St. Michaelis and Zion
Among the early church records of Pennsylvania, none, with the possible exception of Christ church, are more interesting, or of greater value to the historical student and genealogist, than those of German Lutheran congregation of the city of Philadelphia, as they afford us an insight into the history, trials, and struggles of the great part of the Germans who settled or sojourned in or near the capitol of the Province.
Pennsylvania German Church Records. Vol. I. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983), pp. 486-490. Reproduced on Brĝderbund Software's Family Archive CD #130 (Family History: Pennsylvania German Church Records, 1729-1870).
Many names are here recorded which are not to be found elsewhere, except possibly among the lists of arrivals, published by the State, and which in many cases are vague and unsatisfactory. Here we find in many instances the record and condition of the emigrant, whose descendants in some cases occupy positions of high honor in the community.
A careful analysis of these entries will show us, amongst these early pioneers, the names of many who, though doubtless in comparatively humble circumstances, were yet of sterling worth, and of many others who might have boasted an honorable family descent had they seen fit to do so, but whatever their rank, station or means, all came with one purpose, not on commercial speculation, but with the avowed intention of founding in the western world a home for themselves and posterity.How well they did this, and the proud position occupied at the present day by many of their descendants, is a matter of history, acknowledged by all writers except such as are hopelessly blinded by sectional prejudice or ignorance, or perhaps both.
The present record, brought to your notice, commencing with the year 1745, in the careful systematic hand of Pastor Mühlenberg, is unfortunately not the oldest record of the Philadelphia congregation. There are still two other books relating to the German Evangelical Lutheran congregation in Philadelphia, which date back to 1733. One of these commenced by Pastor J. C. Stoever, is a list of communicants from 1733-1741, giving also the receipts and expenditures of the congregation, and it is now in possession of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The other one, a record giving a list of baptisms prior to 1742, was still in possession of the congregation at the time of its centennial celebration in 1843. This fact is substantiated by a memorandum by the father of the present writer, who was then in the corporation or vestry. This book cannot now be found, and does not appear to be in
PULPIT OF OLD ST. MICHAELIS CHURCH IN PHILADELPHIA. BUILT 1743--DEMOLISHED 1870. Possession of the Zion congregation. However, it is hoped that it may yet be brought to light.
The Philadelphia congregation, after its re-organization by Pastor Mühlenberg in 1743, was known as the German Ev. Luth. St. Michaelis congregation, until the building of the large church at the corner of Fourth and Cherry streets, in 1766, when the corporate title became The German Lutheran Congregation in and near the City of Philadelphia in the Province of Pennsylvania.
The parent (St. Michaelis) church stood at the North-East corner of Fifth Street and Apple Tree Alley, a small thorough-fare north of Arch street, a location at that time well out of town. The lot extended northwards to Cherry (Alley) Street, and was used for burial purposes. This was known as Der St. Michaelis Kirchhof, where such members were buried as could afford to pay for their graves; the poorer ones found a resting place in den Allgemeinen Kirchhof as it is called in the old records (Pastor's Field). The site of this "General Burying Ground" of days gone by is now the beautiful Washington Square, in the very heart of Philadelphia, a spot still covered by soft green sward, while the three consecrated God's Acres1 of the congregation, as well as the sites of the two historic churches, have been obliterated, and the ground covered by commercial establishments.
In comparing the various entries, one is struck with the great mortality among the young children of the Germans in the early days of our Province. As an illustration, during the year 1769, 340 children were baptised. The same record shows 211 burials, the majority of which were children under one year old. This infant mortality was not the least of the trials endured by the early pioneers.2
As a curious custom of the times, the writer will mention that the pastors who died during their incumbency were buried within the church, in front of the altar, while such of their children or family who died were buried within the vestibules.
The records here presented have been carefully copied, collated and arranged, and when complete will prove a valuable addition to the history of our Commonwealth.JULIUS F. SACHSE.
1 The grave-yard beside the church served the congregation until 1759, about seven hundred human bodies having been buried within that small space. In the latter year another piece of land was bought upon the opposite side of Cherry street. This is now covered by Horstmann's factory. In this small piece of ground, over twenty-five hundred human bodies were interred within the next sixteen years. The third or large grave-yard, between Race and Vine and Eighth and Franklin streets, was purchased in 1776, and served the congregation until about the year 1866, when the ground was sold and used for commercial purposes. The present Zion church is built upon a part of this ground.
2 The same condition is shown by the Moravian records.