Prominent Personages

excerpts from Bean’s 1884 history of Montgomery County

A number of the residents of this township have
attained distinguished honors in county, State and nation, among whom are
the [fol]lowing: Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, born at Eimbeck, Hanover,
September 6, 1711. In 1738 he graduated from the University of Gottingen.


He arrived in Philadelphia November 25, 1742, and immediately assumed the
pastorate of the three Lutheran congregations at Philadelphia, Providence
and New Hanover. On December 26th he first preached in Trappe. He was
married to Anna Maria, daughter of the celebrated Indian interpreter,
Colonel Conrad Weiser, on April 30, 1745, and shortly after this moved to
Providence, where they remained until 1761. Through his exertions the old
Trappe Church was built in 1743. In 1776, Muhlenberg moved back to Trappe,
and lived there through the exciting times of the Revolution, an ardent
patriot. His work was not confined to the churches named, but he became
the overseer of all the Lutheran Churches in Pennsylvania, New York and New
Jersey. On May 27, 1784, the University of Pennsylvania conferred on Father
Muhlenberg the title of Doctor of Sacred Theology. October 7, 1787, he
went to his reward, and was buried near the old church he had built.

General Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, eldest son of Rev. Henry Melchior
Muhlenberg, was born at Trappe October 1, 1746. He was educated at Halle,
Germany, and was ordained a minister in 1768. He was stationed in Virginia
in 1776, at the breaking out of the Revolution. It was here he delivered
his powerful sermon on the “duties to country”, after which he threw off
his robe and appeared before his people a girded warrior. A company of
volunteers was raised there and then. He served throughout the war, and
rose by merit to the rank of brigadier-general. In 1775 he was elected
Vice-President of Pennsylvania, and was reelected. He served in the First,
Third and other Congresses with ability. In 1797 he was a member of the State
Assembly. In 1801 was chosen States Senator from Pennsylvania, which honor
he resigned the following year. On April 22, 1800, he was appointed major-
general of Pennsylvania militia for seven years, and from 1803 to 1807
served as collector of the port of Philadelphia. He died October 1, 1807,
leaving two sons. Peter was a major in the war of 1812 and Francis a
Representative in Congress from Ohio. A few years ago General Muhlenberg’s
statue was placed in the National Gallery, at Washington, D. C., as
Pennsylvania’s most distinguished soldier.
Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg was born at Trappe January 2, 1750.
Like his brother, he was educated at Halle and became pastor of a church in
New York. In 1784 he was appointed judge of Montgomery County. He was
president of the State convention in 1787 that adopted the Federal
Constitution. He was the first Speaker of the National House of
Representatives, being twice elected to that position, and was twice a
candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania. He died in 1802.

Gottlieb Henry Ernst Muhlenberg was born at Trappe November 17, 1753. He
accompanied his two elder brothers to Halle when nine years of age, where
he remained until he was eighteen. Returning in 1770, he became pastor of
the Lutheran Church in Philadelphia, and afterwards of Providence and New
Hanover. While settled in the county he devoted all his spare time to
botany and mineralogy, and became one of the greatest American botanists.
He died in 1815, many of the descendants of these old Muhlenberg patriots
have risen to eminence in the ministry, the law and in politics, but want
of space forbids their mention.

Francis R. Shunk was born near Trappe August 7, 1788. His grandfather,
of the same name, was mentioned as one of the first settlers of Providence.
The parents of Francis were poor, and he was early compelled to support
himself, which he did by teaching school and working on the farm. In 1829
he was appointed as clerk of the canal commissioners of Pennsylvania, and
in 1838 Secretary of State by Governor Porter. In 1844 he was elected
Governor of the commonwealth and reelected in 1847, but almost immediately
resigned on account of ill health. He died July 20, 1848, and was buried in
the Lutheran Churchyard, Trappe. A handsome marble shaft was erected to his
memory in 1851 by the citizens of the State.

General Francis Swaine was a resident of the township, was sheriff from
1787 to 1790 and was the first president of Montgomery County Bank.

