Our Immigrant Heritage: Moyer
Written by Forrest Moyer on July 19, 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 the enrichment brought to communities over centuries by the descendants of immigrants.
The Moyer/Meyers/Myers family is one of the most widespread in the Mennonite community of eastern Pennsylvania. Virtually everyone with roots in the community is descended from a Moyer immigrant, and often more than one. It would be impossible to include all branches of the family in a single post. Below is some background information, and just a few stories.
Meyer – now Moyer, Meyers, Myers
Meyer was an occupational surname taken by medieval and early modern Germans who were managers or stewards of some kind. Probably in many cases they were farmers who owned and managed their own land or the farms of nobles. The military and municipal titles Major and Mayor have the same root. It’s interesting that many local descendants of the Meyer family have been good stewards, stable and reliable. There have been nearly 50 ordained leaders of this name in the Bucks-Mont Mennonite community, and a number in Canada and other places.
There were numerous immigrants named Meyer in colonial America. Several of these were Mennonites who found a home in eastern Pennsylvania. Christian, Hans, and Samuel Meyer (possibly brothers?) settled in Lower Salford circa 1718. In addition, four brothers – Peter, William, Jacob, and Henry – immigrated with their sister and widowed mother in 1741 and settled in Springfield, Bucks County and Upper Saucon, Northampton (now Lehigh) County. Peter and Jacob served as ministers for the Springfield and Saucon Mennonite congregations.
All of them were likely Swiss in background, where there had long been Anabaptist families named Meyer. The 1741 group are said to have come directly from Switzerland, where Peter may have already been a minister. The earlier settlers at Salford probably came from the Kraichgau region in Germany, where their ancestors had migrated during times of persecution in Switzerland.
One may wonder how the modern spellings of this name developed. In eastern Pennsylvania, the spelling Meyer did not survive the transition from German to English language. The most common English form of the name is Moyer, which preserves the historic pronunciation in Pennsylvania German – something like “Moia”. The less common form Meyers and its simplified variant Myers, used in Bucks County, preserve the original spelling, but not the pronunciation (perhaps because of English influence?), and add a possessive “s” which was common in casual speech (calling someone John Meyers meant “John, son of Meyer”). Other Pennsylvania German names that went through a similar spelling transition are Beyer/Boyer/Byers and Reyer/Royer.
Early Moyer’s of Salford and Franconia
If you live in the Harleysville area, chances are you’ve visited the farm of your Moyer ancestor more than once. The homestead of immigrant Christian Moyer (d. 1751 – in his will, the English scrivener spelled the name Moyer) is now the site of the Walmart and Giant shopping center at the intersection of Rts. 113 and 63.
Hans Moyer’s land was just across 113. [NOTE: This Hans may have been a cousin of Christian. The Hans Moyer whose land was on the other side of Christian’s land, along Moyer Road, is the one who has traditionally been regarded as Christian’s brother and who, like Christian, had many Mennonite descendants.] Both Hans and Christian Moyer’s tracts extended to what became the Franconia Township line. Adjoining on the Franconia side were farms of Samuel Moyer and Henry Funk (Christian Moyer’s son-in-law), both purchased before 1720. Stretching north along the highway toward the location of the Franconia Mennonite Meetinghouse and Cemetery was the farm of Christian Moyer Jr., purchased in 1729. Today, Moyer’s land on the east side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike is preserved, and offers a pleasing vista as you drive along 113 past the Franconia Meetinghouse.
Christian Moyer Jr. (1705-1787) was deacon in the Franconia Mennonite congregation, and his brother-in-law Henry Funk was bishop until his death in 1760. Henry’s son Christian succeeded his father as bishop, and a personality conflict between Funk and Moyer (ironically both named Christian) was central to the “Funkite” schism that divided the local Mennonite community and the Moyer family during the War for Independence and for several generations after. More on this story in an upcoming post on the Funk’s.
The meetinghouse and cemetery called “Delp’s”, on Indian Creek Road (the line between Henry Funk and Samuel Moyer’s land), are a striking reminder of the Funkite schism. The cemetery, used by Franconia Mennonites in early years, was used by Funkites into the 19th century. The meetinghouse was moved to the cemetery from its original location at the intersection of Yoder Road and Rt. 113, where it had been built circa 1815 for Funkite worship on the farm of Jacob Moyer, grandson of deacon Christian Moyer. Others of Christian’s grandchildren also joined the fellowship that he excommunicated during the war. Some never returned to the Mennonite Church, moving into the Church of the Brethren or Brethren in Christ when the Funkite church died out in the early 19th century.
The oldest surviving gravestone in Delp’s Cemetery (no longer readable) is for “H. M. 1737”. This was Hans Moyer, the immigrant, of Lower Salford, who made his will that year. He was likely Mennonite, though his children moved to the Reformed Church. Most were still minors at the time of his death.
