Michael Eichelberger (1774-1830)

Michael Eichelberger (1774-1830)

Michael Eichelberger (1774-1830) is the first known Eichelberger to settle in the Bedford County area. He arrived in the region about 1801 or 1802, traveling from Path Valley in Franklin County. But who was he, and who were his parents?

An old handwritten document passed down from Cora (Eichelberger) Sweet (1879-1945) is in the possession of this writer. It reads as follows: “Jacob Eichelberger landed in Harrisburg in 1760. The town was then Harris Ferry. Christopher, son of Jacob, came to Bedford County in 1785. Michael, son of Christopher, settled in Brush Valley – Peter and John settled in Firmstone, Maryland. Michael was our great-grandfather. He was a collier at Lemnos near Hopewell. Grandmother rode on horseback to Path Valley to have Michael taken out of the draft in 1812. Michael married Mary Johnston from Ohio who came to Pennsylvania about 1785. She was Scotch Irish. Her brother Kale Johnston came with her to Pennsylvania.”

From this early written record we can conclude that Jacob Eichelberger was the first of our name to be tied to the present day family members. Also we can accept that Christopher was Jacob’s son and that Michael was a son of Christopher. Peter and John were either brothers of Michael, or were brothers to Christopher. Jacob probably arrived in America from Germany before 1760.

Jacob was owner of 300 acres of land in Paxton Manor near Shiremanstown in Cumberland County, the manor consisting of major parcels of 150 acres to 500 acres sold to settlers of German origin. Two other Paxton Manor purchasers were Adam and George Eichelberger, maybe brothers or cousins to Jacob, perhaps fueling the tradition that ‘three brothers’ came to America named Eichelberger, spit up and that’s why we have so many seemingly unrelated Eichelberger families in America. Christopher, Jacob’s son, is recorded as owning 100 acres, 2 horses, and 2 cattle (cows) in East Pennsburgh township of Cumberland County, and other references to Christopher set him in a key role developing a Lutheran Church congregation in lower Cumberland County in 1770-1775. Then Michael could have moved to Brush Valley and on to Bedford County around 1801.

Michael, in any case, was the first to settle and remain in the Bedford County area. Some documentation exists that Michael and Mary’s first child, David , was born in Path Valley, and that shortly after his birth, the young family moved to Bedford County to establish residence in the place which became known as Eichelbergertown.

This writer sets the marriage between Michael and Mary as occurring in 1801 while still in Franklin County, and the birth of their first child as taking place in November of that year. Afterwards, their children were born in Hopewell, Hopewell Township, Eichelbergertown, and the Gap on Yellow Creek below Loysburg, all according to independently offered information about the various children of Michael and Mary. We can conclude that either Michael or Mary moved about in the general region of Hopewell and Yellow Creek settlement, or that due to the uncertainty of geographic boundaries and the lack of specific documentation it was traditional family information that placed the birthplaces of several of Michael and Mary’s sons as slightly different locations from one another.

We know that Michael was born in 1774 and he died on July 26, 1830, based on the weathered tombstone situated in the graveyard at St. Paul’s Reformed Church in Yellow Creek, Bedford County, Pennsylvania. The stone is inscribed: “In memory of Michael Eichelberger, died July 26, 1830, aged 56 years”. His wife Mary, is buried nearby in a grave marked “Mary Eichelberger, departed this life January 1, 1853 in her 74th year”. This cemetery originally called St. Mathews, is one of the oldest in the county.

In addition to the parents, this graveyard is final resting place for many of their descendants, in including children, grandchildren, and various in-laws. The other major resting place for Eichelbergers, in shear numbers, is the Hopewell cemetery at Sunnyside, several miles north on state Route 26.

Michael Eichelberger worked as a collier at Lemnos Forge and Furnace in the Eichelbergertown region of Hopewell Township, along the banks of Yellow Creek. The furnaces made large quantities of iron for the colonists in the area. Though sparsely populated at the turn of the nineteenth century, Bedford County was experiencing rapid growth as pioneers began to inhabit the once treacherous reaches of Penn’s Woods. Only sixty years earlier, no white man lived in western Pennsylvania; the only ones who ventured there traded with the Indians and left upon completion of their business.

William Lane and Isaiah Davis had settled Yellow Creek and erected the furnace in 1801. Two miles upstream from Hopewell, it was named Lemnos, and it operated until the end of the Civil War. Records indicate that the furnace and forge were owned by John King & Company later in its existence. Iron making was a thriving business and owing to mineral resources alone int he Juniata Valley, there were by 1850 seven iron establishments in Bedford County, 32 in Blair County, 23 in Huntingdon County, and 12 in Mifflin County. As a collier, young Michael Eichelberger had acquired a certain skill for manufacturing charcoal from wood, a process of heating wood in the absence of air, preventing burning or combustion. The resulting product is charcoal which, when used in iron making, generates ‘burning’ of wood or coal. Without charcoal, iron could not be smelted, nor could forging temperatures be readily attained.

Michael Eichelberger worked at the forge and furnace and established a family home for Mary and their eight children: David, John, Catherine, Fannie, Michael, James, Eli, and Alexander. Another son, Michael, died as an infant and the couple called the next-born son the same name. Eight of the children grew to adulthood, married and started their own families, almost completely within several miles of father Michael’s homestead. Eichelbergertown became the name of the town because so many Eichelbergers lived there; tradition says that seven of the first nine houses were occupied by Eichelbergers.

When Michael died in 1830, Mary was left with young children still at home. Young Alexander was yet seven year of age, Eli was on ly nine, and James was less than twelve. Certainly the family members learned sacrifice at an early age, and the characteristic of self-reliance was established as they survived those years without their father.

We believe that six Eichelberger brothers remained friends of one another as adults and reasonably close to their nieces and nephews. Though their occupations and prosperities varied, there is evidence that family contact among the six sons of Michael and Mary were maintained and that each brother developed a common set of characteristics; love of family, hard work in their occupations, and respectable and even distinguished forms of citizenship.

The eight children of Michael and Mary Eichelberger achieving adulthood appear on the chart following, and include their children also, Michael and Mary’s sixty-six grandchildren.