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Muhlenberg, Frederick A. C. (1750-1801) Speaker of the House: Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg was born on January 1, 1750, in Trappe, Pennsylvania. He was educated in Germany, at the University of Halle, and studied theology. In 1770, he was ordained a Lutheran minister in Pennsylvania. After preaching in Pennsylvania, he went to New York, but left when the British entered. He continued to serve as a pastor in various parts of Pennsylvania until 1779, when he became a member of the Continental Congress. Attending the Congress again in 1780, he served in the state House of Representatives from 1780 to 1783, and was Speaker in 1780. In 1787, he was a delegate and president of the state convention to ratify the US Constitution. Muhlenberg was elected to the US House of Representatives, and served in four terms (1789-1797). Elected Speaker of the House for the First and Third Congresses (1789-1791, 1793-1795), he left Congress in 1797. After returning to Pennsylvania, he became president of the Council of Censors, and was appointed receiver general of the Pennsylvania Land Office in 1800. He served in the latter capacity until his death on June 4, 1801, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He was buried in Woodward Hill Cemetery.
Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg 1750 - 1801
Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg, a native of Trappe, Pennsylvania, was the son of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, a prominent Lutheran minister, and his wife, Anna Maria Weiser. At the age of thirteen Frederick was sent with his brothers (one of whom was Penn trustee John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg) to be educated in Germany. In 1770, after studying at the University of Halle, he returned to America and was ordained as a Lutheran minister. The next year he married Catharine Schaefer, the daughter of a Philadelphia sugar refiner they would have seven children. Young Muhlenberg worked as a clergyman on a rural Pennsylvania circuit until 1773, when he accepted a call to the German-speaking Swamp Church (Christ Church) in New York City.
A supporter of the patriotic movement, Muhlenberg left New York City for Philadelphia when the British occupation became imminent in 1776. In Philadelphia, he preached at various places, but quit the ministry in 1780 to engage in politics and to support his family through business pursuits. His unsolicited 1779 nomination as a delegate (replacing the recently deceased Edward Biddle) to the Continental Congress began a long and successful career in state and national politics. He served on the Continental Congress until 1780.
Enjoying the confidence and support of the German community in the Philadelphia area, Muhlenberg was first elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1779 on the radical (constitutional) ticket. He was quickly chosen as Speaker of the Assembly. During the 1780’s he also held a variety of local offices in Montgomery County. During this period, he became more moderate and encouraged the revision of both Pennsylvania’s unicameral constitution and the national Articles of Confederation. In 1787 he was president of the Pennsylvania Convention to ratify the new federal constitution. He also helped to encourage ratification through his contributions to German-language publications.
Under the new constitution, he was elected as a Federalist to the first four United States Congresses, serving as the first Speaker of the House of Representatives. When the federal capital moved from New York to Philadelphia, Muhlenberg made his home an important social center for members of Congress. During the 1790s Muhlenberg was twice the unsuccessful Federalist candidate for Pennsylvania governor. His opposition to the Jay Treaty in 1796 led to defeat of his bid for another Congressional term. In 1800 Governor McKean appointed him collector general of the Pennsylvania land office the following year Muhlenberg died in Lancaster, then the seat of the commonwealth government. His biggest political achievements were the building of bridges between Federalists and Democrat-Republicans and his role in the integration of German Americans into the American political process.
It was during his tenure as Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, from 1780 to 1783, that Muhlenberg served as an ex officio trustee of the University of the State of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pennsylvania). His other years as a trustee were in an elected capacity.
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Muhlenberg’s commitment to intellectual and personal growth dates to its founding in 1848. Frederick A. Muhlenberg, who in 1867 became the College's first president, led the College with two purposes in mind: the education of the conscience and the cultivation of the heart. The College’s name honors his great-grandfather, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, founder of the Lutheran Church in America.
In 1902, the College's Board of Trustees approved the purchase of land in west Allentown, and a year later saw the construction of an administration building (Ettinger Hall) and a residence building (East Hall). By 1920, the Extension School (now known as the School of Continuing Studies), began granting degrees to women. The College would fully open its doors to women as full-time students in 1957.
The 1920s saw the addition of Haas Library (now the Haas College Center) and the Gideon F. Egner Memorial Chapel to campus. By the end of the decade, Trumbower Science building had begun construction. The next 20 years saw substantial growth in both campus buildings and the number of Muhlenberg alumni. By 1948 and 1949, respectively, The Weekly and WMUH both began operation.
In 1951, the first African-American graduates earned Muhlenberg degrees. The following decades saw the construction of Memorial Hall (1954), Prosser Hall (1959), the J. Conrad and Hazel J. Seegers Union (1963) and the Baker Center for the Arts (1976). America's most prestigious honor society, Phi Beta Kappa, welcomed a Muhlenberg chapter in 1967, and the College's inaugurated its first Athletic Hall of Fame class in 1979.