Gottlieb Mittelberger, who lived in the township for several years,
deserves notice. He brought with him from Germany the organs in the
Lutheran Churches at Philadelphia, New Hanover and Trappe, parts of which
last remain to this day, he was liberally educated as a linguist and
musician. He arrived in 1750, October 10th, and for four years resided in
Providence, holding the position of organist and schoolmaster in the
Lutheran Church, and gave private instructions in music and the German
language at the house of Captain John Diemer. On his return to Germany he
wrote a very interesting account of his sojourn in America, which was
published in German in 1756. Parts of the book have been recently
translated and published by Mr. Henry S. Dotterer, of Philadelphia.


Wright A. Bringhurst was born and lived at Trappe. He was a man of
intelligence, and served in the Legislature of Pennsylvania. He left a
large estate to the township of Upper Providence and the borough of
Norristown and Pottstown, the income of that is intended for the destitute
of these districts.
Hon. Jacob Fry, Jr., born at Trappe, 1802, was a member of Congress from
this district, 183438, and auditor-general of the State, 1857-60.

Hon. Joseph Royer, born near Trappe February, 1784, lived his whole life
in Providence, was a member of the Legislature, 1821-22, associate judge of
Montgomery County and several times a candidate for Congress. Two of his
sons have since represented the county in the State Senate. Horace Royer
was elected Senator in 1865 and Lewis Royer in 1878.

Among others worthy of note should be mentioned

Hon. Samuel Gross member of State Legislature, 1803-8, State Senator,
1811-14, of Congress, 1818-22

Rev Abraham Hunsicker, bishop of the Mennonist Church and founder of
Trinity Christian Church, Freeland

Hon. Abraham Brower, State Senator, 1840-43

Rev. John H. Umstad, a preacher of the Dunkards

William W. Taylor, a noted anti-slavery advocate, and one in the line of the
famous “Underground Railroad”

Henry A. Hunsicker, the founder of Freeland Seminary (now Ursinus College)

Rev. J. H. A. Bomberger, D.D., president of Ursinus College

Professor J. Warren Sunderland, LL.D., founder of Pennsylvania Female

Professor Abel Rambo, for many years county superintendent, and now
principal of Washington Hall Boarding-School.

Upper Providence lays claim to the first temperance organization in the
county. On the 7th of June 1817, a number of the farmers, Quakers and
Dunkards, met at the Green Tree schoolhouse, and organized a temperance
society by electing Jonas Umstad chairman and James White secretary. Among
the resolutions adopted was the following:

“We will not consider it a practice or custom to give liquors to
laborers, or make use of any spirituous liquors in baying or harvest, or
any other work, or knowingly suffer it to be used by laborers while in our
employ; provided further, that such action is not intended to prohibit the
medicinal use of it.”

Some time after this Jonas Umstad, John Barnett and Samuel Horning
certify “that most of them have abstained without any ill, but with
manifest good effects.” The township has since maintained its temperance
proclivities, being the only township in the county that gave a majority
“against license” in the local option vote in 1873, and a large majority it

The Lutherans at Trappe deserve the honor of founding the first school
and building the first school-house. Before the first church was built, in
1743, a log schoolhouse was erected, in which, for several years, Father
Muhlenberg himself taught one week in three, until relieved by Mr.
Mittleberger, who taught for several years. Francis Murphy, an Irishman of
learning, taught in this school-house for very many years, dying in 1855 at
the advanced age of eighty-three. It is almost impossible to collect any
definite information in regard to the school that sprung up for a short
time and then died out.

About 1827 there was something of a regular system of pay-schools
introduced into the township. The teachers were paid two dollars per
scholar for a term of three months, or seventy-two days. The lowest
branches only were taught. Upper Providence accepted the Common-School Act
about 1844, paying at that time a salary of seventy dollars for a term of
thirteen weeks. The villages of Trappe, Freeland and Collegeville were
erected into an independent common-school district by the court of
Montgomery County on the 23d day of February 1880. It is called “The Trappe
Independent District.” It contains two school-houses and four schools. The
length of term is seven months, and salary is forty dollars per month. In
the township there are eleven school-houses and twelve schools. The term is
eight months, and salary paid per month is forty-five dollars.

In addition to its public schools the township boasts of two regularly
chartered colleges viz., -Pennsylvania Female College and Ursinus College,
now open to both sexes and one academy, Washington Hall Boarding-School.
These are treated of in full under the chapter of Colleges. To speak of
them here would be repetition. About 1834 a private academy was located at
Port Providence.

