Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"Owed" to an Ugly Wife

The story goes that after a night of frolicking intoxication in Halifax, my 6th great grandfather, Daniel, woke up the next morning and found himself married. The spontaneous nuptials were bad enough, but worse, the “lady” in question was, how should I say this delicately - she put the UG in ugly.

Grandpa did what anyone might do in just such a situation. He packed up, and quickly put as much distance as possible between himself and said wife. This occurred in July 1753 and but for one small detail, this story would have been an obscure forgotten incident

The small detail - Daniel Schumacher, my 6th great grandfather, was a Lutheran minister and would be called on later to explain this little misstep in Nova Scotia.

His flight took him south, all the way to Philadelphia where he presented credentials from the Lutheran pastor of New York City and from the ministerium of Lutheran pastors of Hamburg, Germany.

The German papers identified young Daniel as a pastoral candidate, meaning he had studied theology at a German university. Though some were skeptical of Daniel and scandalized that he had performed the Lord’s Supper without proper ordination, there was such a hunger on the part of the German immigrants to hear the word preached in their native tongue, that a young man eager to take on the job of traveling minister was hard to turn down.

Of course, the letters from the Hamburg ministers turned out to be bogus. And it was these very letters that the New York minister, Johann Weygand, had based his own letter of recommendation. Weygand had written to his colleagues in Hamburg “…candidate Daniel Schumacher. He arrived here from Halifax a few weeks ago, and, because of the deep respect we for your reverences’ testimonial, we permitted him to preach here, and since he had been quite destitute in Halifax, we furnished him with new clothing, and then sent him to Pennsylvania, where he may expect a prompt assignment, or perhaps one here in our own province.”

Clearly, Weygand, whose financial support came from Hamburg, was anxious to let the group know that he was taking care of their young protégé. In 1755, Weygand received a letter from Dr. Friedrich Wagner, of the Hamburg ministerium, stating that no one there could recall a candidate by the name of Daniel Schumacher. Additionally, there were complaints locally of Daniel’s cursing and drunkenness. The news of an abandoned wife in Canada had also surfaced.

Slowly, Daniel’s web of lies and half truths began to unravel. The synod disassociated with him. He would never become an officially ordained minister, which left him particularly bitter and surly when it came to the folks of the Lutheran synod. He did, however, continue with what he perceived to be his true calling, preaching the gospel as an independent minister.

By this time, Schumacher had endeared himself to his congregations in what are now the counties of Berks, Lehigh, Northampton and Schuylkill in Pennsylvania. In each church where he officiated, he started registers to record the events, and kept his own register with notes of all the baptisms he performed, over 1500 in all.

For some of these baptisms, he created special, hand decorated baptismal certificates called, Taufscheine. These decorated certificates were a form of the Pennsylvania German folk art, known as Fraktur. He also decorated some of his church registers in the same manner. Daniel’s Fraktur works still exist today and are highly prized pieces of art. He also was an accomplished writer and poet.

An Example of Daniel Schumacher's Work from "Publications of The Pennsylvania German Society, Vol.1"

He encouraged, when appropriate, his parishioners to build churches, which were often the center of community life in the back woods of Pennsylvania. He continued to serve them and travel to their homes and churches, even though the ongoing French and Indian War made such travel dangerous. And though at times he could be found in the center of congregational controversy, he remained a popular minister whose flock was very loyal.

He would marry a local girl, Maria Elisabeth Steigerwalt who must have met Daniel’s standard for beauty, have seven children, and own a 100-acre farm in Lehigh County in Pennsylvania. He died there in May of 1787.

Daniel was a man of many talents and many flaws. It’s hard to believe that a large number of people with Pennsylvania Dutch heritage owe knowledge of their own ancestral history to Daniel Schumacher’s registers and that a significant number of people are walking the earth today because Daniel couldn’t stand to look at an ugly wife.

Written for 51st Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy – Independent Spirit


Publications of The Pennsylvania German Society, Vol.1, Allentown, Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania German Society, 1968.

Wertkin, Gerard C, editor and Lee Kogan, associate editor, Encyclopedia of American Folk Art, Routlege, New York, 2004.

A History of Weisenberg Church, 1981. Digital Images, Ancestry, www.ancestry.com, 2008.

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