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Christopher Saur I

The Elder Sower

To the first Christopher Sower belongs the honor of having transplanted German printing to America. He it was who first on this continent engaged in German book-printing. He it was who first called into life on this continent the German newspaper, and who, along with his son, conducted it for forty consecutive years.

Laasphe, Germany, Home of Christopher Sower [Click for larger image]If we consider the extraordinary development that the German book and newspaper trade has since attained in the United States, and the influence it has exerted upon the refinement, culture, and well-being of a large element in our population, we cannot refrain from casting grateful looks backward to the two men, who, nearly two centuries ago, were the means of introducing to us this great lever of civilization. The history of these men is enwrapped in the whole intellectual and religious life of the nation. No history of the forces that made America can ignore these sterling men. They wrought in peace. But their life and their work became an enduring and potential influence in moulding the life of the country. They were broader than sect or arty, and outlived their own generation. They live to-day in a thousand influences that enter into the complex social, educational, industrial, and religious life which we call American civilization.

Of the life of the first Sower very little is known.1 He was born in 1693 in the village of Laasphe, a town of Wittgenstein (now in the district Arensburg), Westphalia.

1His name at the first was written Sauer; later Saur, and still later it was anglicised into Sower.

Laasphe was in close proximity to Berleburg and to Schwarzenau, centers of extraordinary religious activity. The opening years of Sower's life were passed in the midst of remarkable religious movements. Protestation against the rigid, inflexible orthodoxy and unpopular policy of a worldly church had become manifest in Germany, Holland and other portions of Europe. Men of pious purpose denounced the state churches as so many Babels, and the ministers thereof as so many priests of Baal.  These enthusiastic people were styled "Fanatics," "Enthusiasts," "Anabaptists," etc. Itinerant preachers, exhorting to repentance and announcing the near approach of the kingdom of Christ, were found in every conceivable place preaching to one or more people as occasion permitted. This they did at their own peril. Church and state formed unholy league to imprison, disperse, and destroy them. The red hand of blood was raised menancingly over them. They were messengers of God doomed to tortures and the crown of martyrdom.

There were a few places in the great German Empire where, because of fortuitous conditions, these persecuted people found rest and refuge. Among these were the petty principalities of Isenberg (including Büdingen and Marienborn) and Wittgenstein. In these free states these exiles were welcomed and protected.

The ruler of the petty sovereignty where Christopher Sower saw the light of day was Count Casimir, born in 1687. He began to administer the government in 1712. During his minority his pious mother, Countess Helwig Sophia reigned. She was a warm friend of Hochmann and a protector of all the "awakened" ones, including Alexander Mack and his friends.

Count Casimir followed the example of his mother and awarded the fullest protection to the Brethren and to all other pious souls.

It was this atmosphere, fragrant with the prayers of pious, religious refugees that Sower breathed in his young days. To the Brethren he was especially attached. That he was baptized in Germany is not probable.

Church near Laasphe, Germany, where the Sowers Worshiped [Click for larger image]As a child he attended the little Reformed church near Laasphe and, no doubt at first was a believer in their faith.

But he early withdrew and began to think for himself. Just what led him to the Brethren is not known. But for them he early manifested a warm friendship. When he approached young manhood it is surmised by some that he learned the trade of a tailor. This statement has no warrant beyond the follow:

"Saur is a very ingenious man. He is a separatist who has become dexterous in, at least thirty (30) trades. For, having come over to America as a tailor, he has since become a printer, apothecary, surgeon, botanist, clock and watchmaker, cabinet maker, book-binder, newspaper maker, manufacturer of his own tools, wire and lead drawer, paper maker, etc. etc."2

2Acta-Historica-Ecclestiastica, Vol. XV, p. 213.

"That this is not true is apparent when we remember that he was a doctor of medicine and a graduate of Marlburg University.3 He acquired his medical lore at Halle in the famous school of August Hermann Francke. In 1698, Francke established an institution known as "Das Hallische Waisenhaus." For the support of this institution Francke compounded medicines, after recipes bequeathed to him by Burgstaller, a Pietist of Erfurt. Here and at Marlburg Sower was educated. He was not, according to all the records of his descendants, a tailor. He is not known to have practiced this occupation either in Europe or in America.

3Marlburg was the first Protestant University. It was founded in 1527, by Philip the Magnanimous, Landgraf of Hesse.

"One eminent authority in Germany, who crossed the Atlantic to study his theme in two continents says he "learned the spectacle manufacture in his native city."4 This opinion has some value and is founded, no doubt, upon evidence not accessible to the American compilers who would detract from the fair fame of a man who impressed the scholarly Kapp as "being a man who enjoyed a very good education and who wrote for his time very pure and flowing German."

4Friedrich Kapp, in a German treatise on "The German-American Book Printing and Book Trade in the Former Century." a copy of which rare work is in my library.

"Of his life in Germany little is known. He was married early in the 18th century and his wife, Maria Christina, gave birth on Sept. 26, 1721, to their only child, Christopher the Second, who later became a bishop or elder in the German Baptist Brethren church at Germantown.

