Statistics

Members : 24
Content : 684
Web Links : 12
Content View Hits : 102993


Christopher Saur II

The Second Christopher Sower
Elder of the Brethren Church

"I was born on the 26th of September, 1721, in the town of Laasphe in Wittgenstein, about six hours from Marburg."  Such is the brief record in his own diary of the birth of Christopher Sower, whose influence in the church of the German Baptist Brethren is without a parallel, and whose influence among the Germans of Colonial Pennsylvania made him the peer of his own distinguished father, of Pastorius, and Weiser, and Muhlenberg.

He came to America with his parents in 1724; lived with them in Germantown for two years; removed to Lancaster county in 1726; and returned to Germantown with his father in 1731.

And now at ten years of age he is practically a motherless boy.  His mother had entered the Ephrata Society sisterhood. He was sent by his father to the best German school in Germantown.

He was a pupil of the pious Mennonite, Christopher Dock, in whose school he was so well taught that there sprang up in his young heart an abiding love, not only for his noble teacher, but also for true education.

Desk and Bench Used in Christopher Dock's School in Germantown [Click for larger image]In a corner of the old Mennonite cemetery, on Germantown avenue, stood the old log meetinghouse in which Dock taught and Sower studied.  Dock's plan of instruction was so unique that the elder Sower, as early as 1749, urged Dock to write a treatise on education.  This Dock did after many conscientious misgivings; but he requested Sower not to publish the volume until the death of the author.  After the first Sower's death in 1758, Bishop Sower urged Dock to allow his work to be printed.  Not until 1769 did the pious old schoolmaster consent.  Then the manuscript was lost.

After faithful search it was found, and Dock's devoted pupil became the publisher of the volume.  It is the first book on education printed in America.  It was published in 1770, with an extended treatise on education by Bishop Sower.

The young man attended the services of the Brethren, heard sermons from Alexander Mack, the founder of the church, and as a curious child of fourteen saw the pious man borne to his grave in the old Concord burying ground.  He also heard Elder Becker and other leaders.  These influences in due time led him to the acceptance of the truth, and to membership in the church.  "I was born anew through holy baptism on the 24th of February, 1737."1 And now at the age of sixteen he begins the Lord's work.  This he never laid down for the space of fifty years, years of toil and years of sacrifice; and yet, years of joyous service for the Lord he loved and for the church he loved.

1These words are from his MS.  Diary in the possession of the writer.

In 1743, in harmony with the custom of his day he removed himself from his father's house and began to plan for himself.  He was of age.  In his own house he gave himself to meditation and to prayer.  These devotions, known only to God, were by Him answered in the return of his mother to her own home.  She came to him in November, 1744, and on June 20, 1745, he was rejoiced to see his parents happily reunited in their home in Germantown.  In his own house he was joined on the 18th of May, 1745, by George Schreiber, and on February 24, 1746, by Philip Weber [Weaver].  His life of usefulness was this prepared for by years of consecrated devotions.  The spirit of God moved his Christian friends, and in May, 1747, he was made a deacon of the Germantown congregation.  His work was so well done that on June 1, 1748, he was called to be one of the four brethren to have charge (Versorgun) over the congregation.2 That this was a tentative call is shown by the fact that in one week, namely on June 7, 1748, he, together with Alexander Mack, had placed upon him the oversight of the congregation.  This action was taken, I have reason to believe, because Elder Peter Becker at this time removed to his daughter's home on the Skippack.  Note, however, that these two young elders were only called to the deaconship on trial.

2These four were Peter Becker, Alexander Mack, Christopher Sower, and, I am inclined to think, Daniel Leatherman.

It will be seen from this that there was so much practice as at present, of advancing ministers to the second degree of the ministry.  There was no second degree.  The elected minister was allowed only to exhort, then he was advanced, on trial, to the eldership.  If this trial were not satisfactory, he remained an elder in name but not in oversight.  If his ministry were successful and approved, later on he was ordained with the imposition of hands and became an elder in fact and in function.

In this trial state the minister was allowed to baptize and to officiate at marriages.  It was so in this case.  As elder on trial, Christopher Sower administered holy baptism for the first time, November 3, 1748; about five months after his call to the eldership and nearly five years before his ordination.  The persons baptized by him on this occasion were Elizabeth Weisz [White(?)], Catharine Buchmarin and Susanna Miller.  He also officiated on January 1, 1749, at the marriage of his associate elder on trial to Elizabeth Neiss.

Here then is the evolution of the ministry in the second degree among the Brethren.  Later in the history of the church this eldership on trial was modified into ministry in the second degree.

Signature of George Schreiber [Click for larger image]In his own house he was, as we have seen, companioned by two brethren.  George Schreiber moved away from him on July 7, 1749, and Philip Weber on June 7, 1751.  In the meantime Henry Weber joined him November 24, 1749, and lived with him until June 10, 1751.  This last removal was due to the fact that the young man was no longer single.  On April 1, 1751, he was married to Catharine Sharpnack, Elder Alexander Mack performing the ceremony.  October 12, 1752, their home was gladdened by the birth of a daughter, Christina.  Two months later, December 14, 1752, he saw his mother "blessedly fall asleep in heaven."

On June 10, 1753, the congregation met in solemn services and Elder Peter Becker, now old and feeble, laid his hands upon the head of Christopher Sower and ordained him to the eldership.  At the same time Alexander Mack was likewise ordained and Henry Slingluff was made a deacon by the same apostolic hand-laying.

