History of Berks County in Pennsylvania

The history of Berks County, one of the early political organizations in the State of Pennsylvania, is presented in this volume. It embraces the important facts, relating to the several affairs of the county, from the beginning of the eighteenth century until now, which the author collected during the past ten years; and, upon having arranged them in a systematic narrative, he now submits the result of his labors.


Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter I.
General History of Pennsylvania 5

Chapter II.
Physical Geography of Berks County 26

Chapter III.
Indians 56

Chapter IV.
Nationalities 64

Chapter V.
Erection of County 72

Chapter VI.
Agriculture 84

Chapter VII.
Early and General Industries 87

Chapter VIII.
French and Indian War 104

Chapter IX.
Revolution and Independence 136

Chapter X.
Whiskey Insurrection of 1794 167

Chapter XI.
Mexican War 180

Chapter XII.
Civil War 186

Chapter XIII.
Militia 349

Chapter XIV.
Religious Denominations 357

Chapter XV.
General Education 374

Chapter XVI.
Language, Manners and Customs 386

Chapter XVII.
Newspapers 392

Chapter XVIII.
Internal Improvements 424

Chapter XIX.
Politics and Civil List 474

Chapter XX.
Judiciary — Bench and Bar 532

Chapter XXI.
Medical Profession of Berks County 587

Chapter XXII.
Census of Berks County 644

Chapter XXIII.

Part 1. — Town from 1748 to 1783 650
Part 2. — Borough from 1783 to 1847 666
Part 3. — City from 1847 to 1886 682
Part 4. — Manufacturing Industries 692
Part 5. — Internal Improvements 744
Part 6. — Churches 767
Part 7. — Schools 798
Part 8. — Associations 811
Part 9. — Officials 841
Part 10. — Census 853
Chapter XXIV.
Boroughs of County 855

Chapter XXV.
Townships of County 928

Appendix 1191


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In the beginning of colonization in this section of the earth for several hundred miles round about us settlements were first made along the sea or prominent inlets, and afterward, from decade to decade, they gradually advanced farther and farther into the interior, being influenced in their onward movement by flowing rivers and rolling valleys. The settlers found the country open, accessible and inviting, with many valuable features, such as strong streams, fertile soil, great forests, inexhaustible beds of limestone, iron-ore, sand and clay, and numerous animals, fowls and fishes. These were conditions which gave the new country a strong character and inspired the early migrants with hope and confidence; these were considerations worthy of especial mention to kindred and friends who remained at home in the old country, and, fortunately for Pennsylvania, these were sufficient to exert a favorable influence upon the minds of such persons there as contemplated emigration.

The early settlement of the country was slow. From its first possession till 1681 the number of inhabitants had not multiplied beyond a thousand. Accordingly, its development during this time (about a half-century) was insignificant. The chief occupations were trading and commerce. But in 1681 a new era began in its eventful history, and thence for nearly a century its growth was marvelous, even though it continued under the sway of monarchic government. The constant influx of foreigners made all things active, especially such as related to the possession of land, its improvement, etc. The people, however, did not obtain a higher plane of action in respect to motive-power. The physical forces, such as animal, wind and water, which had aided them and their progenitors time out of mind, still prevailed. Distance still separated them in their settlements, and travel and transportation remained slow; but during the next century many revelations were made. These superinduced various improvements, which brought the people into a closer relationship and elevated them to a higher standard of life. The discovery of coal, and the appreciation of its marketable value as a substance for fuel, quickened trade. It awakened genius in respect to the necessity for increased and convenient motive-power. This was supplied through steam, and iron then arose into greater prominence for its utility in connection with both. These three agents formed the great triumvirate in the increased development of the people; and the acceleration of our movements as a people, especially in respect to trade and transportation, necessarily developed a fourth agent. This was the telegraph. The results of their combined influences at the close of this century were valuable beyond computation.

