Mennonites and Rebels

July 17, 2017

Perched on a hill opposite Culp’s Hill remains an artillery battery that saw action on July 3, 1863. The cannons were posted there to support Pickett’s  Charge against the Union center on Cemetary Ridge. Despite the efforts of Staff Sergeant William McKenney and his fellow Rebels. George, Peggy’s Great grandfather, had enlisted in the Conderate cause despite his exemption as a slave owner of more than 20 humans. He must have felt deeply for his cause as he would serve the entire war before surrendering with the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattax.

The cannons of George Mc Kenney were not aimed at any La Portes. As Westerners, they we fighting with Grant and Sherman. There were probably other members of my ancestry on Cemetary Ridgewith with their Massachusetts and New York backgrounds, but they are still unknown at this time. Our visit was brief since we had been to Gettysburg several times before. We will probably return as I uncover more of the family past.

We wound through the tiny roads and traffic south of Lancaster, PA in search of the village of Pequea near the Maryland border. In 1726, Nicholas Biery arrived in this Swiss Mennonite community nestled in the woody hills next to the river. Nicholas was born and grew up near Bern in Switzerland. As a pacifist Mennonite, he was in the process of being court martialed by the Swiss Army. Not sure what the charges were but they were serious enough for his friends to place him in barrel and smuggle him out of the reach of the Swiss Army. He boarded a boat in Rotterdam, presumably he was out of the barrel by this time, and sailed to Philadelphia. Once there he made it to Pequea where William Penn had granted Swiss Mennonites 100,000 acres in the Wilderness.

It took some time, but we found the Swiss colony or at least their descendants that populate the region. They are easy to pick out with their huge farmhouse and prosperous farm holdings. Their distinctive clothing was generally drying on almost impossibly long clothes lines. We finally stopped and asked a mother dressed in the Mennonite style about my family. She stopped unloading the family Chevy Tahoe with the bounty from a Costco run, and patiently told me where to find the old churches and graveyards. Following her directions, we found the modern church as well as the meeting house built in 1755. Nicholas could have very well attended this church. We could not distinguish his gravestone as head stones from the mid-1700s are illegible. It was still a meaning ful experience.

Nicholas will pass away in Pequea in 1762. His son, Jacob, will move to Rockimham, Virginia where daughter Hannah is born in 1784. Jacob passes away in Hocking, Ohio at age 77. Hannah, my 3rd great grandmother, will marry Joseph Miller near Hocking 1811 and give birth to James Miller before moving to Davis, Iowa where she lives until the age of 90. James’s daughter Malona, my great grandmother, will be born in Oregon in 1859.

The balance of the day was spent navigating across Pennsylvania though endless signals, construction delays and zigging and zagging across the Appalacian mountains to New York. I don’t know where their engineers came up with the idea of 100 foot on ramps from a complete stop, but I hope the problem is localized. The Roger Rabbit freeway section in Pasadena is a good comparison. Imagine that being common all over California. The flooding and downpours were also part of the program.

We found sanctuary in Newburgh, NY. We enjoyed a dinner with a noisily celebrating crowd of seniors at the bar of our restaurant. They were New York loud,  but I loved it. Across the Hudson and on to the Bay Colony.

3 thoughts on “Mennonites and Rebels

  1. So, your George McKenney was shooting at my John Farber at Gettysburg, as Farber was positioned the 2nd day of Gettysburg on Culp’s Hill with the 56th PA. Beside him were the 95th NY and the 7th Indiana (Iron Brigade) who had been together the day before, 1st shots fired, at the famous Rail Road cut. They’d all spent the night of the first day in the cemetery, sleeping amongst the tombstones. Early in the morning of the 2nd day, they were emplaced on the top of Culp’s hill in support of artillery just above the cemetery, firing against the (eventual) Pickett’s Charge. Also, so glad you got to Pequea. You are probably related to me. 🙂

    • Pequea wasn’t much of a town but the huge farm buildings with gigantic, endless clothes lines, and barns as big as plane hangers were impressive. The humble original 1755 meeting house was moving.

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