German History

This page is designed to assist those of German ancestry in tracing their roots through Guilford County. Any suggestions and contributions of information are welcome.

The History of Guilford County, North Carolina, U.S.A., to 1980, A.D.
by Blackwell P. Robinson of U.N.C.-G (to 1890) and
Alexander R. Stoesen of Guilford College (from 1890)
edited by Sydney M. Cone, Jr.
project of
The Guilford County Bicentennial Commission, 1971, John Harden, Chairman
The Guilford County American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, 1976,
J. H. Froelich, Jr., Chairman

published with funds provided by
The Guilford County Commissioners, Blue Bell, Inc., Cone Mills Corporation, Gilbarco, Inc., and other friends of history.
No publication date, no copyright information.

The following information is quoted directly from the book, which may be purchased through used-book dealers.

Volume One
Guilford County’s First 150 Years

by Blackwell P. Robinson
Chapter III ~ Then Came The Germans

As everyone interested in the early days of the province knows, the settlement of North Carolina was unique among the original thirteen colonies. Instead of being settled directly from Europe, it was settled “second-hand” from other colonies – with the notable exception of the Highland Scots who came directly to the banks of the Cape Fear River in the half-century before the American Revolution.

These “second-hand” settlers began filing off from Virginia into the northeastern corner of the colony in the Albemarle Sound area about the middle of the seventeenth century. Soon thereafter Charles II of England granted the Carolina Charter of 1663 to eight Lords Proprietors. It conferred upon them a vast piece of real estate, extending from the 36th degree parallel on the north to the 31st on the south and westward to the South Seas (showing their ignorance of the North American continent). The northern border, 36 degrees, however, did not include the only settled area of North Carolina, the Albemarle Sound area. This meant that, had it not been extended by the Carolina Charter of 1665 thirty minutes or one-half of a degree northward (making the Virginia-Carolina border 36 degrees 30 minutes), today the county of Guilford would be divided, with Greensboro in Virginia and High Point in North Carolina.

As settlement of the eastern coastal plain continued, the British crown became so interested in the colony that George II conceived the idea of buying it back from the Lords Proprietors. Accordingly, in 1728, he ordered an exact survey of the Virginia-Carolina line. The Governor of North Carolina appointed a four-man commission to work with the Virginia commission to “run the line”. Heading the Virginia commission was William Byrd II, who, as stated before, wrote engagingly about the “Land of Eden” (later a part of Guilford County and now in Rockingham County) in his sprightly book, The History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina.

The following year, 1729, George II implemented his idea by purchasing the Carolinas from seven of the Lords Proprietors. The eighth one, the Earl of Granville, refused to sell his share, which continued as the Granville District until the American Revolution. This expansive domain included the northern half of North Carolina and extended from the Virginia line southward to 35 degrees 34 minutes, a strip sixty miles wide, which also included about two-thirds of the colony’s population. Thus when the first settlers began to pour into Guilford County and into the northern piedmont they would be under the jurisdiction of the Earl of Granville and his agents rather than directly under the crown.

As in the coastal plain, the first settlers of the Piedmont were “second-hand,” coming largely from Pennsylvania down the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road into the northern Piedmont of North Carolina about the middle of the eighteenth century. These sturdy pioneers – Germans and Ulster Scots (or Scotch-Irish) and English – settled Guilford County and the surrounding area in such numbers that a writer in the South Carolina and American General Gazette in 1768 declared: “There is scarce any history either ancient or modern, which affords an account of such a rapid and sudden increase in inhabitants in a back frontier country as that of North Carolina.” (1)

It is against this backdrop that we view the panorama of the permanent settlers of Guilford County. Its settlement was unique in its heterogeneity. It was settled on the east by German Lutherans and German Reformed (who were Calvinists); on the west and south by English Quakers, and in the center by Ulster Scot Presbyterians. It was a mixture in which the melting pot would not melt, in some cases, for several generations and in which the rural areas cling to rather decided racial and religious loyalties.

