The Zahniser Family includes at this writing 1,432 (1) people, the mass of whom reside in Pennsylvania and the majority in Mercer County. They are the descendants of a German boy who with his mother arrived in America in 1753.
For more than a quarter of a century there has been a demand for a history of the Connection. This has lately become much more urgent as the fourth generation was seen to be rapidly dying off and with them much valuable information would naturally be lost. The first efforts towards a comprehensive record were made by Jacob Zahniser of Jackson Township, Mercer County, who died in 1891. For a score of years he had been gathering statistics and recording facts relating to the early history, many of which he had obtained from his grandmother, the wife of the original Matthias. The manuscripts he left have been of incalculable value in the preparation of this volume which has drawn more largely from them than from any other single source.
In 1902 the present compilers began the task of securing a complete family record and putting it into shape for publication. The manuscripts mentioned above were found to contain a mass of material, but it was in no condition for publication so that it became necessary to work it over entirely in the new. As much additional data had to be secured, the first efforts were directed to this task. Blanks were sent out through the entire Connection to be filled with data for the Record of the Family. At the same time, steps were taken to find some trace of our ancestors in Germany and locate the relatives still living there.
This last undertaking, which, at the time, seemed likely to be most difficult, proved unexpectedly successful. The tradition in the family here was that our ancestor was the son of Valentine Zahneisen who married a certain Juliana Clemens and lived in a village near the city of Landau till 1753 when they sailed for America. Working on this basis, correspondence was opened with the Royal States Attorney at Landau which resulted in discovering the record of our ancestor's marriage and locating the families from which both he and his wife sprang. A letter was then addressed to "The Oldest Person named Zahneisen Living in Moersheim" to which the following reply (written of course in German) was received:
Moersheim, Sept. 18, 1902.
Most Esteemed Uncle:
In reply to the note of June 12, I will communicate to you the following in so far as I am acquainted with the facts in this matter. My name is Valentin Zahneisen, 63 years old, a master baker in Moersheim near Landau, Palatinate; also born there. The brother of my father, Valentin Zahneisen (2), emigrated to America in the beginning of the nineteenth century. He was unmarried. Of a Juliana Clemens, to whom you referred in your note, nothing is known here. Moersheim is one half hour from Ilbesheim and one hour from Leinsweiler.
This is what I am able to communicate to you in this matter. Should you have need of more particulars, please let me know. I am ready any time to give you gladly any information possible.
With greatest respect signs,
Thus after a separation of 150 years, the two branches of the family again came into touch with each other. Further correspondence followed and, in 1904, Rev. U.W. McMillan visited Landau and secured much valuable material including several photographs and establishing many things which had previously been only surmised.
The compilers have also been in touch with some of the best streams of tradition in the family. These have been used along with the sources mentioned above. The task of selecting and adjusting such a mass of material, much of it fragmentary and sometimes contradictory, can be appreciated by those only who have been engaged in similar effort. It is regrettable that these records are still so incomplete. The statistics concerning some of the older generations had not been kept and some small branches of the family cannot be located. More trying than either of these misfortunes has been the fact that some of the Connection to whom blanks were repeatedly sent have neglected to return them. Others have returned the blanks but partially filled out. All the material secured has been faithfully used so that the compilers feel that they can disclaim all responsibility for important omissions. Of course not everything furnished has been printed; many incidents have been omitted and biographies have been cut down so as to observe a fair proportion and to keep within the necessary limits of the book. Nothing, however, of real historical worth has been intentionally omitted. Doubtless some mistakes will be found; they are inevitable in a work of this kind. Great care has been used, however, to make them as few as possible, the proofs being read again and again in search of errors.
Among the most potent of the agencies that have been operative in preserving the family traditions and conserving the family spirit have been the annual reunions. The first of these was held in 1875 at the Old Homestead then owned by "Capt. James" Zahniser who, with Jacob son of Michael had been most instrumental in bringing it about. After a few years it became the custom to alternate the place of meeting between Jefferson Township and the vicinity of the original settlement. This arrangement continued till 1905, since which time they have been held at Mercer which is centrally located and easily accessible by rail. Unfortunately no record of these reunions has been kept and we are thus deprived of what might have been a valuable source for this work.
In addition to the persons mentioned above, special gratitude is due to Prof. Maurice E. Wright for translating documents.
Throughout the book, frequent mention will be found of places incompletely located. In all cases, Counties and Post Offices are in Pennsylvania unless otherwise stated and Townships mentioned are in Mercer County. In designating the various generations, Valentin Zahnisen and his wife are accounted the First, those following being denoted as Second, third, etc., in order.
We must learn again to value our domestic traditions. A pious care has preserved certain monuments of the past. So Antique dress, provincial dialects, old folk songs have found appreciative hands to gather them up before they should disappear from the earth. What a good deed to guard these crumbs of a great past, these vestiges of the souls of our ancestors! Let us do the same for our family traditions, save and guard as much as possible of the patriarchal, whatever it's form.
ORIGIN OF THE FAMILY
Nestled in the heart of a beautiful valley not far from the upper Rhine in Highland Germany, is the city of Landau. The entire region is historic; thirty miles to the north-east is Worms where Luther faced the frenzied powers of Rome; at about the same distance a little more to the east is Heidelberg the nursery of German Calvinism and where, still earlier, Jerome the companion of Huss nailed his theses to the church door; Landau itself figured in the religious conflicts of every century from the fifteenth. In the Thirty Years War it was taken eight times by Swedes, Spaniards, Imperialists and French, and to the present day it continues a stronghold of Protestantism.