"In the autumn of 1724 the Sower family, father, mother and son, arrived at Germantown to being a new home in a new land. At Germantown Sower met Peter Becker and others with whom he was acquainted in Germany. He was, however anxious to establish a home in a prospectively fertile and populous section of country, and, in the spring of 1726, he removed to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and settled at Muelbach, attracted there in part, perhaps, by Conrad Beissel, whom he had met in Germany. Here he purchased fifty (50) acres of land in Leacock Township and ostensibly began to farm. It is more than likely, however, that he here gained his livelihood as Kapp declares "as a hygeist and dealer in healing herbs." Just what influence was exerted upon Sower by Beissel is not definitely known.

"There is some evidence to show that he became a member of the Brethren church, although he is usually called a Separatist. Many writers in the Messenger Almanacs, and other publications of the Brethren assert boldly and unqualifiedly that he was a member of the church. They are all mistaken, and have been led to this statement, no doubt, by confusing father and son, or through ignorance of the fact that there were three Sowers named Christopher, who were prominently identified with the activities of the early church.

"The documentary reasons for believing that the elder Sower was a Dunker are the following:

  1. Lapp says, "He emigrated with a number of Schwarzenau Dunkers, his companions in opinion."
  2. Michael Eckerlin, who came to Pennsylvania with his mother and three younger brothers in 1725, moved to Lancaster county in August, 1727, and for a while adhered to the Mennonites. He liked their simplicity of dress, but "to their mode of worshop," he declares, "I could never adapt myself." Then he turned to the new congregations of Dunkers, over which Conrad Beissel then acted as leader. This was before the division had occurred between the Brethren and the Beissel party at Ephrata. Here follow the words of Eckerlin: "After that I worked for Christopher Sower, who brought me to a meeting of the new congregation, at which I was strengthened in my good resolve to such a degree, by the words of the Superintendent (Beissel), that on Whitsuntide of the 1728, I was incorporated in this new congregation by holy baptism, together with my master and another brother, Jacob Gass, by name."5
  3. 5Chronicon Ephratense, p. 41-2.
  4. Julius F. Sachse, who has just announced a new work on the Ephrata Society, told the writer, in a recent conversation, that Conrad Beissel had baptized the elder Sower.
  5. In a letter, written by Sower at his home in Germantown, November 17, 1738, and published in "Geistliche Fama" No. 25, p. 85, Sower himself says, "Where shall I find the words to praise the good God? I am greatly indebted to him. Be my life all consecrated to His service and the glorification of His name! In my weakness before this great blessing, this was my desire and longing, thus to spend the time of my existence and my whole life. Therefore I have even wished to set up a printing press in this land, which N. has bought for me and forwarded hither." He continues to explain why he was moved to this conclusion by relating that the Dunkers at a love feast prepared in his behalf sought to bind his heart to the purpose of becoming a book printer; giving as their reason that the growth and development of the church depended upon having a German printer who would aid the church by disseminating through books and magazines and other publications the literature of the church.
  6. "Here we have Sower's own statement that he was at a love feast of the Brethren. We have already seen that from the very beginning the church was censured for a rigid rule of close communication, a rule which it never abrogated. If, then, Sower participated in the love feast Sower was a member.

    "May we not pause to think of this love feast? German printing for America born at a love feast of the Brethren church! The holy men of God so impressed at this early day (1738) with the need of additional aid to evangelize America call the congregation to a holy communion, and in the spirit of the most sacred service of the church the petition is sent to God and the need is pressed upon Christopher Sower. He goes from this meeting of the church of the Brethren and lo! the German press in America begins its multifarious work!

  7. When Christopher Sower erected his house in Germantown he constructed the second story with movable partitions in order that religious services might be held in it. What religious services? There were almost a score of religious bands, all of them Separatists, in the vicinity of Germantown. Did he open his house to all of these? By no means. His house was the Brethren meetinghouse from 1731 to the time of his death in 1758. It was a place of worship for the Brethren and for them only.
  8. He had one son, his heir and successor in business, whom he devotedly loved, carefully educated, and early entrusted with large business responsibilities. Between them there never was a shadow of difference. This son at the early age of sixteen joined a church. What church was he likely to join? His father evidently sanctioned and advised a choice. The young Sower joined the pious band that worshipped under his father's roof. He became a leading elder in the church of the German Baptist Brethren.

These six facts are submitted at length to answer the oft asked question, Was the first Sower a Dunker? The reader may draw his own conclusion.

In Lancaster County; Christopher Sower was saddened by the action of his wife. In the autumn of 1730, persuaded by the mystical Beissel that marriage tarnishes the clear crystal of the soul's purity, she left her husband and home and only child, received baptism at the hands of Beissel, and began a life of a solitary. "She lived alone in the wilderness for some time, proving that a man's spirit could dwell in a woman's form."6 By "alone" in this statement one must understand that she lived away from her husband. She was accompanied in this move by the wife of Philip Hanselmann. Later, these women entered the sister's house at Ephrata, and Mrs. Sower was made subprioress of the sisterhood, and was known as Sister Marcella. She was simply a victim of the religious unrest that swept the German settlement of Pennsylvania at this time. Her case is neither remarkable nor exceptional. It was, however, unfortunate. She remained at Ephrata until 1744, in which year her son was able to induce her to return to her home in Germantown. This she did "in the middle of November, 1744.7 Here a complete reconcilation occurred between husband and wife, and on June 20, 1745, she "she took upon herself the household duties of my father."8 She lived and loved her family until, as her son says, "December 14, 1752, my dear mother has blessedly fallen asleep in heaven."9

6Chronicon Ephratense, p. 56.
7From her son's Diary, p. 2.
8Ibid, p. 2.
9Ibid, p. 4.