The first permanent white settlers were the Germans who trudged or drove their sturdy wagons down the wagon route primarily from the counties of Berks, Lancaster, and Schuylkill in Pennsylvania. A few came from Maryland. In contrast to their fellow countrymen, the Moravians or Unitas Fratrum, who made a carefully planned communal type settlement in the Wachovia tract just one county to the west, the Germans at first settled in a rather haphazard fashion in eastern Guilford.

Though deeply pious, the Germans were divided between the followers of Martin Luther and the followers of John Calvin. Despite this schism, in the earliest days these Lutherans and German Reformed usually worshipped together – perhaps first in private homes. Later they worshipped in union churches, which also served as schoolhouses. On the Sabbath one of the elders or the schoolmaster of one or the other denominations would read a sermon to the congregation in their native tongue. (2) As might be expected, many of the members intermarried; hence there was much passing from one communion to the other. Indeed, one contemporary wrote that “Since we are both united in the principal doctrines of Christianity, we find no difference between us except in name.” (3)

Because of the similarity of their Germanic names, the dearth of records, and their intermingling, it is difficult to determine which group arrived first in this section. Perhaps they made the long trek together. Early deeds record that there were a number of German Reformed in the area. For instance, Ludwig Clapp was granted a tract of 640 acres on Alamance Creek, recorded in 1752. Adam Trolinger received a grant on the west side of Haw River. Other pioneers of this sect were Christian Faust (Foust), Jacob Albrecht (Albright), Peter Scherb (Sharpe), Philip Snotherly, and David Ephland. (4)

As their settlement grew, there was a great demand for regular ministers to administer the sacraments, instead of depending on itinerant ministers or laymen. (5) One of these itinerant ministers wrote of the hardships of his ministry: [end of page 10]

We wear all sorts of dark colors, gray, brown, blue. Since we always ride horseback on our travels, the more delicate colors would not serve our purpose. Nevertheless while administering the Lord’s Supper or on other festival occasions it is customary to be dressed in black if one has the clothes. A good raincoat if it is rainproof, is better than an overcoat, and is necessary on our frequent travels. Good linen is scarce here and very expensive, consequently it would be good if our incoming brothers supplied themselves with it before they start. They can have shirts made here cheaper than in Germany, and it would be good to bring their material uncut, but of medium grade, and not much fancy stuff, for here we must pay more attention to wearing qualities than to finery. Boots are used while riding, heavier ones in the winter, and lighter ones in the summer and while walking in the forest one is protected against bites of snakes, of which the poisonous varieties, however, are rather scarce…. This one thing above all I wish and request, that no one come in here who is already married in Germany. It would have to be miraculous if he were not to meet with a thousand sad experiences. An American wife is in our circumstances infinitely better adapted. (6)

No doubt the prejudiced appraisal of these early religious workers by the Presbyterian divine, the Reverend Eli Caruthers, should be taken with more than a few grains of salt when he wrote, in 1842, that the Germans had but few preachers “and hardly any of these were calculated to advance the interests of vital piety, or to elevate the character of the people.” He continued

… Some of them had no kind of authority to preach, and no claims to the confidence of the churches on the score of piety; but came out here, either from the Northern states or from Germany, pretending to be preachers; exercised an assumed authority; and acted as self constituted pastors of the churches, or went from place to place, imposing on the people who knew no better, or were glad to meet with any one who came to them as a minister of Christ.

He did concede, however, that others were “probably of a different character, and exercised a good influence; but none of them seemed to be distinguished for intelligence, zeal, and usefulness.” (7)

In the first years the Lutherans did not wait for regular ministers in order to begin their church work, but conducted religious services with their duly elected elders and deacons. This explains why several of their churches have a history some twenty to thirty years before the coming of the first regular ministers. The first German churches, originally constructed of logs, were union churches, built by the united efforts of the Lutherans and the German Reformed.