At a distance of some two miles a little south and east of Landau are two villages called Ilbesheim and Moersheim. Of these the first has two or three hundred inhabitants, and the second about six hundred. Two miles farther east is another village called Billigsheim. Landau itself contains some ten thousand people.
It was from this group of villages that Zahnisers came. A century and a half have elapsed since our ancestors bade farewell to the Fatherland, but in those regions there is so little changed that one can look on conditions there today and with little difficulty imagine what they were in the middle of the eighteenth century.
The country surrounding Landau, is surpassingly beautiful and fertile and is proudly called by its inhabitants, "The Pearl of Germany." In the midst of the valley flows the little Queich and on either side the low-rolling hills are covered with patches of grain and vegetables a rod or two wide presenting some- what the appearance of a huge crazy-patch quilt. The people live in little villages grouped here and there, for land is so scarce and valuable that they have no room for fences and farm residences such as are common in America. The farmers own but a small strip of land each and this they cut up into little sections which they cultivate as an American would a garden. In the villages, the houses are built entirely of stone or brick and are almost as compactly placed as in our great cities. In most cases, the stable is joined to the house or stands but a few feet from the back door. The streets are narrow and are paved with Belgian Blocks. Most of the houses are very old, some of them having been in constant use for over four hundred years.
The people are a sturdy and thrifty class who live in a simple and, to an American, a somewhat primitive way. For use on their lands, they have no horses nor even oxen but use cows for hauling and plowing and that without even a yoke. Broad leather bands are placed around the animal's horns and connected with great chains which are attached to the cumbersome wagons. The women folk work much in the fields and are constantly to be seen driving the teams of cows or following along with bundles of grain, perhaps, on their heads. Domestic habits are as simple as those of outdoor life. One of the chief products of the region is wine which the people use quite freely. Their wines, however, are light and seem comparatively harmless. Drunkenness is not prevalent as in England and America. There is nothing of the feverish rush so characteristic of American life, but much more of sociability and neighborly cheer.
According to the tradition preserved in this country, the family sprang from a certain Valentine Zahneisen, as the name was spelled at first in America, who married Juliana Clemens and lived in a village near Landau. Two sons had been born when, in 1753, Valentine's health failed, and, by advice of his physician, they sailed for America. Our researches in Germany have not only verified this tradition, but have pretty conclusively determined that Moersheim was the village in which our ancestors resided. We have found people bearing the name, some of whom reside in Moersheim and the remainder at Billigsheim. Those at the latter place, however, seem to have gone originally from Moersheim. By courtesy of the Royal States Attorney at Landau, we secured transcripts of the records at Moersheim and at Ilbesheim. In those of the former place, the name Zahneisen occurs frequently during the last two centuries. The given name Valentine does not occur, however, prior to 1800 and then never in connection with Juliana Clemens. The frequency of the names Valentine and Michael in the later records indicate a common origin for that family and our own in which these names have always been favorites. In the records at Ilbesheim, the name Zahneisen does not occur at all, but there are two entries one of which states that Valentin Zahnmeister and Juliana Clemens were married, September 24, 1743, which is just ten years prior to the time when our tradition says that two children had been born and the family sailed for America. The other entry is on the preceding page of the dame book and states that Valentin Zahneis and Juliana Clemens stood up as sponsors at the christening of a child. In as much as it was customary then for betrothed couples to be selected as sponsors at the christening of children of their friends, and since neither Zahnmeister nor Zahneis occurs elsewhere in the records it seems probable that the parties in both cases are the same. The probability that both forms are misspellings of the name Zahneisen is increased to a practical certainty by the fact that both entries are made in French handwriting. When one remembers the difficulties of modern American officials with the spelling of foreign names, it is very easy to see how a French scribe could make the errors. At Ilbesheim the Clemens family still resides. It seems highly probable, therefore, that Valentine was one of the Zahneisens at Moersheim and that Juliana's home was at Ilbesheim (3). At the later place they were married and then took up their residence at Moersheim. The suggestion that the original form of the name was Zahnmeister which was transformed into Zahneisen is rendered untenable by the fact that the former name is nowhere else found while the latter appears frequently in the Moersheim records prior to 1743.
The name Zahneisen (or Zahneissen by an older spelling) means "Tooth-iron", that is, an iron instrument for use on the teeth such as forceps or other tools of the dentist (4) Zahniser is an American transformation and of course meaningless.
The present Zahneisen family in Germany consists of only about a dozen persons. Valentin Zahneisen, the leading member of the family, is a retired master-baker and resides at Moersheim. He has two sisters, Elizabeth and Barbara and each of them has one child. He also has one brother, Konrad, living in Billigsheim who has thee children. There is also a cousin of Valentin, Michael, living in Billigsheim, and Valentin himself has one daughter, married and two sons, one of them married and living in Landau. From this it is evident that the prospects for the continuation of the name in the Fatherland are not very bright. The family is said to be one of the most prosperous and respected in the community. Valentin is himself a genial character and now lives a life of comparative leisure. His picture (5) occurs elsewhere in this volume.