Residence of Christopher Sower, First and Second [Click for larger image]In the meantime Christopher Sower began to turn longingly to Germantown. The action of his wife was, doubtless, a cause of his desiring to leave the Conestoga country. But why did he return to Germantown? In 1729, Alexander Mack, whom he had known and loved in Europe, came to Germantown. Sower was drawn to him and so in April, 1731, father and son removed to Germantown. He purchased six acres of ground and began the erection of a large house, 60x60 feet, two stories and an attic.10 It was one of the most pretentious residences in Germantown; and stood at what is now 4645-4653 Germantown Avenue, adjoining the still standing and historic old Wistar Mansion.

10Rupp's 30,000 Names, p. 473. This acreage was subsequently largely increased.

Here he took up the "business learned in his youth, that of an optician.11 To this he added the business of clock-maker and apothecary.  His great-great-grandson, the distinguished Philadelphia publisher, Charles G. Sower, has in his house one of the old wall-clocks made by his honored ancestor.  That he was engaged in the apothecary business is beyond question, as we shall see later on.

11Kapp's German-American Book Printing and Book Trade.

In 1738 he secured from Germany a printer's outfit.  It consisted of a press and a small collection of type.  The Brethren and others at Berleburg began as early as 1726 the publication of the now famous Berleburg Bible.12 It was published in eight volumes and was completed in 1742.  The press work was doen by a printer from Strassburg, John Jacob Haug.  This press, says Abraham H. Cassel, was afterwards sent by the Brethren to America and became the property of Christopher Sower.  This is in now way inconsistent with the facts in the case, for there is a record in Berleburg that states that friends in that city had purchased a large press upon which to complete the Bible, and that they had sold their brethren in opinion in Germantown the smaller press used by them up to this time.13 If this is so the old Sower press is historically significant and was really the property of the church until it was given to Sower for his publishing interests.

12Alexander Mack and other Brethren contributed liberally to the fund for the publication of the Bible.
13Kapp's German-American Book Printing and Book Trade.

Sower Printing Press [Click for larger image]Upon it also, the first volumes of the Berleburg Bible were printed.  This Bible was much prized by the early Brethren, and those who could afford it brought copies to America or had them imported.  The copy that belonged to Christopher Sower, still in excellent preservation, is now in the

14There is also a copy in the library of Mt. Morris College.

library of Juniata College.14 Sower was the agent for the sale of the Berleburg Bible in America.

 

And now, in 1738, began the most marvelous activity on the part of Christopher Sower.  His press at once turned out an A B C and spelling book "to be used by all religious without reasonable hesitation."15 In August of the same year appeared "The High-German American calendar for the year 1739."  This Almanac, the first German one, published in America, was issued annually by Sower, his son, and his grandson, for forty-nine years.  These almanacs were circulated from New York to Georgia.  It is related that a farmer, named Welker, from above Sunnytown, consulted his almanac, found it promised fair weather, loaded his wagon, and started for Philadelphia.  On the way it began to rain.  Welker was angry.  He denounced the "weather book" and decided to stop at Sower's place in Germantown and give him a severe reprimand for publishing such lies.

15This book is noted by Seidensticker in The First Century of German Printing in America as belonging to 1738 or '39. Kapp says 1738.

Sower listened to his harangue and then meekly replied, "Friend, be not thus angry, for although I made the Almanac, the Lord Almighty made the weather.

In 1748, his Almanac was printed in two colors, red and black.  These were very popular, especially because they were bound with interleaved blank pages upon which farmers could keep their accounts.16 His almanacs contained useful suggestions on the treatments of diseases and the use of medicinal herbs.  Beginning in 1762 and continuing to 1778 the almanacs contained a complete description of all the herbs used in the whole Materia Medica.  These articles were taken from the great German Herbal of Dr. Zwinger.17

16Copies of these are in the Cassel collection now in my possession. A complete set of the Sower almanacs is in the library of Juniata College.
17The copy of this work used by Sower is in the possession of the writer.

In the early days the Brethren were greatly in need of hymn books.  This need found expression in a letter from Germantown, dated October 28, 1730, in which the writer says, "The most willing of these accompanying friends wish to settle in the New Berleburg community.  They urgently crave hymn books.  If the friends would do us a great kindness, please send us a couple of hundred."18

18Ecclestiastical Reports, communicating a few new items concerning religious revivals, etc. Budingen, 1744, Volume III, p. 50.

Title Page of First German Hymn Book [Click for larger image]The first response to this need was the Weyrauchs Hügel, a collection of hymns compiled and selected by Conrad Beissel and his followers at Ephrata and published in Germantown by Sower in 1739.

