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Magdalena Schrock Smith (1811 – 1855) and her descendants

Madeleine Schrack (Schrag)

This material was used in the Magdalena Schrock Smith presentation at the Illinois Mennonite Heritage Center’s “Schrock Immigrant Day” on June 19, 2010. Compiled and written by Don B. Smith for the presentation given by John J. Smith, both direct descendants of Magdalena Schrock Smith

(The following is for personal use only and not to be used in published form without permission.)

Introduction

The life story of Magdalena and Christian parallels that of many early 19th century immigrants to America.  This presentation outlines this story and also paints a picture of life peculiar to this couple and their children.

Magdalena Schrock, the daughter of Joseph and Marie Neuhauser Schrock, was born in Moselle, France in 1811.  Christian, was born shortly before his future wife in 1809. Some genealogies show his parents to be Jacob Peterschmidt and Barbara Lauber.  Others question this.  Most agree that he came from Alsace Lorraine, a son of one of the many Anabaptist Schmidt/Peterschmidt families in the area.

Our story begins in the late 1820s in Butler County, Ohio, specifically Trenton Township. Magdalena is newly arrived with some of her brothers. Christian, probably seeking opportunity in America arrives without other identified family members.

The narrative of Christian and Magdalena that follows is based on information from a number of sources.  First are notes from members of the Oyer family.  Second, Donna Schrock Birkey and Dr. Neil Ann Stuckey Levine have authored several articles in the Illinois Mennonite Heritage Quarterly and other publications on the Schrock family.  Third, reports available online from the Tazewell County, IL, Historical Society and Willard Smith’s book, Mennonites in Illinois provide added historical detail.  Other sources from certain Internet genealogy sites have provided further information.

It should be noted that not all sources agree on all the information presented here.  For example, some show more than three children born in Butler County whereas I show three.  Some state that the family relocated to Illinois from Ohio in 1841 whereas my research indicates the more likely year to be 1837.  Some sources state that family members died from cholera in 1854, others, including me believe 1855 the more likely date.  Some also report that three children in the family died at this time, others, including me believe that two died.  Regardless of these historical discrepancies, all sources agree on the main thrust of these ancestors’ story as presented here.

COMING TO AMERICA

Christian Schmidt, according to Oyer family notes, arrived in America disembarking in New York. He then traveled up the Hudson River, crossed New York State on the Erie Canal, and then traveled by canal to Butler Co., Ohio.  Indeed, from a ship passenger list available on the Internet, I’ve found that he arrived in New York on the ship Sully in 1828.  There is no indication that Christian traveled with any other family members. We can reasonably surmise that he had contacts in Ohio, thus knew where he was headed and wasted no time in getting there.

Magdalena came to America around 1830 [in 1831], in the company of one or more of her brothers.  Although we do not know the details, a common route for many Butler Co. settlers was embarkation in Baltimore, sometimes a short stay in Lancaster Co., PA and then a move on to the growing Amish Mennonite community in Butler Co. It was here that Magdalena met and married Christian Schmidt.

BUTLER COUNTY, OHIO – THE EARLY MENNONITE COMMUNITY

What was the setting in which Magdalena and Christian married and why did they come to this particular place?

We are fortunate to have a history of the Mennonites in Butler County, collected and written by Reverend W. H. Grubb, published in 1916.  Grubb was the pastor of the Apostolic [Mennonite] Church in Trenton, Ohio, and had access to family Bibles, church records and other documents to chronicle a convincing outline of life in that community.

The first Amish Mennonite settlers in Butler County were led by Christian Augspurger, a farmer (more precisely a farm manager) from around Strasbourg, France.  Grubb notes that Christian Augspurger first settled in Pennsylvania in 1817 and then moved west to Ohio with a few others shortly thereafter.  Here he decided to purchase land and begin farming.  He returned to France in 1818 and then in the spring of 1819 he brought back a group of 36 families to America, with six of these families settling in Butler County.

He eventually bought more land, established larger farms, and prospered.  As I’ve observed with certain of the early Amish and Mennonite immigrants in Lancaster County, in Germantown, PA, and in the Shenandoah Valley in western VA., there were one or several early  pioneers who purchased land from the resident “English” and then sold off portions to other  families coming from the old country in the ensuing years.