One fact of considerable interest lately discovered is that another member of the family likewise named Valentine and an uncle of the Valentin now living in Moersheim emigrated to America in 1805. This is the party mentioned in the letter from Valentin Zahneisen quoted in the Introduction and whom he apparently mistook for our ancestor. This man was twenty to twenty-five years old when he emigrated, and was unmarried. Nothing is known as to where he located or whether he afterwards married and left descendants. In case he did so, it is scarcely likely that his name would take the same form in anglicizing as ours. From this reason the task of locating this branch of the family seems well nigh hopeless.
Of the Clemens family from which our maternal ancestor came, but little is known.(6) The family is of Swiss origin however, and the fact that Juliana was a member of the Reformed Church along with the other fact that Landau lies on the route from Switzerland, the cradle of Calvinism to Heidelberg, its centre in Germany, suggests that the family may have been one of those that migrated for conscience sake. In the days of religious bigotry, it frequently happened that those who were unwilling to sacrifice their religious convictions found safety in moving to another country. Such seems a probable explanation of the settlement of the Clemens family in Ilbesheim. The Zahneisens now living in Germany are all Lutherans, there being no other Protestant churches in the villages where they reside.
This much, then, we know of the origin of the Zahnisers. Their ancestors came from one of the choicest parts of Europe and out of that upper middle class which is everywhere the most stable element in society. The sturdy Teutonic stock which gave to the world a Luther and a Melangthan, and the free Swiss blood that stirred in a William Tell, united to produce the Zahnisers.
THE SETTLEMENT IN AMERICA
It often happens that the things we undertake for our betterment bring us rather disaster. The sea voyage on which Valentine Zahneisen entered for the improvement of his health, proved a long and rough one and before it ended both Valentine and his younger son died and were buried at sea.(7) Juliana and her older son, now four years old, landed in Philadelphia probably in the Fall of 1753. A widow with a small child, alone in a strange land (8) among people of strange customs and a strange language, it is no wonder that Juliana was homesick and discouraged. She often declared that if she could have walked back to Germany she would have returned at once. The hardships and dangers of her first voyage that had cost her the death of a husband and a son, however, deterred her from undertaking another.
It seems that she was not without a fair supply of money and by this means she succeeded in reaching a German settlement in Lancaster County where she seems to have had friends and which probably had been Valentine's destination when they left Germany. Here she resided till 1790. Sometime during that period she married a certain Henry Stout but was again left a widow. There were no children by this marriage.
Juliana's son, who landed with her in Philadelphia, was named Matthias. As he grew to manhood in Lancaster County, he learned the carpenter's trade. About the year 1774 he married Mary Lint,(9) daughter of Michael Lint, with whom he lived in Lancaster till 1790. During his residence in Lancaster, his sons, Matthias II, Michael, John, Valentine and William were born.
The Revolutionary War occurred during this period and the Zahneisens, or Zahnisers as they now came to be called, were not without a share in its hardships. Matthias' mother spun flax and carried the cloth to Philadelphia where she received for it $36 in Continental Currency. Shortly afterwards this money was repudiated, but she still preserved her hard-earned savings and most of it is still in the family, valued by those who possess it far above what it was originally worth. Matthias had some $600 of this money at the time of his death. Matthias was a soldier in the Revolutionary War, but we do not know in what organization or for how long a period.(10) This residence in Lancaster County is the most baffling period in the Family history. There are not other sources, apparently, than the traditions handed down from Matthias and his mother. These, however, are probably very reliable since other traditions received in the same way and later compared with other sources, have invariably been found correct.
In 1790, Matthias moved with his family, included his mother, to Allegheny County and settled on a farm, though Matthias himself still worked at his trade and left the bulk of the farming to be done by the boys. In 1796 he sold this farm to Frederick Stoner by whose grandson, Whitmore Stoner, it is now occupied. The farm lies in Penn Township east of Pittsburg and south of the Allegheny river and about one and a half miles south-west of the old town of Unity. The Mount Hope Cemetery is on the farm and a few rods west of it is the old stone house in which Matthias probably lived. The western end of the structure carries a stone tablet stating that it was built in 1812, but the eastern part is the original dwelling and is very much older. The older part is virtually a three-storied affair and built directly over a large spring. The first story was used as a cellar and milk-house and the upper stories as a dwelling. The surface of the ground is rough, steep and full of rocks, in marked contrast to that found in Mercer County where the family next located. During Matthias' residence here his sons Jacob and David and his daughter Mary were born.
At the time when Matthias sold his farm in Allegheny County, the section of the state north of the Ohio and west of the Allegheny river had just been opened for settlement. The land had been purchased from the Indians in 1789 but they refused to vacate till General Wayne in the decisive battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, convinced them that contracts are made to be kept and that the land was no longer theirs. The Indians now lowered their wigwams and silently retired westward, leaving the region open for white settlers. The Legislature had in the meanwhile arranged to sell land. Settlers were required to clear, fence and cultivate at least two acres for every hundred they desired to purchase and to build a house in which they were to reside or cause others to reside for a period of five years. At the end of that time they were permitted to purchase the land at the rate of $20 for each hundred acres. The first man to settle in Mercer County in accordance with this arrangement was Benjamin Stokely who located three miles northeast of the present town of Mercer. This is the only white family definitely known to have been in the County when the Zahnisers came, though it is possible that the Roberts family was already located in Sugar Grove Township.
