Ruth Swortzel Porter shares with us the history of the German School just outside of Waynesboro in Augusta County.  She is a descendant of the Hildebrands and her article is wonderfully researched.

On July 25th 1823, seven leaders of the Mennonite community around Madrid in Augusta County, Virginia, wrote a letter detailing their plans to maintain the German language among their children.

Since I am a Hildebrand descendant, theirs is the history I know: Eighty-five years earlier, in 1738, George Michael Hildebrand emigrated from the Palatinate to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Twenty-eight years earlier, in 1795, Henry Hildebrand moved to Virginia from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

According to Augusta County Deed Book 28 p. 541, on July 21, 1796, Henry bought 250 acres on Porterfield Branch (Gillespie) near Hermitage, from Samuel Bell. The original tract was granted to James Hamilton by William Beverley of Beverley Manor

Henry built a unique cantilevered house on Porterfield Run at Madrid. The second story extended out over the rock walled lower floor, which was built over a spring. He was a good carpenter because his house stood for over 100 years. Enough of the house was standing in 1936 for J.R. Hildebrand, a civil engineer, to make a drawing.

In the intervening 85 years, moving from Germany to Pennsylvania to Virginia, they feared the loss of their native language, a common concern still today among immigrant families.

Their plan was to start a school to be taught in German.

In an effort to continue the use of German in worship, Henry’s son, Jacob Hildebrand, Sr. donated a schoolhouse for a “German School” in the Madrid area. In a letter written in German, dated July 25, 1823, and found in the family German Bible, Peter Frantzmann agreed to teach a German school for a half year.

Here is the English translation of the July 25th, 1823 letter:

Since it has been discussed in this region for several years to set up a German school, which I myself have often heard, but until now has not been able to be done, either a schoolmaster or a schoolhouse was lacking, but now through several of my neighbors, who have persuaded me to hold German school, so I consider it my duty to take up the school task for a half year, If God keeps me well, and also there is a number of children, about 20, then I will begin the 3rd of October 1823 until the 3rd of May, 1824.

The curriculum consists chiefly in Prayer, Reading, Writing, and if the students progress so fast that they can read a little, then I will also sing some verses from the song book. The price for a quarter for each child is 2 dollars. Since Jacob Hildebrand is giving the schoolhouse, and I the undersigned, accept, as announced above, therefore I hope that all well meaning Germans here will have their children learn German so the mother tongue will not be lost, indeed it is a chief language and the plainest among all.

Peter Frantzmann

The parents who signed up their children to attend the German School for its beginning on October 3rd, 1823 are as follows: Martin Grove (signed up two children), Johannes Faber (signed up two children), Jacob Hildebrand (signed up two children), Enoch Banner (signed up two children), Gabriel Stickley (signed up one child), John B. Farber (signed up two children), and George Barnhart, Jr. (signed up one child).

Jacob Hildebrand gave  the schoolhouse and sent 2 children, probably his sons, Henry, who was 15 and Jacob, Jr., the future Bishop, who was 7 years old.

Jacob Hildebrand gave the schoolhouse and sent 2 children, probably his sons, Henry, who was 15 and Jacob, Jr., the future Bishop, who was 7 years old.

Three years later, in 1826 Hildebrand church was established. On May 4 Jacob and Barbara Hildebrand for $15, sell one acre for “Meneece” (also called “Amenian Church”) to trustees: Henry Rode, John Fauber, Henry Hildebrand, Jr. A small meeting house was built on the south side of the road now called Hildebrand Church Road.

In 1874, Jacob and Elizabeth Scrogham give Bishop Hildebrand a small tract of land on the north side of the road, opposite the old church for $1.00. On September 4 two tracts of land were deeded by Jacob H. Hildebrand and Thomas Barger. On May 9th, three quarters of an acre was donated by Henry Weade’s heirs.  Also, on May 30th of that year trustees met to appoint Isaac Grove to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Peter S. Shumaker and to appoint themselves as the building committee. The old church building was removed and sold for $55. On April 22nd, 1877 the new church building was dedicated.

There are no records to indicate exactly where the German school was located or if a second term was ever held. For awhile, preaching was in German almost everywhere among the Lutherans, Mennonites, Dunkards and Brethren, but the number of English sermons went up sharply after 1850. “German as a language of worship died in a long and agonizing process which had begun when Winchester Lutherans instituted regular English services in 1785 and ended almost a century later, in 1884, when the last Mennonite congregation dropped German as a church language.”

As time went on, Hildebrand Church adopted English without much of a struggle. In the 1899 obituary for Bishop Jacob Hildebrand, Jr., published in “The Herald of Truth”, he is noted as “being one of the first English ministers and bishops of the Mennonite society in the Valley of Virginia.”

 

Leave a Comment