New acquisition: Royden & Betty Landes collection

Written by Joel Alderfer on October 15, 2020

In early July, soon after we re-opened the Heritage Center from COVID-19 closure, we received a collection of rare books, artifacts, manuscripts, and records from the estate of the late Royden A. and Betty Landis Landes, formerly of Lower Salford Township, donated by their son Richard L. Landes.

Along with a career in refrigeration, and his role as a minister at Lansdale Mennonite Church, Royden Landes had what I would call a general interest in genealogy and local history, and would occasionally attend local household auctions where he might purchase a few books or family manuscripts. He also inherited, from his own and his wife’s families, old and rare books, documents, and pieces of fraktur.

In this post, I’ll feature some of the interesting items that were part of this donation. Several of these books were from the household of Schoolmaster John W. and Elizabeth Keller Landis, ancestors of Betty Landis Landes. One large drawing (a portrait) was from the Wagner-Delp-Hagey family, ancestors of Royden A. Landes. Royden received or collected all these artifacts, cared for them over the years, and directed that they be given to the Heritage Center after his death.

The Landis-Keller-Shisler connection

The story in artifacts begins with John W. Landis (1797-1848) and Elizabeth Keller (1808-1888), of Haycock Township, Bucks County. In 1835, Landis, then living in Haycock Township, acquired a German Bible, in which he recorded his two marriages – first to Susanna Keller in 1837, who died later that year, and then to her sister Elizabeth Keller in 1840. They were the daughters of John and Mary Slotter Keller, of Haycock Township and members of Keller’s (St. Matthew’s) Lutheran Church in northern Bedminster Township. The births of the Landis’ two daughters, Mary Ann (born 1844) and Elizabeth (born 1847), are also recorded.

1821 German Bible, with family register of John W. Landis and his two wives – sisters Susanna Keller and Elizabeth Keller. Gift of Richard L. Landes
“J L 1835” inscription on edge of Bible.
Manuscript hymn-tune booklet, undated, made for Elisabetha (Elizabeth) Keller, circa 1825, probably in a Haycock or Bedminster Township school. She later married schoolmaster John W. Landis. Gift of Richard L. Landes.

At the time of her marriage to Landis in October 1840, Elizabeth Keller was already the mother of a child, named John Shisler, born out of wedlock in 1833. She had been raising him in the household of her parents. John Shisler was recorded as a “poor” school child in Haycock Township, from 1839 to 1841, age 5, 6, and 7, respectively. The County funded his education. In 1839, he was listed [in the household] “of John Keller” (see Bucks County Poor Children, 1810-1841, transcribed from manuscripts in the Bucks County Historical Society, Doylestown, PA, 1991, pp. 52-53.) For more on John Shisler, see my article: “Fatherless, Widowed, Orphaned, Strangers: Origins of the Shisler Family of Lower Salford and Franconia Townships”, in MHEP Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring 1999), pp. 9-11.

The 1840 Census for Haycock Township indicates that John and Mary Keller had in their household a male child between the age of five and ten, and a female adult between the age of 30 and 40. In fact, living in the same household (or next door) was John Landis, of age 40 to 50, and recorded as a teacher in a “common” school, with seventeen “scholars” under his charge. Census enumeration day was June 1. John and Elizabeth were married later that year, in October.

Documenting schoolmaster John Landis’ activity and location before 1840 has been challenging. I haven’t been able to positively identify this John Landis in the 1830 Census – there were a number of John Landis’ in the early 19th century in Bucks and Montgomery Counties. One possible earlier reference to this schoolmaster Landis is a bill for teaching certain poor children in Bedminster Township, dated 1821, handed in to the Bucks County commissioners, by one teacher John Landis. The bill, written by the teacher, is in a hand similar to that of schoolmaster John W. Landis (1797-1848) in the 1840s.

Source: “John Landis” folder, Bucks County Subscription School Records (photocopies), Hist. Mss. 492, Mennonite Heritage Center Collection: Gift of Mary Jane Lederach Hershey.

It’s interesting to note that John Landis’ first wife Susanna Keller was a younger sister (about 18 years younger than himself), but the older sister, a single mother with a young boy, became his second wife. It appears that John Landis accepted and helped to raise this child as his own. In the Heritage Center collection is an 1828 Bible presented to nine year-old John K. Shisler in 1842. The inscription in the front, surely written by his step-father John W. Landis reads: “This Book is the Property of John Shisler in the year A.D. 1842” and “John Shisler was born in the year A.D. 1833, April the 11th.” The Bible was donated by a Shisler descendant years ago.

