11/1/11 rev. 4/29/13
(portions of this originally published as “A Genealogical Discovery After Nearly Two Centuries: Connection? Or Just Coincidence?”
My wife Susan’s maiden name was Miller, originally the German “Mueller,” a very common name for Northern Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Probably 90% of the families in this west-central part of the state are of German descent, with many Mennonites, Brethren, German Reformed, and Lutherans as neighbors, and even Amish in southern Somerset County. In fact, our Johnstown-area phone book contains five pages of the Miller surname, which along with “Smith” is one of the most popular in America. My English Great-great grandfather Richard Pearce (1782/5-1861) traveled through this area in 1820 on his way west to Pittsburgh to where many of his countrymen had settled, along with the Scotch-Irish. Ironically, he was a “miller by trade,” according to a century-old family narrative, but the English rarely used that occupation as a surname, so says author Bill Bryson, because too many in that line of work had bad reputations. See the Pearce family connections to Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale” and “The Reeve’s Tale”. Only recently have I connected three separate and distinct German or Swiss-German Miller families to one or both Susan’s maternal and/or paternal ancestors. Aside from the main Joseph “Yost Miller line on the agnatic, there is a stretch on the secondary Baer line where marriage into one or more Miller families occurs three times in four generations. On the Cognate, those same and other Miller families intersect at three major points, the Mishler, the Speicher, and the Musser lines. Thus, the title of this piece! Let’s consider how these various Miller families are connected.
Our children, Annie and Matthew, descendants of Joseph Miller from my wife’s side, are ninth generation Americans. This Joseph was born around 1725 and, according to tradition, came from Germany (via Holland) in 1754 to Berks County in the eastern part of the state surrounding the city of Reading. Joseph’s son, “Yost” (1748-1811), came to Somerset County in 1782, after fighting in the Revolutionary War against his fellow-Germans, the Hessian mercenaries, who were being paid by the British. He and his brother Jeremiah had enlisted in Ephrata, a German stronghold just over the Berks County line in Amish Lancaster County. Ephrata is known for its religious sect, the Seventh Day Baptists, and beautiful cloisters. Another Miller, Peter (related?) led the group then with many firsts in America: the first Sunday School and the first free public school, to name a few. In addition, Ephrata’s printing press reproduced the Declaration of Independence in seven languages and quickly distributed it throughout the colonies during this crucial time in the history of the new country. Peter Miller apparently knew George Washington quite well, and the cloisters served as a hospital during the war. Unfortunately, Yost’s brother Jeremiah and his wife Betty were captured by the British during the Battle of Brandywine. They later escaped at Brunswick. The Miller brothers each produced large families, but, to cite Chaucer, this Miller’s tale has several strange twists, only recently considered. One is that Susan’s brother Dan married a Miller from adjacent Bedford County, and that may be some distant family relation. But, Dan and Susan’s grandmother was a Baer, whose grandmother and great-grandmother were Millers originating from Swiss-German Amish-Mennonite Christian Miller I (b.1642). Perhaps the following able will help you visualize the Miller to Miller connection:
INSERT “MULTIPLE MARRIAGES”
The earliest known Miller in our families was Rosina Muller (birth and death dates and parents unknown) who married Gilgen Moser (b. 1550)(now spelled Musser) in 1579 in Europe. That was 370 years before the birth of Susan’s father, Richard Miller (b. 1920). Rosina is found on the maternal side of Susan’s family, and one of Gilgen’s descendants appears 150 year later with the marriage of Susannah Musser to Christian Miller (1779-1865) in Somerset County. But an earlier Christian (Daniel) Miller II, born around 1700 in Switzerland, whose son, Hannes “Indian John” Miller, who married Barbara/Magdalena Lehman in Somerset County, and produced both Christian “Glades” and Peter J. Miller who provided parallel Miller lines that reunited in the 1800’s to offer two generation of spouses for Baers, Christian, who married Elizabeth Miller (1809-1878) and Abraham, who married Sarah Miller (1843-1925, not Susan’s grandmother Sarah Jane but rather her great-great grandmother).