Thus the community in Butler County was established and growing by the time Magdalena and her brothers and Christian arrived a decade or so later.  Grubb writes “that as early as 1831 some… had drifted to IL  … where they established the first Amish church west of Ohio.”  Thus the inevitable pioneer movement toward the west in search of more and less expensive land was joined too by our Anabaptist ancestors.

Religious services were held in homes and in 1825 the first minister, Jacob Kriehbel from Canada, came to minister to the Amish families.  A few years later other ministers settled in the area, as did Hessian Mennonites from Germany.  By 1835 there were both Mennonite and Amish congregations in Butler County.

THE CHRISTIAN AND MAGDALENA SCHROCK FAMILY IN BUTLER COUNTY

Magdalena and Christian were married about 1832 according to notes passed down in the Oyer family.  Possibly the ceremony took place in the one of the homes of Magdalena’s siblings.  There was no church building for the Amish congregation at this point.  However, there were three ministers serving the Amish community at the time, Peter Naffziger, Jacob Augspurger, and Peter Schrock.  Peter was an older brother of Magdalena and in this capacity may have performed or at least participated in the marriage ceremonies.  As a sidelight, Amish marriages were not recorded with Butler County authorities at this time, so there are no records of these marriages in the County archives.  About a decade later, at least some Amish and Mennonite congregations did register events with the authorities.

Magdalena and Christian’s first child, Mary was born in 1833, Barbara was born about 1836, and third child Peter was born in 1837.

During this period, Christian and Magdalena were able to purchase 5 acres of land in Lemon Township. Here they farmed and raised the three children.  [This plot was no doubt purchased from brother Peter, as it was situated in the middle of a parcel of land belonging to Peter.–db]

While researching records in the Butler County archives located at Hamilton, the present day county seat, I came across a deed of sale showing the transfer of property in Lemon Township from Christian, Magdalena, and a Joseph Smith to Peter Schrock.  The date of the deed was August 28, 1848 and the deed was recorded November 30, 1850.  We assume that Peter Schrock was Magdalena’s brother.  Some say that Christian had a brother Joseph, maybe the Joseph named on the deed.  The deed was “verified” by Samuel S. McCord, Justice of the Peace, Woodford County, Illinois.

From descriptions on the deed I was able to locate the property on land maps available on the Internet from the Butler county web site.  From these maps, six years ago I was able to visit the area and see this acreage, today located in a mix of farmland, wooded area, some houses and some commercial structures.  No house existed on the five-acre parcel at that time.

THE TREK TO ILLINOIS

As I noted before, some earlier Butler County Anabaptist farmers had migrated to central Illinois. My guess is that with reports back from these persons the Smith family (and maybe others) was lured west to Illinois because of the prospect of an abundance of fertile and less expensive land.

Thus, according to the Oyer account, in August of 1837, the family traveled west in a covered wagon with three small children, the youngest, Peter, just six weeks of age.  They settled near Bloomington, most likely near present day Congerville, purchasing an 80-acre farm with an existing house.

Within a year the first of five more children to complete their family was born.  These five (Anna, Magdalena, Joseph, Christian, and John, in that order) were all born in Illinois, the last in 1848.  We assume that Christian’s principal occupation in Illinois was farming, although many heads of family were engaged in supplementary occupations like land speculation, farm animal trading, carpentry, and merchandising of products brought in from Peoria.  One must consider that there was considerable travel between these areas and Bloomington, Peoria, and even Chicago to sell farm produce and procure supplies for use on the farms.

During this period (1830 into the 1850s) new settlers were moving into the area, the prairie was being broken up into farms (in many cases tiles laid to keep fields drained in the flat and low-lying areas), towns and villages were incorporated, trade and commerce was growing.

For historical perspective, by the time Christian and Magdalena settled in their new home, Illinois was already a state, the native American Indians had largely been driven out of the state, with their defeat in the Black Hawk war of 1832 completing that. Abe Lincoln was a circuit riding lawyer and growing in political influence in central Illinois. Chicago was rapidly becoming the state’s largest city.  All this is to say that the Smith family was living in a time and place of growth and expanding opportunity. Willard Smith, writing in his history, states that, “Although life was often hard on the Illinois prairie at this time, hardworking Amish immigrants generally prospered.  The land was fertile and productive.  Growing markets for farm output were reasonably nearby, and there was an abundance of wildlife.”

