoulder under the blade; Spayd was shot through the thigh and Lehman got a bullet in his leg. The enemy captured the flag and wounded prisoners. Brehm lingered for a few weeks as an exchange prisoner in a Philadelphia Hospital and then succumbed. His body was brought back to Myerstown and buried there with solemn rites. The others recovered.

After the war it was learned from Confederate sources that the ruse had accomplished two purposes instead of one. The appearance of the colors in a detached position had led the enemy to think that another contingent of Federal troops had come upon the scene and fearing that such arrivals gave the Union forces superiority in numbers they decided against a charge on the battered 149th.

Henry G. Brehm. Photo Courtesy of the Myerstown Community Library.
Henry G. Brehm. Photo Courtesy of the Myerstown Community Library.
Members of the 149th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Courtesy of the Lebanon County Historical Society.
Members of the 149th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Courtesy of the Lebanon County Historical Society.

Scholla: Leonard Rieth, Pioneer June 1942

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.

Zion's and St. John's Reed Church, Stouchsburg, PA. Built on land donated by Leonhart Rieth.
Zion’s and St. John’s Reed Church, Stouchsburg, PA. Built on land donated by Leonhart Rieth.

Scholla: Isle of Que by Arthur D. Graeff

Graeff , Arthur D Scholla: Isle of Que. Reading Times. 11/4/1940

The Isle of Que, situated near Selinsgrove, in the Susquehanna River was at one time the property of Conrad Weiser. There is an interesting legend connected with the transaction by which he became the owner. According to the tradition Weiser and his boon companion, the Indian, Schickallemy, were resting along the banks of the Susquehanna when the sachem broke the silence:

“Friend Conrad” he said, glancing at the musket which the white man carried, “I had a dream last night and I dreamt that you made me a present of that musket.”

Without a moment’s hesitation Weiser handed the weapon to the chieftan bestowing it upon him with an eloquent speech of presentation.

A few moments later Weiser spoke  to Shickallemy: “My good friend I, too had a dream last night.” And pointing to the Isle of Que, he continued: “I dreamed that you made me a present of that Island.”

Not to be outdone in gallantry Schickallemy at once agreed to the transfer of possession and Weiser became the owner of the Island of Que.

A few moments of silence ensued, when the Maqua chieftan spoke again: “Friend Conrad, Let us dream no more!”

Selinsgrove and the Isle of Que were originally settled by immigrants from Berks County who poured over the Blue Mountains and occupied what is now Snyder County before it was purchased from the Indians. The first settler of the region was George Gabriel.

The isle was the scene of the apprehension of one of the most notorious brigands of colonial times. Joseph Disenberry perpetrated many major crimes in the young settlement along the Susquehanna during the periods of the Revolutionary War. After running afoul the law it was his custom to taunt the officers who were trying to capture him. He took daring risks but somehow always eluded their clutches until in 1784 he was captured on the Isle of Que by a party which was led by George Kremer. This is the same George Kremer who 40 years later as a member of congress from Snyder County rose from his seat in the House of Representatives and delivered an address to that august body in the Pennsylvania German Dialect. John Randolph of Virginia, who delighted in delivering orations in Latin, rose to protest against the use of dialect in the halls of Congress. Kremer retorted:

“If the gentleman from Virginia is permitted to speak in a dead language, I should be permitted to speak in a live one.

A jury of 12 tried Disenberry. It included such famous Pennsyvania Germans of the colonial times as Peter Hosterman, Adam and Michael Groff, scouts. The sheriff was the well know Henry Antes. The verdict rendered was one of the most curious in legal history.

The prisoner was to have 39 lashes; stand in the pillory for one hour; to have his ears cut off and nailed to the post, together with a fine and imprisonment….. Bei ‘N Ewich Yaeger

Notes from the Archivist: The correct spelling of the thief’s name is Joseph Disberry. His intriguing story can be found in The Historical Record of Wyoming Valley Volume 8. pages 349-351. Edited by F.C. Johnson 1899. This book is available free online through google books.