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EARLY SETTLERS IN ALLEN COUNTY, OHIO

Mennonites were among the early settlers of the area. Formed in April

1820 only 17 years after the new state of Ohio was carved from the

Northwest Territory, Allen County was organized the same time as

neighboring Putnam County to the north and Van Wert to the west. In the

northwest section of Allen County, first in Sugar Creek Township and later

Marion Township to the west, developed a small but sturdy Mennonite

community.

In 1831, the same year in which Sugar Creek Township was formed, John

Stemen of Fairfeild County, Ohio, came prospecting through the dense

hardwood forests to look for suitable site for a home. He lodged and ate

his meals with the Indians. He scouted in the southern part of "The Great

Black Swamp" that covered 14 northwestern Ohio counties including

Allen. Poor drainage and dense forests characterized much of the area.

The felling of trees splashed mud and water to great heights. Mosquitoes

swarmed. Malaria lurked constantly, awaiting the unsuspecting colonist.

But the soil was unbelievably fertile and easily cultivated after it was

drained. Here the government had set aside "canal lands" and prospects

looked bright for the farmer willing to work hard.

Stemen, son of Mennonite deacon, Peter Stemen, (1771-1856),

purchased on August 8, 1831, about 54 acres of land for $69.19, at a rate

if $1.25 per acre. He situated one mile west and one-half mile south of the

present Salem Church. Being one of the earliest settlers in the western part

of the county forced him to cut his own path through the trees. He found

treachery and questionable means the white man had by this time spirited

away the Indian claims to their hunting grounds in Allen County. Hundreds

of Senecas left in 1831 as did most of the Shawnees the following year.

One group, the Hog Creek tribe, did not leave Allen County till 1833.

Then John and Nancy (Stukey) Stemen family was joined in 1834 by

the family of his older brother Christian and Margaret (Moyer) Stemen

and their five children. They purchased a tract of land on the banks of the

Ottawa River for nearly $3.00 and acre. In 1837 came 66 year old

Deacon Peter and Magdalena (Swick) Stemen and paid $1,000 for a

quarter section (160 acres) in Marion Township, three miles west and one

mile south of Salem Church. The following spring Peter Stemen, Jr. and

his wife Mary (Blosser) joined them by purchasing for $1,550 a quarter

section adjoining Salem Church.

In 1841 the pioneers were joined by the deacon's 94 year old father

Christian Stehman (1747-1844) and the family of Peter's brother,

Henry and Mary (Beery) Stemen. Henry(1775-1855), an early pioneer

in Fairfield County, had been ordained a Mennonite minister in 1809 and

bishop in 1820. Daughter Barbara and her husband Samuel Sherrick

accompanied the bishop's family. Also at the same time came Deacon

John Sherrick (1778-1857) with his wife Mary, David and Eve

Campbell, John Burkholder and wife and Joseph Lamen who was

single. Here was the leadership and nucleus for a church.

All of them came from Fairfield county. Earlier, beginning at the turn of the

century, the Beerys, Stemens, Sherricks, Brennemans, and others had

settled in that central Ohio county. Many of them originated in Rockingham

County, Virginia, but some came from Pennsylvania. The 1841 exodus

from Fairfield was only the first of other migrations that within several

decades seriously depleted Fairfield's Mennonite population but greatly

strengthened Allen County's.

One of the family lines represented was the George and Susan (Funk)

Beery family who moved to Fairfield in 1816 with their seven children.

Susan Funk was a sister to Joseph Funk, noted musician of the Virginia

Mennonites in pre-Civil War days. The Beery's oldest daughter Barbara

married Henry Brenneman (1791-1866), son of Abraham (1744-1815)

and grandson of Melchior Brenneman, Jr. (1718-1794), whose father

was the pioneer Melchior Brenneman (1665 - 1737) who arrived in

1717.

Bishop Henry Stemen already had long experienced as a frontier

preacher and Mennonite "circuit Rider." He traveled widely by horseback

in the Ohio wilderness holding communion services, ordaining bishops,

ministers and deacons, and ministering to scattered Mennonites in the

counties of Wyandot, Wood, Seneca, Williams, Clark, Logan, Fairfield,

and Franklin. Apparently an eloquent speaker, he seems to have been the

only Mennonite bishop in western Ohio for a number of years.

First Church Organized

Soon after the arrival of the 1841 group, a congregation was organized and

services were held in the homes of members. "The bishop and the two

deacons also acted as trustees in the early years. No early records exist,

but years later (1911) at a reunion they named 20 charter members - the

above named 1841 group in addition to Peter and Magdalena Stemen,

Peter and Barbara Diller, and Henry and Elizabeth Funk. Deacon

Peter's two sons John and Christian apparently did not join the

Mennonites. Some of Christian's children were United Brethern, but son

David was a Mennonite. It is unclear whether Peter, Jr. Joined the

Mennonite Church. Though not listed as a charter member another source

says he was "a Mennonite in religious faith, a republican in politics, and

held the office of township trustee for a number of years." Two of his sons,

John and Christian, served in the Civil War. His oldest son Andrew served

as deacon for Allen County Mennonites for years.

If tradition is correct, they built their first 12 x 14 log meeting house in

1843. Likely the church house was built and the cemetery laid out on

private property until October 27, 1847, when this plot, seven by six rods,

was sold by John Enslen for five dollars to "Henry Stemen, Peter

Stemen, and John Sherrick, elders of the Menonist Church." They built

across the road from the present Salem Church. The little log church

became known as the Dutch Hollow Church.