The next year, 1754, his father transferred to the young man the publication of English books, the father continuing to publish during his life the German books for which his press was famous.  In 1754, young Sower issued his first publication "Christian Education," which edition is now exceedingly rare.  In the same year he issued "The Pennsylvania Town and Countrymen's Almanac for 1755," which he continued until his father's death.  Like all the early ministers he gave his service to the church freely and free.  He gained his livelihood and amassed a fortune in the printing business and in the compounding of medicines, for he had learned the practice of medicine and the compounding of drugs from his father who was a skilled professional man.

Some would-be historians have doubted the correctness of this position and declare that Sower never did compound medicines, but simply sold drugs from his store in Germantown.  But he had no store.  He had a printing office, a paper mill, a type foundry, a bookbindery, an apothecary shop, and a clock factory.  To fortify himself on the point that Sower was an apothecary the writer made a careful search of the old garrets in the vicinity and found ample and unexpected evidence of the existence of an apothecary outfit.  At the sale of Sower's effects in 1778, his equipment was scattered.  After one hundred and twenty-one years the following have been found: A pair of scales with weights, a small bottle, two large bottles, and three wooden drug boxes.  These were all purchased at his sale.  But, says the skeptic, how do we know these articles were really his?  They may not have been purchased at his sale.  Let us see.  One of these drug boxes, in the possession of A. H. Cassel, was given to him by the Leibert family, who say it was bought by Peter Leibert at the Sower sale.

Articles from Sower's Apothecary Shop in possession of the Writer [Click for larger image]These boxes, moreover, were in three sizes—quart, half-gallon, and gallon.  They were made for Sower by Heinrich Fry, an expert wood-turner, who came to Pennsylvania as early as the days of Penn.  This should be conclusive.  But still more remarkable is the fact that one of the three boxes now in my possession contained assa-foetida.  To prevent the odor from escaping, the inside of the lid was filled with a scrap of paper which made a perfect seal.  Upon this paper the writer noticed a stain.  Then carefully removing the paper he was rejoiced to find upon it these words in a plain hand, "Christopher Sower, Printer, Germantown, Pa."  This is absolute proof.

The owner, Christopher Sower, had placed that paper in his box little dreaming that in doing so he would vindicate his professional life from the aspersion of over-zealous and inaccurate compilers of historic data.

Signature of Christopher & Catharine 'Sharpnack' Sower [Click for larger image]It was a severe blow to the younger Sower to be obliged to see his father die.  The sad event is recorded in his diary as follows: "Sept. 25, 1758, my dear father has fallen asleep in heaven,—his age, sixty-four years."

By this death Elder Sower became the sole owner of the immense business concerns of his father.  Prior to this he was in charge of the English publications and of the bindery.  Now he becomes owner and manager of the estate.  He not only maintained the honorable record of his father, but he enlarged the business to proportions far beyond that of any similar enterprise in colonial America.

The first issue of the German newspaper under the son's management contained the following notice:

The old and well-known printer Christopher Sower departed this life Sept. 25th, in the 64th year of his age, and after he lived in this country 34 years.

He was at all times both cordial and kind both to friends and enemies.  He was not set up on account of his cleverness, but rather kept himself lowly.  Working continually for the liberty and prosperity of the country, he was not to be turned aside from this purpose by reward or by the flattery of the great.

His unswerving fidelity to the course he marked out for himself drew down upon him the hate of both great and little people, of the people who would gladly have seen this country, as regards temporal things, brought into a condition of servitude and slavery, and spiritually into obscurity and darkness, so as to have a better field for their dark operations.

But he feared their hate as little as he sought their favor, and keeping a watchful eye upon things, he exposed their plans, as often as he discovered them.

In the meantime, the number of those who sought his downfall has continued to increase, so that they form now a society calling themselves by the name of "Watchmen."  And in truth they are watchmen (but of the kind whom the Prophet Isaiah speaks), "They lie in wait to make trouble."  Isa. 29: 20.

These Wächter have been looking forward to the time when Ch. Saur would be dead.  Their game would then be easily won; so they have held to their purposes, at the same time striving to extend their poisonous doctrines.

Such people, however, should remember that there is a God who sees the thoughts of men, that their thoughts are vain—and who is able to frustrate their plans.

They should remember too, that many hot coals often lie under the ashes, and moderate their rejoicing at this time, for their godless watchfulness will redound to their own shame and dishonor.

Meanwhile I find myself impelled also to watchfulness, but out of love to God, and according to the power which God has given me to serve my neighbor with the gifts which He has given me.

I had, indeed, rather earned my bread by continuing in the bookbinding business and so have avoided the burdens and responsibilities of a printer.  This would have been much easier; but so long as there is no one, to whom I I can trust the printing business, I find it laid upon me for God and for my neighbors' sake, to continue it, until it may please Providence to give me a helper; one of whom i feel sure, dwells in the fear of the Lord, so that he could not be moved, either for money or flattery, to print anything that would not honor God and contribute to the country's best welfare.

It shall be my constant endeavor to hold the paper to this standard, and as I have advised the enemies of the truth to moderate their joy, so now i advise the friends and well-wishers of this good man to moderate their sorrow.

That which is gone from us comes not back again, and we will see that what Sirach says is also true.  Sirach 30: 4, 5, 6.

Although I am not, nor dare I hope to be so richly gifted as my father, I will nevertheless faithfully use that which is given me, and because I know that I, as well as my father (and indeed many besides him) must pass through both good and bad report, I am prepared for it, and will not allow this or that to restrain me from doing what I believe to be right and good.  From these few words not the thoughtful will see what they may expect of me now and in the future3

I remain my dear reader's sincere and faithful friend.