Mercer County lies within the region formerly covered with glacial ice. Ages ago, great glaciers hundreds of feet deep and many miles wide crept down over the entire region. By this agency the hills were cut down and valleys filled with debris. The result is that there are no abrupt hills and few places where the rock is exposed. The surface is gently rolling and covered with glacial drift in some places more than a hundred feet deep. This drift is composed of various substances and contains many boulders and smaller stones locally known as "Nigger-heads" which have been carried here by the glaciers from regions farther north, and with which the young Zahnisers became acquainted in their first efforts at plowing, though often to the woe of shins and ribs. The soil produced by the glacial drift is fertile and the early settlers found it covered with forests of very large trees, mostly poplar, chestnut and oak.
When Matthias Zahniser sold his farm in Allegheny County in 1796, he and his three oldest sons sought out a new location in the territory just opened. Going on the theory that the land which produced the largest trees would produce the best crops, he selected a place in what is now Lake Township, eight miles northeast of Mercer. Here they built a cabin, cleared five acres of land and planted an orchard. The place selected was some eighty rods north of the location now occupied by the home of J. Ira Zahniser. A portion of the old orchard is still standing.
With the coming of winter, Matthias returned to Allegheny County but the three sons remained in the Wilderness with a few head of cattle which they fed chiefly on browse. Doubtless they would have returned with their father had it not been for the danger of thereby losing their claim to the land. By an unwritten law, universally observed among the settlers, if a claim was left without a person on it and without a fire in the cabin, it was considered abandoned and a new settlement could be made on it by any person who might choose to enter the vacant cabin.
When the spring of 1797 opened, Matthias moved the remainder of his family from Allegheny County and settled on a tract immediately east of that which had been occupied during the preceding summer and which now passed into the hands of his son Michael. The oldest son, Matthias (2), settled the tract immediately south of his father's and John settled the one east of Matthias (2). Each of these tracts contained upwards of two hundred acres and was obtained in accordance with the settlement statute explained above. Much of this land is still occupied by descendants of Matthias, scores of whom live in the surrounding community.
THE OLD HOMESTEAD
The place where Matthias Zahniser settled with his family in 1797 is located on the Mercer and Stoneboro road a half-mile south of the Bethany Church and is now owned by W.W. Park. The house stood by the roadside a hundred feet or so south of the present dwelling. A few rods back of the house was a spring over which a good-sized spring-house was built, the upper story of which was used by Matthias as a carpenter shop. The house was large and built of smoothly hewn logs with closely notched and dovetailed corners. It was a two-story structure, the second floor of which was little more than a loft and was used by the younger members of the family as sleeping quarters. There was but one room on the first floor, the door opening in the centre of the south side. From the uncovered joists overhead, hung smoked sausages, dried beef, seed corn and dried fruits and vegetables of various kinds. At the eastern end was a huge stone chimney with the usual open fireplace. Adjoining the western end of the house was a smaller addition which they called the "stove room" from the fact that it contained a real stove, a rare thing in the community then. The stove was a huge ten-lid affair and the pride of the home for many years. In this stove-room Matthias and Mary spent most of their time during the later years of their lives and it was here their grandchildren loved to visit them, always sure of some simple present, very often of nuts. On a table in this room lay the old German Bible that Juliana had brought from Germany and that is still preserved (11), being at present the property of M.M. Zahniser of Stoneboro. Here were also the other big German books at which the little grandsons looked with wonder and awe. Just north of the house were the peach, cherry and apple trees and the currant bushes all red in autumn with their luscious fruit. South of the house was the garden, and west of the spring-house was the big apple tree which bore an abundance of little apples just suited to the taste of the little grandsons.
The state of society in this region then, was refreshingly simple. Most of the families were large and the people were notable for their longevity. Habits were usually such as conduce to good health. There was none of the frenzied rush after sudden wealth that is sapping so much of the strength and manhood of later generations. Content with nature's wants supplied and the few luxuries the times could afford, the pioneers lived together in genuine friendship and equality and resulting joy. All strove to promote one another's interests. The log-rolling, the husking, the cabin-raising, were times of real enjoyment when to the pleasures of social intercourse was added the joy of doing another a service. Castes were unknown. Common hardships and common needs stirred a community of feeling and interest. The milk of human kindness flowed free. It is doubtful whether modern life with all its advantages affords the real happiness enjoyed in those days or conduces more to the development of clean worthy character.
Full of the spirit of their times, the people who dwelt in the Old Homestead were its chief attraction. Here was Juliana the wife of the original Valentine, who lived with her son Matthias after the death of her second husband, Henry Stout, till her own death in 1801 at the age of 84. Her life had been one of many troubles and sorrows. To all the trials of frontier life in a land where even the language was strange, had been added the early death of two husbands and one of her two sons. Her early years in Lancaster County must have been ones of many sorrows which a kindly darkness hides from our view. During her last year of life, she was almost helpless as a result of a stroke of paralysis. Yet through all her troubles, she was characterized by sturdy fortitude and Christian resignation. She was a woman of deep piety and a consistent member of the Reformed Church. In her declining years when deprived of the public means of grace, she spent much time in reading her old German Bible and in prayer so that her presence seemed to sanctify the home her son was establishing and her life has become a benediction on her numerous descendants.