In the march of improvements the district comprising the county of Berks has occupied a prominent position. The first active agent was iron. Indeed, the first forge and the first furnace in Pennsylvania for its manufacture were established and successfully conducted on its territory; and it has continued active here for over one hundred and sixty years. The next agent was coal. This valuable mineral was dis- covered whilst the inexhaustible anthracite fields were a part of this county. Its transportation developed the canal and the railway along the Schuylkill. The third agent, steam, was then utilized to cheapen and hasten its de- livery in and through the valley from the mountains to the sea, and also to stimulate manufactures, especially in the county-seat after 1835. And the fourth agent was introduced soon after its practical value had come to be recognized.

Industry has ever been a prominent characteristic of our people. The most general employment has been in agriculture, and the next in iron manufactures. These two have constantly created demands for diversified industries, and have made us not only a prosperous but a contented people. Continuous employment has kept us, as a whole, so engaged in private affairs as to be comparatively free from those ambitions and vanities of life which develop restless energy in the direction of personal aggrandizement. It would have been better for us if a different spirit had prevailed to such an extent as to have led us into a more active zeal for the public welfare, and into a more general thinking for competent political representation. Here, as elsewhere, too few men of liberal mind and education have exercised thought for the whole community. A hope was expressed that general education would stimulate this weakness and agitate new impulses, looking to the greatest good for the greatest number. But an experience extending through the past fifty years has not improved us in this respect. It has rather licensed ambition to run wild, and permitted men, more or less inexperienced, incompetent and irresponsible, to represent us in positions of trust and responsibility.

Our people in these two important particulars—labor on the one hand and government on the other — have moved along undirected. This is a common but an unfortunate weakness in the United States; and through it the people of our county have not developed prominent, thoughtful men to lead us out of this social apathy and to agitate questions and measures relative to our common progress — that progress which concerns communities rather than individuals, and develops public enterprise and equality rather than private enrichment and distinction. This is surprising, especially when we consider the prominent territorial position which we have occupied, the large wealth which we have possessed and the high degree of business sagacity and social intelligence which we have enjoyed. It is a difficult matter to determine just what caused this condition, except it be that we have been indisposed to political thought and feeling; indisposed to express ourselves with force and fearlessness in public measures; indisposed to lead the way in some common purpose for the public good. Others round about us have created, but we have followed — we have imitated. Possibly this arose from the peculiar German element in our composition, which is so apt to be contented at labor with the certain profit that it yields. In the sense of untiring industry, of rigid economy, of pure and simple religion, our people have displayed a remarkable degree of excellence. Indeed, a long observation leads me to say that in these several respects we have seen perfection. And if we were not now, and had not been for a hundred years past, living under a system of representative government of, for and by the people, in which all tax-payers, especially freeholders, should take an active and earnest interest, I could not persuade my- self to say anything else than that we have been worthy all possible commendation. But we have been existing under a political government; we have had legislation pertaining to our several rights; we have borne taxation for our convenience, safety and progress, and yet in these important respects we. have been comparatively indifferent and inactive, notwithstanding the prominence and necessity of these things before us. Hence, in a political sense, we have been slow and weak, considerably beyond what our age, wealth and intelligence should have permitted. We have not produced the characters of political energy which our citizens in the enjoyment of suffrage should naturally have produced.

From these remarks it will be observed that I shall have much to say of our untiring and successful industry, of our practical, pure and simple religion and of our general education, from which we have realized such fruitful local results. But of our politics I can have comparatively little to say, because we have obtained so little worthy of especial mention. We have produced only a few men who have been leaders of prominence in a vast district of territory. We have developed little or no legislation for our own good or the good of our fellow-citizens here or elsewhere. We have not taken a leading part in agitating public measures. Our local pride should be awakened to a sense of our importance as a people possessing numbers, wealth and power. This should induce us to take a stand proportioned to our condition; this should inspire us to raise up more sons and educate them to a proper appreciation of political duty, political knowledge and political progress. We cannot elevate our political sentiments by encouraging inexperienced and incompetent men to represent us in local or in legislative offices, or even to lead us in manipulating conventions and elections. The time has arrived for the better class of men, possessed of education, experience, influence and wealth, to step forward and show a positive interest in the selection of officials. Through them must we direct our energy in the political channel, as it has been successfully directed in the industrial, and through them only can we expect to produce representative men who can create for us a new political life and lead us into a nobler political activity.