Christopher Saur, Jr.

3From the German newspaper of Christopher Sower, Sept. 30, 1758.

I am aware that the Germantown congregation is, by some so-called historians, reported to have almost disintegrated after the death of Alexander Mack, in 1735.  Such is, however, not the case.  The congregation was unique among the colonial churches.

It was situated in a suburban village.  The membership was largely made up of artisans and men of affairs.  All the other congregations were membered by agriculturists.  The result was that the rural congregations were vastly more closely affiliated, but by no means weak, weakening, or neglected.  The Mother Church was active in all the councils of the Brotherhood, and the keen business insight of Christopher Sower enabled him to direct, in a large measure, the church polity of his people.

Busy all week with his multifarious businesses, he yet had time to discharge his church duties promptly and faithfully.

He was a preacher of great power and a pastor of marvelous insight.  He was beloved by all his people, and by all his neighbors.  His charity exceeded that of all his brethren, and he was known among the poor of Germantown, as "The Bread Father."

As bishop or elder of the congregation he frequently officiated at marriages.  We have already noted his service in this capacity at the marriage of his associate elder, Alexander Mack.  In addition to this it is known that he married the following persons:

  1. 1749, December 7Peter Leibert and Molly Neiss.
  2. 1751, June 23Philip Weaver and Susanna Schreiber.
  3. 1751, July 15Martin Urner and Barbara Switzer; also Peter Grauling and —.
  4. 1753, July 29Brother —— Bechtelheimer.
  5. 1755, June 29John Demuth to a Sister Gertrude ——.
  6. 1756, June 7John Bechtelheimer and Catharine Trout; Justus Käutzel to a Sister Helen ——.
  7. 1763, June 22Anthony Steiner and Augusta Gruber.
  8. 1763, June 26Eberhart Gruber and Maria Christina.
  9. 1766, September 28Frederick Diehl and Maria Hoffman.
  10. 1775, January 8Christopher Sower4 and Hannah Knorr.
  11. 1778, April 23Daniel Sower and Maria Seeler (Saylor).
  12. 1781, May 1Abraham Kempfer.
  13. 1781, November 22Esther Sower and Christopher Zimmerman.
  14. 1783, May 20William Price and Catherine Reiff.
4This was the son of Elder Sower, the third Christopher, and a man of note in the church.

Already the reader has noted the list of persons received into the Germantown congregation by Elder Alexander Mack.  If now to this list are added those baptized by Elder Sower a relatively complete list of members of this earliest American congregation may be had.  Elder Sower officiated at the following baptisms:

  1. 1748, November 3Elizabeth Weisz, Catharine Buchmarin and Susanna Miller.
  2. 1749, April 2Jacob Ganz.
  3. 1755, May 18Andrew Meinchinger.
  4. 1758, March 26Hans Uly Rinder and wife.
  5. 1772, April 19Michael Coebit, Gerhardt Clemens and wife, and Jacob Landis and wife.
  6. 1774, March 27Edmund Longstrath.
  7. 1774, May 12Edward Bright and wife, Ruth Silence, and Elizabeth, the sister of Mrs. Bauman.
  8. 1774, July 3Cornelius Neiss, William Heissler,, David Meredith, Jacob Roop, George Duick, John Leibert and wife, Frederick Stam's servant girl, Hannah Knorr (who became his son's wife January 8, 1775), Lydia Keyser, and Catharine Bauman.
  9. 1781, July 15George Becker and his wife, Catharine, Nancy Becker (daughter of George and Catharine), and Catherine Stam (daughter of Frederick).
  10. 1781, May 14Two sons of the late Philip Roland, and Brother Fausz.  These were baptized in the Cocalico Creek in Lancaster County.
  11. 1783, November 6Adam Weber.
  12. 1784, June 10Martin Urner and his wife (Barbara Baugh).  This Martin Urner was a son of Martin Urner, the second elder of the Coventry church.  He was born July 28, 1762, and did February 4, 1838.
  13. 1784, August 15Dirck Keyser and wife, and Susanna Weber.  These were baptized only seven days before the death of Elder Sower.

He was intimately identified with the Annual Meetings of the Brethren, and frequently attended as a delegate, using his vast influence to mould a consistent and expanding church polity.

He was selected by the Annual Meeting of 1780 to visit the congregations in Pennsylvania, and, with Elder Martin Urner, ordained deacons and elders in various places.  He left his home at Methacton, to which place he had removed April 7, 1780, on August 9 and journeyed to Martin Urner's on the Schuykill.

The next morning these two bishops started on a memorable journey.  On the 12th of August a great meeting was held in the Little Swatara church.  It was a solemn service.  In the presence of many members, elders Sower and Urner ordained to the eldership of the Oley congregation, Brother Martin Gaby, and to the office of deacon over the same congregation, Brother David Kintzy.  At the same meeting they ordained the following for the Little Swatara congregation: to the eldership, Brother Michael Frantz; to the office of deacon, brethren George Baszhear and Jacob Mayer.

On the 15th of August, at the Great Swatara meeting, Brother George Müller was ordained elder of the congregation.  Brother Müller had, prior to this, exercised the office of elder on trial.

Memorial Tablet of Christopher Sower [Click for larger image]The next day a great meeting was held with the White Oak congregation.  In this congregation Brother Christel Longenecker was elder, but he was old and feeble, and Brother John Zug was ordained as assistant elder, and in case of the sickness or death of Elder Longenecker, Elder Zug was to have full charge of the White Oak church.  Here Bishop Sower preached to a large congregation and left the people greatly comforted.