The early years of the nineteenth century were ones of great happiness for Matthias and Mary Lint. After years of toil and privation, they were now possessed of a competence and able to live in comparative leisure. He still worked somewhat at his trade, but the heavier labor of the farm was taken by his sons. Both he and his wife had enjoyed some education in German and derived much delight from their few German volumes, especially from the old Bible. Both were devoutly religious and members of the German Reformed Church. After locating in Mercer County where there was then no organization of that denomination, they attended the Presbyterian Church when opportunity was afforded. One of the marked features in the life of the Old Homestead was the regular family prayers always conducted in German. Matthias would read a passage from the old Bible and then, with the aid of a prayer-book, lead his family to the throne of grace. It is such scenes as this that explain the high moral principles and devotion to duty that characterized his children. Matthias himself was somewhat superstitious and a believer in ghosts and witches as were most people of his day. His chief characteristics were strict honesty and straight-forwardness. He abhorred dishonesty and deception of every kind and always spoke his thoughts very plainly - a characteristic which he has transmitted to many of his descendants.
After a quarter of a century of this happy life in their Mercer County home, came a few years of sorrows for Matthias and Mary Lint. In 1825 their only daughter died, leaving four small children; in 1826 the Old Homestead was destroyed by fire and in 1827 Mary Lint was stricken with paralysis and never walked again. By a strange coincidence, each of these events occurred on the 17th of March. After the Old Homestead was destroyed, both Matthias and Mary Lint seemed lost in the world. It was the home to which they had looked forward in earlier life and into which they had put their best years and their best efforts. When it had been destroyed, it seemed that a part of themselves was lost and no place was home. In 1829 Mary Lint died at the age of 75. Matthias, lonely and discontented, his mind weakened by the infirmities of age, lingered on till April 28, 1833, when he died after one day's sickness, aged 84. He was buried near his wife and his mother in the old Zahniser Graveyard in Jackson Township.
Such lives as these are an inspiration to honest and simple living. The places these people were called to fill in the world were not large, but they were filled exceeding full. Their numerous descendants will do themselves honor to emulate the industry, charity and fidelity to right of those whose presence adorned the Old Homestead.
THE THIRD GENERATION
Matthias and Mary Lint Zahniser were the parents of thirteen children, eight of whom grew to maturity and seven of whom left descendants. Matthias II, Michael, John, Valentine and William were born in Lancaster County; Jacob, David and Mary, in Allegheny County, and Adam, who died in infancy, in Mercer County. In addition to these, there was a daughter Susan who died at the age of three years, and a son Jacob and two others who died in infancy, but the dates and places of their births and deaths are unknown.
Matthias II, the oldest son of Matthias I and Mary Lint, was born in 1775. When a boy of fourteen, he was afflicted with white swelling and underwent an operation by which a section of bone six inches long was removed from his leg, effecting a complete cure. In 1795 he worked with the surveyors who were opening up the new territory west of the Allegheny River. It is probable that what he saw of the land then led his father to sell in Allegheny County and seek a location in the new territory. In 1797 he settled the tract of land immediately south of his father's, his cabin being erected near the present residence of Jacob M. in Jackson township. In 1800 he married Dorothy Fry, daughter of John M. Fry. In 1807 he sold his farm to Gabriel Carpenter and removed to Jefferson Township where he bought and improved two hundred acres of land on which he resided till his death in 1850. His descendants have become the largest branch of he family, the most of them still residing in the community where he located at that time. His wife, Dorothy Fry, was born in Westmoreland County in 1783, but at the time of her marriage was residing in Coolspring Township. In her later life, she remained peculiarly attached to the customs and fashions of the time of her girlhood. Her death occurred in 1875. Both she and her husband were people of devout religious life. For some years they were members of the First Presbyterian Church in Mercer from which they transferred their membership to the Unity Presbyterian Church where he became an elder. In later life they united with the Methodist Church at Charleston where they were faithful and honored members till their death. They were the parents of eleven children, the records for whom will be found in a succeeding chapter.(12)
Michael, the second son of Matthias I and Mary Lint, was born September 20, 1777. When the family settled in Mercer County, he took the tract on which he and his father and brothers had located the preceding year. In the Fall of 1802 or 1803, he went to Lancaster County where he spent the Winter with his mother's relatives. In the Spring he returned and continued to improve his farm. On April 29, 1806, he married Mary Mourer and the remainder of their lives were spent on the land on which he had first settled and which has never passed out of the family. He never engaged in any other business other than that of this farm. By industry and economy, he was so successful that he was able to start each of his sons in life with two hundred acres of land. His education was rather limited and entirely in German. During the War of 1812 he served his country in two enlistments, being located each time at Erie. About the year 1819 he united with the Coolspring Presbyterian Church of which he was a prominent member till his death, being selected for the eldership a number of times but always declining to serve. He was a man of robust health till 1850 when he suffered an attack of pleurisy from which he never fully recovered. In April, 1852, he was stricken with paralysis and died as a result of a second stroke in June following. Mary Mourer, his wife, was born near Hagerstown, Maryland, June 16, 1784. Most of her youth was spent in Franklin County, Pa. In 1804 she came with her father's family to Mercer where she resided till her marriage. She was a woman of robust health, having reached the age of 92 when her death occurred November 8, 1876. She was a member of the Presbyterian Church and along with her husband enjoyed the confidence and esteem of all who knew them. The records of their six children occur elsewhere in this volume.
