A House Born out of Revolution

I’m a big fan of history. I always have been. I’m one of those crazy individuals who built an insanely large family tree with over 13,000 individuals. So, it is only natural that I would want to research the former owners of the Neebor Lee and its property. Fortunately, quite a bit of research had already been completed before my wife and I took ownership of the property. This information was neatly assembled into a three-ring binder by the previous homeowner and included the names of almost all of the former owners. The old black and white photos that I had previously posted had come from that binder.

Although this binder identified the owners, I still did not know anything about them other than their names and the dates during which they owned the house or property. To find out more, I turned to the Internet. What I discovered was that a number of these past owners had interesting personal histories that were oftentimes a reflection of the history of the United States itself. From time to time I will introduce these individuals to you.

For this particular post, I’m going to start somewhat near the beginning. I will begin with the father of the builder of the stone farmhouse that forms the heart of the Neebor Lee and then move on to the builder himself. The builder’s father was Ludwig “George” Horning, an immigrant who was born in Mechlenburg, Palatinate, Germany on December 26, 1707. He emigrated to the British Colonies on August 11, 1732 aboard the ship Samuel from Rotterdam, Holland and initially settled in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He subsequently purchased land in Shippack and Perkiomen Townships, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania in 1737 and went on to purchase additional lands in Montgomery County in 1743 and 1757. In 1765, he purchased 152 acres of land in Providence Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania from a Dutch immigrant named Rinear Vanderslice for £1150. Nineteen years later, in 1784, Ludwig would subdivide those 152 acres into two parcels and transfer them to his sons, Michael and Peter. Peter received the smaller of the two parcels (54.5 acres) which was the one that would be the future location of the Neebor Lee house.

The Hornings were Mennonites. Like Quakers, Mennonites were pacifists and during the American Revolutionary War, in accordance with their beliefs, they generally took a position of non-resistance, preferring to support neither the rebels nor the British. In fact, their faith was such that they were not allowed to pledge an oath to any government. As a result, Mennonites remained largely neutral. Inevitably, however, there were Mennonites who became sympathetic to the crown and there were Mennonites who became sympathetic to the rebel cause. At times these opposing sympathies would reside within the same family. Such was the case with the Horning family.

Michael Horning and Peter Horning, brothers and future neighbors, were among those with opposing political sympathies. Michael favored the rebel cause. Peter favored the crown.  And despite being Mennonites, these sympathies would cause members of each family to take actions that were contrary to their Mennonite beliefs. Michael Horning, for example, supported the rebel cause by hauling wheat to Continental Army troops who were encamped just on the other site of the Schuylkill River at Valley Forge. Michael would also serve in the Sixth Battalion 7th Co., Middle District, New Providence Militia in 1780 fighting on the side of the rebels.

I could find no direct evidence of Peter taking military action on behalf of the crown; rather, the records indicate that he generally remained neutral during the war in accordance with this faith. However, I did find one citation on the Internet that identified Peter and his two older sons as being members of a loyalist militia. This citation, which is posted on the United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada’s website (the antithesis of the Daughters of the American Revolution), states,

“The Horning family had a plantation in Pennsylvania across the road from Valley Forge. The Revolution caused a split in the family as Peter and his two grown sons, as well as a brother fought with Butler’s Rangers while two of Peter’s brothers fought on the American side, with the fifth brother remaining neutral.”

The two grown sons referenced in this citation are Abraham and Isaac Horning.  I could not confirm the accuracy of this particular citation with regard to Peter Horning, the builder of the Neebor Lee house, becoming a soldier. A review of the muster roles for Butler’s Rangers do not contain the names of either Peter Horning or his two sons. However, muster roles during that period of time were not always complete, as the rosters of militia groups continually changed. There is at least one reliable historical reference that I found that does connect Peter’s two sons to Butler’s Rangers. In this reference, Abraham and Isaac Horning are identified as United Empire Loyalists who were among the first Methodists to settle in Ontario, Canada near the current city of Hamilton in 1793. This reference further states:

“It is a singular fact, that some of the most prominent and devoted, the most exemplary and holy of the first Methodists at the head of the Lake Ontario, belonged, during the American Revolution, to that military corps called Butler’s Rangers, a name not very palatable to our American cousins, being to them a synonym of all that is cruel, vindictive, and blood-thirsty; but on the other hand, all that is loyal, courageous, and heroic in battle and stratagem.[1]

