Home Life of German Settlers

From:  "History of Frederick County"
by T.J.C. Williams and Folger McKinsey
Published 1910, L.R. Titsworth & Co.
Frederick County, Maryland


Early German Settlers

"The settlement of the Germans in Western Maryland in Colonial times," said Mr. L. P. Henninghausen, President of the German Society of Baltimore, "was undoubtedly an important factor in the development and history of our state. They not only increased the numbers of our inhabitants, but brought new industries and arts, intelligence and learning, indomitable perseverance and energy, but above all sturdy arms, an immense working capacity and frugal, simple habits. They brought with them their school teachers and their pastors, and one of their first acts was to erect a school house and have their children taught in the principles of christianity and the useful arts of life. From them have sprung many illustrious men, who rendered our nation great services in times of war and peace, in the councils of the nation, on the judicial bench, in schools and colleges and in every other department of life. They turned the wilderness of Frederick county of the year 1730 into a blooming garden, so that in the year 1790 Frederick county was the largest wheat producing county in the United States."

Among the pioneer German families we find the following names.

Ahalt, Anders, Albaugh, Bartgis, Birely, Butler, Brandenburg, Biser, Baer, Brengle, Brunner, Baker, Bowlus, Baltzell, Bentz, Beatly, Blessing, Buhrman, Bushman, Bussard, Buckey, Burkhart, Clemson, Cronise, Cramer, Culler, Coblentz, Creager, Dudderar, Donsife, Devilbiss, Eyler, Etzler, Ensor, Ecker, Eichelberger, Flickinger, Firor, Grossnickle, Gaver, Getzendanner, Houck, Hoffman, Holtz, Harbaugh, Hauver, Hargett, Hightman, Holbrunner, Harshman, Hoover, Haugh, Kunkel, Kolb, Kefauver, Kepler, Kemp, Krise, Kessler, Koogle, Leatherman, Lorentz, Lakin, Moberly, Mayer, Markell, Miller, Mantz, Motter, Main, Nicodemus, Nusbaum, Naill, Poe, Routzahn, Ritter, Ramsburg, Rouzer, Rudy, Reich, Shellman, Schlosser, Schwearengen, Shafer, Sheffer, Steiner, Shriver, Schley, Smith, Seiss, Stauffer, Snouffer, Scholl, Smeltzer, Shuff, Stottlemyer, Snook, Stitely, Springer, Thomas, Troxell, Winebrenner, Worman, Weller, Wilhide, Wetzel, Wolfe, Williams, Zimmerman, Zollinger.

Note:  Our family is descended from the marriage of  William Henry Brandenburg  and  Catherine Bussard.

Purchasing a Pastor

The early German settlers in Maryland were an intensely religious people and they brought many forms of religion to America with which the English speaking people were unfamiliar.

Among the curiosities of the Colonial times was the purchase of a pastor by a Lutheran congregation at York, Pennsylvania. He was the Reverend Samuel Schwerdfeger. Schwerdfeger was raised an orphan in Neustadt, in Bavaria and was a graduate of the University of Erlangen. He studied law and theology. Being very poor he was desirous to go to the New World and fell into the hands of "emigrant runners" who shipped him as a redemptioner to Baltimore. He arrived there in the spring of 1753 and was offered for sale for a term of years to pay his passage. He was advertised as "a studious theologian."

The Lutheran congregation at York, being at the time in a contest against their old pastor, the Rev. Mr. Schaum, hearing of this bargain, concluded to buy Mr. Schwerdfeger as their pastor, which they did. This pastor subsequently came to the Lutheran church in Frederick, having been sent by the Pennsylvania Synod.

Home Life

The home life of the German settlers was simple, and regular. There were few drones among them. They went to bed early and arose early in the morning. They did not turn night into day. However prosperous a farmer might be, however valuable a farm he might own, his sons worked in the field and his daughters aided their mother in the household work.

Nor was the work of the household confined to mere cooking and cleaning. The early settlers of Frederick County were separated by a considerable distance from market and the roads were bad. They therefore practiced many domestic arts and industries. The women carded wool, spun it into yarn, weaved it upon the home loom into excellent and substantial fabrics, which were dyed and made into garments for the whole family by the wife and daughters of the farmer. The linsey for the women's dresses was dyed in bright colors and a frock or a suit of clothes would last for a long time. When finally it did wear out, and when the cotton or linen undergarment became unserviceable it was converted into "carpet rags" and woven into carpets of brilliant colors and of substantial quality. Every farm house had its spinning wheel and many had a loom as well. Flax was cultivated and the women made their own linen as well as woolen goods.