The earliest of these was Friedens Church, also known in the early days as “Stahmaker’s” Church, founded in the mid-1740’s. This church has the distinction of being the first church in Guilford County and it is still in operation, located about two miles northwest of Gibsonville. The original building, of hand-hewn logs, served for about twenty-five years and was located across the road from the present church. In 1771 the second one was completed and was used for a full century. A brick one was completed in 1871, but burned in 1939. In that same year the present brick one was completed. The adjacent cemetery is one of the oldest in Piedmont North Carolina, with some of the gravestones going back to 1750. The older slate and soapstone tombstones carry inscriptions in German, which was used as late as 1825. Unfortunately, many of the gravestones have been lost or broken.

Actually, the date of the organization of this church is not definitely known. Dr. R. D. W. Connor stated that there was a Lutheran Church on Haw River as early as 1745, which, because of its proximity to the Haw, suggests that it was Friedens. Later historians place the date of organization at 1744, but the organizational date used by the congregation is 1745. Certainly, there were no Lutheran ministers in North Carolina prior to 1773, though the Reverend Samuel Suther, a Reformed minister, served both denominations during 1771 and 1772. Also, the Reverend George Soelle, a Dane, who had been ordained as a Lutheran minister in Denmark in 1741 and who later came to this country and worked with the Moravians, frequently preached to the Friedens community, but he never lived among them. The first Lutheran minister to visit the Guilford area in an official capacity was the Reverend Adolph Mussmann, who made repeated trips here on horseback from his station in Rowan County.

He was followed by J. G. Arends (who served as “Visitor” from 1775-1785), C. E. Bernhardt (1789-1800) and Philip Henkel (1800-1805). The last three were Lutheran ministers who also served other congregations in the area.

In the years before the Revolution, Friedens and the surrounding vicinity had a steady growth. Many of their names are still borne by present citizens, though some in their Anglicized version. Among these were the Albrechts (Albrights), Anthoneys, Brouns (Browns), Bravers (Browers), Klaps (Clapps), Cobles, Emigs (Amicks), Fausts (Fousts), Vogelmanns (Foglemans), Goertners (Cortners), Greffs (Graves), Holts, Ingles, Ingolds, Eiseles (Isleys), Kaubs (Cobbs), Keims (Kimes), Laus (Lows), Leinbergers (Linebergers, Lineberrys), Longs, Mays, Neases, Reitzells, Schaeffers (Shepherds), Shaffners (Shoffners), Scherbs (Sharpes), Schmidts (Smiths), Schwenks (Swings), Stacks, Stahles (Staleys), Sthars (Starrs), Straders, Summers, Trollingers, Weitzels (Whitesells), and Weiricks (Wyricks). (8)

About the same time as the organization of Friedens, another church, known as “Brick” Church, was organized about six miles south of present Gibsonville and it is claimed by some that the two churches were organized by the same minister. It is elsewhere claimed that Brick Reformed Church (now Brick United Church of Christ) dates back to the year 1748 when George Valentine Clapp (Klapp) and

[end of page 11]

his brother, Luther, from Berks County, Pennsylvania, settled on Beaver Creek near the present Alamance County line. According to tradition, Mrs. George Clapp had a dream which determined the site of the church. Because of its location it was first known as Beaver Creek Church. Many of the names listed under Friedens’ congregation are also found here. Soon a schoolhouse was erected near the site of the present church and the small congregation gathered here for worship. At this time it was called Der Klapp Kirche (The Clapp Church) because of the great efforts of that family.

Written records of the earliest days are scant, but there is a strong tradition that the Reverend James Martin, a Swiss, served the young congregation as early as 1759 and that the Reverend Dupert, a Huguenot minister, followed him in 1764. The first official record reveals that the congregation was not organized until about 1770 when the Reverend Samuel Suther first administered to them. At that time the congregation was worshipping in a small log house built jointly by the Reformed and Lutheran people, located where Low’s (Lau’s) Lutheran Church now stands. During the Revolutionary War, the Reverend Suther and the Reformed people returned to their schoolhouse for worship, presumably because of differences in interpretation of the sacraments and, possibly, their attitude towards the war itself. In fact, later Reformed writers claim that almost every Reformed member was a patriot while the Lutherans were almost all Loyalists or Tories.