In February 1809, a public meeting was called to meet at the schoolhouse,
near Joseph Cox’s, for the purpose of establishing a public library.
Nothing can now be ascertained in regard to its success.

The county almshouse is situate in Upper Providence, but as this is
treated have in another place in this history, it is unnecessary to treat
it more fully here.


Frank M. Hobson, of Collegeville, Montgomery Co., Pa., was born January
22, 1830, in Limerick township, said county. The farm upon which he was born
and spent the first years of his life had been in the Hobson family since
1743, and consisted of two hundred and sixty-eight acres of the finest land
in the township. Francis Hobson was the first of the family to settle in
Montgomery County, having come from New Garden Township, Chester Co. He
lived on the farm from 1743 to 1748, when it descended to his son Francis.
In 1791 it again descended to the next generation, and Moses Hobson lived
there until 1831, when his son, Francis Hobson, came into possession. This
Francis, who was the father of the subject of this sketch, was married, in
1829, to Mary Matilda Bringhurst, by whom he had two children, -Frank M. and
Sarah H; now the wife of Rev. Henry W. Super, D.D., vice-president of
Ursinus College.

Mr. Hobson completed a common English education at Washington Hall,
Trappe. He taught public school three years at Trappe, and in 1856 moved to
Freeland, where be kept a general store, which business he pursued for
twenty-four years, until 1880, since which time he has lived a retired

During these years he also engaged in surveying and conveyancing, besides
acting in the capacity of administrator or executor in a large number of
estates, conspicuous among which is the estate of his uncle, Wright A.

Mr. Bringhurst left about one hundred and ten thousand dollars to the
boroughs of Norristown and Pottstown and the township of Upper Providence
for the benefit of the worthy poor of these districts. He was also one of
the trustees named in the will, and afterwards reappointed by the
Montgomery County Court, whose duty it is to manage the trust. He has also
frequently acted in other fiduciary capacities.


He has also filled the following public offices and trusts: Postmaster at
Freeland, seven years; school director, six years, township auditor, three
years; an officer In the Trinity Christian Church, twenty-two, years;
secretary and treasurer of Ursinus College, ten years; director of Iron
Bank, of Phoenixville two years; director in First National Bank, of
Norristown, several years; treasurer of Building and Loan Association,
eleven years. He has recently been elected president of the Perkiomen and
Reading Turnpike Road Company.

Mr. Hobson has been independent in politics. Starting life a Democrat, be
so remained until 1854, when he left that party on account of its striving
to force slavery into the free Territories of the nation. Since that time
he has been a Republican. During the reconstruction of the Southern States
he opposed, in opposition to his party, the granting of the right of
suffrage to the negro until he had properly qualified himself by nature and
education to exercise this high prerogative. Today he is of the opinion
that the developments of the past twenty years have shown that his position
was the correct one.

Mr. Hobson was married, October 8, 1856, to Lizzie Gotwalts, daughter of
Jacob and Esther Gotwalts, of Upper Providence township. They have but two
Freeland G., now in his twenty-eighth year
Mary M., several years younger.

Freeland G. graduated at Ursinus College in 1876, was admitted to the
Montgomery County bar in 1880, and is now engaged in the practice of his
profession at Norristown. In 1881 he was married to Ella M., daughter of
Rev. Joseph H. Hendricks, by whom he has one child, Frank H.

Auge’s “Men of Montgomery County.”

One of the most eminent and respectable German families in Montgomery
County is that whose surname stands at the head of this page. The record of
its emigration is that Valentine Hunsicker, a native of Switzerland -a
nation which has preserved its freedom and independence a thousand years
came to the United States in 1717, and about 1720 settled in what was then
called Van Bebber, since Skippack, now Perkiomen township. He is probably
the progenitor of all of the name in Montgomery County. The next generation
in the direct line was Henry Hunsicker, whose wife, Esther, was the
daughter of John Detwiler. Those were the parents of Rev. Abraham
Hunsicker, the subject of this biography, who was born July 31, 1793, in
East Perkiomen township, Montgomery Co., Pa. His ancestors being followers
of Menno Simon, a plain, unworldly sect, most of whom grew up to undervalue
liberal education “as of the world,” Abraham Hunsicker enjoyed but the most
limited educational advantages. When grown up, he felt the disadvantages
of the want of scholastic training, and being of a strong natural
endowment, early conceived the idea of reforming his religious brethren in
reference to that subject.