Hannes “Indian John” Miller (b.1720-30), also had a daughter Elizabeth who married Joseph Speicher, the grandmother of Aura Catherine, wife of Christian F. Lee, Susan’s great-grandmother and son of our “also famous” Tommy Lee. Just a word here about Tommy. There has always been some disagreement over Susan’s mythical great-great grandfather, Thomas “Tommy” Lee, Jr. (1816-1900), and that’s where another conundrum ties in. Tradition says that Tommy was a young Irish orphan when he as taken in by an old, old Amish family from Southern Somerset County. The late Bennie A. Yoder claims this in Levi and Elmina Lee’s family record (1843-1985) entitled John T. Lee and Elizabeth Yoder. Yet, another source says that Tommy was simply “indentured” by the Amish, who may have paid his way to America from Ireland in exchange for work on the farm. We do know that Tommy was taught the craft of furniture making. His spinning wheels are still around and occasionally surface to bring quite a price at area auctions. Several are on display at the Somerset County Historical Center. To read the latest research findings on this wonderful yet mysterious character, go to “Meet ‘Tommy’ Lee.” This is where the second twist occurs: Tommy Lee was taken in by the old, old Amish family, the Millers, also originally from Berks County in eastern Pennsylvania. We know now that Tommy’s mentor, Bishop Benedict Miller was also a direct descendant of “Indian John,” and that’s the relation to my wife’s Miller families, on both sides. More from Tommy’s story and the Miller connection later.
There is yet another irony to this story that offers us cause to wonder. I have discovered that my Great-great grandfather Richard Pearce’s father-in-law, Ambrose Austen (1757-1841/3), continued on past Pittsburgh on the Lincoln Highway (also known in Pennsylvania then as Gen. John Forbes’ Road and now known as US Rt. 30) into Wayne County, Ohio, and the town of Jeromesville near Wooster. See “The Ambrose Austen Family”. He had been a non-conformist Baptist elder, and his wife, Susannah Beard had come from a Quaker background See “Our Quaker Beginnings”. That was 1818, and he was seeking the free “Indian Lands” available to anyone with a pioneering spirit. Don’t forget that he was also my great-great-great grandfather because his daughter, Susan, was my great-great grandmother. You see, Ambrose’s son Charles had married Richard Pearce’s twin sister Sarah in a double ceremony on the same day in the same London church in 1813. Read “The Original Family Narrative”. So, with these families of the Pearces and Austens so tightly-woven and representing varied religious experiences, many of each settled in that part of Ohio. I’ve traveled to towns with unusual names like Jeromesville and Funk and Shreve to visit the homesteads and the graves of my relatives. This most recent time, Susan and I decided to meet our distant cousins, Tom and Marge Austen, for lunch at a well-recommended “Amish” restaurant in Walnut Creek, Holmes County, Ohio (I put this in quotes because it’s really the Mennonites who operate these modern businesses.). Nearby small towns like Sugar Creek, Berlin, Farmerstown, and many others with colorful names, were all settled by the shy Amish and the more enterprising Mennonites. The state tourist industry has nicknamed this region “Little Switzerland” because of its resemblance in terrain and industry to the homeland of the Anabaptist Amish. My wife and I had visited the Emmenthaler Swiss cheese region in Switzerland last year and were anxious to compare the scenery and flavor. This was a marvelous and yet convenient place to meet because of the tasty and hearty old-world food and its close proximity to my family’s settlements. We knew that Holmes and Tuscarawas Counties were home to one of the largest Amish populations in the United States, but we never suspected any family connections. After lunch and a little shopping for hand-crafted gifts and bulk ethnic foods, we headed for Wooster. But, first, we stopped at Tom and Marge’s favorite ice cream place in a little town named Millersburg. A sign there indicated that it was just 10 miles to Shreve where my Great-uncle Edwin Pearce owned a grist mill very similar to my family’s back near Pittsburgh. See “The Tice-Pearce Heritage.” The stone from this mill is on display at the historical center in Wooster. Little did I know that there was a connection between this Millersburg and my wife’s Great-great grandfather Tommy Lee.