By the late 1980s, the College's needs had outstripped the capacity of Haas Library, and so construction of the Harry C. Trexler Library began. The new building was dedicated in 1988, and two years later the former library was dedicated as the Haas College Center, now home to many of the College's administrative offices.
In 1992, the College joined the Centennial Conference for Intercollegiate Athletics, and in 1997 an anonymous donor provided funds for new athletic fields and academic buildings (Moyer Hall and the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance).
Muhlenberg became the first liberal arts school to receive Hillel accreditation and foundation status in 1996, and the next year saw the dedication of the New Science Building and the Multicultural Center.
In 2011, the College celebrated the successful completion of The Talents Entrusted in Our Care campaign, finishing with a total of $110.4 million. Capital projects included the renovation and expansion of Seegers Union and the dedication of The Ilene and Robert Wood Dining Commons, the new Hillel House and the Rehearsal House.
In 2016, the College released its most recent Strategic Plan, an ambitious project that involves every constituency of Muhlenberg, and celebrated the launch of The Muhlenberg Network to facilitate professional connections between students, parents, alumni, faculty and staff.
Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg, second son of renowned Lutheran pastor Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, was born in Trappe, Pennsylvania, on January 1, 1750. Sent with his brothers Peter and Henry to the University of Halle, Germany, in 1763, Frederick returned to America in 1770 and was ordained a Lutheran minister. On October 15, 1771, Frederick married Catherine Schaeffer, the daughter of wealthy Philadelphia sugar refiner David Schaeffer.
Frederick served congregations in the area of Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, before accepting a call to New York City in 1774. With talk of revolution beginning in 1776 and fear that the British might seize New York, Muhlenberg moved with his wife and children to his parents’ home in Pennsylvania. After struggling to make ends meet without a regular call as a minister, Muhlenberg decided to enter politics and in 1779 became a member of the Continental Congress.
From 1780 to 1783, he was Speaker of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. When Montgomery County was established in 1784, Muhlenberg was appointed the first Recorder of Deeds and Register of Wills, in addition to serving as a justice of the peace. In 1787, Muhlenberg presided at the state convention to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Elected as a representative to the first U.S. Congress in 1789, Muhlenberg was chosen to be the first Speaker of the House. While Speaker, he also became the first signer of the Bill of Rights. Muhlenberg was elected to the next three congresses, serving again as Speaker during the Third Congress.
In 1796, Muhlenberg cast the tie-breaking vote as chairman of a House committee to ratify the Jay Treaty, in an effort to improve post-war British-American tensions. Muhlenberg’s vote ended his rising political career because the treaty was unpopular with many Americans, so much so that Muhlenberg was actually stabbed by his own brother-in-law over his vote. He survived the attack but was not nominated to the next congress. In 1799, he was appointed Receiver General of the Pennsylvania Land Office and moved to Lancaster, then the state capital, and lived there until his death in 1801.
Lawrence A. Greene Jr., AIA of Muhlenberg Greene Architects Leaves Behind A Legacy
Larry Greene, former President and managing partner at Muhlenberg Greene Architects, died on February 22, 2021 at 87 years of age. Larry Greene, AIA joined Frederick A. Muhlenberg, FAIA to form Muhlenberg Greene Architects in 1965. Larry was 32 and Fred, having opened his architectural practice in Reading in 1920, was 75.
Fred Muhlenberg credited Larry with making the office a success. He stated, “All architects were on the drafting board all the time when I started. Greene’s not like that. He’s an organizer. He doesn’t get on the drafting board. He’s getting us jobs to do.”
Mr. Muhlenberg retired in 1977 and the firm became the sole proprietorship of Mr. Greene. In January 1980 Larry established the present professional corporation of Muhlenberg Greene Architects, Ltd. with Howard Quaintance and James Dockey as partners.
Under the leadership of Larry Greene, Muhlenberg Greene Architects was involved in many of the redevelopment projects constructed in downtown Reading between 1976 and 1988.
Redevelopment initiatives began with the Penn Square Center project. Larry, along with nine (9) other local engineering and construction firms, formed a development group responsible for the design and construction of the 10-story building at 6th and Penn Streets the building eventually sold to American Bank.
After the Penn Square Center project, the Larry’s firm designed the GlenGery building at 6th and Court Streets, the General Battery building at 7th and Penn Streets, and then moved down Penn Street to design the CNA building, along with the renovations and additions to American Bank’s buildings at 5th and Penn Streets.
Later, the firm teamed with Moeckel Carbonell Architects to design the new bank building on the former Pomeroy’s site at 6th and Penn Streets, currently occupied by Wells Fargo.
Under Larry’s leadership, Muhlenberg Greene Architects was involved with historic rehabilitation projects at the former CNA building at 4th and Washington Streets (The Madison), the former Berkshire Hotel (The Berkshire), and the Abraham Lincoln Hotel at 5th and Washington Streets.
