Our Immigrant Heritage: Hunsicker

Written by Forrest Moyer on April 26, 2017

This series of posts highlights families descended from 18th-century Mennonite immigrants to eastern Pennsylvania, in connection with the MHC’s exhibit Opportunity & Conscience: Mennonite Immigration to Pennsylvania, on display through March 31, 2018. The stories reflect enrichment brought to communities over centuries by the descendants of immigrants.

Immigrant Valentine Hunsicker

Valentine Hunsicker (1700-1770) — or “Felti” as he was called — came to Pennsylvania as a teenager with his maternal grandfather, Valentine Clemmer (Klemmer) around 1717. They settled in the “Great Swamp”, near present-day Quakertown, but Hunsicker soon relocated to Skippack, where family tradition says he helped to build the first meetinghouse of the Skippack Mennonite congregation.

Hunsicker’s first wife (name unknown) died, leaving him a widower with two young children. A few years later, he married Elizabeth, daughter of deacon Jacob Kolb, and had seven more children.  Valentine succeeded his father-in-law as deacon at Skippack in 1739.

The immigrant died in 1771. His gravestone in the Lower Skippack Mennonite Cemetery can be read clearly:
“A 1771 D 31 M / F-H-S / ALDER 70 / IAHR”
1771 A.D., 31 March (or May?) / Felti HunSicker / 70 years old

Image courtesy of Ralph Brown, via findagrave.com

Progressive Hunsicker’s of Skippack

For one hundred years, from 1739 to 1850, the Hunsicker family was prominent in Skippack Mennonite leadership. Historian John Ruth called these years a “Hunsicker dynasty” (Maintaining the Right Fellowship, pp. 255, 272), perhaps because of how the family’s influence was toppled eventually in a church schism.

Valentine Hunsicker’s son Isaac (1738-1828) joined his father in the deacon ministry at Skippack around 1764, and served as treasurer of the alms fund for three decades in the early 19th century. His younger brother Henry (1752-1836) was ordained preacher at age thirty and bishop before 1800; he was “both an able and eloquent speaker, of quick perception, mild but firm in his discipline, and held in high esteem, both as a man and as a preacher” (John F. Funk, The Mennonite Church and Her Accusers, p. 89).

Circa 1810, Henry’s son John D. Hunsicker (1773-1847) joined his father and uncle in the ministry, and succeeded as bishop in 1836. In 1847, his younger brother Abraham (1793-1872) was ordained a preacher, and when John died later that year, Abraham was ordained bishop in his place. Within a few years, however, Abraham’s authority was revoked.

Abraham Hunsicker was distinctly progressive, as might seem appropriate to the legacy of his father and the atmosphere of the times. Industry and education were on the rise in Montgomery County. Abraham was a well-to-do farmer and ecumenical thinker who founded a school of higher education (Freeland Seminary, now Ursinus College). As his son later wrote, this was viewed by many Mennonites as “an innovation tending to the disorganization of what they held sacred” (Henry A. Hunsicker, The Hunsicker Family, p. 30). The majority of the Skippack congregation and the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Conference were unnerved by Hunsicker’s educational and ecumenical pursuits, and he was excommunicated in 1851.

Portraits of Abraham Hunsicker and son Henry A. Hunsicker.

After expulsion by the Mennonites, Abraham and his children organized the Trinity Christian Society in Freeland (now Trinity Reformed United Church of Christ, Collegeville). Henry Hunsicker stated colorfully that his father’s “former unpleasant denominational connection of rigid austerity imposed by formal authority [and] unreasonable prejudice made him a non-conformist to denominationalism of every kind. Liberal-minded, charitable, and warm-hearted toward every child of God, he welcomed them to his church without respect of person.” Obviously Henry was partial to his father, but mainstream Mennonites today (who celebrate education and ecumenism) might agree that their ancestors’ expulsion of Hunsicker was short-sighted.

Original meetinghouse of the Trinity Christian Society, Freeland [Collegeville], organized 1854. Image courtesy of Trinity Reformed UCC.

Isaac Z. Hunsicker, fraktur artist

Abraham Hunsicker’s cousin Isaac Ziegler Hunsicker (1803-1870) was a fraktur artist of unique style. He was born and raised in Skippack Township, but migrated to Ontario, Canada in 1836.

Isaac Z. Hunsicker (1803-1870). Image courtesy of Marg Anne Jones.

Isaac was a schoolteacher in Montgomery County before the advent of public education. He taught in German-language Mennonite schools, where there was a long tradition of making decorative fraktur to teach and encourage students. He created this beautiful Vorschrift (writing model) in 1830. Click here for a translation.

Mennonite Heritage Center Collection; gift of Clyde & Ellen Jacobs Herr.