Dr. Seidensticker says, "It is the first American book in German type."19 It is a fine volume of over eight hundred pages.  Over this book Beissel and Sower had a quarrel.  In the 400th hymn, the 37th verse is as follows:

Sehet, sehet, Sehet an!
Sehet, Sehet an den Mann!
Der von Gott erhöhet ist,
Der ist unser Herr und Christ.

which literally translated is:

Look, look, look,
Look look upon the Man;
He is exhalted by God;
He is our Lord and Christ.
19First Century of German Printing in America, p. 11. Two copies of this rare hymn book are in the library of the writer.

Sower's compositor asked what this meant, as he thought Beissel was referring to himself.  Sower wrote to Beissel enquiring what it meant.  Beissel replied by calling Sower a fool.  Sower soon after issued a phamplet censuring Beissel and pointing out that his name—Conradus Beusselius—contained the number 666 of the beast of Apocalypse.  This estrangement continued for many years.  But in 1744, on the return of Sower's wife to her home, the friendship of these men was renewed and continued until Sower's death.  In the pricate letter book of Beissel, now in my library, are three letters to Sower from Beissel in which the warmest expressions of Christian love are repeatedly and earnestly pressed upon the pious printer.20

20For a full account of this controversy see Pennypacker's Historical and Biographical Sketches, p. 225; Dr. Seidensticker's Die Deutsch-Amerikauischen Incunabula in Vol. VIII, p. 475, of Deutsche Pioneer; and Chronicon Ephratense, p. 104.

In 1739, also appeared the first number of the Der Hoch-Deutsch Pennsylvanische Geschicht-Schreiber, the first German newspaper in America.  The only known copy of this first number is in my possession, and, because of its significance and rarity, I have reproduced the entire newspaper.

Der Hoch-Deutsch Pennsylvanische Geschicht-Schreiber, oder Sammung (The High-German Pennsylvanian Historical Recorder, or Collection) [Click for larger image]This newspaper, under various titles, was continued regularly until the Revolutionary War abruptly ended the Sower printing house at Germantown.  The unpretentious little sheet contained four pages, of two columns each; each page was 13x9 inches.  The first issue bears date, August 20, 1739.  As early as 1751, the subscription list was 4,000, and Sower complained that the large increase prevented its appearing on time.  The teamsters who hauled it through the German settlements also complained about the number.  Three hundred and thirty copies went to the Conestoga country alone, and hundreds sifted their way regularly through the German population of Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia.

But the monumental task of Sower's life was the printing and publishing of the Holy Bible.  As early as 1740, Sower felt impelled to print the Bible.  In 1742, he issued a prospectus,21 and in 1743 the royal quarto Bible, the first Bible in a European tongue published in American.  It was 7½x10 inches, and contained 1,248 pages.

21See advertisement of this in Bradford's Mercury, March, 1742.

First German Newspaper in America [Click for larger image]The details of this undertaking are so many and so complex that they must be deferred to a subsequent volume, for which the writer has for several years been gathering data.  This work will (D. V.) appear under the title, "The Life and Labors of the two Christopher Sowers."

The difficulties of the undertaking are stated by his own descendant as follows: "Stereotyping had not been invented and the magnitude of the undertaking at tha time can now be scarcely estimated.  Only forms of four pages could be set up at a time, on which the sheets for the whole edition would be printed, when the types were distributed before commencing the next form.  Finding his supply of types insufficient even for this, he contrived moulds and commenced casting them into types.

He also made paper, compounded his own printers' ink, bound his books, besides various other employments in which his services could be made useful.  Indeed, like a sensible immigrant, in a new country, he refused no employment in which his ready ingenuity and abilities were needed.  He enlarged and increased his business of publishing until his publications in the German and English languages numbered over two hundred different works, mainly of a religious character."22

22Address of Charles G. Sower at Germantown, Pa., Jan. 1, 1899.

Title Page of Saur Bible, 1743 [Click for larger image]This Bible was issued forty years before Robert Aitken published the first English Bible in America.  The type that Sower made were cast in a matrix forged in his own machine shop by his employee, Flickenstein.  The anvil upon which these moulds were made was long held in regard by Frederick Flickenstein, son of the former, and at the latter's death it passed into the possession of the late Jabez Gates, in whose family it now is and through whose courtesy a photograph of it is here reproduced.  To the more than two hundred works from his press from 1739 to 1758 one cannot even refer.  They cover a wide range of subjects and made him easily the foremost sower of good seen in Colonial America.