Larry Greene graduated from Syracuse University’s School of Architecture in 1957. He then spent two years on active duty in the Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth and Fort Lee Virginia as an operations officer and was discharged in April 1960.
After serving in the army, he started work at an architectural firm in Allentown, near his wife’s family farm in Zionsville. His employment there was short lived as a result of the firm’s partners deciding to dissolve the firm. Larry then went on a search for a new job.
Greene recounted his job search strategy at the time, saying, “I started making exploratory forays from the farm to other places within driving distance and ended up one day in Reading, stopping outside of town at a phone booth to look up architects in the yellow pages. I got the names of
ones I thought I could find – meaning addresses like 5th Street and 6th Street. I knocked on doors and got TWO job offers. Of course, I snapped up the first one. Got $10.00 more per week then I had been making, too!”
Larry was a Registered Architect in Pennsylvania as well as many of the surrounding states, he was certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, and a member of the American Institute of Architects. Well known architectural projects from his partnership with Fred Muhlenberg include the Rohrbach Library, Kutztown University, Thirteenth & Green Elementary School, Reading School District, the American Bank Office Building Addition, Sixth and Washington Streets, the Episcopal House, Berks Senior Citizens Center, Ninth and Washington Streets, and
the Berks Heim Additions & Alterations.
Larry was very active in the Berks County community through his service on numerous Boards including BARTA (for 30 years), Home Health Care Management, United Way of Berks County, and the Berks County Chamber of Commerce. He served his profession as a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and was Chairman of its Committee on Architecture for Commerce and Industry, as well as serving on the Board of the Pennsylvania Society of Architects and was President of the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the AIA.
AN ETERNAL OPTIMIST
Mr. Greene was well known for his optimism, and in fact often admitted so. “I am an optimist, always have been.”, when penning a 50th anniversary submission to the Peddie School about his good fortune with Muhlenberg, “However, never could I have imagined what a serendipitous situation I had stepped into. The firm was owned by Frederick A. Muhlenberg, a direct descendent of the Muhlenberg family who played such prominent roles in our colonial history. Fred, himself, was a remarkable individual with separate distinguished careers in architecture (A Fellow in the American Institute of Architects), a much-decorated soldier in two world wars, and in elected public office.”
Principal emeritus Howard Quaintance remembers Larry’s optimism well. “For the 50+ years that I had the good fortune to share in architectural practice with Larry, his most outstanding features were his love of the Architecture profession, his treating the Muhlenberg Greene team as family (with a fatherly concern) and his eternal optimism that everything would be okay despite economic downturns and challenges to the profession. He was able to instill that sense of optimism in all of us.”, Howard recalls.
About his relationship with Mr. Muhlenberg, Larry remarked, “Fred and I simply hit it off splendidly. He ultimately retired from the firm one week after his 90th birthday. I tell the other principals of our firm that’s what I’m going to do. Scares the hell out of them!” Larry ultimately retired in 2013 at the age of 80.
Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg 1818 - 1901
Rev. Dr. Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg was a renowned Lutheran clergyman in the Pennsylvania Lutheran ministrum as well as the president of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Born in Lancaster on August 25, 1818, he was the son of Frederick Augustus Hall Muhlenberg (ca. 1795-1867), M.D. 1814, and his first wife, Elizabeth Schaum. His grandfather Gotthilf Henry Ernest Muhlenberg (1753-1815), A.M. (hon.) 1780, a botanist, had been the first president of Franklin College. His great-grandfather Henry Melchior Muhlenberg was the founder of the Lutheran Church in America.
Frederick Muhlenberg enrolled in Pennsylvania College (now Gettysburg College) in 1833, before transferring to Jefferson College (now Washington and Jefferson College) where he graduated in 1836. He then continued his studies at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1837 to 1838. Muhlenberg then returned to Lancaster, where he first taught in a private classical school and then, in 1840, gained a position as professor at Franklin College. Dr. Muhlenberg married Catharine Anna Muhlenberg in 1848 together they would have six sons. From 1850 to 1867, he was at Pennsylvania College, holding the position of professor of Greek and also serving as college librarian and, after his 1854 ordination as a Lutheran minister, as a minister in local churches.
In 1867 he became the first president of Muhlenberg College, established in Allentown by the Lutheran Synod, named after his great-grandfather. For the next ten years Muhlenberg worked to establish the new college’s endowment, faculty, buildings and student body.
In 1876 Muhlenberg moved to Philadelphia to take the position of professor of Greek at the University of Pennsylvania. He held this position until 1888, continuing also to be involved in Lutheran affairs and preaching at Sunday services.
He moved to Reading in 1889 to live with one of his sons. In 1891 was called once more to become a college president, this time of Thiel College, a Lutheran college in Greenville, Pennsylvania. After suffering a stroke in 1893, he returned to live with his son in Reading. He passed away on March 21, 1901.