During this period, the family began to use the “Smith” name.  As described in family notes,

“When the children were old enough to attend the ‘English’ schools here, Peter changed his name to the English spelling, ‘Smith.’  His brothers, sisters and even cousins followed suit.  The family had been advised not to change to the English form if they expected any inheritance from Germany but they had nothing to expect so had nothing to lose.”  I’ve also read that some of the German families of this time and place adopted English spellings of surnames in order to fit in with neighbors.

We’ve no specific knowledge of where the family worshiped but probably in various Amish homes, as congregations with a meetinghouse were to follow in later years.

The home in Congerville where Magdalena and Christian lived with their family; albeit in a log cabin which is claimed to be enclosed within the present structure.

TRAGEDY STRIKES

One of the unfortunate realities of life at the time was that of disease and untimely death.  In his history, Smith lists three common maladies; Asiatic cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis.  Epidemics of cholera would sweep through central Illinois from time to time.  Often these would originate in the more populated areas (Peoria for example), be introduced into the community by a visitor or returning farmer, and then spread to various households.  Doctors were few, the germ theory of disease was not known (at least not in prairie communities), and sanitary practices were little understood by the families.

In July or August of 1855 Magdalena and Christian’s family was stricken. Oyer family notes state that this happened after Christian returned from a trip to Bloomington. Christian died on the 2nd of August, Magdalena died a few days later, and shortly after that daughter Barbara, then youngest son John perished.  Although some reports indicate three children died, my finding is that six children survived – Mary (21 or 22 years old at the time), Peter (18), Anna (about 15), Magdalena (14), Joseph (11), and Christian (9).  According to the Oyer family, Barbara was engaged to a Dan Garber at the time of her death.
One can only imagine the difficulties the remaining family members underwent in the aftermath of this tragedy and the impact on the larger community.

In a letter to Tilman Smith in 1950, Mary Oyer related,
“All four died of cholera within a short space of time. On Wednesday Grandpa died. He contracted it the day before in Bloomington. Thursday was the funeral, and the rest were all well at that time. By Saturday night Grandma died at 12:00, then Barbara half an hour later, then John Monday morning at 3:00. No funeral for them. Those who got sick at the funeral were Andrew Schrock, Grandma’s brother and Mrs. Ulrich. This is the way my father [Peter] gave it many times, how sad it was for them all. My father said, ‘I always dread August and the thought of what happened. It’s been 21 years now.’ And that same year, November 17, my father went to die a victorious death.”

A poignant coda is related in Willard Smith’s book noted before.  Speaking of the orphaned Peter Smith (and my Great Grandfather)  –  “As an orphan … he had to hire himself out to others.  It is said that while working in the field one day he went to a nearby neighbor and asked for a drink of water. The lady, knowing his background, gave him a drink but would not let him enter the house, but instead opened the door only the few inches necessary to pass out the cup of water and then to receive the cup but did not know that people caught cholera from others! Such behavior added to the difficulties and loneliness of those suspected of being bearers of the dreaded disease.”

THE SURVIVORS

Six children of Magdalena and Christian survived.  The list below shows their ages at the time of the death of their parents and siblings.  The children were taken in by relatives and friends, and eventually they all married, raised children and either remained in central Illinois or moved on to Harper Kansas.  Here is a brief summary of their remaining years.

Mary (1833 – 1896)
Three years after the death of her parents, Mary married Frederick Fellrath.  They moved to Harper Kansas, where they raised four children.  Mary was a member of the Apostolic Christian Church there and lived to 63, passing away in 1896.

Peter (1837 – 1875)
After the death of his parents, Peter (my Great Grandfather) worked as a hired hand, then married Barbara Neuhauser in 1861.  Their first child Mary was born 10 months later and the family lived in three different places over the next few years and added more children. This was during the Civil War period.  Peter was able to avoid service by paying a $100 fee (as Smith family lore states, “the government needed the money and it needed farmers even more”).

The family eventually settled on an 80-acre farm near Gridley in Waldo Township.  Peter died at the early age of 38 from complications of typhoid fever.  Barbara died six years later in 1881 from TB.