Anvil on which Matrices were Forged for the Type of the Saur Bible of 1743 [Click for larger image]A brief summary of his many activities follows:23 Could you have entered any German home from New York to Georgia in 1754 and asked, "Who is Christoph Saur?"—you would have learned that in every German home the Bible, opened morning and evening, was printed in 1743 by Christoph Saur; that the sanctuary and hearth were wreathed in music from the Davidische Psalterspiel printed by Christoph Saur; that the family almanac, rich in medicinal and historic data, and containing the daily weather guide of the family, was printed by Christoph Saur in 1739, and every year thereafter until his death in 1758, and then by his son until 1778; that the religious magazine, printed with pious ardor and read with profound appreciation, was printed by Christoph Saur; that the secular newspaper, containing all the current domestic and foreign news, linking the farm of the German with the whole wide world, was printed from 1739 by Christoph Saur; that the ink and paper used in sending letters to loved ones across the sea came from the shop of Christoph Saur, and was of his own manufacture; that the new six-plate stove, glowing in the long winter evenings with warmth and welcome, was invented and sold by Christoph Saur; that the medicine that brought health to the sick was compounded by Dr. Christoph Saur; that the old clock, telling the hours, the months and phases of the moon, in yon corner of the room, was made by Christoph Saur; that almost every book upon the table was printed by Christoph Saur, upon his own press, with type and ink of his own manufacture, and bound in his own bindery; that the dreadful abuses and oppressions they suffered in crossing the Atlantic had been lessened by the herioc protests to Governor Denny of one man, and that man was Christoph Saur; that the sick emigrants upon landing at Philadelphia were met by a warm friend who conveyed them in carriages to his own house, and without money and without price nursed them to health, had the Gospel of the Savior preached to them, and sent them rejoicing and healed to their wilderness homes, and that friend was Christoph Saur; that, in short, the one grandest German of them all, loved and followed most devotedly, was Christoph Saur, the Good Samaritan of Germantown.

23From Inaugural Address of the writer as President of the State Teachers' Association of Pennsylvania, Bellefonte, Pa., July 5, 1898.

As the warm champion of the German emigrants he won their universal love and respect. His paper was potent in the political life of the colony. He always stood with the Quakers as opposed to war and led an aggressive campaign against all oppression. His two letters to Governor Denny of Pennsylvania are typical of the man, and they must close this sketch.

Trials of Early German Emigrants.
Germantown, Pa., March 15th, 1755.

Honored and Beloved Sir:—

Confidence in your wisdom and clemency made me so free as to write this letter to you.  I would not have that anybody should know these private lines, otherwise it would have become me to get a hand who is able to write in a proper manner and style to a person as your station requireth.

It is now thirty years since I came to this province, out of a country where no liberty of conscience was, nor humanity reigned in the house of my then country lord, and where all the people is owned with their bodies to the lord there, and are obliged to work for him six days in every week, viz.: three days with a horse, and three days with a hoe, shovel or spade; or if he cannot come himself, he must send somebody in his room, (or stead).  And when I came this province and found everything to the contrary from where I came from, I wrote largely to all my friends and acquaintances of the civil and religious liberty, privileges, &c., and of the goodness I have heard and seen, and my letters were printed and re-printed, and provoked many a thousand people to come to this province, and many thanked the Lord for it, and desired their friends also again to come here.

Some years the price was five pistols per head freight, and the merchants and captains crowded for passengers, finding more profit by passengers than by goods, &c.

A gold coin worth from $3 to $5.

But the love for great gain caused that Steadman lodged the poor passengers like herrings, and as too many had not room between decks, he kept abundance of them upon deck; and sailing to the southward, where the people were at once out of their climate, and for the want of water and room, became sick and died very fast, in such a manner that in one year no less than two thousand was buried in the seas and Philadelphia.  Steadman, at that time, bought a license in Holland that no captain or merchant could load any as long as he had not two thousand loaded.  This murdering trade made my heart ache, especially, when I heard that there was more profit by their death than by carrying them alive.  I thought of my provoking letters being partly the cause of so many people's death.  I wrote a letter to the magistrate at Rotterdam, and immediately the Monopolium was taken from John Steadman.

Our Legislature was also petitioned, and a law was made as good as it is, but was never executed.  Mr. Spaffort, an old, poor captain, was made overseer for the vessels that came loaded with passengers, whose salary came to from $200 to $300 a year, for concealing the fact that sometimes the poor people had but twelve inches place, and not half bread nor water.  Spaffort died, and our Assembly chose one Mr. Trotter who left every ship slip, although he seen that a great many people had no room at all, except in the long boat, where every man perished.  There were so many complaints so that many in Philadelphia and almost all Germantown signed a petition that our Assembly might give that office to one Thomas Say, an English merchant, at Philadelphia, of whom we have the confidence that he would take no bribe for concealing what the poor people suffered; or, if they will not turn Mr. Trotter out of office, to give him an assistance of one Daniel Mackinett, a shop-keeper in Philadelphia, who speaks Dutch and English, who might speak with the people in their language—but in vain, except they have done what I know not.