Samuel Moyer, fraktur artist and pioneer
While some of deacon Christian Moyer’s descendants became Funkite, most remained Mennonite, including two sons who served as ministers in the Hilltown (Blooming Glen) Mennonite congregation – Jacob (1730-1778) and Samuel (1734-?). It is said that Samuel, who unlike his brother lived to old age, was “a widely known and dearly loved preacher of the Mennonite Church in Pennsylvania…. His long white hair and flowing beard gave him an especially patriarchal appearance.” (Fretz, A Genealogical Record of the Descendants of Christian and Hans Meyer and other Pioneers, p. 159)
The children of these preacher brothers attended a German-language school with Lutheran teacher John Adam Eyer, probably in the early Mennonite meetinghouse built of logs in 1753. There they received instruction in penmanship and singing, as well as other subjects. Some years later, preacher Samuel’s son, Christian, received a magnificent marriage certificate from his former teacher, when he married Mary Landes in 1784. Click here to see it in the fraktur collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
The same year, Christian’s cousin Samuel, son of preacher Jacob, created this Vorschrift (writing sample) while working as an 18-year-old schoolteacher in Tinicum Township, further east toward the Delaware River. It has some interesting stylistic similarities to the John Adam Eyer piece linked above, and unlike many fraktur, it is prominently signed by the maker, just as Eyer’s certificate was.
Samuel Moyer (1767-1844), teacher and fraktur artist, went with a group of Mennonites from Bucks County to pioneer in “Canada West / Upper Canada” (Ontario) in 1800. There he built a life alongside numerous relatives, including cousins Jacob and Dillman Moyer, who were early preachers in the First Mennonite Church of Vineland (until 1955 known as Moyer Mennonite Church). Samuel was a colorful person, and his story, as told in Fretz’s genealogy (pp. 100-102), is quite interesting:
Samuel Meyer, born in Montg. Co., Pa., Mar. 4, 1767. His parents [preacher Jacob of Blooming Glen and wife Barbara Derstine] died of yellow fever before he was 10 years old. Where or how he spent the years immediately following is not known, but we must believe they were well spent, from the fact that at the age of 16 he was teacher in a common school. In early life he developed an aptitude for music and was appointed “vorsinger” [song leader] in meeting, and also taught singing schools. On November 5, 1789, he married 19-year-old Anna Bechtel, who bore him five sons and three daughters. Their home was at Blooming Glen.
He was a leading promoter of, and actor in, the pilgrimage to Canada West in the year 1800, some account of which is given elsewhere in this volume. Two four-horse teams carried his family four hundred miles to the settlement at the “Twenty” in Lincoln county, Ontario, where he at once purchased from William Wiers, a U.E. Loyalist, 200 acres of good land, paying $400 cash for the same. There was a rude log cabin in the clearing and four acres of wheat ready for the sickle, besides potatoes and other vegetables growing for the year’s need. Near the cabin stood a large oak stump burned out at the top in the shape of a mortar in which the Weirs family cracked their wheat and pounded their hominy. Later this was filled with earth and used as a hot bed to start early plants in for the garden.
In those grand forests game was plentiful and the long-barreled flintlock rifle enabled settlers to supply an abundance of venison for the table. His boys never forgot one shot in the dark when a deer was dimly seen in the clearing, the correct aim of their father bringing down a large buck pierced through the heart. Not so accurate was his aim when one day he selected the leader of a dozen wild geese overhead and brought down No. 12 instead of No. 1. Salmon were then plentiful in the lakes and came up the Twenty-mile creek to Ball’s Falls, where the settlers speared them with pitchforks. Wolves, bears, wild cats, etc., were numerous. On one occasion while going to mill at the Short Hills, twelve miles from home, with the little grist in a sack on horseback, Meyer leading the horse, a she bear and two cubs were met in the road. The surprise was mutual, and being unarmed, Meyer very quickly exchanged places with the sack. Bruin and her cubs scampered off in one direction while horse and rider went the opposite way.
During the Summer of 1820 he made a visit on horseback to the old home at Blooming Glen, Pa., accompanied by Joseph Michener and Henry Housser on foot…. By the recent death of his father-in-law, Jacob Bechtel, he received a snug sum of money for his wife, and was also asked to carry other money to one Eiman in Canada, total $1400 in gold and silver coin. Joseph Michener made a strong double-bottomed tool chest. The coin was concealed between the bottoms, and the chest was then filled up with new tools and locked. They started, Meyer with the loaded wagon, the other two men on foot. For fourteen nights Michener slept in that wagon, generally with one eye open, and at some rowdy taverns he kept both eyes open. The longest stretch of road without a settler was eleven miles….
His next trip to Pennsylvania, a few years later, Samuel made on foot, getting some chance rides, and completed the journey in nine days. He was a rapid walker and more than once covered 6 miles in an hour.
In 1832, at his own expense, he hired Joseph Michener to build a three-pier bridge across the Twenty, which stood for many years.
Samuel Meyer was a man of more than ordinary talent. He never attended an English school, yet acquired a very fair English education. His writing in English was excellent, in German elegant. He taught for many years the first school in the settlement, in a log building where now stands the Mennonite meetinghouse, ” below the mountain.”