John, the third son of Matthias I and Mary Lint, was born in 1779 and died in Mercer County in 1800. Little is known of his life in addition to what has already been narrated. He was buried on the tract of land he had settled immediately east of that of his brother Matthias, being the first person buried in what has come to be known as "The Old Zahniser Graveyard." Here were buried also his grandmother, his father, mother, most of his brothers and many other members of the family from later generations. About 1890 (13) a monument was erected here in memory of the ancestors of the family.
Valentine, another son of Matthias I and Mary Lint, was born in 1782. He received a slight education and resided with his parents till the death of his brother John in 1800 when he completed the settlement begun by his brother and obtained the property. Here he spent the remainder of his life. In June, 1806, he married Elizabeth White, daughter of John White. She was born in Fayette County and came to Mercer County in 1803. She became the mother of nine children, the records of whom occur elsewhere in this volume. Valentine was an industrious and fairly successful farmer. He took an active interest in politics, becoming a Democrat till the organization of the Republican party when he united with it. His death occurred March 22, 1866, preceded by that of his wife who died March 17, 1856.
William, son of Matthias I and Mary Lint, was born 1789 in Lancaster County. In his early Life he received sufficient education to become a school teacher in which profession he continued successfully for several years, working on the farm during the summer and teaching in the winter. During the War of 1812, he was a soldier in the American army in which he was a lieutenant, his division being located at Erie, Pa. Among the heirlooms of the family is a walking stick, the head of which is composed of wood taken from Commodore Perry's famous ship "The Lawrence" and which William brought with him when he returned from the war. This relic is now in the possession of Samuel S. Zahniser. In 1814 he married Eleanor Stotler who like himself had been born in Lancaster County but had removed with her parents in early childhood to Allegheny County where they settled in the community in which the Zahnisers were then living, and where many descendants of her family still reside. Until about 1823 William and his wife resided with his parents on the Old Homestead. He then settled a tract of land a mile southwest of his father's where he resided till his death. This property then passed into the hands of his son Michael and is now the home of George W. Harrison.
Jacob, son of Matthias I and Mary Lint, was born October 23, 1792. He received a fair common-school education and learned the blacksmith's trade at which he worked a few years along with his brother David. In 1815 he became a clerk in the store of G. & A. Wright in Mercer, afterwards holding a similar position in Vernon, Ohio. In 1820, he returned to Mercer and opened a store of his own where he continued till his death which occurred January 22, 1852. He was married December 3, 1816, to Catherine Wright and was the father of six children whose records occur in a succeeding chapter. His wife was born in Shippensburg, Pa., June 25, 1789, and died April 2, 1861, at Clarion, Pa., where she had gone to reside with her daughter, Margaret, wife of Rev. James Montgomery. By honest and straight-forward dealing, Jacob secured the confidence of the public and was successful in business. He was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Mercer in which he was for years an elder and superintendent of the Sunday School. A man of clean and noble life, he enjoyed the respect of all who knew him.
David, son of Matthias I and Mary Lint, was born April 19, 1795. When sixteen years of age he went to Franklin County where he learned the blacksmith's trade. In 1815, he returned and opened a shop on his father's farm where he continued till 1818 when he moved to Mercer. In 1819 he bought a hundred acres of woodland from his father and built a home and a shop a few rods south of the Bethany Church where the house in which David, son of Michael, spent his last years now stands. In 1821 he sold this property to his brother William and removed to his father's which he afterwards inherited, and where he lived until 1854 when he sold it to W.W. Pool and bought the farm now owned by his son, D.R.P. Zahniser. At this place he farmed and kept a tavern till his death, October 14, 1874. David was twice married. His first wife was Anna Coulson whom he married March 18, 1818 and who became the mother of nine children whose records occur elsewhere in this volume. She died June 20, 1850, and in 1852 he married Catherine Thompson who died in 1855. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church till 1845 when he transferred his membership to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Mary, the only daughter of Matthias I and Mary Lint who grew to maturity, was born in 1797, just a short time before the family moved to Mercer County. She was married April 1, 1817 to Joshua McCracken with whom she lived on a farm near New Vernon till her death, March 17, 1825. She was the mother of four children whose records appear elsewhere in this history. In her earlier life she had been the pet of the household at the old home and the cherished friend of her little nephews who even as old men, never tire of recounting the graces of "Aunt Polly."
The following incidents will illustrate the conditions of life in those early times:
During the winter of 1796-97, the two sons of Matthias I who were staying in the cabin built the preceding summer worked in the timber during the day, leaving a fire in the cabin to hold their claim. One evening they returned to find the cabin had taken fire and been entirely consumed, even their coats being burned and leaving them nothing but their axes and guns which they had with them. There were no neighbors and night was coming on. Under the circumstances there was but one thing to do so, shouldering their guns they set out for Allegheny County and walked the entire distance to their father's home, some seventy miles. Gathering a new set of supplies they soon returned to their claim and built a new cabin, of course camping out despite the winter weather till their new home was completed.
At another time during the same winter when a heavy storm was raging, an Indian walked into their cabin. He had lost his way and the customs of both Indians and frontiersmen entitled him to their protection and care till the weather should clear so that he could see the North Star which was to be his guide in finding his way home. As long as he was their guest they were perfectly safe, even though he might come from a tribe intensely hostile. There was never any trouble in the region with hostile Indians, however, after the time when the Zahnisers settled.
