The Brenneman and Eyman association is ancient, stemming from the Middle
Ages since both were from Oberdeissbach, a small mountain village overlooking
the Thun castle and sea near Steffisburg and Berne. Melchior, a weaver by
trade was born there in 1633. Though his parents had him baptized in the official
“Reformed” church, Melchior became sympathetic with Anabaptist
beliefs. Because of these beliefs he was taken to court and imprisoned in
the Thun castle dungeon in 1659. He was set free after perhaps several years,
but there are indications that against court orders he not only attended Reformed
preaching services but met secretly with Anabaptists.
In 1670 the government of Canton Berne passed a severe mandate decreeing
that all Anabaptists should be deported from all church parishes. This and
other severe mandates were unpopular and not fully enforced. Anabaptists also
brought pressure on themselves in refusing to take oaths of military service
when commanded to do so.
Such pressures found Melchior leaving all his lands and property to flee
with his family in 1671. The destination, as for so many exiles was the Palatine
in Germany where following the devastations of a 30-year war, noblemen tolerated
Anabaptist farmers and settlers who could improve estates. By January of 1672
there was a colony of Swiss Mennonnite refuges living in the town of Griesheim,
twenty mildes northwest of the city of Worms. This rather destitute colony
has some financial support from a Mennonite congregation of Amsterdam. Among
the small colony were several to recur in Eyman family history. The Brennemans,
the Shenck/Shanks, and of course the Eymans. The relationships between these
families seems to have stayed fast into the new world. Melchior “the
exile” Brenneman and his family were among the exiles visited by William
Penn in 1677, offering them a haven in his Pennsylvania. Melchior Jr. was
9 years old at the time. The Brennimans, and then the Shanks, seem to have
made it to America quite early, with Eymans making passage a bit later.
In about 1710, Melchior’s sons, Christian and Melchior, immigrated
with their families to America. Arriving in Philadephia, they probably stayed
with friends in Germantown for a period until land was secured and cleared.
By 1715, Melchior “the pioneer” had secured warrants for 500 acres
of land from Willam Penn at what amounted to 32 cents per acre. This unsettled
wilderness was in an area soon to become known as Conestoga Township of Lancaster
County.. New settlers were arriving; German farmers for the most part, with
their horses, cattle, and hogs needing to be fenced off from the corn fields
of the local Indians. This was an era of peace and harmony where little red
faces and little white faces played with one another in the neighboring wigwams.
Melchior continued adding acreage to his properties; first lots of 200 acres,
then 90, 125, and then 700 acres along the Susquehannah River from a famous
French Indian trader. Lands were set aside for a Mennonite Church –
the New Danville Mennonite Church. His will, witnessed by Michael Shank, divided
his far flung lands among five sons, leaving his son Melchior (III) with the
homestead lands in Conestoga Township near the town of New Danville..
Melchior III had been born 1718 and was only 18 when his father died. When
married, he was to receive the original160 acre plantation and would be a
prominent citizen of Conestoga all of his life. Melchior was a prosperous
farmer who lived his entire life on his father’s land. He was a man
of deep religious fervor and untiring love for manual labor and thrift. Very
early in life he was ordained a Mennonite minister. He organized the congregation
and preached the first sermons in Good's Meeting House, the oldest house of
worship of his sect in Donegal. He was a religious writer who composed numerous
books and pamphlets some of which are still preserved. He also became quite
a large landlord. To the original acreage he'd inherited, which included not
only the homestead but 300 acres back from the river in Donegal, Reverent
Melchior added 310 acres along the Susquehannah and a number of smaller plots
in Donegal leading to over 950 acres. He ran a grist mill at Ridgeville, operated
a distillery at Locust Grove, had an interest in a ferry which transported
people across to the York County side. During the Revolutionary War he assisted
in transporting supplies to Washington's army and his wagons carried military
stores to the victors at Monmouth Court House.
A Mennonite for War?
This was a Mennonite of quite a different stripe. Deeply religious, his support
of war was very unusual. All of Melchior's sons served in the militia, which
is a striking contrast to the rigid Mennonite attitude of non-participation
in warfare. They were probably estranged from their church on this account,
for most of them were married by Lutheran or Reformed ministers, and their
children generally associated with other Protestant sects. One of the most
loyal of Mennonites produced descendants, 90% of whom were no longer associated
with his church.
The Reverend Melchior resided in a large stone house on property which he
had bought from an Englishman. On the property were a log house, a small,
and one large stone house which were still standing in 1895, with the stone
houses being occupied.
He’d have been about 45 when he met Ulrich Eyman and his wife Maria,
newly arriving immigrants from the Rheinland. Little is known for certain
of the relationship between Eyman and Brenneman, though it was one of trust.
Ulrich Eyman died within a year or so of arriving, and in the absence of a
will, Melchior played an important role with the widow in settling the estate
matters of what seems to be a merchant. Surviving him were his second wife,
Maria Agatha, his daughter Magdalena (born in 1737 inAlsenbrück, Pfalz),
a son Christian (by his first wife, Maria Fuchs), and the infant Johan Heinrich
("Henry"), who was fated to become a blacksmith in Lampeter, a Revolutionary
Soldier, settler in Rockingham, and squire in Richland Township of Fairfield
County, Ohio. Henry married Mary Sager and had most of his children baptized
at the First Reformed Church in Lancaster.
Melchior transferred a number of his main properties to a son-in-law in 1784.