Among other grievances the poor Germans suffer is one, viz: that when the ignorant Germans agrees fairly with merchants at Holland for seven pistols and a half, when they come to Philadelphia the merchants make them pay what they please, and take at least nine pistols.  The poor people on board are prisoners.  They durst not go ashore, or have their chests delivered, except they allow in a bond or pay what they owes not; and when they go into the country, they loudly complain there, that no justice is to be had for poor strangers.  They show their agreements, wherein is fairly mentioned that they ails to pay seven pistols and a half to Isaac and Zachary Hoke, at Rotterdam, or their order at Philadelphia, &c., and as this is so much practiced, that at least 2000 or 3000 pounds in each year the country is wronged from.  It was much desired that among wholesome laws, such a one may be made that when such vessels arrive, that a commissioner might be appointed to inspect into their agreement and judge if 7½ pistols make not seven and a half.  Some of the Assemblymen was asked whether there was no remedy?  They answered, "the law is such that what is above forty shillings must be decided at court, and every one must make his own cause appear good and stand a trial."  A very poor comfort for two or three thousand wronged people, to live at the discretion of their merchants.  They are so longing to go ashore, and fill once their belly, that they allow and pay what is demanded; and some are sighing, some are cursing, and some believe that their case differs very little from such that falls in the hands of highwaymen who present a pistol upon their breast and are desired to give whatever the highwayman pleaseth; and who can hinder them thinking so?  I, myself, thought a commission could be ordered in only such cases, but I observed that our Assembly has more a mind to prevent the importation of such passengers than to do justice to them; and seeing that your honor is not of the same mind, and intends to alter the said bill, I find myself obliged to let your Honor know the mean points, without which, nothing will be done to the purpose.

I was surprised to see the tittle of the bill, which, in my opinion is not the Will of the crown, nor of the proprietors, neither is it the will of the Lord, who gives an open way that the poor and distressed, the afflicted, and any people may come to a place where there is room for them; and if there is here no room any more, there is land enough in our neighborhood, as their are eight or nine counties of Dutch (German) people in Virginia, where many out of Pennsylvania is removed to.  Methinks it will be proper to let them come, and let justice be done to them. The order of our Lord is such: "Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy, deliver the poor and needy, and rid them out of the land of the wicked."—Ps. 82.

Beloved sir you are certainly a servant of the Lord our God, and I do believe that you are willing to do what lies in your power; but I am ready to think, that as you left the bill to your counsellors, you will not be so fully informed of the worst of the grievances, as one of them has a great share of the interest.  If these is not looked particularly into, that which is the most complained of, viz.: that the captains often hurry them away without an agreement, or the agreement is not signed, or if a fair agreement is written, signed and sealed, it will not be performed, and must pay whatever they pleases; and when the people's chests are put in stores until they go and fetch money by their friends, and pay for what they agreed upon, and much more, and demands their chest, they will find it opened and plundered of part or all; or the chest is not at all to be found wherefore they have paid, and no justice for them, because they have no English tongue, and no money to go to law with such as they are; and that we have no such an officer that will, or can speak with the people—but will rather take pay for concealing their grievances—and who will speak to such an one, as it stands?

The law is, that "a man may get security as good as he can."  But when merchants BINDS some people together, whose families were obliged to die, and is famished for want, and as a prisoner at the vessel is retained and forced to bind himselves—one for two or three, who are greatly indebted and who, perhaps, pays his own debt, while the others can't—he is forced to go out of the country, and will go rather than go to prison; and if poor widows are bound for others much in debt, who will marry such a one? must she not go sorrowful most of her life time?

Formerly, our Assembly has bought a house of an Island in the river Delaware, where healthy people will soon become sick.  This house might do very well in contagious distempers, but if a place were allowed on a healthy dry ground—where, by a collection, the Germans might build a house, with convenient places, and stoves for winter, &c.  It would be better for the people in common sickness, where their friends might attend them and take care of them—would be better than to perish under the merciless hands of their merchants; for life is sweet.

Beloved sir, I am old and infirm, bending with my staff to the grave, and will be gone by-and-by, but hoping that your Honor will not take it amiss to recommend you the helpless.  We beg and desire in our prayers that the Lord should protect us from all evil, and from all encroachments, and if we do the like unto them that are in poor condition and danger, we may expect that the Lord will do to us accordingly; but, and if we do to the contrary, how can we expect the Lord's protection over us?  For he promises to measure us as we do measure.

I conclude with a hearty desire that the Lord will give your Honor wisdom and patience, that your administration may be blessed, and in his time give you the reward of a good, true, and faithful servant.  And I remain your humble servant,

Christopher Saur.
Printer in Germantown.
Second Letter.
Germantown, Pa., May 12th, 1755.

Honored and Beloved Sir:

Although I do believe with sincerity, that you have at this time serious and troublesome business enough, neverthless, my confidence to your wisdom and patience, makes me write the following defective lines, whereby I don't desire as much as a farthing of profit for myself.

When I heard last that the Assembly adjourned, I was desirous to know what was done concerning the Dutch bill, and was told that your Honor have consented to all points, except that the German passengers need not) have their chests along with them; and because you was busy with more needful business, it was not ended.  I was sorry for it, and thought, either your Honor have no good counsellors, or you can't think of the consequences, otherwise you could not insist on this point.  Therefore I hope you will not take it amiss to be informed of the case, and of some of the consequences, viz.:—The crown of England found it profitable to peopleing the American colonies, and for the encouragement thereof, the coming and transportation of German Protestants was indulged, and orders was given to the officers at the customs houses in the ports of England, not to be sharp with the vessels of German passengers—knowing that the populating of the British colonies will, in time to come, profit more than the trifles of duty at the custom houses would import in the present time.  This the merchants and importers experienced.