Big factories and machinery had not, in those days, driven the independent mechanic out of business. Every community had its wagon-maker, its shoemaker, its blacksmith, its tinker, its plowmaker, its cabinetmaker.

There was, however, but little for the thrifty farmer to buy. His wheat was ground into flour at the neighboring mill, the miller taking his toll. The flour was baked into bread in the great bake oven which stood outside the kitchen. The bottom of the oven was a large, flat stone or an iron plate and over this was built an arch of stone, walled at the back and with an iron door in front. The fire for baking was made within the oven and when the oven became sufficiently heated the coals and ashes were removed with a scraper, the bottom plate or stone brushed clean and then the bread or pies to be baked were put in with a paddle shaped implement. The door was then closed and the baking was perfect. The women were famous as good housekeepers and provided abundant larders, leaving little necessity to buy food.

Some of the early housekeeping customs have come down to the present time. At an early time in its history Frederick County was liberally provided with apple orchards. In the Autumn the apples were gathered and great quantities of cider were made. Much of this cider, while it was sweet, was used for making the winter's supply of "apple butter," a dainty for which Western Maryland has always been famous. For making the "butter" great copper kettles, large enough to contain thirty or forty gallons of cider, are used. A kettle is filled about half full of sweet cider and put over a fire to boil. Into the boiling cider a quantity of apples, pared and cut into small pieces is poured and all boiled together and stirred constantly until after many hours it comes to the proper consistency, when it is put into earthen or stone crocks, each holding about a gallon, and placed upon the shelves of the store room for family use. The paring and slicing the apples was in early years, indeed until lately, made the occasion of a frolic. A supper would be prepared and a number of young people of both sexes would be invited to the supper and to do the work. In addition to the supper and the work there was much merry-making. These affairs were called "Schnitzing Bees" - schnitzen being the name for the sliced apples. "Saur kraut" and other German dishes have always been popular and abundantly provided.

The digging of wells through the thick ribbed rock of Frederick County, before the days of the artesian wells, was a slow and costly work. Therefore the early settlers built their houses close to streams and springs where abundant water was accessible. The first houses were built of logs and as the people became more prosperous dwellings of brick or stone, such as we have them now on so many of the farms and in so many of the older towns and villages, were erected. The early citizens made the erection of a large and suitable barn, for the shelter of their live stock and as a store house for crops, their first care. The barns were almost always more imposing buildings than the farm house. They were in the early times built of logs and later of hewn logs, weatherboarded or made of stone. They are known as Switzer barns and in any community, where many of these are seen it may be concluded that the population is of the German stock. The "raising" of a barn was the occasion of a general gathering of the people of a community, where the arduous work was followed by a dinner and a frolic.

Indeed a great deal of work was accomplished by turning the labor into a frolic. There were "husking bees", where the year's corn crop was shucked and "quilting bees," where the gaudy colored bed quilts which are still present in some families, were made. Christmas was a time of general joy and good cheer, of big fires and family gatherings. Every family had its flock of geese, whose plumage supplied the great feather beds which were uniformly used. The climate of Frederick County is severe in winter and sleeping rooms were seldom warmed. Hence the necessity for warmer beds and abundant covers.

The library of the farm houses of the pioneers was not extensive. It consisted largely of the Bible and hymn book, printed in German language, and the German almanac. The latter was a book of constant reference. It told the time of sunrise and sunset by which clocks were set. Few had watches. It was also consulted for the phases of the moon, by which much of the farm work was regulated, it being the constant practice to do certain work in the dark of the moon and other work on the light of the moon. Certain vegetables had to be planted on the "up-going" and others on the "down-going." There was an appropriate phase of the moon for nailing shingles on and doing other work and no one questioned the influence of the moon on the weather.

The English and the German languages were spoken side by side in Frederick County, but the former gradually prevailed and now the use of the latter has ceased. It survived longest in the German churches of the Reformed and Lutheran faith. But for many years it was used in these churches, not because the congregation could not understand English, but because of their native conservatism and opposition to change in old habits and customs. Finally and gradually German became unintelligible to the younger people and its use had to be abandoned altogether. But there are today in the county many large Bibles printed in German, brought with the forefathers of the present owners from their fatherland, and which are still in use by the older people.