On the 17th a meeting was held at Brother Henry Royer's, and on the 18th at Brother Michael Ranck's.  On August 19th, after an absence of ten days, in which time he ordained three bishops; as many deacons; officiated at three Communion services, and preached perhaps, ten sermons, he returned well to his retreat at Methacton.

The next day he attended services at the Skippack.  This chapter from his long and useful life clearly conveys to you the wonderful energy and devotion and usefulness of Elder Sower in the church.

On January 1, 1899, the little church at Germantown was the scene of a memorable event.  Through his munificence and noble devotion to his ancestor, Mr. Charles G. Sower, the widely-known publisher of Philadelphia, presented to the congregation a beautiful memorial tablet of polished brass in honor of his pious ancestor's labors in the ministry of the church.  The presentation address was made by Mr. Sower.  The tablet was received on behalf of the congregation by the pastor, Brother George N. Falkentein, and at the request of Mr. Sower, the writer delivered the memorial address on the life of Elder Christopher Sower.

Elder Sower followed the example of his father, and issued a second edition of the Holy Bible in 1763, and a third edition in 1776.  In the preface to the third edition, 1776, he says, "There appears now for the third time on this American continent the Holy Bible in the so-called high German language, to the honor of the German people; in this, that no other nation can show that the Bible on this continent has been printed in their language.

The second edition, 1763, was so much in demand that Elder Sower unexpectedly found his profits larger than he had planed.  He did not quietly accept this increased income, the legitimate fruit of his industry, as many would have done.  He openly announced that he was in receipt of a larger sum than he had hoped to receive and at once sought to show his gratitude for it by adding to the scanty score of reading matter then available to the Germans in America.  He issued the Geistliche Magazin, the first religious magazine published in America.  This he distributed free.  He continued to issue these magazines at irregular intervals for seven years.  Nos. 34 and 36 were written by Elder Alexander Mack.  Many were written by Sower himself.  In all fifty were printed and given away.  Where in the history of the world will one find such a striking example of disinterested Christian piety?  These magazines are now extremely rare.  The writer has had the good fortune to secure in the Cassel collection a complete set.Signature of Bro. Abraham H. Cassell [Click for larger image]

The third edition, 1776, was printed and the unbound pages were laid on the loft of the Germantown meetinghouse to dry.  Some of them were still there when the battle of Germantown was fought.  The cavalrymen took these sheets and scattered them under their horses!  After the battle Sower gathered as many of these sheets together as he could, and bound from them enough complete Bibles to present one to each of his children.  In the Cassel collection is one of these Bibles.  It is now in my possession, together with a perfect copy of the first and also of the second edition.

Christopher Sower was a warm supporter of all proper means of educating the youth of the land.  He held, and wisely, that enlightened Christians were the hope of the church of God.  He, therefore, became a leader in founding the still famous and flourishing Germantown Academy.

The Antiquarian, Abrm. H. Cassell, and the Three Sower Bibles [Click for larger image]The Germans of Pennsylvania, anxious to establish a school for the education of the German youth of the province, called an educational meeting at Germantown, December 6, 1759.  At this meeting Bishop Sower took a prominent part in favor of a good school.  He was one of a committee of six to collect money to erect buildings for what is now known as "Germantown Academy."  He secured, evidently from the members of his own church, £189, 15s.  Of this amount he gave £20 in his own name and £50 in memory of his father.  He served as Trustee of the Academy for many years, being President of the Board on two occasions: from January 1, 1760, to May 3, 1764; from May 4, 1769, to May 2, 1771; from May 7, 1772, to May 4, 1774; from May 1, 1777, to May 7, 1778 (in all ten years).  In all that time he was so regular in attendance that, although a Trustee absent without cause or tardy in meeting was fined, he paid but one fine, a shilling, for an unexplained absence.5

5The writer's impression is that this absence occurred on the day of the dedication.  The building was dedicated with Masonic rites, and both Sower and his father were outspoken opponents of all secret societies.

Among pioneer Americans no man stands out as the active champion of a broad and liberal education more distinctly than Christopher Sower.  We may safely infer that this active, energetic and unselfish devotion to education was promptly seconded by his congregation, and that the Germantown congregation was first and foremost for educational advance.  Like his illustrious father, he was an apostle of light to the Germans of America.  The fact that the Germantown Academy was a union school proves also that his devotion to education was based upon no sectarian view of its value, but upon that broad charity for the poor and the needy that made his life so rich in deeds of love.  As the editor of a religious and of a secular paper, the publisher of two editions of the Holy Bible, of a family almanac, and of scores of religious and secular volumes, he was indeed the sower of good seed in Colonial America, and the champion of the cause of the poor Germans.

He was the shepherd of a lonely German flock, surrounded by English pitfalls and French snares.  With a resolution that never wavered, and an energy and capacity that were remarkable, he led the thought of the German-Americans and defended their rights against every open and secret foe.

He was the enemy of war, and against the shedding of his brother's blood he protested vehemently.

In 1758 his father was summoned to a court-martial by General Forbes for daring to denounce the expedition to Fort Duquesne.  Sower promptly met the General at an Inn, "To the Stag," on Lancaster Street, in Philadelphia, and in three minutes proved to the distinguished General that he was not an enemy of the King, but an enemy of war, because war is the enemy of the Savior.