They filled the vessels with passengers, and as much of merchant's goods as they thought fit, and left passengers chests, &c., behind; and sometimes they loaded vessels with Palatines chests by itself.  But the poor people depended upon their chests, wherein was some provision, such as they were used to, as dried apples, pears, plums, mustard, medicines, vinegar, brandy, gammons, butter, clothing, shirts, and other necessary linens, money and whatever they brought with them; and when their chests was left behind, or shipped in other vessels they had want of nourishment, and when not sufficient provision was shipped for the passengers, and they had nothing themselves, they famished and died.  Or, when they arrived alive, they had no money to buy bread, nor anything to sell; if they would sell spare clothes, they had no clothes nor shirt to strip themselves, nor was they able to cleanse themselves of louses and nastiness; or, if they was taken into houses, and trusting on their effects and money, when it comes, it was either left behind, or robbed and plundered by the sailors behind in the vessels; or if such a vessel arrived before them, it was searched by the merchants boys, &c., and their best effects, or all taken out, and no remedy for it.  And this last mentioned practice, that people's chests are opened and their best effects taken out, is not only a practice this twenty-five, twenty, ten or five years, or sometime only; but it is the common custom and daily complaints of, to the week last past, when a pious man living with me, had his chest broke open and three fine shirts and a flute was taken out.  The lock was broke to pieces, and the lid of the chest split with iron and chisels.  Such, my dear Sir, is the case, and if your Honor will countenance the mentioned practices, the consequence will be, that the vessels with passengers, will be filled with merchant's goods, wine, &c., as much as possible, and at the king's custom they will call it passengers drink and necessaries for the people, their household goods, &c., which will be called free of duty.  And if they please to load the vessels only with chests of passengers and what lies under them, that will be called also free of duty at the custom houses; and as there are no owners of the chests with them, and no bill of loading is ever given, nor will be given, the chests will be freely opened and plundered by the sailors and others, and what is left will be searched in the stores by the merchants' boys and their friends and acquaintances.  Thus, by consequence, the king will be cheated, and the smugglers and store-boys will be glad of your upholding and encourageing this, their very profitable business; but the poor sufferers will sigh or carry a revenge in their bosoms, according as they are godly or ungodly, that such thievery and robbery is maintained.<

If such a merchant should lose thirty, forty, fifty, or ten thousand pounds, he may have some yet to spend and to spare, and has friends, but if a poor man's chest is left behind, or plundered either at sea or in the stores, he has lost all he has.  If a rich man's store, or house, or chest is broke open and robbed or plundered, there is abundance of noise about it; but if 1000 of poor men's property is taken from them, in the mentioned manner, there is not a word to be said.

If I was ordered to print advertisements, that people who lost their chests, by leaving them behind against their will, or whose was opened and plundered at sea, when they was sent after them in other vessels, or whose was broke open and plundered in the stores at Philadelphia—should come and receive their value for it (not fourfold) but only single or half; your Honor would be wondering of a swarm from more than two or three thousand people.  But as such is not to be expected, it must be deferred to the decision of the great, great, long, long day, where certainly an impartial judgment will be seen, and the last farthing must be paid, whereas, in this present time, such poor sufferers had, and will have no better answer than as it is commonly given: "Can you prove who has opened and stolen out of your chest;" or "leave you a bill of lading?"  This has been the practice by some of the merchants at Philadelphia, and if it must continue any longer, the Lord our God must compare that city to her sister Sodom, as He said: "Behold, this was the iniquity of Sodom: pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her.  Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy, (Ezekiel 16: 49.) but rather weakened the hand of the poor and needy." (18: 12.)

We have at this time especially, need to call upon the Lord for his protection; but in the meantime we ought to cleanse our hands and if we will not, he will answer us hereafter: "And when you tread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you.  Yea, when you make many prayers, I will not hear, because your hands are full of blood."

P. S., June 12.—Beloved Sir:—If the Lord of all the Hosts shall bless your administration, you must have regard for His direction, (Psalm 82) more than to any of your counsellors; who may give you counsels more proper, where they have no interest in it for themselves.  Permit me to say if somebody would give me counsels directly against the will of the Lord, and against the interest of our gracious king, to cheat him, and against the welfare of this province, and to the dishonor of my character, I would think little of him or them.

The Lord bless our good king, and all his faithful ministers, and your Honor, and protect the city of Philadelphia and country, from all incursions and attempts of enemies.  But if you should insist against a remedy for the poor German's grievances—although no remedy is to be had for that which is past—and an attempt of enemies should ensue before the city of Philadelphia, you will certainly find the Germans faithful for, or the English nation; as you might have seen how industrious they are to serve the king and government, for the protection of their substance, life and liberties.  But, as there are many and many thousands who have suffered injustice of their merchants at Philadelphia, it would not be prudent to call on them all for assistance, as there are certainly many wicked among the Germans; which, if if they should find themselves overpowered by the French, I would not be bound for their behavior, that they would not make reprisals on them that picked their chests and forced them to pay what they owed not! and hindered yet the remedy for others.  No! if they were all Englishmen who suffered so much, I would much less be bound for their good behavior.