The same year, he made and signed this depiction of the Madonna and child (Mary and Jesus) based on a print in some Bibles of the time. Mennonites traditionally do not venerate Mary, so Hunsicker’s choice of subject was unusual. The verse below is focused on Jesus as the savior of children. Like most other fraktur, this piece by Hunsicker was designed for children. Perhaps he hung it in his schoolroom.

Decades after he moved to Canada, Hunsicker made trips back to Pennsylvania circa 1860, visiting friends and relatives. While here, his service as a calligrapher was in high demand, primarily to create family registers. In a letter to Canadian relatives in 1864, he wrote from Pennsylvania:

“I have travelled around a lot, already seen many friends and acquaintances, but have not by far been with everyone who wishes me to come…. Yes, many have Bibles with family registers that they want to have filled in. Also, others have family registers made out on writing paper. I have already done a lot, and filled in Bibles, and there are always more to do. Tomorrow I have to go again to Heinrich Moyer’s and fill in one there and then to Tobias Moyer’s and others. After that I’ll be going to Deeprunn then back to Schippach, Montgomery Caunty” (see Reginald Good, “Isaac Z. Hunsicker’s Letter from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to Waterloo County, November 29, 1864”, Waterloo Historical Society, vol. 102, 2014, pp. 125-131).

I. Z. Hunsicker died in 1870 and is presumed to be buried in Eby’s Cemetery in Waterloo, Ontario, though no stone marks his grave.

Hunsicker’s Store, Souderton

One of numerous descendants active in business and community life, John G. Hunsicker (1850-1929) operated a general store in Souderton, at the intersection of Main Street and Central Avenue, which was photographed circa 1910. The building remains today. Click the photo to enlarge.

Sources on the Hunsicker family:

Dickey, Mike. “The Hunsicker Family.” Skippack Historical Society. Web. 3 Nov 2016. http://www.skippack.org/hunsickerfamily.htm

Good, Reginald. “Isaac Z. Hunsicker (1803-1870): a Pennsylvania-Dutch Mennonite folk artist active in both ‘Pensylvanien’ and in ‘Ober Canada’.” Unpublished paper. 2015. Available in the MHC library.

Hershey, Mary Jane Lederach. “Hunsicker, Isaac Ziegler.” This Teaching I Present: Fraktur from the Skippack and Salford Mennonite Meetinghouse Schools, 1747-1836. Intercourse, PA: Good Books. 2003. pp 171-172.

Hunsicker, Henry A. and Horace M. Hunsicker. A genealogical history of the Hunsicker family. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co. 1911. Available online at https://archive.org/details/genealogicalhist00huns

Parsons, William T., Thomas Swenk and Henry A. Hunsicker. History sketches of Trappe and Collegeville 1812-1912. Collegeville, PA: Chestnut Books. 1990.

Wenger, John C. “Hunsicker family.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 3 Nov 2016. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hunsicker_family

On the family’s experience in Skippack Mennonite divisions:

Hostetler, Beulah Stauffer.  American Mennonites and Protestant movements: a community paradigm. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press. 1987. Chapter on “Brotherly Union and Schism”, pp. 125-149.

Hunsicker, Abraham. A statement of facts, and summary of views on morals and religion, as related with suspension from the Mennonite meeting 1851. Philadelphia, PA, 1851. Available in the MHC library.

Ruth, John L. Maintaining the right fellowship: a narrative account of life in the oldest Mennonite community in North America. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press. 1984. Especially pages 232-316 on the 1847 schism at Skippack, available online at http://franconiaconference.org/media-uploads/pdf/Maintaining%20the%20Right%20Fellowship–1847%20Split.pdf

MHEP Newsletter (1998-1999).”Letters from Abraham D. Hunsicker to John H. Oberholtzer, 1845-1851″ (published serially).

Wenger, John C. History of the Mennonites of the Franconia Conference. Telford, PA: Franconia Mennonite Historical Society. 1937. Ministerial list and section on “The Hunsicker Group”, p. 361.

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2 replies to “Our Immigrant Heritage: Hunsicker

  1. JoAnne -

    I am related to Valentine Hunsicker and have heard many of these facts through family and reading about the history of the family. I also learned of a Hunsicker reunion in Telford that takes place every year. My Great Aunt’s and grand father William Hildebidle are from Salford/ Upper Salford and the start of the Hiltebidle family was with the founding of Old Goshenhoppen Church of Christ. I have always heard the stories and then started to do the research and found the first Hiltebidle is Martin, whose name I have found in connection of the church in Woxal. I have traced the line into marriage to Elizabeth Alderfer Hildebidle married to my great great grandfather William and know where they are buried at Lower Skippack Church. I have found that I am related in some way to many of the people laid to rest at that cemetery, on both my grandfather’s and grand mother’s side. Small world. JoAnne Cowles

    Reply

  2. JoAnne -

    I need to correct the above story, it was Elizabeth Allebach/Hunsicker/Hildebidle that married my great great grandfather William. Thank you for all the help in researching my family to Forrest Moyer.

    Reply

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