One of the hunting stories the men of that generation were fond of telling recounts how William killed a bear. This occurred when he was yet a lad not full grown. With another boy and a small dog he was in the timber some distance from this home when they accosted a bear. The other boy was dispatched for a gun while young William and the dog engaged to hold the bear's attention till he should return. This bruin seems not to have appreciated, the nipping and yelping of the dog especially aggravating him. The bear would rush at the dog with wide open mouth and the latter was having a hard time keeping out of the way. At length William became alarmed for the dog and seizing his walking stick, his only weapon he deftly thrust it down the throat of the open-mouthed bear and managed in this way to kill it. When the other boy returned he was surprised to find bruin already dead with the tell-tale stick protruding from his mouth. William afterwards became quite a Nimrod, at one time shooting a deer through the head in total darkness and when he had nothing to guide his aim but the animal's movements in the bushes, but among all their exploits there was no deed of prowess or hunting skill of which the family was so proud as that of William killing the bear.
On one occasion, Michael was roused at night by the sound of his pigs squealing in their pen. Going out to investigate, he found a huge bear helping himself to a mess of young pork. The bear was frightened away and in the morning was tracked to where he had taken refuge in a hollow tree. As soon as the ax was applied to the tree, bruin came out to give battle but a bullet settled the controversy before he was entirely out of his hole. Farmers in those days were often robbed of their pork in this manner though they were not always able to secure bear-steak instead.
At another time, Michael's wife reached into a hollow log for eggs from a hen's nest. Something bit her which she took to be a setting hen but which she soon found was a rattle snake which had eaten the eggs. There was no physician within many miles so, in lack of other help, an old Indian squaw living in the neighborhood was sent for who came and sucked the poison from the wound. The treatment proved entirely successful and, as the squaw did not swallow any of the poison it did her no injury. Probably none of Mary's descendants would care to take the part of the squaw in similar treatment, yet if the squaw had not done so, it is probable that none of those descendants would ever have been born.
Small game of all kinds was abundant and constituted a large element in the regular food supply. It was an ordinary thing for the women of the generation to send one of the boys out in the morning with his rifle to shoot half a dozen grey squirrels for breakfast. Salt was very precious as what they obtained had to be carried on horseback from Erie or Pittsburg. Cane-sugar was rare, but each farmer had a maple sugar grove in which a supply was made every spring for the ensuing year. Tropical fruits were not to be thought of. Rice was one of the luxuries of the time, but so expensive that when a mother cooked a mess of it for a family of six or eight, it was customary to mould it in a tea-cup. To people accustomed to all the conveniences of modern life, such conditions seem almost beyond endurance. Yet it is noticeable that the longest lived generation in the family was composed of the children raised in these homes. Outdoor life with an abundance of hard work but very little of either worry or hurry, these are the things that make possible a ripe old age and these were the things that characterized the lives of the children of Matthias and Mary Lint.
SOCIAL POSITION AND CHARACTERISTICS
One of the most difficult tasks of the historian is to so combine a mass of facts as to make a correct composite picture. Patient research and the use of good judgment in adjusting incomplete and, sometimes, contradictory sources will ordinarily suffice for securing a reliable description of an individual or a narrative of his life, but to combine a number of such results so as to give a correct idea of a period or a proper conception of a group, requires the use of a historical imagination and a delicacy of judgment that are hard to command. Nowhere is this difficulty more pronounced than in the work of him who writes the history of a family. It is comparatively easy to describe the personal appearance of some particular Zahniser and tell what position he held in life, but to name the distinctive characteristics of a typical Zahniser and to give to the entire family it's proper place in society, is a task vastly more difficult. Yet without such a composite picture, this history would be incomplete. No single reader will be interested in the records of all the individuals whose names appear in the later part of this volume, but nearly everyone is interested in the things about the family as a whole, which this chapter will attempt to describe. The substance of what follows is based on the records to be found in this volume and on what has been obtained by personal contact and conversation with large numbers of the family.
In the choice of occupations, the Zahnisers have always shown a preference for agriculture. Many have learned various trades, but they were usually such as could be carried on in the country and in connection with farming. We have always been and still are a distinctively country folk who love to keep in close contact with nature. Those who have entered city life have usually done so as business or professional men. The family has contributed almost nothing to the proletariat class which constitutes so large and so perplexing an element in the cities and larger towns. At the present time, the vast majority of the family reside on their own farms. Of the remainder the greater number have entered mercantile pursuit, chiefly in country towns. Not less than 100 have at various times been connected with grocery, dry-goods and similar stores, four have become bankers, a few have become speculators and promoters, several have been traveling salesmen and a few have become hotel-keepers and real-estate brokers. Among the trades, the preference has been given to the building trades, carpentering especially and to those of the blacksmith and the machinist. The Zahnisers have always enjoyed a reputation of being handy with tools. Most of the older men possessed considerable mechanical skill and were able to turn a deft hand to any kind of work on wood or iron that might be needed on the farm.
