New acquisition: Elizabeth Ruth show towel

Written by Forrest Moyer on June 1, 2018

A beautiful show towel was donated to the MHC last year, bearing the name Elizabeth Ruth and date 1836. Towels like this were made for display, not use, by young women in preparation for decorating their homes after marriage. At the bottom of this towel is a fine drawn-work panel featuring peacocks (or geese), hearts and a pot of flowers.

Gift of Beulah Hendricks Rittenhouse (2017.44.1)

The maker of the towel, Elizabeth Ruth (1819-1888), had an unusual story. She was orphaned at age three, the second youngest of seven daughters of Jacob & Catherine Ruth Ruth of Hatfield. Jacob died in 1822, and the daughters, all under the age of 14, went to live with his sister Fronica Shoemaker and husband Michael of Franconia, who had no children of their own. Elizabeth likely made this towel at the Shoemaker farm in 1836.

It appears from the census that the girls’ mother, Catherine, did not go with them to her sister-in-law’s place. She was living and not remarried in 1835 when her brother Joseph died. It’s possible she lived and worked as a servant in another home. We don’t know when she died, nor where she and Jacob were buried (possibly Plains Mennonite Cemetery, where many old gravestones were removed in the 20th century).

Elizabeth Ruth married Christian Landis (1815-1894) and they resided in Towamencin Township. Christian was a very strong man physically; according to historian Edward Mathews he was “probably one of the strongest men that ever lived in Towamencin Township”. Two of Elizabeth’s sisters—Mary and Fronica—married Christian’s brothers Daniel and Isaac Landis. Sister Anna married Jacob Musselman, Sarah married Jonas Moyer, Amelia married Garret Shoemaker, and Catharine married Samuel Bergey. Between them, the seven sisters had many descendants, some of whom would later compete at reciting the nicknames of their grandmothers in a unique local tongue-twister: “Nancysalliemealiekittypollybetsyfranny” (Joyce Clemmer Munro, Some Local History of Franconia Township, 1979, p. 63).

As each of the girls came of age, they signed releases stating they had received their inheritance from guardian Michael Shoemaker. Thanks to the generosity of Sarah’s descendant Clarence M. Moyer, we have Michael Shoemaker’s estate papers at the MHC, including each of the releases. View them here. A couple interesting things to notice: 1) Only Sarah, Elizabeth and Fronica could sign their names; the others signed with a mark.  2) The inheritance amount increased from $81 in 1828 gradually to $256 in 1842, perhaps because of interest gaining for years while the money was held by uncle Shoemaker.

Also among papers from Clarence Moyer is this 1837 draft for the laying of Lower Road in Franconia, showing the location of Michael Shoemaker’s farm. The thick green line is Allentown Road (click photos to enlarge):

Mennonite Heritage Center, Allen C. Moyer Collection (Hist. Mss. 373)

A century later, Henry Hagey drew a map of the same area, on which Shoemaker’s farm is marked with the name of later owner Jacob Wile:

Source: Some Local History of Franconia Township, 1979

Today, the old Shoemaker place continues in farming. Moyer Road now cuts off at the homestead and is called Wile Road:

Source: Google Earth