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Frederick Muhlenberg elected first Speaker of the House
On this day in history, April 1, 1789, Frederick Muhlenberg is elected the first Speaker of the House of Representatives by the First Congress meeting in New York City. After the Constitution was ratified, the federal government of the United States made its first home in New York City. On April 1, 1789, the House of Representatives had enough members present to begin and elected its first officers. Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg, a Lutheran minister, businessman and politician from Pennsylvania, was chosen as the first Speaker of the House.
Frederick Muhlenberg was born in Trappe, Pennsylvania, a son of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, a Lutheran minister and the founder of the Lutheran church in America. Frederick studied in Germany with his brothers and returned to Pennsylvania in 1770, where he preached in Stouchsburg and Lebanon until 1774. In 1774, Muhlenberg moved to New York City to take a church there. When the American Revolution broke out, however, he returned to Pennsylvania for fear the British would take the city and his family would be in danger.
Back in Pennsylvania without a church to preach in, Muhlenberg entered politics and became a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1779. He became a representative to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1780 and served as its Speaker for three years. In 1781, Muhlenberg purchased a home in Trappe and built a general store onto the side of the house where he lived for the next ten years. In 1787, he served as the president of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention that ratified the US Constitution.
Muhlenberg’s election as the first Speaker of the House of Representatives gave him a great deal of power in shaping the new government. The First Congress, under his leadership, established many of the key departments of the United States government, such as the State Department, the US Treasury and the Department of War. The First Congress passed the first Naturalization Act, Patent Act and Copyright Act, set in place the plan to move the seat of government to Washington DC, built the First Bank of the United States and passed the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. Frederick Muhlenberg was the first person to sign the Bill of Rights upon its acceptance. Muhlenberg was elected to the House for the first four consecutive Congresses and served as the Speaker of the House for the First and Third Congresses.
Muhlenberg was not re-elected to the House in 1797 due to his vote for the Jay Treaty, a treaty intended to reduce tensions with England after the war. The vote was unpopular with many people who thought it was too favorable to England. After leaving Congress, he returned to Pennsylvania and held some minor political offices until his death on June 4, 1801 at the age of 51. He was buried in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which was then the state capital.
National Society Sons of the American Revolution
"They define a republic to be a government of laws, and not of men."
John Adams (1775)
On April 1, 1789, the newly elected members of the United States House of Representatives finally had a quorum. Just like nowadays, one of the first acts of business had to be to organize the body, and on that long ago April First, the House elected a Lutheran minister from Pennsylvania, Frederick Muhlenberg.
Modern history classes having abandoned most coverage of our Founding Era, most of us only remember the Founding Fathers who served as president or have their faces on our currency… so we know Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, and Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, of course… but then the average student soon runs out of names.
When we stumble upon as important a title as Speaker of the House, and realize that we don’t know him, we should ask ourselves, was our history education that deficient? Or perhaps was the role less important in those days, and the person’s election just a fluke? Well, let’s consider it for ourselves…
The first US House had only 65 members (though the number was expanded to 105 for the 1792 elections, following the 1790 census). So to have been selected as one of only 65 in the whole country, one was already part of a rather exclusive group.
In that first House, the members included such leading lights of the Revolutionary Era as George Clymer, Thomas Fitzsimons, and Roger Sherman. former president of the Confederation Congress, Elias Boudinot… polemicist Fisher Ames and future vice president Elbridge Gerry… and even future president James Madison.
That such a group of respected statesmen selected Frederick Muhlenberg speaks well of him, doesn’t it?
Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg
Frederick Muhlenberg was born in Trappe, Pennsylvania on January 1, 1750… so there’s another item in his favor: he was only 39 when elected our first Speaker of the House.
Though his mother had deep roots here in the Colonies, his father was a German immigrant. A Lutheran minister and director of a Grosshennersdorf orphanage, Heinrich Muhlenberg was sent to the colonies as a missionary in 1742, at the request of Pennsylvania Lutherans. When he arrived, he took the helm as leader of the Lutheran churches in the British colonies (they had been set up years before by laymen, in anticipation of the day when they would get real, educated ministers like him).
Heinrich Muhlenberg is therefore considered to be the official founder of the Lutheran Church in America, and he raised his children as one would expect from a minister: they had eleven children, several of whom became prominent in public service. Their son Peter rose to be a general in the Continental Army another son, Henry, became a prominent botanist, serving as the first president of Franklin College. Three of the brothers became pastors themselves.
Frederick, along with his brothers Peter and Henry Ernst (there were two Henrys among the eleven, just to make things confusing), attended school in Halle, Germany in the mid-1760s.
Upon his return, as a newly minted Lutheran minister, Frederick Muhlenberg served as a pastor in Pennsylvania from 1770 through 1774, then served parishes in New York City from 1774 through 1776. When war broke out (and the British occupied New York City), he returned home with his family to Pennsylvania, and managed a general store in addition to pastoral duties.