In the professions, the Zahnisers have shown a special preference for teaching. From the third generation downward, the family has been almost constantly represented in the teacher's chair, scores of the connection having spent more or less time in educational work. Of these some have risen to some eminence among whom may be mentioned Rev. Geo. W. Zahniser (deceased) and Ira M. Condit, both of the Presbyterian Church in which the latter has for many years been a missionary among the Chinese. Of late years a number of others have given their lives to this work, among whom special mention should be made of the family of H.M. Zahniser, five of whose sons are now preaching in the Free Methodist Church. Others who have entered the sacred calling are, Charles Reed Zahniser of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, William J. Snyder of the Presbyterian Church and Walter R. Fruit of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In the practice of law, the family has been represented by Frank J. Young (deceased), William P. McIlwain and Howard A. Couse. Claude I. Cannon and Lamont B. Smith are physicians.
The family has always been intensely patriotic. The original Matthias took part in the Revolutionary War and two of his sons in that of 1812. During the Civil War, more than a score were in the Federal Army. Of these a number were officers and others were distinguished for bravery. The party affiliations of the family have been chiefly divided between the Republican and Democratic parties with a preponderance in favor of the former party in the ration of about two to one. A few have been affiliated with the Prohibitionists. As a rule, the Zahnisers have been rather strict party-men, but whenever one of their own number has been a candidate, he has received practically the entire vote of the family. On one such occasion when a Zahniser was the candidate of the minority party and was elected largely through the support of his relatives, it was remarked by an opponent that "There are three parties in this county now, the Republicans, the Democrats, and the Zahnisers!" There can scarce be a stronger evidence of the clannishness of the family that is shown in the way their faithfulness to one another has overcome fidelity to political party.
The Zahnisers as a class have been devoted to the church. All have been Protestants, and nearly all affiliated with Presbyterian and Methodist bodies, prevailingly the former. Of those who were not professing Christians, nearly all have been in sympathy with the church and fairly regular attendants. Among the Presbyterian bodies, about equal numbers are to be found in the Northern and the Cumberland branches with a few in the United Presbyterian church. The family has been especially active in Sunday School work.
In general, it may be said that the Zahnisers are included in the great middle class of society. None of us have ever possessed great wealth, but none have died in the poor house; none of us have become famous for our great worth, but none have become notorious for our excelling baseness; none of us have held high positions of trust in the nation, the army or in commercial affairs, but none have been imprisoned in the penitentiary or work-house; none of us have impressed the world with our surpassing wisdom or genius, but among us illiteracy and idiocy have been almost unknown. If Lincoln was right when he said, "The Lord loves the common people, He must do so or He would not have made so many," the Zahnisers can surely feel confident of a large share of Divine favor!
The distinctive characteristics that mark a man as a Zahniser, are partly physical, partly mental. Both are much more easily recognized than described. In physical appearance, there are two distinct types prominent in the family. Of these it is impossible to tell which is original. Probably one was contributed by an early maternal ancestor, either Juliana Clemens or Mary Lint, but is it impossible to tell which type since we have no photographs or descriptions of any persons of the first two generations. Both types have been persistent and are still quite prominent in the family despite the large infusion of other blood by marriage. This persistence of the original types shows the remarkable vitality of the original stock.
Of the two types mentioned, the more common one is of a tall, angular build of body well illustrated in the cases of David, son of Michael, John L., and James, son of Valentine. Many of the men of this type have measured six feet, some of them being of almost giant build. They have usually been thin in flesh and raw-boned, but of great strength and endurance. Their hardihood was phenomenal, many of them living to be more that four score years old and yet, despite the fact that they exposed themselves to all kinds of weather, never knowing a day of sickness. The hair was prevailingly black and of luxurious growth, ofttimes keeping it's color till the advanced years of life. Baldness was exceptional. The face was broad, the cheek bones prominent, the eyebrows protruding, the nose large and straight, the forehead broad but not above the average height, the jaw and chin strong and firm, the temples hollow, the cheeks red, this color being often carried up to old age. This type was the most common till the sixth generation with which pronounced cases of it are much more rare.
The other type is of a shorter, sturdier build, though not corpulent, the bones are smaller and the contour of the body is much more regular. This type is to be seen in Andrew Jackson Zahniser, and Mrs. Sarah (Zahniser) Ball. A resemblance to this type is to be seen in Valentine Zahneisen of Moersheim, Germany, which suggest that this was possibly the original Zahniser type. Other features in which this type differs from that described above are , fuller cheeks, higher forehead and facial features less pronounced, The general expression is more firm, not quite so kindly and the ruddy glow extends over more of the face. In other regards they resemble each other.
In mental characteristics, the two types differ in that the first is more aggressive, more impulsive, the second is more conservative, more phlegmatic. The characteristics common to both are, a strong will and firm adherence to a purpose which attempts to ride over all obstacles, decided opinions which are readily and emphatically expressed, a high sense of honor, unswerving devotion to principle whether moral, patriotic or religious, and a deep-seated loyalty to the family that resembles the famed clannishness of the Scotch.
Of course it is not to be contended for a moment that the family has been without faults. Let it be frankly confessed that some have in moments of temptation done things for which it took years of clean living to atone; others have become involved in circumstances that have brought on both themselves and others trouble and loss; others have been deficient in industry, in ambition, in self-control. In some cases, the very virtues of the family have been turned a-wrong so that firmness became contrariness and frankness became harsh. Still the record of the family as a whole has been remarkable good and the examples of our ancestors we will do well to emulate. No one need be ashamed he is a Zahniser.