Pray, Sir, don't look upon this as a trifle; for there are many Germans, who have been wealthy people in Germany, who have lost sixty, eighty, one, two, three, four hundred to a thousand pounds worth, by leaving their chests behind, or was deprived and robbed in the stores, of their substance, and are obliged now to live poor, with grief.  If you do scruple the truth of this assertion, let them be called in the newspaper, with hopes for remedies, and your Honor will believe we; but if the Dutch (German) nation should hear that no regard is for them, and no justice to be obtained, it will be utterly in vain to offer them free schools—especially as they are be regulated and inspected by one who is not respected not regarded in all this province.

I hope your Honor will pardon my scribbling; as it has no other aim than a needful redressing of the multitude of grievances of the poor people, and for the preserving of their lives and property, and that the Germans may be adhered to the friendship of the English nation, and for securing the honor of your Excellency, and not a farthing for your humble servant,

Christopher Saur.
Printer in Germantown.

Source:Martin Grove Brumbaugh, A. M., Ph. D., A History of The German Baptist Brethren in Europe and America, (Mt. Morris, Ill.: Brethren Publishing House, 1899), pp. 338-387.
Image Credits:© 2009, A. Wayne Webb
Copyright:© 2009, A. Wayne Webb



An Alternate Biography

Born in Laasphe, a village of Wittgenstein, in Westphalia, Germany.  His birthplace being not far from Berleberg and Schwarzenau, two centers of great educational and religious activity, his early life received the impress of turbulent conditions which were producing sects, divisions and persecutions and led many to leave home and country for religious freedom.  It was a time of “protesting” against religious life, so cold and formal in the state church.  In his early life no doubt with his parents he worshiped in the Reformed Lutheran church.  They had high ambitions for their son and sought to make his career a successful one.  He learned the spectacle trade and later in life added it as one of his lines of industry. He graduated from the Marburg University, of Germany, the first founded (1527) of the larger Protestant educational institutions.  Later he went to Halle and took a course in medicine in Francke’s school.  Thus prepared for life, blessed with vigorous natural endowments, it is no surprise to find later his diversified pursuits and wonderful success.

Christoph Saur married one who once is mentioned as Maria Christina, and to them an only son was born.  He was given his father’s name and in his maturity became bishop of the Germantown congregation.

Some influence, unknown today, prompted Saur and family to join a party of emigrants to America, and in the fall of 1724 they arrived in Germantown to begin life in a new world.  Attracted, perhaps, by Conrad Beissel’s work at Ephrata, in the spring of 1726 he moved upon a fifty–acre farm in Leacock township, Lancaster County, Pa.  Here he blended farming and the practice of medicine, perhaps with doubtful success in the former.  He soon became interested in his own salvation, and according to his own letter he, with two others, was baptized by Beissel on Whitsunday of 1728.  His wife manifested a still deeper interest in the Beissel movement, the Seventh Day Adventist Brethren, and in 1730, forsaking her home, husband and son, entered into full fellowship and became a nun.  She was made subprioress of the sisterhood in the house at Ephrata, and given the name Sister Marcella.  She remained faithful to her vow until November, 1744, when, through the influence of her son, she returned to her home in Germantown.  Complete reconciliation on her part, however, was not effected until June 20, 1745, when she again took upon herself the full relations of the home.

These were sad, lonely years for Saur and his son.  In 1731 they returned to Germantown, purchased six acres of land within the present limits of the city of Germantown, and built a house sixty by sixty feet, two stories and attic, in the lower part of which he began business as an optician.  Later he added clock–making and apothecary departments.

In 1738 he bought in Germany a printing outfit, consisting of a secondhand press and some type.  It is presumed that it was purchased from the Brethren at Berleberg and had been used by them to print the old historic Berleberg Bible, so highly prized by the early church.  At once he began book publishing.  His first was an A B C and spelling–book, which the publisher announced could be used by any one irrespective of religious convictions.  In 1739 the first Almanac published in German in America was sent out.  Later this appeared in two colors and contained not only information about the weather, the signs, and so on, but much valuable information about medicines and their uses.  The Beissel faction wanted a large hymnbook, and he printed it,—one of the largest hymnbooks ever printed in America.  From this till 1758 over three hundred different works went forth from his press.  Among them was the Saur Bible, published in 1743, a book containing 1,248 pages, 7½ X 10 inches.  Almost insurmountable difficulties had to be overcome in printing this book.  Type had to be made,—hammered out by hand on the anvil; small sections had to be printed and stored away until the entire book was ready for binding.  But this Bible was published forty years before Aitken issued his first Bible in English.  No better characterization of the extent of Saur’s work and influence can be given than this:.*

*Extract from inaugural address by Dr. M. G. Brumbaugh before the State Teachers’ Association of Pennsylvania at Bellefonte, Pa., July 5, 1898.

Source:Daniel Long Miller & Galen Bernice Royer, Some Who Led, (Elgin, Ill.: Brethren Publishing House, 1912), pp. 9-12.
Copyright:© 2009, A. Wayne Webb