He entered the state legislature in 1779, serving as Pennsylvania’s Speaker in 1780-81, while serving in the state’s delegation to the Continental Congress. In 1787, Muhlenberg was selected as chairman of Pennsylvania’s ratifying convention, leading the difficult deliberations over the transformation of our country from a loose wartime alliance to a true permanent nation.
And then in 1788, he was elected as one of the members of Pennsylvania’s first delegation to the new lower half of Congress, the House of Representatives. Elected to his first term as Speaker on April 1, 1789, he was followed by Jonathan Trumbull Jr for the second House term (from 1791 through 1793), and was then re-elected for second single term from 1793 through 1795. Frederick Muhlenberg therefore served as both the nation’s first and third Speaker of the House.
A Minister in Public Office
Practically every day, we encounter news articles, partisan speeches, and talking heads on the television, repeating the claim that America was not founded to be a Judaeo-Christian nation. They claim that American settlers came to America to flee theocracies and wanted a secular society. People (and even textbooks) often repeat and expand the lie, pretending that our Founding Fathers were all just some kind of vague and confused "deists" - but the historical record proves such claims to be poppycock.
In fact, the settlers who fled Europe for these shores were generally very religious people, probably more religious than the governmental leaders of the countries they fled. They didn’t come here because they didn’t want to be Christian they often came because their particular denominations differed from their governments’, that’s all. English Catholics fled Anglican England French Protestants fled Catholic France, and so forth. They didn’t want to escape religious worship, they wanted to be free to worship in their own way.
Our Founding Era politicians mirrored that public sentiment. Not only was the Founding generation primarily a very devout group of laymen, as voters, they often selected ministers to represent them in both state and national government. Some of the better known among the many ordained ministers and other lay leaders and chaplains who served in those early days included John Witherspoon, Robert Treat Paine, Lyman Hall, and Abraham Baldwin.
One only has to read their speeches – particularly such letters to the public as George Washington wrote as both Commander in Chief and later, as President – to see that a deep commitment to religious devotion animated the public spirit from the very beginning of our nation’s history.
The spirituality that animated their design of the new nation – and particularly the inspiration of the ban on “religious tests” in the Constitution, and the insistence on “freedom of religion” in the First Amendment – was in fact driven by a desire to ensure that no single denomination would rule the country as it did across Europe. They wanted religious freedom so that we would be free to be Lutheran or Episcopalian… or Calvinist or Catholic… or Jewish or Quaker… or non-denominational Congregationalist.
True, the Founding generation occasionally voted for a few atheists and vague deists (like Franklin and Jefferson) for high public office they even made Common Sense a runaway bestseller despite Tom Paine being an atheist. The people of the Founding era didn't allow their disagreement on one important issue to blind them to all the others (if only we could resist single-issue voting as well today!).
In sum, the vast majority of both the people and their representatives were devout members of some religious denomination, and they truly expected that to remain the case, forever.
John Adams put it best: "Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other."
And so it was that when it came time for the people’s house – the House of Representatives of the first session of Congress – to select its first Speaker, on April 1, 1789, not only was it “not uncomfortable” for a contender to be a Lutheran Minister, but in fact, they were perfectly comfortable with it.
By selecting a pastor – not of one of the nation’s most populous denominations, but rather, of one of our less popular ones – the Founding Fathers made a statement about America: that we are indeed a religious people, but that we are free to belong (or not) to the denomination of our choice.
Frederick Muhlenberg was a believer in God and Country, a devoted family man and an inspirational pastor. His selection was proof that our nation’s Founders weren’t particularly concerned with ethnicity or denomination (as so many people today pretend), but in fact, they cared about the content of your mind. In a body dominated by people of English and Scottish heritage, who had just overthrown a king of German heritage a few years before, they selected a Speaker of German heritage.
Why? Because despite his foreign-sounding name, Frederick Muhlenberg was one of them, where it mattered: he was a fellow believer in Liberty… an advocate for the Founding principles of free markets, free people, and Constitutionally limited government.
If only we could return to making our electoral decisions on those simple conditions again.
Copyright 2019 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based Customs broker and trade compliance trainer, writer and actor. His columns are regularly found in Illinois Review.
Shown: The portrait of Frederick Muhlenberg painted by Joseph Wright in 1790, while he was serving as Speaker of the House.
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&ldquoTO LET, a large convenient store with two rooms and a kitchen, situated in the village called the Trap, on the Reading road, Montgomery County, 26 miles from Philadelphia. It is an excellent stand for business&rdquo extolled the advertisement in the Aurora General Advertiser on May 4, 1799. Two years later, the entire property was offered for rent, including &ldquoseventy acres of land in high cultivation&rdquo together with a &ldquogenteel convenient Dwelling-house, Store-house, a large Stone Barn, Carriage-house, Waggon-house, Milk-house, and Smoke-house&hellipIt is suitable either for a gentleman&rsquos seat, or a person who might wish to engage in trade.&rdquo Built in 1782 by Frederick Muhlenberg, the store referred to in these documents was one of many that dotted the Pennsylvania backcountry in the eighteenth century. Like most rural stores, it was demolished after falling out of use. An extraordinary amount of information survives, however, enabling the store and Muhlenberg&rsquos entrepreneurial activities to be reconstructed as a vital part of the historical record, despite a lack of account books, ledgers, or other materials pertaining directly to the business. A careful reading of the evidence &ndash architectural, archaeological, documentary, and the landscape itself &ndash enables the rediscovery of a vibrant world in which trade networks linked rural consumers and shopkeepers to urban merchants and goods imported from around the Atlantic rim.
