Winding roads to non-paid claim


Ann Kuehn - Contributing columnist



Another aberration: In the Clinton County world of Quakerism, I come from a long line of Mennonites — “Mennonite” being an umbrella term like “Protestant.”

In 1684, when one of my Mennonite forebearers was jailed in Bern, Switzerland, for refusing to sanction infant baptism. Tsk! Tsk! Fortunately for him, the Swiss did not play with matches.

Seeking religious freedom, the jailed Mennonite’s Swiss-German descendants washed up onto America’s shores just in time for the Revolutionary War. A certain Joseph Gingrich fought in a Harrisburg contingent under the leadership of Captain Lightfoot.

Mennonites are pacifists, but in return for services rendered, Joseph was awarded land in Franklin County, Pennsylvania.

My children’s paternal equally-great also fought in a Harrisburg contingent. Considering the size of those groups, they may well have been aware of each other. There is no mention of that gentleman receiving land. Perhaps he was not into farming.

The land eventually came down to my great-grandfather, Moses, who in turn subdivided it into three sections; one going to my grandfather, Samuel, and the other two to his sisters. While my immediate family no longer owns the dairy farm, shirt-tail cousins own all three.

Fast forward to the Civil War where Franklin County was a flash point. The largest community and county seat was Chambersburg. John Brown established his northern headquarters there to stockpile weapons used at Harper’s Ferry. The whole area was an Underground Railroad crisscross.

The house across from my grandfather’s home in Greencastle, built when he retired from farming, was a waystation. That house sat in a large cherry orchard; the secret panel was in the dining room. I was thrilled as a child to be able to go into the home and slide the panel, revealing a dark, narrow space.

Antietam (in Maryland) was the first and bloodiest battle on Union territory with 8,900 dead and 22,000 wounded or missing. Jeb Stuart raided the small village of Mercersburg, before terrorizing Chambersburg.

In June of 1863, 8,000 Confederate troops camped at Greencastle. Unaware, two Union soldiers rode into a farm yard and were immediately ambushed. Corporal William Rihl became the first Union soldier killed north of the Mason-Dixon line, in Pennsylvania.

Marching to Gettysburg, Confederate General Jubal Early demanded a ransom of $100,00 in gold or $500,00 in Yankee dollars from the citizens of Chambersburg to compensate for the devastation in the Shenandoah Valley.

The good citizens kept their pockets tightly buttoned. Chambersburg was burned to the ground, with the exception of the Masonic Hall. Jubal was a Mason. It was the only Northern city burned during the war.

There is a statue of a Union soldier in the Chambersburg square facing South. Never again.

It was then that Moses Gingrich discovered the positives of Mennonite pacifism. The Union Army frowned, but settled on relieving him of $689.80 of horse flesh. (Where did the 80 cents come from?)

When the dust settled, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania issued Moses a “Certificate of Adjudicated Claim for War Damages” equaling the aforementioned $689.80, stamped, authorized, and notarized on January 1, 1872.

Congress never agreed to pay the claim. Some things never change. I have the framed certificate and it is just possible that if I or one of my descendants hangs on to it long enough, it will be worth $689.80.

Until industrialization, there was little distinction between Mennonites and non-. My grandfather, Samuel, decided being a Lutheran would be a lot more fun. Everyone did a 180, except my grandmother, who remained a faithful member of The Church of the River Brethren.

I would have done the same just for the name.

While baptized Lutheran, I became an Episcopalian in my early 20’s. That noise you hear is generations of Mennonites whirling in their graves.

Ann Kuehn resides at Ohio Living Cape May in Wilmington. She says, “I gravitated to Ohio at age 18 and never left” and moved to Sabina in 1987.

Ann Kuehn

Contributing columnist