So Elder Sower was brought under the ban of the oppressors for daring to advocate, in the perilous hour of war, his unchanged hostility to war.  In his Almanac of 1778, he wrote:

"Thou once so happy land; by God and Nature blessed,

And teeming with abundant joy,

But no, alas, by sin and wrong and vice depressed,

Thou seem'st to wither and to die.

O land; what art thou now?

A scene of dismal woes,

To wake our pity and our tears;

Oppressed by rapine, murder and a thousand foes,

Unknown in by-gone years.

And desolation, hunger, want stalk in the wake,

Of the avenger's bloody steel.

*         *         *         *         *         *         *

Earth's pregnant fields lie waste, untouched by

Who erst, full—peaceful turned the soil;

The unwilling sword he grasps and dashes in the fight;

What tears will flow from this turmoil!"

As early as June 13, 1777, the Legislature of Pennsylvania made it the duty of every citizen to abjure the King of England and take the oath of allegiance to the State of Pennsylvania.

This imposed a double hardship upon the Dunkers, including Christopher Sower.  They opposed all war and all oaths.

They were perfectly willing to obey the new Government, and, no doubt, at heart gladly would have surrendered all allegiance to the King of England, whose agents in Pennsylvania had by no means endeared English institutions to these pious Germans.  But to take oath was contrary to the very fibre of their faith.

For refusing to swear an oath they taught "Swear not at all," fifty-eight persons on May 8, 1778, were ordered to present themselves not later than June 25th, to the proper officers and take the oath.  May 21st, a second edict was issued to the "enemies of the country."

Among this number was Elder Sower and his son Christopher.

The time of respite was to end July 6, 1778.

Now Christopher Sower was not an "enemy of the country," nor was he willing to take an oath.  But before the expiration of the time legally accorded him to find some means of escape from his embarrassment, he was in the savage grasp of the minions of the law, who thirsted more to rob him of his wealth than to honor the law they were appointed to obey as well as enforce.

Two weeks before the time given him to appear before the Magistrate he was arrested (May 25, 1778) in his home, shamefully and unlawfully abused, and deprived of an opportunity to obey the law.

He was thus in a most trying situation.  Detained by the officers of the law and, moreover, unacquainted with its requirements,, he was unable to obey the law; and because he did not do what he could not, his property was seized and confiscated and he was left a robbed and penniless man.  True to his religion when, under so great provocation, he was reviled, he reviled not again.

Hear his own pathetic account of this crowning injustice and persecution.  This account is coped from his own manuscript in the possession of Mrs. Mary Knauer, daughter of Samuel Sower, of Charlestown, Chester County, Pennsylvania:

Having heard how a number of Quakers were punished and carried away to Virginia, and being informed that there were yet some hundreds of substantial inhabitants on the list to be taken up and secured, amongst which my name also was put down, and as there was already a beginning made and some of the millers on the Wissahickon were actually taken away from their families, I considered what I would do, knowing Germantown would always be a disturbed place.  English and Americans would continually march through it forward and backward, and having three of my children already living in Philadelphia, I bethought myself to go there to live in peace, and accordingly went to Philadelphia on the nineteenth day of October, 1777 (many months before that act was made which forbade to go to Philadelphia).  I lived there quietly and peaceably till the second day of May, 1778, when I went back to Germantown, and was in my house that night and the next day till ten o'clock at night, when a strong party of Captain McClean's Company surrounded my house and fetched me out of my bed.  It was a dark night.  They led me through the Indian corn fields, where I could not come along as fast as they wanted me to go.  They frequently struck me in the back with their bayonets till they brought me to Bastian Miller's barn, where they kept me till next morning.  Then they strip'd me naked to the skin and gave me an old shirt and breeches so much torn that I could hardly cover my private parts, then cut my beard and hair, and painted me with oil colors read and black, and so led me along barefooted and bareheaded in a very hot sunshiny day.  A friend of mine seeing me in that condition asked them whether they would take the shoes from me if he would give me a pair.  They promised not to take them from me.  And so he took the shoes from his feet and the hat from his head and gave them to me.  But after we had marched six miles, a soldier came and demanded my shoes and took them, and gave me his old slabs, which wounded my feet very much.  On the 26th, at nine o'clock, I arrived at the camp and was sent to the Provo.

"My accusation in the Mittimus was an Oppressor of the Righteous and a Spy.  On the 27th, in the morning, God moved the heart of the most generous General Muhlenberg to come to me and enquire into my affairs, and promised that he would speak to General Washington and procure me a hearing, and the next day sent me word that I should make a petition to General Washington, which I did; and, through the good hand of Providence and the faithful assistance of the said General Muhlenberg, I was permitted to go out of the Provo on the 29th day of May; but, as I was not free to take the oath to the States, I was not permitted to go hence to Germantown, as appears by the following pass, viz:

" 'Permit the bearer thereof, Mr. Sower, to pass from hence to Meduchin, not to return to Germantown during the stay of the enemy in this State, he behaving as becometh.  Given under my hand at the Orderly Office this thirtieth day of May, 1778.'"

"[Signed]Nich. Gilman
"Asst. Ad. General."

