Smith – derived from the Anglo-Saxon “smitan,” to smite or strike; an occupational name for a man who works with metal (smith or blacksmith), one of the earliest jobs for which specialist skills were required; a craft that was practiced in all countries, making the surname and its derivations the most common of all surnames; still tops the list of most popular surnames in England and America, and is also a very common last name in Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Canada and Australia (http://genealogy.about.com/od/surname_meaning/p/smith.htm)
Blacksmith – a smith who forges and shapes iron with a hammer and anvil; someone who works metal (especially by hammering it when it is hot and malleable); often used to refer to a farrier or horseshoer. a person who shoes horses
As the end of the year approaches, it seems I have dedicated most of my research and writing these past months to making connections between my wife Susan’s maternal and paternal lines. My findings have been a wonderful mix of the four primary Swiss-German-American religious convictions, three distinct Miller families, and journeys of lives and deaths, births and burials in almost every corner of our Somerset County, PA. Colorful characters abound and the subject of this portrait is no exception. We’ll leave the complex genealogy to other pages and simply tell his story, referring to this man as our cousin Christian “Schmidt” Miller. Born in about 1763 in Berks County, PA, to Samuel C. and Barbara Mueller, he was a nephew of the grandfather on both sides of Susan’s family we’ve written so much about, Hannes “Indian John” Miller.
As we’ve said before in other articles, over a dozen Christian Millers have been discovered in various families, stretching from Europe to America over nearly 400 years. To keep them straight, kinfolk and historians have referred to many using middle initials or labels relating to residence (Christian “Glades, Jr. and Sr.”), family (Christian “Keim”), or in this case, occupation. You see, Cousin Christian “Schmidt” was a blacksmith. You might see him referred to in either the German, as we have, or sometimes in the English, Smith.
His parents and family had left Canton Bern, Switzerland, with other Anabaptists and arrived in Philadelphia in 1763 on the sailing ship Chance, the same year Christian was born. He may have been born at sea. As did other Swiss-Germans, the Millers settled temporarily in Germantown before moving just west to the fertile farmlands of the Kishacoquillas Valley in Mifflin County. Samuel found work on the new Pennsylvania Canal. The father of our subject had apparently been abducted, drafted, or perhaps “conscripted” for military service by either the British or the Colonials. If his faith had held strong, it’s unlikely that he served either side in that capacity during the Revolutionary War, but neither was he free to spend time back home. After the conflict, he returned to his town only to be told that his wife had died and his children had been placed in the homes of his Amish neighbors. One source, David Hurst, says that poor Samuel soon abandoned the Amish community and was never heard from again. Young Christian had been raised and apprenticed by the Bishop of Mifflin County, Hans Beiler, also a blacksmith. It wasn’t long before the lad had learned the fine points of the trade and won the nickname “Schmidt Miller.” He carried it proudly for the rest of his life.
Sometime after he reached age 21, he headed westward, as many young men have throughout history. He plied his trade when needed and sold miscellaneous items, all from the back of his wagon. Schmidt eventually landed in the “Roof Garden” of the Allegheny Mountains, Somerset County, and specifically the northernmost part, Conemaugh Township, around 1780, which was still considered Indian Territory. He is said to have been the first Amishman in these parts. Schmidt had accumulated enough money to purchase over 400 acres of land from the Shawnee Indians, which he cleared to build a cabin and a blacksmith shop and begin farming on the side. J. Virgil Miller believes this farm is near the present day village of Jerome and the Blough Mennonite Church. CCBMiller.org says, “Farmers came for miles to have ‘Smith Miller’ repair and build implements. Several days were required in covering the distance to and from the mill.”
One source claims that Schmidt’s first wife was Veronica Miller. We don’t know the dates of that relationship, whether her maiden name had also been Miller, nor do we know why the marriage ended. We do know, however, that after wedding his second wife, Magdalena Berkey, he fathered ten children, six boys and four girls beginning in 1785. Magdalena had been born in Berks County, so perhaps they knew each other back East. Sometime during all of this, and we don’t know how he had the time, he was ordained to the Amish-Mennonite ministry and later elected the first Bishop of the Johnstown District (or Schantztown, so named for another Amishman, Joseph Schantz).
According to the Global Amish-Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO), the Amish continued to move into the Johnstown district until there were reportedly as many as 200 after the signing of the Fort Stanwix Treaty with the Native Americans of 1784, which made it safer for settlers to travel into and beyond the Allegheny Mountains. Bishop Schmidt’s District had become a growing and thriving community around the turn of the century. In 1880, when it was no longer possible to gather in private homes for worship and study, two meetinghouses were built: one in Geistown, just east of Johnstown in Cambria County, and the other near Davidsville, Somerset County. This latter was known as the Kaufman Church because, “Isaac Kaufman had built and financed its construction and because more than half the members had the name Kaufman.”
However, several things discouraged the continuing growth of these Amish churches. First, the followers adhered strictly to their plain clothes and old ways, even to the point of conducting life and worship in their native German language. Second, the booming production within the local iron, steel, coal, and timber industries encouraged the immigration of many new religious and ethnic groups – Italian and Irish Catholics, Scots-Irish Presbyterians, German Lutherans, English Methodists, and the like. The seemingly limitless, rich farmland was being gobbled up by “progress.” Many old order believers simply sold out, packed up, and moved westward again, this time to Ohio and Indiana. After the 1902 death of Johnstown District Bishop Moses B. Miller, the third generation of Miller supervision, Amish services at the Geistown church were discontinued. The Kaufman Church, continued, however, with ministerial help from Mifflin County until 1916, after which it was dismantled. The good news is that surviving members united with the more modern Mennonites and have been rebuilding and remodeling ever since. Other Mennonite churches still operate in the Johnstown-Somerset County area, some old order and some new. In Conemaugh Township, most church names honor families: Stahl, Blough, and Thomas, for example.
After a fairly long and certainly successful life, Christian “Schmidt” Miller died in his early 70’s (1845). Though pride is forbidden in the Amish tradition, he must have been a happy man. We obviously don’t have a photograph of or, unfortunately, even a description of Cousin Schmidt. Even if cameras had been invented and used in the 18th century, taking pictures of the plain people would certainly have been prohibited, as it is today. But this doesn’t prevent us from picturing a handsome, hardworking individual, whose muscles must have been evident through his modest attire, even in his later years when he no longer juggled his metalwork with his pulpit. He surely must have been a “people person,” having learned those skills from his foster father, along with his smithing technique and strong faith. It didn’t hurt that he could confidently market his “notions” and his metal products from the back of his wagon as he came westward to his final home in “The Roof Garden.” Today, Bishop Schmidt, his second wife Magdalena, and several of their children sleep peacefully on their Conemaugh Township farm, still surrounded by other working farms, many operated by newer order Mennonites, fellow descendants of the Millers of old Switzerland. We’re left with the image of a man who forged both metal and souls on the early, rugged Pennsylvania frontier.
Gingerich, Hugh, and Rachel W. Kreider. Amish and Amish Mennonite Genealogies. Gordonville, PA: Pequea Publishers, 1986. 274.
Hurst, David. 32 Dec. 2011
“Kaufman Amish-Mennonite Church.” 31 Dec. 2011
Miller, J. Virgil. Anniversary History of the Family of John “Hannes” Miller, Sr. Morgantown, PA: Masthof Press, 1998.
“Notes for Christian (Schmidt) Miller.” 31 Dec. 2011
“Settlements that Failed.” Johnstown, Cambria Co., PA. 1780-1941. Publisher unknown. 406.
“Seven Giants Genealogy.” 31 December 2011