The Historian - The story of the Rev. Doctor Benjamin Schneider: Part I

In September of 1717, three ships landed in Philadelphia carrying about 300 immigrants from the war ravaged areas of Southwest Germany. Among these was probably the group who bought most of the land in Swamp, New Hanover, from John Henry Sprogell. Sprogell had, in 1708, bought (under questionable circumstances) the whole 22,300 acres that today comprise New Hanover, Upper Hanover and the Pottsgrove townships. Selling the tract was the defunct Frankfort Land Company, which hadn’t made much progress in settling the tract.

With the arrival of Sprogell, anyone who had title to property in that tract from agents of the Frankfort Land Company found their title to be worthless. It was not a Pennsylvania Deed and was not recognized. According to the law they were squatters. When they went to Philadelphia to protest, they found that Sprogell had already employed all four lawyers in the state. So, with no one to represent them they were out of luck and had to buy their property over again, from Sprogell.

But back to our settlers and their families. They were a mix of protestant sects, but the ones who came to Swamp were mainly Lutherans and German Reformed; I suspect they were acquainted and came from the same region. Among them were believed to be Johannes Schneider, Bastion Reifsnyder, Rev. Anthony Jacob Henkel (who founded St. Michaels Lutheran Church, Germantown), Gerhart Henkel (son of Rev. Henkel) and Valentine Geiger who had married Rev. Henkel’s daughter, Johanna Frederica. Geiger purchased 250 acres of land where the New Hanover Lutheran Church now stands on Apr. 16, 1718. Johannes Schneider purchased 200 acres on Dec. 9, which is now principally the acreage of the Gilbertsville Golf Course. Our story now is with immigrant Johannes Schneider and one of his descendents.

Kyle Miller, a 10th generation direct descendent of two of these pioneers (Valentine Geiger and Johannes Schneider) has a keen interest in family history.

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About the Schneider family, he writes in a letter: “It is amazing to see that the Schneider family has, in many ways and in every generation, given to its community great and influential, members, be it in the local, state or world community.” Johannes, the patriarch, petitioned in 1723 for a road through Swamp from Limerick to Oley. This became the Swamp Pike. He had five sons and died in 1734. These five sons all married and had large families, as did many of their children and so on down the generations to today.

The last Schneider to occupy the farm house was William H. Schneider who had seven children; three died in infancy. Of the four surviving children, two, Susan Stauffer and Ella Ritter, did not have any children. Their brother Henry William Schneider had two children who died in infancy. Rosa Ann Schneider married Adam F. Saylor Jr. and they had 10 children; however, this marked the end of the Schneider family in Swamp.

But, our interest now is with a great great grandson of Johannes, Benjamin Schneider, missionary and brother to William H. He was born in the Schneider House at Swamp, Jan. 18, 1807, to Henry Schneider and Anna Maria Nyce. His grandfather Jacob, b. 1752, was a soldier in the Revolutionary War, a Justice of the Peace. He built and occupied the homestead, and operated a large farm as well as the Swamp tannery business. Benjamin’s father, Henry, b. 1781, was a veteran of the War of 1812, having served as a First Lieutenant in Humphrey’s 1st Regiment, Sensenderfer’s Company of the Montgomery Rifle Greens. He was elected a Montgomery County Commissioner in 1827. He was then appointed to serve as Montgomery County Treasurer in 1831 and later elected to the state legislature from 1833 to 1834. He died at the age of 90 in 1872.

Incidentally, the house that Jacob Schneider built in 1791 still stands. It is the derelict brick house that stands on the Swamp Pike next to the Minister Creek bridge just east of Our Place restaurant.

Henry Schneider sent his first-born son, Benjamin, away to board in Pottstown and attend school at the tender age of five. Did the young boy show rare promise, or was the father resolved to give his son opportunity not available in Swamp? Who knows?. But he never returned to Swamp except for one winter’s teaching at Markley’s School in 1823 and 1824, and then he boarded with his mother’s family.

The Schneider family were members of the Swamp Reformed congregation from the time of its first organization. Some details of Benjamin’s early life are provided by Henry S. Dotterer in Historical Notes Relating to the Pennsylvania Reformed Church (Vol. 1 Number 6), Oct. 10, 1899.

In it, Dotterer quotes a sibling, William H. Schneider, who says of his brother: “Benjamin left home when he was between four and five years old. He went to Pottstown to attend school. After he left Pottstown, he went to Norristown, and attended school in the Old Academy. He boarded with Mr. William Powell during his stay there. When about sixteen years of age he taught school two winters in our old school house at the church. [The term “old school house” implies to me that the brick school house of memory hadn’t yet been built in 1823; else he would have said “new” school house. Other accounts have him teaching at New Hanover Square]. Then he went to Amherst College [Boston], took a regular course and after he had graduated from college he entered the seminary in Andover to complete his studies for the ministry. After he had been in college some time he determined to go to some foreign country as a missionary. He so wrote to his father. At first his father was opposed to his going, but eventually he consented. After he was licensed as a minister, he was married to Miss Eliza Abbott, of the state of Massachusetts. Then they were sent by the Presbyterian Board of Missions to Turkey.” The German Reformed Church had no missionary outreach at that time.

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The Historian is produced by the New Hanover Historical Society. Call Robert Wood at 610-326-4165 with comments.