Butler’s Rangers, as suggested in the statement above, were a notorious guerrilla group (at least from the standpoint of the rebels) that roamed the New York and Pennsylvania frontier with members of the Mohawk tribe under leadership of Chief Joseph Brant. They participated in the massacres of settlers in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley and New York’s Cherry Valley in 1778. These massacres earned Butler’s Rangers the reputation of being exceptionally savage. Their reputation, along with that of the Mohawks under Joseph Brant, was so notorious and their actions so feared that George Washington dispatched 3,200 Continental soldiers under the command of General John Sullivan to put an end to their marauding. Sullivan succeeded, defeating the loyalists and Brant’s forces at the Battle of Newtown near present-day Elmira, New York in August 1779.

If they were members of Butler’s Rangers, it is doubtful that either Abraham or Isaac participated in the Wyoming Valley or the Cherry Valley massacres. At the time of those massacres, Abraham would have been 14 years old and Isaac 12 years old; thus, it doesn’t appear that they would have been old enough to participate. Nonetheless, if either of Peter Horning’s sons had been members of Butler’s Rangers, even late in the war (Butler’s Rangers remained active until 1784), their reputations back home in Providence, Pennsylvania were sure to have suffered severely. In addition, for participating in the war, they would surely have been excommunicated from the Mennonite church (which could explain why the sons became Methodists after the war).

And that brings us to the Neebor Lee, for it was the American Revolutionary War and the possible wartime exploits of the two sons that appear to have directly influenced the construction and style of the home that was built by their father, Peter Horning, in 1785. Records, including the local township’s bicentennial publication on the history of the township, state that Peter built the Neebor Lee after the war to entice his oldest son, Abraham, then 21 years old, to remain in Pennsylvania instead of emigrating to Canada with other so-called United Empire Loyalists. Peter thus built the house as a two-family residence, with two sets of living spaces separated by a 19-inch thick stone wall. There would be two sets of everything, from number of front entrances to the number of stairways to the number of fireplaces. Peter and his family were to take the smaller of the two living spaces being constructed. Abraham Horning would reside in the larger section, where ample space was available to grow a future family.

Unfortunately for Peter Horning, this enticement couldn’t overcome the problems that Abraham likely suffered following the war. Persecution of Loyalists in the former colonies, which in Pennsylvania included among other things a required loyalty oath to the new government, combined with excommunication from the Mennonite faith and land offerings in Canada by the crown to former loyalists who supported the British war effort, resulted in Abraham and his brother Isaac emigrating to Canada as United Empire Loyalists. They arrived in Ontario, Canada in 1787, two years after the construction of the Neeber Lee house. One year later, Peter would build a boat and begin a trip with his family up the Schuylkill River and then up the Susquehanna River, eventually reaching Lake Ontario and then Canada, where he would join his two sons. The Neebor Lee, built only three years before his departure with so much promise and hope, was sold and left behind.

Peter Horning carried a statement with him to Canada professing his loyalty to England during the war. That statement read,

“To all whom it may concern– At the request of Peter Horning (the bearer hereof) we the subscribers do hereby certify: That we have been long acquainted with him–know him to be a person of good moral character, and in the late unhappy contest between Great Britain & America, he avoided taking an active part, nor could he be prevailed with to take the Oath of Allegiance to America– _(?) our hand this 4th Day of August, 1788—Providence, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Signed Henry Pawling”[2]

Thus, Peter Horning was declared United Empire Loyalist and was awarded several hundred acres of land in Canada. Peter Horning, born in 1740 in Pennsylvania, died in Ontario, Canada on December 22, 1822. By the time of his death he had accumulated approximately 5280 acres of land in Ontario, which he willed to his children. However, it was not all good luck and happiness for the Horning family in Canada. One of Peter Horning’s grandsons was kidnapped by Native Americans while trying to locate a lost calf in the forest. This grandson was never seen again. Such were the risks of living on the Canadian frontier.


[1] Caroll, John (1867) Case and His Contemporaries Or, the Canadian Itinerant’s Memorial Constituting a Biographical History of Methodism in Canada, Vol. 5. Page 160

[2] Copy of a certificate dated 4 Aug 1788 attached to the Upper Canada Land Petition of Peter Horning



One Comment Add yours

  1. Donna says:

    Since Peter Horning is my husbands 5th great grand father, I found this very interesting!! Thank you for posting.


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