So I went to Methacton and stayed there until the 23rd of June, when I returned to Germantown and there lived quietly until the 27th of July, when Colonel Smith and Colonel Thompson came to my house and asked whether I entered special bail at the Supreme Court at Lancaster. I told them, No! `Why not?' said they. `Because I had no notice.' `That cannot be,' said Thompson, `it was in the newspapers and handbills.' I told them that I had at that time been in the Provo and at Methacton, and had seen none of these papers, and nobody had told me of it until the time was expired. `Have you taken the Oath to the Stats?' `No.' `Why not, were you so attached to the King?' `No; it was not the attachment to the King, but as you have in your Act that they that do not take the Oath shall not have a right to buy nor sell, and as I find in the book of Revelation that such a time will come when such a Mark would be given, so I could not take that Oath while it stood on that condition.' `But you went to the English, to Philadelphia,' said Smith. I said, `Do you know why?' `No,' said he, `nor do I want to know.'

Then they told me that they were come to take an Inventory of my real Estate and sell it, and to rent out my Real Estate. I told them that I would submit to all that the Lord permitted them to do, and so Smith stood guard that I might not put anything out of the way, and Thompson went out to get Appraisers and a Clerk, and so they began to appraise. I then beg'd they should let me keep my bed, but Smith gave for answer that they had no right to let me have anything besides my clothes and provision (which last he did not abide by, for when they found a barrel of rice they took it down, although it was provision). I then beg'd for a few Medicines which I had put up for my Family's use, as they were chiefly of my own and my Father's preparation, and nobody knew what they were. But Smith said medicines were very valuable. They must be sold. Then I beg'd for nothing more except my spectacles, which was granted. On the 28th they told me that I must quit the house for they must rent it out, and so I moved out on the 39th of July.

Then they proceeded to sell my effects, but before the sale came on my son Daniel endeavored to stop the sale, and applied to L. Matlock and asked him whether his father should not have a hearing. `Yes!, but we must sell the effects first.' He then apply'd to Mr. Lewis to stop the sale till next Court, who endeavored to do it. But they had invented a lie that I or some of my people had secretly crept into the house and had destroyed all of the New Testaments, and if the sale did not go on all would be destroy'd before said Court came on. And so they persevered with the sale of my Personal Estate and rented out my houses and lands for one year and then sold them, also contrary to the Confession of the Convention in the case of forfeited Estates by which no real Estate could have been sold before my youngest Son is of age. And so they have not only broken the Fundamental rule in selling my estate, but have also published me in almost all Newspapers as a Traitor, without any cause and without ever giving me a hearing or a trial; altho. I was never gone an inch from my place of abode and their own Attorney, Mr. Bradford, has himself declared to a friend of mine that if I had not forfeited my life I had not forfeited my Estate; for they had no more right to my Estate than to my life."

Scarcely less painful was the abuse heaped upon him because of his opposition to slavery.  Miller's Staatsbote, of 1775, contains a savage attack upon him.  But he knew how to suffer and be strong.  He steadily dealt herculean blows at traffic which his soul abhorred and which he believed his God abominated.

It is with the utmost regret that we learn that Germans are to engage n the nefarious slave traffic.  Though they are well paid for everything they sell, they still begrudge laborers, servants, or maid-servants their pay.6 This Godless traffic could find, up to the present, no safe footing in Pennsylvania, owing to the abhorrence the Germans still have for it.  But, for some years back, even some among them are beginning to take part in this great injustice.  For, as merchants find that these 'black goods' find a ready market, they engage in it.  Thus we are assured that three ships have been sent from Philadelphia to the African coast to steal these poor creatures, though this has never happened before.  May God be merciful to our country before its measure of iniquity is full and the vials of His wrath are poured out upon it!"

6Pennsylvania Reports, Feb. 15, 1761.

How prophetic are these words!  Just one hundred years after they were written, in the din and roar of civil strife, God avenged this horrible traffic, and through the heroic labors of Lincoln and the boys in blue, this sin was wiped from the American people.

On every great question of religion, of politics, of education, and of industry, he wrote, and wrote wisely.  He won the love and confidence of all true men.  His holy life enlarged the borders of his influence and commanded the respect of his oppressors.  The Germantown church flourished under his able ministry and that of Alexander Mack.  It exerted a mighty influence for primitive Christianity in Colonial America.

When the fury of war had blasted his hopes and impoverished his life, he was still rich; rich in his devotion to duty, rich in the love and confidence of his friends, and rich in religious zeal.

Even in his poverty God opened to him a refuge.  At Methacton the homeless and wifeless7 old saint of God found a refuge in an old building, perhaps the one-room upper story of a spring house, belonging to Conrad Stam(m).

7His wife died January 4, 1771.

Accompanied by his devoted daughter, Catherine, he left the house of Bro. Henry Sharpnack in Germantown on April 7, 1780, and went to Methacton to die.

God touched the hearts of friends and he was given money and provisions, as follows:

Brother Henry Sharpnack loaned twenty dollars, congress.

Brother William Hanschel gave twenty dollars, congress.

Friend Anthony Benezet gave one guinea.

Brother Fausz gave six dollars.

Friend Joseph Kretzer, in Lebanon, gave eight dollars.

Friend Jno. Wistar gave eight dollars.

Reinhold gave 1 lb tea, 6 lbs. sugar, 3 lbs. coffee (fifteen shillings)

In his diary he records these as given "after the robbing of my property," and further adds, "All of which I promise to honorably repay as soon as God places me in condition to do so.  In case such is not possible in my life, let restoration be made out of the little I leave behind as far as it can be, and I have trust in God that He will richly reward what I am not able to restore."

To the credit of his memory and as an example to all men he was able to record in the last days of his life, in a feeble hand under these accounts, these words as a memorial Christian honor: "The above has all been paid."