On May 30, 1816, he was married to Elizabeth Alderfer, and there were
born to them ten children, as follows:

Ann, married to John B. Landis

Benjamin A., to Hannah Detwiler

Esther, first married to Abraham Detwiler, and afterwards to Gideon Fetterolf

Henry A., married first to Mary Weinberger, and afterwards to Anne C. Gotwals

Abraham H., married to Rachel Rittenhouse

Elizabeth, wife of Francis R. Hunsicker

Elias A., married to Susan F. Moyer

Mary A., widow of Rev. Jared T. Preston

Catharine A., wife of Rev. Joseph H. Hendricks, pastor of Trinity Church, Freeland

Horace M., who married Eliza Cosgrove.

All the children of Abraham and Elizabeth Hunsicker, except Benjamin, the
eldest son, who died in 1855, are living. Two sons reside in Philadelphia,
two in Montgomery County, a daughter in Bucks County, and the others near
the place of their birth.

Abraham Hunsicker was ordained a minister of the Mennonist Church January
1, 1847, and soon after was elected a bishop. About that time a schism
occurred in the Mennonite body, and Rev. Mr. Hunsicker was separated from
the “old school” or conservative class of the society. In 1851 a second
division took place, when Mr. Hunsicker set about organizing anew. He
issued a pamphlet entitled “A Statement of Facts and Summary of Views on
Morals and Religion, as related with Suspension from the Mennonite Meeting.”
In this he portrayed the excellence of that Christian charity and
toleration which should prevail among religious denominations, as clearly
set forth in the teachings and example of Christ. He deplored to the close
of his life the undue tenacity evinced by most Christian sects for
nonessentials in Christian doctrine, thus keeping them apart, instead of
drawing them to co-operate in the great work of saving souls.

Though brought up a Mennonite, under a rigid discipline which forbade
marriage with any outside of the meeting, prohibiting members also from
going to law to recover property, and regarding a liberal education as not
only unnecessary, but dangerous, he was strongly impressed with a sense of
duty to labor, to modify and correct these traditional views. He believed
that whatever ground might have existed in early ages of the church for
strict adherence to such rules, the time for a change had come.

About the time of his ordination (1847) as bishop of the Mennonites of
the district of Skippack, Providence and Methachen he conceived the idea,
in connection with his son, Rev. Henry A. Hunsicker, of founding a
boarding-school to furnish his people better means of education. This was
accomplished in 1848 by the erection, upon land which belonged to him, of
the extensive buildings now occupied as Ursinus College. At the head of
this school his son, Henry A., who was shortly after ordained a minister,
was placed, together with able assistants. The supervisory charge of
bishop, which he now held, had been filled for many years previously by his
father, Rev. Henry Hunsicker, Sr., who died in 1836, at the advanced age of
eighty-five years, after fifty-four years service as minister. Holding it
to be the right and privilege of women, as well as men, to be liberally
educated, he proposed, in 1851, in conjunction with Professor J. W.
Sunderland, to found Montgomery Female Institute (now Pennsylvania Female
College) near by, which was also in due time accomplished.


These proceedings in the cause of education, and other liberal views
held by Mr. Hunsicker, led to division in the Mennonite body of the locality,
and he proceeded at once to organize Trinity Christian Church of Freeland
and to build a new house of worship, he tendering the ground for the
purpose. This enterprise was accomplished in 1853. Unlike the society in
which he had been raised, he regarded Sunday-schools as a necessary adjunct
of the church, and soon had a flourishing school connected with the
meeting. In a missionary spirit he planted a Reformed Church and school at
Skippackville, which, like the Freeland society, has flourished, and both
are ministered to by his son-in-law, Rev. Joseph H. Hendricks. These
societies differ from old school Mennonites not only in the matters before
stated, but also in holding protracted meetings, with a view of gathering
in the unconverted.