He was a man of fine physique, rather tall, powerful in muscle, rapid on foot, an extraordinary swimmer, and, though non-resistant in principal, abundantly able to take care of himself. Excepting with ague, he was never sick a day in his life.
He was well informed in regard to legal papers, many old deeds and other documents still in existence being in his own handwriting. He led the singing in his own church for forty years, composing numerous hymns and tunes which were as neatly penned as manuscripts by monks before the art of printing was invented. While speaking usually the Pennsylvania dialect he was master also of the best High German. His enterprising, good judgment, frugality, kindness and hospitality, and above all, his truly Christian life, have left their impression for good and for good only.
He was twice married. His first wife, Anna Bechtel, was a small woman, but plump and comely. She wore short skirts and a jacket. Her best hat was a white beaver, and the crown about an inch high [like this one in the collection of the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center; flat hats were commonly worn by women of the 18th century]. She died February 12, 1832, having been an invalid for many years. On October 11, 1836, he married Katharine Bechtel, widow first of Daniel High, Sr. , and second of Rev. Jacob Meyer. She outlived her third husband. Samuel Meyer died Aug. 22, 1844, and Katharine February 6, 1851.
Moyer’s of Souderton
Back in eastern Pennsylvania, members of the Moyer family operated successful businesses in the late 19th and 20th centuries in and around Souderton, where the railroad stretched north from Philadelphia on its way to the Lehigh Valley.
John Ruth, in his History of the Indian Valley (p. 47), describes the opening of the railroad in June 1857: “…Crowds all along the line gathered to watch the progress of the first locomotive to make the passenger run. It carried the prophetic title, ‘Civilizer’. To Franconia’s farmers and their children, running in astonishment from their hayfields to view the smoking monster, it must have seemed like a visitation from the Spirit of Progress personified.”
Progress indeed came to the new town of “Souder’s Station” – later Souderton – that grew up around the tracks. Herman Godshall, son of the Franconia Mennonite bishop, moved into town and set up a successful hay and feed dealership. He sold the business in 1869 to 23-year-old Christian H. Moyer, who with brothers Jonas and Enos grew the business into a pillar of the town’s economy. First Moyer & Brothers, later Moyer & Son, and today Moyer Indoor-Outdoor, the company has moved from its past focus on feed milling during the agrarian era to home maintenance services and landscaping, with a fleet of trucks jetting out to local homes daily.
The feed mill family attended Souderton Mennonite Church, which was built in 1879 to serve local Mennonites who had moved to town. In 1914, Enos Moyer’s son Jacob was ordained by lot to serve as a minister at Souderton. He was just twenty-three, finished business college, and looking forward to a career in the family business; now he would have the responsibility to preach in addition to his everyday occupation, and to model a conservative and separate life for the members of his congregation. Not a simple order for the owner of a successful business in a burgeoning 20th century town. But Jacob faced up to the challenge, and provided stable leadership for Souderton “Old” Mennonites through the first half of the century, serving as bishop and secretary of Franconia Mennonite Conference, while also running the Moyer & Son business.
Jacob’s fellow minister at Souderton, also named Moyer – Elmer B. – was not closely related. Also not related are two Moyer’s – Merrill and K. Leon – who have served as executives of Union National Bank (Univest) in recent years. And so Souderton is much associated with the Moyer name, though from various branches of the family, all Mennonite.
Outside of town in Franconia Township, Abraham F. Moyer and family developed a large beef packing and rendering business, Moyer Packing Company (MOPAC), which – though it has now been sold to an international corporation – was for many years one of the most successful Mennonite-owned businesses in eastern Pennsylvania.
Sources on the Moyer family
Fretz, A. J. A Genealogical Record of the Descendants of Christian and Hans Meyer and other Pioneers. Harleysville, PA: News Printing House, 1896. Online at https://archive.org/details/genealogicalreco00fret3
Funk, Christel [Christian]. Mirror for All Mankind. 1809. Translated by Daniel J. Reinford. Funk’s personal account of the Funkite division and his conflict with Christian Moyer and other leaders. Available in the MHC library; another translation, by J. C. Wenger, was published in Mennonite Quarterly Review (Jan 1985).
Moyer, Richard A. My old neighborhood : memories, stories and history from my childhood home along the Branch Creek. Self-published. 2013. Moyer family of Upper Salford; available in the MHC library.
Register, Pamela Learned. Warmth and Sustenance: A 125-Year History of Moyer and Son, Inc. Souderton, PA: Moyer and Son, Inc. 1994.
Ruth, John L. The History of the Indian Valley & its Bank. Souderton, PA: Union National Bank and Trust Company. 1976.
van der Zijpp, N. “Meyer.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 17 Jul 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Meyer
Wenger, John C. “Moyer (Moyers, Mayer, Meyer, Meyers, Myers) family.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 17 Jul 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Moyer_(Moyers,_Mayer,_Meyer,_Meyers,_Myers)_family
Also, there are many oral interviews of Moyer family members archived at the MHC. You can view them in our catalog here.