The founders of this church were the Albrechts (Albrights), Basons, Ephlands, Fausts (Fousts), Gerhards (Garretts), Longs, Loys, Neases, Schades (Shaddies), Scherbs (Sharpes), Steiners (Stoners), Trollingers, and others, many of whose descendants still live in that fertile region along the waters of Haw River, Alamance, and Stinking Quarter. The congregation, perhaps because of the “very inconvenience of access,” fared very poorly for want of stated ministerial services and was dependent on occasional pastoral visitations until 1821, when the Reverend John Rudy became pastor of the charge. (10)

The entire German settlement in Guilford County described in 1787 by a Lutheran missionary, the Reverend Christopher Bernhardt, reporting on the Lutheran Church in a letter to the church in Germany:

The German Settlement in Guilford County lies about seventy English miles north of Salisbury, and is twenty-eight miles long and eighteen miles wide. Many hundreds of families live here close together. For many years, they have been without a preacher, exposed to roaming fanatics, who in some places have already found a considerable following among the ignorant. There are four Evangelical churches here, which for some years have been standing vacant and deserted. Still occasionally they are filled by the shallow noise of an untutored fanatic, for whom it is an easy matter through noise of violent words to engage the imagination of his audience… It is high time that these poor congregations, among whom still many are found who sincerely long for the Gospel, would receive help, if they are not to degenerate completely into a state of heathendom. (11)

More specifically he wrote that the German settlement was “located at some distance along the Haw River, extends about 28 miles, from Rock River at the right to a considerable distance beyond Alamance Creek on the left and is about 18 miles wide in the middle, where many good Evangelical people live, who in their poor churches have no preacher … I wish with all my heart that they had a preacher.” (12)

By way of generalization, it may be said that these sturdy German folk, whether Lutheran or Reformed, were destined to play a significant part in the coming section conflict known as the War of the Regulation, which reached a climax in 1771. Later they played an important role in the American Revolution. (13)

[end of page 12]

(1) Quoted in Hugh T. Lefler and Albert R. Newsome, North Carolina: The History of a Southern State (Chapel Hill: The University of N. C. Press, 1954), p. 78.

(2) W. L. Saunders (ed.), Colonial Records of North Carolina (Raleigh: Josephus Daniels, 1890), VIII, 735. Hereafter these Records will be cited as N.C.C.R.

(3) A Board of Editors Under the Classics of North Carolina, Historic Sketch of the Reformed Church in North Carolina. (Philadelphia: Publication Board of the Reformed Church in the U.S., 1908), pp. 116-117.

(4) Hugh T. Lefler and Paul Wager (eds.), History of Orange (Chapel Hill: The Orange Print Shop, 1953), p. 15; Classics, Reformed Church, pp. 117-118.

(5) Jacob L. Morgan, et al (eds.), History of the Lutheran Church in North Carolina (n.p.: United Evangelical Lutheran Synod of North Carolina, 1953), p. 30.

(6) William K. Boyd and Charles A. Krummel (eds.), “German Tracts Concerning the Lutheran Church in North Carolina during the Eighteenth Century,” North Carolina Historical Review, VII (January, 1930), 125-126.

(7) Caruthers, David Caldwell, p. 90.

(8) N.C.C.R. VLLL, 734.

[for some unknown reason, there is no footnote #9 in the text or the list of footnotes]

(10) Ibid., p. 737.

(11) Boyd and Krummel (eds.), “German Tracts”, p. 126.

(12) Ibid.

(13) Unless otherwise cited, I am deeply indebted to the research of one of my graduate students, Gary J. Tucker, whose master’s thesis is entitled “The Formative Period of Religion in Guilford County” (University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 1971), and to the following sources: Lalah G. Apple, Two Hundred Twenty-Five Years History of Friedens Lutheran Church, 1745-1970, Burlington, N.C.: Alamance Printong Co., 1970; William T. Whitsett, “Frieden’s Lutheran Church”, Gibsonville Post, November 10, 1921; Ibid., “The History of a Famous Church”, Greensboro Daily News, June 5, 1932; and James L. Cress, “Brick United Church of Christ History,” Whitsett, N.C.: Alamance County Historical Association, 1971.

[end of page 13 and the chapter]