Being of a humane and practically benevolent nature, be dispensed freely
what be had to give, and labored long and hard to establish, through the
church, a systematic poor fund, that should supersede the necessity of
beneficial organizations outside of its pale. Notwithstanding his efforts
in this direction, he combated the prejudice of his late brethren in the
church, who were opposed to secret societies, though he never belonged to
any of them himself. He thought the church ought to feel a concern for the
material welfare of its members, as it claims to overlook their spiritual
wellbeing. Practcal religion, born of love and good-will to all, was pre-
eminently his, and that which he labored to establish; hence he was ever
impatient of meaningless customs and traditions founded on the letter, but
destroying the spirit of the gospel. Accordingly, he was an advocate of
free communion among evangelical sects, and set the example in the church
to which he ministered. He continued to wear the plain Mennonite garb while
he lived, but was not prepossessed in its favor, rather holding attire to
be a thing of religious liberty, as he also thought of the form of baptism.
He held, however, that the pouring on of water was the significant form of
the rite, but would have every one act on his or her conscientious
convictions in the matter.

He was of such clear judgment and so untrammeled in thought that he
followed the Divine word as he understood it. He was of a mild and
generous nature, and yet uncompromising in what he regarded as
vital; so that he may be set down as one of the genuine reformers of our
day. In alms-giving he was free to a fault. Although he differed from his
old Mennonite brethren in many things, he had the most exuberant charity
for those who differed from him in their attachment to forms and dogma.

In person he was tall and stoutly built, weighing over two hundred
pounds, with a face expressive of honesty, force and resolution; his
forehead was massive, and his temperament sanguine-bilious, indicating power
and endurance; his complexion was dark, but ruddy; he enjoyed good health,
as a consequence of a good constitution, vivacious spirits and temperate
living; he was eminently social, finding enjoyment in the company of young
or old alike, and ever giving appropriate advice arid counsel to all.

From the time of settlement in Upper Providence, in 1816, he resided on the
same farm until 1851. Subsequently he moved on a smaller property purchased
from Wm. T. Todd in 1846, in the lower part of the village, where he
continued to make until within three or four years of his death, when he
and his aged partner went to live with their daughter, Mrs. Rev. J. T. Preston.
Abraham Hunsicker died January 12, 1672, aged seventy-nine years. His widow
still (1884) survives at an advanced age.

The grandfather of the subject of this biography was Henry Hunsicker, a
Mennonite preacher, whose children were

Garrett Hunsicker was married to Catherine Detwiler, whose children are
Henry G.
Abram D.

Henry G. Hunsicker was born, February 15, 1812, in East Perkiomen and
enjoyed only such advantages as were to be found a the schools adjacent to
his home, after which he engaged in active labor. He was, on the 10th of
January, 1835, married to Hannah Stauffer, whose, birth occurred September
16, 1815. The children of this marriage are

Garrett S.
Hannah (married to G. W. Pennepacker)
Lizzie (wife of Horace Ashenfelter), whose children are
Henry H.

Mr. Hunsicker is identified with the business interest of the county,
having served for twenty year as director of the Montgomery National Bank,
and for ten years as director of the Montgomery Mutual Fire and Storm
Insurance Company. In politics he is a Republican, but not active as a
politician. In religion he is a Mennonite and member of the Upper
Providence Mennonite Society.

Horace Ashenfelter, son-in-law of Mr. Hunsicker, is descended from John
Ashenfelter, who was born June 7, 1771, and married, March 26, 1799, Mary
Spare, whose birth occurred January 20, 1775. Their children were
Catherine (Mrs. George Reiff), born August 25, 1801
Jonas, born November 9, 1805, married to Margaret Davis
Samuel, whose birth occurred January 8, 1808, married to Rebecca Miller;
John S., born December 5, 1810.

The latter was married, November 1, 1846, to Susan Johnson. Their children are

Henry J.
William J.
Abram J.
John J.
Frank J.

HENRY W. KRATZ. Mr. Kratz is of German descent, Valentine, his great-
great-grandfather, having emigrated from the Fatherland and settled in
Pennsylvania. The birth of his son, Valentine, occurred in Montgomery
County. Among the children of the latter was a son Isaac, who resided in
Perkiomen township, Montgomery Co., where he married Catharine Hunsicker
and had children,-

Rebecca (Mrs. Wm. Godshall, now deceased)
Catherine (Mrs. Jacob Rittenhouse)
Mary (Mrs. John Bean)
Elizabeth (Mrs. Wm. Young)
Ann (Mrs. Henry Cassel).