Far from being a quiet, rural village, Trappe was a noisy, bustling place as wagons to and from Philadelphia rumbled through on a daily basis it was possible for a loaded wagon to make the twenty-five mile journey in a single day, helping to save on transportation costs to and from the city. Trappe&rsquos location was ideal for a store, as it was situated about halfway between Philadelphia and Reading along the main thoroughfare that connected those two points (known variously as the Great Road or Reading Road). Philadelphia at this time was the busiest port and wealthiest city in America until 1799 it was Pennsylvania&rsquos capital and from 1790 to 1800 it was also the national capital. Reading was a major market town and the seat of Berks County. By 1767, it was home to ten shopkeepers and four waggoners who hauled goods back and forth to Philadelphia. In Reading, travelers connected with the &ldquoGreat Road&rdquo that stretched west to Carlisle, where it intersected with the &ldquoGreat Wagon Road&rdquo leading into the Shenandoah Valley. Trappe was thus in a privileged position with ready access to both city goods and backcountry customers. By the 1770s Trappe was home to three taverns &ndash a reflection of its being a convenient stopping point for overnight travelers. Increasing settlement in the backcountry brought more and more traffic along the road through Trappe, although travel remained slow, cumbersome, and at times dangerous. To reach Trappe from Philadelphia, one had to cross either the Schuylkill River or its tributary, the Perkiomen Creek, at a ford about a mile southeast of town. A bridge was not erected there until 1799. This crossing often flooded during inclement weather and could be impassable for several days at a time. For instance, on March 1, 1780, Henry Muhlenberg noted that due to rain and melting snow, a wagon &ldquois still on the other side of the Perkiomen and cannot be brought over because the river is too high and is becoming higher.&rdquo Not until March 3 did the wagon finally get safely across. Other hazards, such as breaking a wagon wheel or a horse going lame, also resulted in travel delays and interruptions to the supply chain.
Although many backcountry stores were impermanent and mobile, often run out of taverns or private houses, Frederick Muhlenberg opted to construct a purpose-built store onto the east side of an existing house, built in 1763 by John Schrack (1712&ndash1772). A German immigrant, Schrack came to America in 1717 with his parents who were the first settlers in Trappe. After his father&rsquos death in 1742, Schrack took over the family tavern. He inherited substantial land when his mother died in 1756, some of which he sold in the early 1760s prior to commissioning the construction of a large stone house. Prominently located at the eastern end of the village, the house has a narrow, three-bay fenestration. The original plan consisted of a side-passage stair hall flanked by two rooms, heated with back-to-back corner fireplaces, and a kitchen addition to the rear. This arrangement was typical of urban dwellings, especially those of merchants and craftsmen, in which the front room on the first floor served as an office or shop rather than a parlor, which was then located on the second floor. The store addition built by Muhlenberg was attached to the east side of the house, causing a window in the southeast corner to be converted into a door to provide interior access between the two structures. Underneath the store was a cellar, which had access to the cellar under the main house through a doorway in the east foundation wall. The door could be secured with a bar from within the house, thus allowing Muhlenberg to maintain control over goods stored in his cellar. One of these items was likely butter, which rural merchants frequently took in trade and then re-sold in Philadelphia. In 1799, for example, merchant Samuel Rex of Schaefferstown had forty-seven kegs of butter stockpiled in his cellar waiting for re-sale in the city.
As the most prominent structures located at the eastern end of Trappe and the first that one encountered when arriving in town from Philadelphia, Frederick Muhlenberg&rsquos house and store would have been readily noticeable to passersby. The 1798 Federal Direct Tax assessment for Providence Township describes the store as a one-story stone building measuring twenty by thirty feet, but these dimensions appear to be inaccurate. Archaeology has determined the store&rsquos footprint to have been twenty feet deep by forty feet long &ndash with no evidence of an original terminus at thirty feet. With eight hundred square feet of space, the store was larger than many of the houses recorded in the tax list. Its building material &ndash stone &ndash was also a more expensive choice than log or frame and would have further distinguished the store within the hierarchy of local architecture as well as conveyed a sense of permanence and stability. The store itself also played a major role in delineating the commercial space from the domestic landscape of the Muhlenberg property. Its footprint created a barrier that both visually and physically blocked access to the kitchen yard area beyond. Within the triangular space formed by the house and store was the root cellar, well, bake oven, smokehouse, milkhouse, and kitchen garden. The long rear wall of the store also provided a convenient dumping ground for household refuse, shielded from the gaze of customers yet conveniently near the kitchen door.