Silhouette drawing re-discovered

Pasted in the back of Landis’ own Bible with his family register, I discovered a cut out silhouette of a young man. I immediately recognized the outline of this silhouette as related to something familiar already in the collection. In 1975, Lizzie Etta Landis, a great-aunt of Richard Landes, had donated an early 19th century silhouette drawing of a young man, identified as John W. Landis (1797-1848). In comparing the two pieces, I realized this was the very silhouette which had originally been pasted in the back of the Bible! The reverse of the silhouette drawing is signed “Johannes…” (probably “Landis” – now covered with pasted paper residue), and was likely drawn by schoolmaster Landis himself. Although the silhouette is not dated, the evidence of Landis acquiring the Bible in 1835 would date the silhouette to about that time.

Other books and fraktur

By 1845, John and Elizabeth Keller Landis must have been living in Lower Salford or Franconia Township, Montgomery County. In that year, Landis acquired and signed a copy of a new vocal music book, Die Neue Choral Harmonie…, compiled and published in 1844 by singing school teacher Samuel M. Musselman of Lower Salford Township. This book has been found only in local Mennonite and Brethren families. We know that John Landis died in Lower Salford Township in 1848, and is buried in the Franconia Mennonite cemetery.

Not from the same family, but found in Royden Landes’ collection, were a couple of other old books and fraktur bookplates. One bookplate, separated from its hymnbook long ago, was made for one Elizabeth Young in 1826. Since neither Royden nor Betty Landes were descended from an Elizabeth Young, I believe he acquired this on a local auction or by private purchase. Even though her birthdate is given on the bookplate, I have not yet been able to document who this Elizabeth was.

Fraktur-decorated bookplate for Elisabeth Jung. Inscription reads in translation: “This hymnbook belongs to me Elizabeth Young, Singing Scholar in Upper Saucon Township, Lehigh County, and [I] was born in the year 1802, the 7th of February, in Upper Saucon Township, Lehigh County. This was written the 18th of March in the year of our Lord and Savior 1826.” Gift of Richard L. Landes.

An 1829 edition of a Mennonite devotional book, Anrede an die Jugend… [Address to the Youth], by Bishop Christian Burkholder, was found with a fraktur bookplate in front. Owned and signed by Barbara Stauffer in 1830, the book was later owned and signed by her son, Preacher Henry S. Bower of the Salford Mennonite congregation. She was Barbara B. Stauffer (1810-1871), originally of Hereford or Washington Township, Berks County, who married in about 1834 John O. Bower (1804-1865) of Douglass Township, Montgomery County.

Barbara Stauffer’s copy of the 1829 edition of Anrede an die Jugend with fraktur bookplate in front. The German couplet at the bottom reads: Wer etwas kann den hält man werd, der Nichts kann den nieman begehrt. [Those who can do something are considered worthy, but no one desires one who can do nothing.] Gift of Richard L. Landes.

A charcoal portrait by Henry Hagey

One interesting piece that came from Royden Landes’ own ancestry is a large charcoal portrait of John and Maria Wagner, signed and dated by family historian Henry D. Hagey, 1896.

Hagey, a descendant of the Wagners, reproduced this from a much earlier (and much smaller) daguerreotype of the Wagners, dating from about 1850-55. After Hagey’s death, the portrait was acquired by his nephew Cyrus H. Landes, and later passed to his son Royden A. Landes. The MHC also has in its’ collection a copy print of the original daguerreotype from which this charcoal portrait was created.

Framed charcoal portrait of John and Maria Wagner, inscribed on reverse: “John Wagner & wife, My Great Grandparents, Henry D. Hagey, 1896.” Gift of Richard L. Landes, from the collection of his father Royden A. Landes.
Print from a daguerreotype of John and Maria Haldeman Wagner, circa 1850-1855, from the collection of Henry Hagey. Mennonite Heritage Center Collection: Gift of Ferne C. Hagey Alderfer, 2006.

I have a personal connection to this portrait. Not only am I descended from John and Maria Haldeman Wagner, through the Hagey’s — but I saw this portrait back in 1975 when I first became interested in tracing my ancestry. John L. Ruth told me to go visit Cyrus and Sallie Landes, who then had the portrait hanging in their farmhouse near Vernfield, PA. It was my first encounter with an early image of two rather distant ancestors!

The Mennonite Heritage Center thanks Richard L. Landes for donating this important collection of artifacts and family papers.