Retiring from active life he divided over 800 acres of farms among his sons
and sons-in-law, and moved from the large to the small stone house where he
resided until his last days. He lived a life of humility with few worldy goods
as he watched his children and grandchildren prosper with the lands he had
made ready for them. He wrote his will at the age of 83, together with his
77 year old wife in 1806. The unique will was witnesses by Abraham Brenneman,
the husband of Magdalena Eyman Shank.
Melchior’s son Abraham Brenneman may have met the Eyman family in these
early years. If so, he’d have met Magdalena Eyman, about ten years older
than himself and the mother of his second wife. In 1763 Abaham wasn’t
quite 20 years old. He had yet to make his way in the world. By 1770 he had
moved to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
Abraham had been born on the family homestead that his father had inherited
from his grandfather. He was the third of thirteen children, and therefore
among those expected to find property elsewhere. In this family, as in so
many of German stock it seems that it was often the youngest son who inherited
the homestead. Abraham and his older brothers Peter and Melchior visited Donegal
and Derry Townships in the northwest where ancestral lands were in the hands
of cousins. The brothers seem to have settled there in 1768 though Abraham,
perhaps wanting more land, went to Virginia. They seem to have lived a short
time in Page and Augusta counties before settling on a farm four miles below
New Market, near Pennypacker's Mill on Smith Creek. Ultimately, Brenneman
wound up with an 800 acre tract of land near Linville Creek. About 1769 it's
thought that Abraham had married the mother of his first eight children.
Their home at Edom in Rockingham County was in an area with farmland of the
highest quality and deepest loam. As committed Mennonites, the Brennemans
provided lands for the Lindale Mennonite church and cemetery.
There seems to be some disagreements among Brenneman
genealogists about the first wife of Abraham. The quite comprehensive 1938
genealogy by Albert Gerberich suggested that Abraham's first wife was Barbara
and that she died about 1777. More recent work by Helen Harness suggests that
the first wife was Maria Reiff, who lived until 1788. By 1790, Abraham had
married Magdalena Shank, the daughter of Adam Shank and Magdalena Eyman, who
had also moved to Rockingham from the Lancaster area. Abraham produced an
unusual number of Brennemans, with 8 children by each of two wives. All tolled,
he seems to have had 111 grandchildren. On census and tax records between
1758 and 1792 Abraham is shown as owning a dwelling and 3 other houses as
well as 6 horses. In 1775 he served in the Shenandoah Valley militia in Captain
Jacob Holeman's company. (It's thought that most of his brothers served in
the militia, in striking contrast to the rigid Mennonite attitude of non-participation
in warfare. In about 1800, Abraham built a stone burr gristmill, Turner’s
Mill, which was still in operation in 1976. The solid brick walls measure
22 inches and are 5 bricks thick. Near the mill today stands a gorgeous old
old brick residence. It was likely built by Melchior, a son of Abraham, in
During early days in Rockingham, Mennonite church services were often held
in the Brenneman home. Abraham developed a family cemetery just north of Edom
which was used by many early settlers and which became known as the Lindale
Mennonite Cemetery. On another part of his estate, two miles southwest of
Edom, a church was built in 1826 named the Brenneman church and also houses
a Brenneman cemetery.
Abraham was a hard-working and prominent farmer of the community. A quote
from his youngest son says that “he was a tall, slender man, smooth-shaved,
and of a robust constitution… He was highly respected by the church
and by his neighbors… He was at times seen leading a funeral procession
on horseback with the corpse of a child resting in the saddletree before him".
Abraham died at his homestead at the age of 70 years in 1815. It’s believed
that he died of typhus caused by coming into contact with soldiers returning
from the war of 1812. Following the death of Abraham in 1815, Magdalena moved
with all of her children to Fairfield Ohio.
The Schenk’s, like the Eymans, migrated to America from the Pfalz,
after having left the parishes of the Berne area. Many Schenks descending
from Michael <1590> became Anabaptist and were in trouble with local
authorities and their parishes. In 1671 at the age of 81 it’s thought
that he was driven from the Emmenthal valley along with many others. According
to Mennonite archives in Amsterdam, it’s thought that 643 Mennonites
were driven from this valley in a 2-month period. In 1672, Michael and his
family were refuges at Ibersheim Germany, as were Eyman ancestors. Michael
soon died in Gemany though his sons Christian and Michael both made it to
America. They arrived in 1717, having come with a group of 363 Mennonites
who left Germany, traveled down the Rhine River, and boarded sailing ships.
About one month after arrival, Christian took out a warrant for 530 acres
in what is now Strasburg Township of Lancaster County.
Michael Schenk, the first child of Christian and his wife Barbara had been
born in the Palatinates and was 22 years old when his parents immigrated to
America and settled in the Pequa area near Conestoga where many other Mennonite
families were located. Michael and Mary had seven sons and one daughter. While
most sons seem to have stayed in the Conestoga area or migrated to nearb y
townships, Martic or nearby York County PA, Adam, born about 1737 in Conestoga
migrated to migrated to Manchester Township in York County of PA. Most of
his and Magdalena’s ten children were born there between 1769 and 1782.
In 1784, the lure of land seems to have drawn the Shanks to Rockingham. The
York county farm was sold and land was bought in Rockingham from a John Schenk
in 1785, and from a Michael Schenk in 1786. Two new children were born to
the Shanks in Virginia. The Shanks had ten children, and among them was a
Magdalena born in 1769 in Manchester Township of York Co., PA. This daughter
became the second wife of Abraham Brenneman. Magdalena Shank died in 1802,
a year before her husband Adam. Both are thought to be buried besides one
another in the Mennonite cemetery in Edom.