In the midst of his toil for the church he loved, Christopher Sower was called home.  At the closing hour his devoted daughter, Catherine, and his son, Samuel gave him the ministration of their loving hearts, and closed his eyes in peace.

Methacton Meetinghouse, Burial Place of Elder Christopher Sower [Click for larger image]They buried him in a walnut coffin, an act without precedent in the family, and laid him to rest in the quiet city of the dead.  At his funeral service Elder Martin Urner and Samuel Hopkins paid touching tributes to his noble life; his associate elder, Mack, too full for utterance, gave tribute to his worth in a hymn composed for the occasion.  The hymn was sung at his funeral.  It is found in the Psalterspiel, page 496.  An imperfect translation from the German reads as follows:

Now breaks the earthly house entwain,
Now can this mortal frame decay;
The pilgrimage is brought to an end,
Now can the spirit fly away.
The soul at last has overcome.
Through Jesus was the victory won.

Now unto Jesus will I go.
Who died for me, as mortals die;
And found for me, through pain and woe,
A place of refuge in the sky.
He has for me a better house
In store prepared, above the sky.

Shed not so many tears,
My friends and my companions dear;
You can believe, I now am free,
From every mortal care and fear.
O! look unto the Lamb once slain.
Through whom you can redemption gain.

Thy staff through life I leaned upon,
I hungered for a patient faith;
Then Jesus spoke unto my soul,
From all my doubt a full relief.
Like frost, when touched at op'ning day,
By sunlight, quickly melts away.

Speak not of others' worthiness,
But only of what Christ has done;
The world, with all its vanities,
Can never save a single one,
Redemption has appeared to men,
Through Jesus' grief and dying pain.

Gravestone of Christopher Sower [Click for larger image]Over his body was erected a simple slab of marble, upon which is carved in his own words a triumphant challenge to death and an eloquent assurance of faith in God:

"Death thou hast conquer'd me;
'Twas by thy darts I'm slain;
But Christ shall conquer thee,
And I shall rise again.

"Time hastens on the hour,
The just shall rise and sing,
O Grave, where is thy power?
O Death, where is thy sting?"

To him let us pay tribute in the words of his own son, Christopher, who was in London when the sad news of his father's death came to him in a letter from Samuel, the youngest son of Bishop Sower.

London, February 2, 1785.

My Dear Brother:—

I received your letter of the 1st of September last, and was much affected at the information it contained.  The father, then, who raised us with tenderness, in whose lap and from whose lips we hae received so much salutary instruction as must appertain to everlasting life, if practiced by us, is now no more.  I was never more unmanned than when I received this news.  All my philosophy forsook me at once; which is the more extraordinary, as my soul wished him well, and I am convinced his change is for the better.

He lived the Christian and died the death of the righteous.  Oh, may our latter end be like his!  He is numbered among the children of God and his lot is among the saints.  He has fought a good fight, has finished his course, has kept the faith.  He knew his Redeemer liveth.  Merciful men are taken away.  The righteous are taken away from the evil to come.  They have no continuing city here.  They enter into peace and rest.  And, although I am sensible of all this, I grieved and sorrowed as if I were ignorant concerning them that are asleep, even as others that have no hope.

Forgive me, dear brother, this digression; forgive me this burst of sorrows.

Our Parents being now transplanted into a world where the clock doth not strike and from whence no one returneth, it becomes my duty as elder brother to enjoin you never to lose sight of those instructions you have from time to time received from them: put them into practice and you will be benefited by them.  You will find them an ample compensation for our terrestial hopes and disappointments.  Let your spare time be spent in reading books on Religious, Moral and Historical subjects.  They will enlarge your mind, disclose the wiles of Satan, and lead you to the knowledge of man.  In the first must be your delight and the others you will consider as only secondary things.  Make piety, industry, and honesty the undeviable rule of your whole life.  Make yourself master of your trade or the profession you are now learning and do not for any paltry reason change it for another.

It gives me singular satisfaction to reflect that you live in the neighborhood with Brother Urner and let me recommend to you to consult him on all occasions and take his advice as that of a father.  Salute him and his family most cordially from me and Hannah and assure them that although at this great distance I am open both to instruction and reproof.  And finally, dear brother, remember what I have said unto you, I say unto you all.7

7Original in possession of the writer.

His work is done.  He lived, wrought, suffered and died, and not forgotten.  In the literature of the country his name is written imperishably.  In the church he loved, his holy example is cherished as a sacred heritage.  In God's love he is gathered among "the hundred and forty and four thousand who have come up through great tribulation, and who stand before the throne and say, Holy, holy, Lord, God Almighty.

To Christopher and Catharine Sower were born nine children.

