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The settlers: seeking haven
Carl Snyder, 83, has a farmer's weathered face. His thin lips can be set in a straight line, his square chin cementing an image of determination. His roots here go deep. His family came to Lynn Township toward the end of the 1700s and lived through the French and Indian War, the most dangerous conflict ever in the Lehigh Valley.
Snyder once farmed more than 700 acres of prime Valley land, but his holdings have diminished, giving up ground to houses for another generation of immigrants.
Although he yields to the changing times, Snyder has a passion for the past and has been instrumental in preserving a glimpse of what life was like in the Lehigh Valley when the Indian war parties raged.
In 2001, he bought the neglected Zeisloff house, built in the 1730s, and had it moved about two miles from Zeisloff Road to Ontelaunee Park, where it is maintained by the Lynn-Heidelberg Historical Society.
Two holes in the walls of the historic house open onto a different way of life.
''This is a soul window,'' Snyder says as he pulls out a plug of wood about a foot square from a first-floor bedroom wall. ''When someone died, you pulled it out so their souls could escape and find their way to heaven. It's an old Pennsylvania German belief.''
Climbing to the attic, he points out one of two small openings: ''This is a gunsight peephole. They were so they could shoot down on the Indians.''
Carving out the Valley
Like many immigrants since, the early settlers in the Lehigh Valley were drawn to America by the promises of a new land.
For the settlers, Pennsylvania was prime real estate. The 40,000 square miles King Charles II gave William Penn in 1681 became one of Britain's most profitable colonies.
The mostly German and Scotch-Irish immigrants, many of them farmers, came to work the fertile soil after Penn's sons began deeding Valley land in 1728.
New England's soil was rocky and hard to farm. In the hot, humid colonies of the South, a swampy coastal plain blocked access to the land. But Penn's province was so rich it was known as ''fat Pennsylvania'' the ''best poor man's country.''
The colony had a deep harbor that would become the port of Philadelphia, a long waterfront along the Delaware River opening onto fertile, gently rolling farmland. It had plenty of room for expansion to the north, where the Lehigh River met the Delaware.
Penn's Woods appealed to those who wanted better economic opportunities and escape from the European conflicts of the late 1600s and early 1700s.
A member of the Society of Friends, a Quaker, Penn had been expelled from the Anglican church for his beliefs about direct experience of a peaceful God. A pacifist, he had been arrested for refusing to swear allegiance to the king. He promised freedom of religion to anyone who came to Pennsylvania.
The first counties, formed from land Penn obtained by signing treaties with the local Indians, were Philadelphia, Bucks and Chester. The first European settlers to take his offer were English and German Protestants, Quakers, Mennonites and Dutch Anabaptists.
A steady stream of Dutch, German and Swiss farmers, laborers, trade and craftspeople arrived by wooden sailing ship, braving a crowded, uncomfortable and potentially deadly passage that lasted nearly two months to dock at Philadelphia or Chester.
This group came to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, or the Pennsylvania Germans, although at the time there was no country called Germany. What they left were 300 little kingdoms or principalities, small countries each run by a king, lord or prince.
Drawn west to Lancaster County's fertile limestone soils and underground springs, ''the Germans have been known as the superior farmers of the Colonial era in Pennsylvania,'' says Timothy Essig of the Landis Valley Farm Museum in Lancaster County.
They used more-natural fertilizers, such as manure. They practiced rotation, alternating timothy or clover with crops of wheat, spelt, rye or barley. Farming has been Pennsylvania's foremost business since the beginning.
''What they had learned in Germany, they brought it here and turned Pennsylvania into the breadbasket of the colonies,'' Essig says.
Some of the huge amounts of grain produced in Pennsylvania was shipped to the West Indies and traded for sugar, which was taken to Britain to buy goods that were sold back to Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania's grains also went to Spain, Portugal or Italy, countries not producing enough food to support their people.
''Settlers were always involved in some mercantile activity,'' says Matthew C. Ward, a professor of history at the University of Dundee in Scotland and author of ''Breaking the Backcountry: The Seven Years' War in Virginia and Pennsylvania, 1754-1765,'' published in 2003.