Little is known at this point about the interior of Frederick Muhlenberg&rsquos store beyond the 1799 advertisement in which it was offered for rent and described as containing &ldquotwo rooms and a kitchen.&rdquo Most stores in the eighteenth century were organized in one of two plans and divided into two rooms: a store room for selling goods and a counting room for bookkeeping and storage. One plan put the gable end of the building perpendicular to the street, with the store room at the front and counting room in back. The other plan placed the long side of the building in alignment with the street, with the store and counting rooms located side by side. Often each room had an exterior door to permit independent access. In order to attract business, a store needed to communicate its function clearly with potential customers. Large windows fitted with shelves for the display of goods typically flanked the main entry, and hanging or freestanding signs provided further visual cues as to the store&rsquos contents. These patterns helped signal the building&rsquos function as a store, which was particularly important for travelers who would have lacked local knowledge about the location of stores. Internally, the store room was typically divided by a long counter that created two distinct zones, placing customer and merchant on opposite sides. By creating a physical barrier between customers and goods, counters helped protect breakable or valuable wares while forcing triangular conversations between customers, merchants, and objects as they were examined prior to purchase to inspect their qualities and price. Counters also provided a convenient space for shopkeepers to display wares, weigh out goods, cut fabric, make change, and assemble packages. In purpose-built stores, the windows were often limited to the front wall only to allow long stretches of shelving on the other walls for the display of merchandise. During the summer, a lack of ventilation caused by the limited windows made them uncomfortably hot and stuffy. On the other hand, stores often lacked a source of heat, leaving them cold in the winter. Merchants had to simultaneously display their goods in such a way as to attract customers but secure them from theft, vandalism, and damage. They also had to contend with rodents, insects, and moisture. By the late eighteenth century, however, most storekeepers had shifted the emphasis from protection to display, creating a &ldquoconsumption arena&rdquo by placing fragile goods such as ceramic and glassware on shelves rather than leaving them stored in crates or boxes. Shelving on the walls could be used to display fabric, while small compartments and boxes helped organize smaller accoutrements such as thimbles, needles, and buttons. Various baskets, crates, and barrels contained dry goods and foodstuffs including flour.
Security was a major concern for any storekeeper, but was especially important to Frederick Muhlenberg as he was frequently away from home due to his political office. When congress was in session, he was absent for weeks or even months at a time. His wife probably helped in the store on occasion, especially given her mercantile family background, but most of her time was devoted to raising their seven children and supervising the household. Frederick employed a clerk, usually a single young man with whom he made an annual contract, to help run the store during his absence. This arrangement not only relieved Frederick from the burden of operating the store on a day-to-day basis, but also provided an extra set of hands when needed to assist with farm activities such as mowing. Furthermore, a clerk provided an additional layer of security as he typically slept in the store. This was not foolproof, however. On November 17, 1783, Frederick reported to his father that his store had been &ldquobroken into by force and plundered of its most costly goods and money&rdquo during the night. The robbers were believed to be &ldquothree strange men, dressed like gentlemen&rdquo who had visited the day before seeking to purchase cheese. Another measure of security was provided by the interior doorway created by enlarging a former window to lead directly from the front room of the main house into the store. This modification enabled ready access to the store from within the main house, without having to exit the house and enter the store separately from the exterior. Access through this interior door would have primarily been intended for private use rather than for customers, who would have entered the store directly from the street. Not only did the door provide Frederick with convenient access to the store in order to wait on customers, it also enabled him to supervise activities within the store for both the security of his goods as well as his investment in the clerk&rsquos labor. Such access had its drawbacks, however, as it reduced the privacy of the front room of the house.
Backcountry stores were vital links in a chain that connected consumers to commodities. The successful operation of a permanent store at a fixed location depended on both customers and merchandise. These stores provided a local outlet for farmers and millers to sell their crops and products such as butter, pork, and flour. This was especially true in the zone of intensive agriculture that surrounded a major city like Philadelphia, where high-value crops or goods could readily be transported to market. A store like that operated by Frederick Muhlenberg had a &ldquolocal exterior and a transatlantic interior,&rdquo giving area residents access to news and goods imported from far-flung corners of the Atlantic world. By the 1760s, newspapers such as the Pennsylvania Gazette or Christoph Sauer&rsquos German-language Pensylvanische Berichte increasingly contained advertisements announcing the arrival of new imports from Europe. Among the goods Muhlenberg sold were household items such as candles, soap, combs, brushes, iron pots, mustard pots clothing and sewing notions including woolen gloves, mitts, handkerchiefs, trousers, thimbles, pincushions, silk thread, ribbons, lace, and fabric including cambric, satin, sammet (velvet), chintz, linen, and osnaburg (an inexpensive, durable linen) foodstuffs including flour, sugar, salt, tea, coffee, and molasses. He also sold alcoholic beverages, including rum and wine tobacco ink and writing paper tinctures and medicines and even a small clock. These goods were typical of those sold by backcountry merchants at this time. Similar merchandise was available in Bethlehem at the &ldquoStrangers&rsquo Store,&rdquo founded in 1752 for non-Moravians to purchase sugar, tea, coffee, chocolate, wine, spices, and textiles as well as products of Moravian craftsmen including leather goods, wool, oil, iron and metalwork. Archaeological evidence shows that Muhlenberg also sold brass hardware, creamware, and white salt-glazed stoneware imported from England, enamel-decorated glassware from Continental Europe, and porcelain from China.