  1. Maria Christina was born October 12, 1752.  She died August 13, 1753.
  2. Christopher was born January 27, 1754.  He was baptized by Elder Mack, June 27, 1770; married Hannah Knorr January 8, 1775; and with his brother Peter began the printing business in Philadelphia in 1777.  He allied himself with the King's party in the Revolutionary War and was, no doubt, the cause in part of his father's persecution.  In 1779, he founded the Royal Gazette in St. John's, New Brunswick.  Went to England in 1784 to recover his father's property, and was made Printer to the King and Post-Master General of Nova Scotia.  He removed to Nova Scotia in May, 1785.  Later he removed to Baltimore, where he died, July 3, 1799.
    His wife was baptized by Elder Sower, father of her husband, July 3, 1774.  She was a sister to the wife of Zachariah Poulson, publisher of the Philadelphia Daily Advertiser.  She died March 21, 1837.  They had six children,—Mary, Christopher, Priscilla, Brook Watson, Harriet, and Martha H.
  3. Daniel was born October 14, 1755.  He was married January 17, 1786, to Maria Seiler (Saylor), who was born October 2, 1752; died February 16, 1839.  Daniel settled on a farm near Phoenixville, Pa., where he died December 27, 1818.  To them were born three children,—Esther, Hannah, and Samuel.
  4. Samuel was born December 17, 1757, and died on the 23rd.
  5. Peter was born January 8, 1759; at eighteen he engaged in the printing business with his brother Christopher in Philadelphia.  He went with his brother to New Brunswick and subsequently returned and studied medicine.  He began the practice of medicine on Cat Island, British West Indies, where he fell a victim to yellow fever, 1785.  He never married.
  6. Catharine was born February 25, 1761, baptized October 1, 1769,7 by Elder Mack, and married Samuel Harley, May 10, 1785.  Her husband was a son of Rudolph and Mary Harley.  Mary Harley was a daughter of Peter Becker.  Thus the Becker and Sower families were united by marriage.  Catharine was a woman of unusual literacy and business ability.  She greatly aided her father in his business, and in his old age she was his faithful companion and assistant.  Through her self-sacrificing devotion she aided in earning a livelihood for her impoverished father, and did not marry until after his death.  She died July 16, 1823.  To them were born twelve children,—Daniel, Samuel, Mary, Sarah, John, Catharine, Joseph S. Elizabeth, Hannah, a son still-born, Jacob S. and Abraham.
    8This date is given in the great Genealogical Chart of the Sower Family compiled by Charles G. Sower.  But the diaries of Elders Sower and Mack do not contain it.  I am inclined to think it too early.
  7. Esther was born August 30, 1762; baptized by Elder Martin Urner, April 8, 1781; married Christopher Zimmerman, November 22, 1781; and died June 13, 1786.  To them were born two children,—Catharine and Jacob.
  8. David was born November 6, 1764; was baptized April 8, 1781, by Elder Martin Urner; and in 1786, married Catharine Saylor.  He was a famous printer; had a bookstore in partnership with William Jones at No. 66, North Third Street, Philadelphia; removed to Norristown in 1799 and founded the Norristown Gazette, later the Norristown Herald; lived for some years in Westmoreland (or Fayette) county, Pennsylvania; returned in 1824; and died October 19, 1835.  His wife was born January 1, 1763, and died May 7, 1828.  They had seven children,—Charles, Christopher, Mary, David, William, Edwin, and Eliza Angelina.
  9. Samuel was born March 20, 1767.  This was the second child to whom the father gave the name Samuel.  The first one lived only six days.  Samuel was a noted printer and type-founder.  His first press was at Chestnut Hill, now a part of Philadelphia, whence he removed, in 1794, to 71 Race Street, Philadelphia, and the next year to Baltimore, where he conducted one of the largest printing and type-foundry industries in America.  He was thrice married,—Sarah Landis, Hannah Schlosser, and Elizabeth Lamotte being his successive wives.  He had one child,—Maria.

The first Christopher Sower was a prolific writer.  His newspaper and his almanacs contain numerous articles on such important subjects as "The Use and Abuse of Brandy," "The Indian," "War and Peace," "Remarks on Miracles," "Religion," "On Preaching," "Schools and Schoolmasters," "The Spirit of the Times," "On War," "A Protest against War," "Against Lotteries," "The High School in Philadelphia," "The Use of Fire Arms," "Against Rented Pews," "Racing and Other Disturbances," "A Plea for the Pennsylvania Hospital," "Woman's Foolish Dress," "Treatment of Immigrants," "Against Theatres," "The State Assembly," "Duty of Christians to the Indians," "Against the Moravians," and many kindred topics relating to the religious, educational, industrial, social, and civil welfare of the Germans of Colonial America.

His son was still more active in heralding right ideas to the German People.  He wrote wisely and at length upon "Courts of Injustice," "Religion of the Esquimaux," "Difference Between a Clever Person and a Fool," "Against Card-Playing," "Uses of Poverty," "Exhortation to Repentance," "The Advent of Christ," "Against Slaves and the Slave Traffic," "On War and Peace," "The End of the World," "Difference Between Natural and Spiritual Birth," " Origin of Evil," "Against Creeds," "Remarks on Health," "Popery and its Human Origin," and many other themse of like moment and current value.  His influence in all these articles is exerted for the fundamental faith and practice of the church of the Brethren.  In Sower's day the doctrines of the Brethren were respected because he made them known everywhere.  He was an evangelist of God's truth.

He was also gifted in the composition of poetry.  The poem in the 1778 Almanac has already been quoted.  "Etliche liebliche und erbauliche Lieder von der Herrlichkeit und Ehre Christi," Peter Leibert, Germantown, 1788 contains poems by Christopher Sower, Alexander Mack, and Johannes Kelpius.  In 1781 there appeared from an unknown press, perhaps that of Peter Leibert, an acrostic by Christopher Sower.   An imperfect but literal translation follows:

Online Note: In the work from which this online material originates there follows a three and an eighth page hymn penned by Elder Sower on his 60th birthday, September 26, 1781. For brevity it is not herein reproduced.

The poem referred to in the last paragraph, originally from the press of Peter Leibert, translates as Some Lovely and Uplifting Songs of Glory and Honor of Christ.


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. 388-437.
Image Credits:© 2009, A. Wayne Webb
Copyright:© 2009, A. Wayne Webb