Stones Of Faith - Pennsylvania Germans and their Gravestones

A look at the genealogy, history, folk art and archeology of the PA Germans and their gravestones, with German language translations, at Muddy Creek.





Pennsylvania and American German Gravestone Guide

The Moons of Muddy Creek

One of the more fascinating of the Pennsylvania German graveyards is found in Adamstown, Lancaster Co., at the Union Church of Muddy Creek. Union churches arose when the Reformed and Lutheran congregations shared a common church, graveyard and sometimes schoolhouse, and was a uniquely American practice. In this church's large graveyard is found the largest concentration of stones bearing a crescent moon, roughly 18, which is more than show up in all the other graveyards represented in this collection (less then 5 total).

Moon and SunriseConnecting the moon's phases to plant, animal and human life cycles is one of the oldest beliefs and practices of mankind. Using their almanacs, the Pennsylvania German farmers kept track of the phases of the moon as a way of determining time itself and for planning when to plow, plant, harvest and prune. The Muddy Creek artists showed their moons facing right or down, the waning moon, the phase the Pennsylvanian Germans associated with death.21

All the moons shown on the gravestones had faces. The practise of portraying a celestialMoon and Winged Sun body with a face originated in the Middle Ages with the belief that each major body in our solar system was under the protection of a guardian angel.22 It was believed that the guardian angels dwelled in their respective planets, and from them, looked down upon mankind. The moon's angel was Gabriel, the angel whose horn is to blow on judgement day to summon the bodies the dead from their earthly resting places.23 Gabriel is also the only identifiable, and the most often protrayed, angel shown on Pennsylvania German gravestones.

Philip BegholdtOne of the clearest example of the Muddy Creek moon is the Philip Begholdt stone. Unlike most of the moon stones of Muddy Creek, Philip's is dated (1788), and clearly shows his name. Philip, a farmer in the area, left a will that was a standard example of the way the Pennsylvania German farmers provided for their families. He left the farm and farming tools to his son, and land and money to his son-in-law and daughter. Usually an elder son would get the farm and the other members of the family would receive money out of the estate. Philip's provision for his widow Margaret is a good example of how widows were provided for by their husbands. For the most part they were not left any land or the house out right, but their portions of an estate was spelled out, in detail, by the husband. This provided them with their widows portion and ensured step-mothers were taken care of in instances where the eldest children of the marriage were not theirs. Commonly, the longest sections in a Pennsylvania German's will covered the detailing of the widow's portion. Philip's will reads: (spelling and punctuation take "as is" from the will.)

...give unto my beloved wife Margaret every year during her lifetime, ten Bushels of Wheat, five Bushels of Rye, Twenty Pounds of heckled Flax, and the Tow thereof and one Bushel of Flaxseed, six gallons of Whiskey, one pair of Shoes, six pounds of Wool and one half Bushel of Salt. Twenty five Pounds of Bork and twenty five pounds of Beef, Two Barrels of Syder, and Eight Bushels of Apples, if they grow well, if not, according and that she my Widow shall have the free use of the Apples in the Orchard in Summer for her Own Use, and that my Son John Begtholt shall Keep one Cow for her in the Stable and give her sufficient seath, and Keeper in the same fence and Baster, with his and my son John Begtholt Shall Carry home her necessary Fire Wood and that my Son John Beghtolt Shall finish the Small house above the Barn and Keep it in Order for her my Widow if She cannot Live with him in the House, where he lives.24

It is interesting that in the early 1700s there was a religious sect practicing in this area called the "New Mooners". Their services were held in the home of their leader, Johannes Zimmermann, on the first Sunday after the new moon. At his death, the sect disbanded and merged into the surrounding congregations.25 It is possible that Phillip Begholdt and his family may have associated with this group.

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Copyright 1985-2005 Sandra J. Hardy. All rights reserved.

Those more interested in the genealogy, history, folk art and archeology of the PA Germans and their gravestones, with German language translations, at Muddy Creek in Adamstown, see the Links Page and General Symbol Definitions.