After the Germans, the Scotch-Irish were the largest group to settle in the Lehigh Valley. The Scotch-Irish, actually Scotch-English Presbyterians who had moved to northern Ireland from Scotland in a Protestant colonization plan to civilize the Irish, came after the northern Ireland economy faltered.
A house to run to
How these new arrivals lived is demonstrated by three 18th-century houses, including Zeisloff's, that still stand in the Lehigh Valley.
In 1734, a log cabin known as Shelter House was built on the north slope of South Mountain on the outskirts of Emmaus. It is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited structure in the Valley.
A few years later, George Zeisloff built the log cabin Carl Snyder helped preserve in Lynn Township.
And in 1756, wealthy farmers erected a stone dwelling now known as the Troxell-Steckel House that still stands in Egypt, a village named for soil ''as rich as Egypt.''
Shelter House, set between three springs beside an Indian trail, was built by Philip Kratzer as a classic, one-story log house, a style used by the Germans from the 1700s on. Its name is the translation of the original German, Zufluchtshaus, or the house to run to for shelter in case of altercations with the Indians.
The floor plan was simple: a large, central stone fireplace for cooking and warmth, with a room on both sides. ''It was a quick way to build your cabin,'' says Dean Bortz, resident caretaker of Shelter House since 1978. A second floor was added in 1741.
Little is known about the Kratzer family, but they most likely were farmers and trappers who came from Europe, traveling the King's Highway from Philadelphia through what are now Upper and Lower Milford townships, a thickly settled part of eastern Pennsylvania at the time.
Today, the property is owned and maintained by the Shelter House Society as a historic landmark.
The land of 'all want'
Zeisloff and his wife, Anna Catharina, came to Pennsylvania in 1736 and probably built their house between 1738 and 1748. They were among Moravians who came to the Lehigh Valley from Germany.
Moravians were early Protestants, followers of a priest named Jan Hus who rejected certain practices of the Roman Catholic Church. Coming to Pennsylvania as missionaries, the Moravians in 1741 bought 500 acres near the confluence of the Lehigh River and the Monocacy Creek in what was to become Bethlehem. They also founded the towns of Nazareth and Emmaus.
Built on the edge of the frontier, the Zeisloffs' log home also was in the traditional German style: 32 feet long, 22 feet across, with a first floor dominated by a fireplace. Thick, interlocked logs form its sturdy frame, and the spaces between are filled with plaster made of clay or lime, with horse hair or straw added for binding.
The house had heavy wooden doors with intricate locks and removable steps leading to an attic door that bolted from the inside. In the attic were the gunsight peepholes.
The Zeisloffs and their children were most likely farmers who cleared the land to raise animals, grains and vegetables. Whether their harvests were full is debatable. Their part of the county was called the Allemaengel ''all want'' because its shale soil lacked fertility.
Traveling merchants came to sell their goods, and the Zeisloffs may even have traded with the Lenape, or Delawares, who lived among the settlers in scattered villages before the war.
''The frontier is a zone of interaction in which influences and ideas, and sometimes people, go back and forth. It's an area of trade where Indian people would often come to settlements to ask for food, and in remote areas settlers might go and see an Indian healer,'' says Colin Calloway, professor of history and Native American Studies at Dartmouth College. ''These are the normal patterns of interaction that grow up in times of peace. War erodes those patterns.''
On Feb. 14, 1756, two of the Zeisloffs' children were killed during a raid on their home and a third was taken.
George and Anna Catharina were killed by Delawares who attacked them and other settlers as they abandoned their homes by wagon train to take refuge in a frontier fort.
The two surviving children, Erhart and George, sold the family farm on Dec. 13, 1785.
Moving on up
Sometime before 1750, Johan Peter Troxell arrived in the Lehigh Valley with his father from the Palatine region of Germany, the Rhineland. His father had bought from the Penns about 400 acres around Egypt, one of the first areas in the Valley to be settled. The Troxells came to farm it. As in Lancaster, Egypt's soil has a limestone base that made it fertile.