Merchants were dependent upon obtaining the right goods at a fair price. Keeping a store well-stocked with quality goods was critical in order to retain customers, and a variety of goods were needed to appeal to people of divergent economic means. Thus Muhlenberg stocked both basic textiles such as osnaburg, as well as more expensive fabrics like velvet. Merchants fretted over delays caused by bad weather, impassable roads, and botched orders. Muhlenberg hired a variety of people, including local farmers and day laborers whom he both knew and trusted, to transport his goods to and from Philadelphia. He also relied on networks of kinship, ethnicity, and religion to obtain quality goods at reasonable prices. His wife&rsquos family, the Schaeffers, were merchants and sugar refiners in Philadelphia with direct access to large quantities of Caribbean sugar. Frederick also had connections with the Francke Foundations in Halle, which he used to import medicines and books from its pharmacy and printing press. His privileged access to the Halle network as a member of the Muhlenberg family not only helped attract customers but also reinforced his role as an educated gentleman. In addition, Muhlenberg&rsquos ability to speak both German and English enabled him to serve the community as a cultural broker, functioning as both an interpreter and a local arbiter of taste. As a justice of the peace, register of wills, and recorder of deeds, Frederick would have regularly advised German-speakers on various legal proceedings. He and other bilingual storekeepers such as Samuel Rex of Schaefferstown helped their German-speaking customers negotiate the Anglophone world of commerce. They also instructed English merchants as to what goods appealed to German consumers.
Frederick Muhlenberg&rsquos decision to quit the ministry and take up political office and storekeeping met with strong disapproval from his father. In 1785, Henry wrote Frederick a stern letter advising him to turn away from both, warning that &ldquoit requires no great art to become a merchant, but it does to remain one.&rdquo He continued:
Anyone who wishes to support himself and his family in these times by keeping a store or a shop, either in the country or in a town, must have the eyes of a falcon, the alertness of a rooster, the fluency of a Jew, the patience of a mule, capital to invest, etc. The profits are not remarkable, they undersell one another, it costs a great deal to keep a clerk, some of the goods will become old and lose their value, and the storekeeper may be robbed or defrauded if debtors run away or declare bankruptcy.
Despite such admonitions, Frederick persevered in business. His political office likely helped his entrepreneurial ventures. In 1784, he was made the first recorder of deeds, register of wills, and president judge of the newly-formed Montgomery County. He was also justice of the peace for four surrounding townships. Because no courthouse had yet been constructed, activities such as sheriff sales, court sessions, and other official business were frequently transacted at Frederick&rsquos house. These matters would have brought numerous potential customers to his store, while his rising status increasingly positioned him as the most prominent local tastemaker.
As his political career took off, Frederick was elected president of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention of 1787 and in 1789 became the first Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. When the U.S. capital moved from New York to Philadelphia in 1790, he sold the Trappe property to his sister, Mary, and her husband Francis Swaine and moved to Philadelphia. The Swaines continued to operate the store but when Francis became involved in county politics, requiring them to move to the county seat of Norristown, they put first the store and then the entire property up for rent. In 1803 they sold the property to Charles Albrecht, a German immigrant and musical instrument maker. Albrecht owned the property for five years and may have adapted the store for use as a workshop. The property passed through several hands over the next several decades but the store continued to operate into the late 1820s or early 1830s, when it was rented and occupied by Valentine &ldquoFelty&rdquo Fitzgerald, who sold &ldquowatermelons and truck&rdquo or garden produce. A dramatic remodeling of the house in the 1870s included the demolition of the store, construction of a wrap-around porch, and the application of stucco to the exterior masonry &ndash concealing all physical evidence of Muhlenberg&rsquos store for nearly 150 years. Following the property&rsquos acquisition by a non-profit organization known as The Speaker&rsquos House, information about the store and its location was gradually uncovered through intensive archival research, architectural investigations, and archaeological field work.
A History Of Muhlenberg County
By Otto A. Rothert, Member of The Filson Club, Kentucky State Historical Society. American Historical Association, International Society of Archaeologists, Etc.
John P. Morton & Company Incorporated
Louisville, Kentucky 1913
American County Histories Collection
Access Required for the Complete Chapter.
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