“The closing days of Grandfather’s (Peter) life were memorable. His mind was remarkable clear, especially his last day on earth. He seemed to realize or expect that today he was going to leave them. He thanked Dr. Monroe saying, ‘I know you’ve done everything you could to restore me to health, but my time has come to go.’ (The doctor went to a window, to hide his tears.) During that day he admonished the family to shun evil and follow godly convictions. (He spoke to them in German.) He would often fall asleep perhaps in a semi-conscious state. Each time upon awakening, he would have further words of advice or instruction, and often asked, ‘Is it not yet five o’clock?’ The last time he awoke he was in a gloriously triumphant state. ‘I see into Heaven! Oh, what a glorious sight! If only I could show it to you! I wish I could take all of you with me.’ Then followed more admonitions especially to his three little boys. He placed his hand on ‘Johnnie’s’ head and said, ‘If only I could take you along, before you grow up to cope with the evil and the temptations you have to meet.’ At 5:00 p.m. he drew his last breath.”  (From The Maninger Family,  Compiled by F. Robert Henderson and Barbara Craig Phelps. Copyright 2000. Taken from original Lydia Oyer material.)

Anna (1840 – 1861)
Our knowledge of Anna’s short life is sketchy.  She married John Garber in 1858, three years after her parents died.  Some accounts list four children but names and birth dates are either unknown or suspect.  Anna died of TB at the early age of 21 in 1861, just three years after her marriage.

Magdalena (1841 – 1914)
She first married Peter Neuhauser, a brother of her brother Peter’s wife, Barbara Neuhauser.  They had three children, all of whom died at a young age.  Then she married Valentine Maninger in Bloomington in 1866.  They moved to Harper, Kansas in 1885.  They were the parents of eight children.  Valentine, a German immigrant, was a shoemaker.  He served in the Union Army for three years before returning and marrying Magdalena, then a widow.  He was said to be a prosperous farmer in Kansas.

Joseph (1844 – 1889)
Some list Joseph’s birth date as 1843. He married Barbara Roth in 1863. Around 1885 they moved to Harper, Kansas. Joseph died at the age of 45 and is buried in Harper.  Joseph, and likely Barbara too, were raised in Amish families, but we do not know if they were baptized into an Amish congregation before they joined the Apostolic Christian Church. They had eight children. At least one daughter, Mary Smith Witzig, moved back to central Illinois and has descendants living in the area.

After Joseph’s brother Peter died in 1875 and Peter’s wife died in 1881, Joseph actively assisted the family of six children, all under 20 years old.  Peter’s daughter Mary Smith Oyer remembered and recounted her Uncle Joe’s kindness even towards the end of her life, in 1955.

Christian (1846 – 1924)
Christian married Phoebe Sweitzer.  They had two sons.  Christian never affiliated with any church. He enlisted in the Civil War, was stationed in the Memphis area and served as a Private.  After his service, Christian farmed with his brother-in-law in central Illinois. Phoebe died in 1912 and Christian remarried in 1914.  He lived 10 more years–the longest lived of Christian and Magdalena’s children.

From these six surviving children of Magdalena and Christian sprang many descendants with surnames of Smith, Fellrath, Weyeneth, Miller, Oyer, King, Maninger, Loeffler, Doughty, Witzig, Irion, and Domnick.

FINAL  OBSERVATIONS

What can we conclude from examining the lives of Magdalena and Christian?

First, they only lived 43-44 years, yet this short existence was filled with adventure, hardship, toil, and the establishment of considerable family legacy. In a period of less than a decade, they made the long voyage across the Atlantic to new life, started a family, and then traveled overland to begin a new life in another new land.  Here no doubt they toiled hard, braved cold Illinois winters, and raised eight children.  Yet within twelve years of their arrival on the Illinois prairie, both their lives would end prematurely.

Second, their story reminds us of the reasons that drove most American pioneers: freedom of worship, social justice, and economic opportunity.  Of course, we are the beneficiaries of Christian and Magdalena’s fortitude.  It is good to remember their story, give them thanks for the sacrifices they made on our behalf and pass along the outline and meaning of our heritage as exemplified by Magdalena and Christian to our descendants.

2 Comments

  1. Michelle Maninger

    My husband is a descendent of Valentine Maninger and Magdalena Smith. Our branch of the family moved from Harper, Kansas to the St. Louis, Mo. area in the early 1960’s

  2. dbirkey

    Welcome to the website Michelle. I hope you were able to find some information about the Maninger/Smith family. It would have been great to have you at our reunion in 2010.

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