Valentine was born in Perkiomen township October 10, 1810, and married
Mary, daughter of Henry Weikel, of the township of Upper Providence, born
November 9, 1809. Their children are
Henry W.
Catherine (deceased)
Sarah (deceased)
Elizabeth (deceased).
The eldest, and subject of this biographical sketch, was born in Perkiomen
township on the 31st of July, 1834, and at the age of six years removed to
Trappe, in Upper Providence, since that date his residence. After a
thorough English and partial classical education, received first at the
common schools and later at the Washington Hall Collegiate Institute, at
Trappe, he engaged in teaching at the latter point and in the immediate
vicinity, and for eighteen consecutive years continued his professional
labor, one year of this time having been spent at the Washington Hall
Collegiate Institute. In 1862, Mr. Kratz Was elected justice of the peace.
by his Republican constituents, and held the office continuously for a
period of twenty years. In 1866-67 he was appointed transcribing and
message clerk of the State Senate, and in the fall of 1881 was elected
recorder of deeds for the county of Montgomery, remaining the incumbent of
that office until 1885. These offices were filled with ability and
integrity, characteristic of the man. Mr. Kratz has been and is in
sympathy with every movement having for its purpose the moral, educational
and material advancement of the county. He is president of the


board of directors of Ursinus College, at Collegeville, director of the
National Bank of Schwenksville, manager and secretary of the Perkiomen
Valley Mutual Fire and Storm Insurance Company, president of the board of
managers of the Black Rock Bridge Company, and manager of the Perkiomen and
Reading Turnpike Company. He is a prominent representative of the Masonic
fraternity, and member of Warren Lodge, No. 310, of Trappe, and of
Hutchinson Commandery, No. 32, of Norristown. He is, in his religious
associations, identified with the Reformed Church, and is a member of the
St. Luke’s Reformed Church of Trappe, in which he has, for nearly a quarter
of a century, been chorister.

Mr. Kratz was, on the 26th of May, 1857, married to Miss Myra, daughter
of William Bean, of Trappe. Their children are Mary T., Kate B. (Mrs. Horace
Royer) and Henry Elmer, now living; and Irvin B. and Jane, deceased.

Jacob Kishter (as the name was originally spelled), the grandfather of
Anthony V. Custer, emigrated from Holland and settled in Montgomery County,
Pa., having purchased a tract of land in Worcester township, of that
county. His children were

Anne (Mrs. Pennypacker)
Catherine (Mrs. Slough)
Mary (Mrs. Slough) and
Mrs. Rittenhouse.

Peter Custer, the father of the subject of this biography, was born on the
homestead, and later made Lower Providence township his home, where he
remained until his removal to the property now owned by his home in Upper
Providence township. He married Rebecca, daughter of Anthony Vanderslice, of
the latter township, who resided upon the farm now owned by Mr. Custer. The
children of this marriage are
Anthony V.
Elizabeth (Mrs. Jacob Garges)
Nancy (Mrs. Christian Gross).

Anthony V., of this number, was born July 26, 1802, on the maternal
homestead, his present residence, where his whole life has been spent. The
youth of that day enjoyed but limited advantages of education and were
early taught habits of industry and economy. Anthony Custer was no
exception to this rule, and spent many more days in cultivating his
father’s land than with his books at school. The lessons of diligence and
thrift learned at that time proved of service to him in later years as he
fought manfully the battle of life. On the 1st of December, 1829, he
married Mary, daughter of Matthias Brumbach, of Lower Providence. Their
children are Louisa, deceased
Catherine, deceased (Mrs. Augustus Yoder)
Matthias, whose children are
Ida (Mrs. Isaac Garmer)
C. Flora
Louisa S.
Anthony W.
Werna L.
Olivia M.
Ann (Mrs. Elijah Brunner), whose only daughter is Elizabeth; and
Anthony, deceased.

Mr. Custer remained with his father, assisting him in his labors
until 1832, when he inherited the farm. In 1852 he rented the property for
a number of years, after which his son Mathias assumed charge, and now
cultivates it. Mr. Custer was formerly a Whig and is now a Republican, but
is neither active in politics nor a seeker after office, having been during
his busy life entirely absorbed in his own business interests. He is a
member of Augustus Lutheran Church, at Trappe, in which he has been for
forty years an exemplary elder.