The Troxells were probably members of the German Reformed Church, another Protestant group, because the local congregation first met in the Troxell-Steckel House before building a church. Today, that church is Egypt United Church of Christ.
Father and son probably first lived in a log home, but in 1756 Troxell and his second wife, Maria Magdala, built a stone house, perhaps hiring someone from the Moravian community in Bethlehem to work on it.
''This would have been a very nice house,'' says Sarah Nelson Thayer of the Lehigh County Historical Society. ''This was a wealthy farming family.''
The farmhouse's style is more English than German in its symmetry and balance. Its German features include a blessing, or dedication, written in the middle of the second floor that says, in German, ''God protect this house from all danger and send our souls to heaven's hall.''
Stone arches top the doorways and windows, and what's called a pent roof, a sort of narrow porch roof, runs across the front of the house between the first and second floors to keep water from the eaves away from the walls.
Like other homes at the time, the Troxell-Steckel house was sparsely furnished. Each room held one or two large items, including tables, chairs and beds with mattresses of straw or corn husks.
Maintained by the county historical society as a museum, the house contains a schrank, or large wooden wardrobe, that almost covers one wall in the sitting room. In a corner, a square stove, made from five flat sections of cast iron, is fed from the kitchen through a hole in the wall.
Benches flank a table, rather than chairs. A brechstuhl, or chair with a circular or heart-shaped hole in the back rest, stands along the wall.
In the kitchen, iron pots and pans, many adapted for cooking on hot coals or open flames, saw continuous use in the walk-in hearth.
The primary crop would have been wheat, grown for cash. The Germans also would have been growing rye, as they had done in their European land. Turnips, cabbage, peas and lettuce were also favorites. Eventually, they learned from the Indians how to grow corn.
Horse-drawn wooden plows and wooden harrows tilled the fields. Seeds were sown by scattering them across the soil. Hand tools called sickles were used to cut the stalks of grain, which was threshed with hand-held flails, then winnowed with a fanning mill, turned by hand, to separate the chaff from the grain.
They had wooden pitchforks, hayforks and dung forks. They used scythes with metal blades to cut grass in the irrigated meadow.
According to estate inventories of the time, the typical farm would have had horses, cows, pigs and sheep. There probably were chickens, too, but because these were considered women's property, they weren't recorded.
Carpenters, shoemakers and weavers had shops in nearby Egypt village. Furniture, as well as many tools, were made from the trees that grew in the forests; shoes were fashioned from the hides of the animals raised in the fields, and cloth was woven from flax or wool, also produced on nearby farms.
Life was spartan, but not entirely primitive. The Lehigh Valley was close to the international port of Philadelphia, and sugar and spices and things people could not make at home, as well as things they could, such as handkerchiefs and candles, were brought north by traders. For barter, everything was given a monetary value, and all was kept track of in great detail in account books.
By the time of the French and Indian War, the first ridge of the Appalachians drew the line between settlements to the south and wilderness to the north.
The Blue Mountains formed the upper boundary of white settlements in Pennsylvania. Ninety percent of the colony's 160,000 former Europeans lived between the mountains and Philadelphia. Most of Pennsylvania's 15,000 Indians mainly Delawares and Shawnees now lived in the western and northern reaches of the province.
Northampton County was vast, covering all of today's Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon and Monroe counties and part of Schuylkill County, and reaching to New York state. It had 4,000 to 6,000 people, most of them in the Lehigh Valley.
The Valley's population averaged six or seven people per square mile compared to 852 now. Bethlehem was the largest community, with 500 Moravian residents. Nazareth had 300. Easton, not a Moravian enclave, had 150 people. What would become Allentown was a hunting preserve of the rich and politically powerful Philadelphian William Allen.
The French and Indian War would soon convulse this growing region. In the wilderness beyond the Alleghenies, a young George Washington ignited a conflict that changed everything.
Reporter Steve Wartenberg contributed to this story.