Bishop Stemen's itinerant activities made it necessary for him to ordain a

minister for the Dutch Hollow Church. This he did in 1847. Nominated to

the lot by the congregation were John Burkholder, Henry Funk, and

Peter Diller. The lot chose Burkholder who served until his death in

1860. Though a fine old man, he was not particularly sucessful as a

preacher and leader. Furthermore, his use of chewing tobacco was not

considered a good example. Ordinations for minister were not needed for

another generation because several more moved into the community from

Fairfield and Franklin counties.

The first of these was Christian Culp (1815 - 1883) who was born in

Rockingham County, Virginia. Sometime after his marriage to Elizabeth

Good they united with the Mennonites. In 1846 he was ordained in

Fairfield County. Though uneducated and a blacksmith by trade he applied

himself diligently and surprised people by becoming a fluent speaker. He

favored an intensely conservative program of church life and discipline.

However, tradition says that if ever a man was without an enemy it was

Preacher Culp. He moved to Allen County in 1852.

The following March George Brenneman (1821 -1889) also decided to

leave the hills and poor farming land of Fairfield County for the level

stretches of the Black Swamp. Settling in Putnam County, about a mile

west of the later village of Rimer and several miles northwest of Sugar

Creek Township (Allen County), he purchased two heavily wooded tracts.

Before he could farm he needed to burn large quanti-ties of walnut logs

and other hardwoods. A son of Henry Brenneman, he was born in Rush

Creek Town-ship in Fairfield County and married Anna Burkholder of

Knox County, Ohio and earlier of Rockingham County, Virginia. He was

chosen be lot and ordained minister by Henry Stemen in 1849 at Rush

Creek. Bishop Stemen may have invited both Culp and Brenneman to

Allen County because he was looking for a successor. Stemen was

already 78. Brenneman was scarcely settled when he and Culp were

nominated to go through the lot for bishop. George was selected and

ordained near his 33rd birthday in the spring of 1854.

Brenneman proved to be an able minister and bishop but he was

overshadowed by his oldest brother John M. Brenneman who came

shortly thereafter. George Brenneman is described as a strict

disciplinarian, an earnest Christian, a man of deep conviction and

indomitable will, who may not always have exercised the greatest of tact.

He and his wife loved company and had many warm friends. Their fireside

often rang with hearty laughter. For reasons no longer clear Bishop

Stemen was not at ease in committing the future of the young congregation

to Bishop Brenneman, so it is thought that he also induced John M.

Brenneman to move to Allen County in 1855.

Soon after John's arrival and purchase of 176 acres of land one and a half

miles east of the little Dutch Hollow Church, Stemen delivered his bishopric

to John M. Brenneman. On the occasion the venerable old biship, nearly

blind and feeble with age, delivered a powerful and eloquent sermon on

Revelation 12:1. Thus, with proper solemnity and seriousness, John M.

was installed as official head of the congregation. Only a few months later

on August 19, 1855, Bishop Henry Stemen died from malaria fever. By

that time the little log church had an impressive "bench" of ordained men.

Bishop Henry's older brother Peter survived him less than a year, passing

away May 5, 1856. The following year the other aged deacon John

Sherrick died (1857).

The 1855 influx of settlers brought another ordained man, Deacon

Christian D. Beery, uncle of the Brenneman brothers and supporter of

their views. At age 19 Beery had married Elizabeth (Blosser), the 16

year old daughter of Isaac Blosser in Fairfield County. In 1838 they

moved to Hocking County, Ohio, and 14 years later to Franklin County

where he was ordained deacon. From thence they came to the Elida, Ohio

(Allen County) area in 1855 where he served for ten years. In 1865 he

sold his Putnam County property at a sacrifice and moved to Branch

County, Michigan, where he later became minister and bishop.

Migration into the community continued in the 1840's, 1850's and later.

The Joseph Lehman family came from Columbiana County, Ohio, in

1848. Son Christian married Susanna, daughter of Christian and

Elizabeth Lehman who also came that year from Richland County, Ohio.

After both aged deacons had passed away, young Christian Lehman

(1828 - 1901) was ordained deacon in 1857.

The year 1855 marks the end of an era - that of the remarkable frontier

minister Henry Stemen. He lived to see a strong Mennonite community

established. Fourteen years experience in Allen County had proven it a

more suitable location for the agriculturally minded Mennonites than central

Ohio. Spiritual and numerical strength flourished.

Every minister and deacon who emigrated to Allen County brought family

and friends. As a matter of fact the little log church was crowded during the

biweekly services. Two bishops and several ministers and deacons

provided quite a bench full of capable men.

By this time the dense forests had felt the blow of an ax long enough that

the improved tracts of land were beginning to yield. Some of the swampy

land had been drained. An occasional log cabin dotted the land-scape. A

few more roads had been hewn out of the woods. Although very primitive

and sometimes bol-stered by logs laid side by side, at least it was possible

to pick one's way around the stumps and through the mud of dust. Some of

the expected canals had not materialized but the Miami and Erie Canal

passed eight miles west of the Dutch Hollow Church on the line between

Allen and Van Wert counties and was open from end to end by 1847.

Some of the families had located closer to the canal in Marion Township: a

few had even gone to the other side into Van Wert County. Some had also

spread southward beyond the village of Elida.

Serious risks and hazards still threatened though. Malaria was a major

concern in the Great Black Swamp. Doctors were scarce and not quickly

obtained. Clearing forests was rugged physical work. Lack of fences

allowed livestock to roam. On one occasion George Brenneman tied a

bell on a cow before turning the herd loose. For several weeks they failed

to return. Finally, in response to a newspaper ad-vertisement, a letter

arrived from Bellefontaine, Ohio, nearly halfway back to Fairfield County,

stating that they were in the vicinity. Apparently, they had become

homesick for their old home at Fairfield!