When I returned home I picked up the small book entitled The Joel B. Miller History, as I said earlier. Joel’s great grandfather was Jacob Miller (1754-1835), who had moved to Somerset from Berks County around 1782, probably with his father John. Jacob’s oldest son, also named John after his grandfather, was born in Berks county too but had moved to northern Somerset county (Did he know the other Millers there?). The second son was Bishop Benedict (1781-1837), Joel’s father, who stayed in southern Somerset County. The two youngest sons were Henry and Jacob, and they, along with father Jacob and probably grandfather John (because he’s buried there) all moved to Holmes County, Ohio in 1808. This was “raw Indian territory” then (15). According to L.A. Miller of Arthur, Illinois, in a personal letter dated March 8, 1950:
Among the first settlers in Holmes and Tuscarawas Counties were Jacob Miller in 1808 with his two sons. He helped them build log cabins, then went back home, and made a few trips during the year on horseback. Then the following year he moved to Ohio himself. (Miller and Schrock 16)
Enos Mast (b.1863) claims that the Millers fled back to Somerset County in 1811 in their Conestoga wagon during an Indian uprising. The Millers were very sensitive to the temperament of the Native Americans after the famous Hochstedler massacre in Berks County. This was one of the reasons Jacob’s father John had moved to the mountains of Somerset County with his wife Catherine Hochstedler. One source also believes that John’s father, John Adam Miller, was killed by Indians the year before the massacre. So, the wagon returning to Somerset County was unable to carry all the family treasures and supplies very far from the new Ohio homestead, therefore they decided to bury some of the heavier objects in a nearby creek bank. When they returned to the Buckeye state in 1815, they found only ashes. Apparently the Indians had found the precious personal things and burned them.
Because Jacob had a son also named Jacob, the folks in Ohio differentiated them by calling Senior “Alt Yocklie” and Junior “Jung Yocklie.” According to Miller and Schrock, Jacob Miller, Sr. founded the Amish church in Ohio (17). This Bishop Miller is credited with preaching the first sermon in Holmes County.
Miller and Schrock surmise that Jacob’s son Benedict and grandson Joel B. did not have that pioneering spirit, but Benedict did go so far as to sell his farm to be with the rest of his family in Ohio. However, after being selected and ordained for the ministry in the Amish Mennonite Church, he arranged to buy back his farm and was content to remain in Somerset County the rest of his life. In describing Benedict’s kind and gentle nature, Miller and Schrock include the story of Susan’s Great-great grandfather Tommy Lee, the “Irish orphan boy who had found his way into the Amish community at the foot of Negro Mountain” (23). They say, “He couldn’t speak German and was apparently taken advantage of by some of the local residents.” Benedict interceded by paying the boy’s debts with corn and eggs from his own farm. He supposedly quickly wrote out an “understanding” in what Miller and Schrock call “a quaint mixture of English, High German and Pennsylvania German [Dutch].” Benedict, it seems, knew very little English but was attempting to do what was best for the boy under the circumstances. Tommy Lee was taken in by this Miller family, taught the trade of woodworking, and after Benedict’s death, remained with the Joel B. Miller family until his marriage to Elizabeth Brennemen in 1842.
American Poet Robert Frost once said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” My journey as a writer of genealogical narratives is constantly full of surprises. Just when I think that I can discover nothing new, I encounter a nugget, a thread, or a possibility. The secret is to keep working. As Ernest Hemingway said jokingly, “Anyone who says he wants to be a writer and isn’t writing, doesn’t.” So I consider the documented indenture of my wife’s Great-great grandfather Tommy Lee to the Miller family and that family’s link to a part of Ohio, 200 miles away and yet so very close to my family. And what about the possible connection between various families named Miller who came to separate parts of Somerset County from Berks County, 200 miles away over 200 years ago? Surely, the world was much smaller in terms of population back then. We’re still researching and making discoveries, but if the families hadn’t known each other in the Old World of Switzerland and Germany, they probably did in Eastern Pennsylvania. The Mountains of Somerset County proved to be an even smaller world, so relationships were maintained and marriages were established. The Disney song comes immediately to mind: “It’s a Small World After all.”
Lee, Levi, and Elmina Lee. John T. Lee and Elizabeth Yoder: Family Record (1843-1985). Arthur, IL: Echo Printers, 1985.
Miller, Olen L., and Alta E. Schrock. The Joel B. Miller History. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1960.
Miller, William H., and John S. Miller. A Brief History of Yost and Jeremiah Miller and their Descendants. Johnstown, PA: Benshoff Printing, 1920.