The Death of a Dutchman

After 65 years of ownership by English Quakers, the land upon which the Neebor Lee house was to be later built would be sold to a Dutchman named Anton Vanderslice in 1748. It should be noted that colonists from Holland had actually occupied lands in the Delaware Valley of eastern Pennsylvania long before the arrival of William Penn and his Quaker compatriots. The original Dutch colony was settled across the Delaware River at Fort Nassau, near Gloucester City, New Jersey, in 1623. By 1650, 30 years before William Penn received his grant from King Charles II, the Dutch would already have gained a strong foothold on the lands of eastern Pennsylvania1. The Dutch remained in political control in the Mid-Atlantic states until the English dispatched a fleet of frigates into New York Harbor in 1664 thereby forcing the Dutch to relinquish their colonies to England.

The Dutch colonists were of a different stock than the English and German colonists who followed them. Whereas the English and German colonists who settled in eastern Pennsylvania were deeply religious and often emigrated from Europe in order to escape religious persecution, the Dutch arrived in America for a completely different reason: they wanted to get rich. Thus, the were generally less religious and less likely to be seen in a church than their English and German neighbors. Historical records indicate that the Vanderslice family weren’t just less religious than the English and German colonists, they had an aversion toward religion.

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The Servant House’s massive stone fireplace, the exterior of which was exposed after the removal of a deteriorating stucco, is the oldest structure on the property and was part of the property’s original homestead. It predates the construction of the main house in 1785. Could this chimney have been built by Anton Vanderslice?

Born in Germantown, Pennsylvania on August 23, 1703, Anton Vanderslice was the son of Reynier van der Sluys, a Dutch immigrant. Anton was married Martha Pannebecker, who was the daughter of Hendrick Pannebecker, another Dutchman. Hendrick, if you recall from a prior blog post, is the surveyor who with Joseph Richardson in 1722 planned the route of the “Great Road” that would eventually connect the land known as Oletheho to Philadelphia. In 1748 Anton purchased 253.5 acres of land from the estate of Hendrick’s old surveying buddy, Joseph Richardson, who passed away three years earlier. Anton and his family settled on their new land in Providence, Pennsylvania after their purchase and quite possibly resided in the location where the Neebor Lee house currently stands. According to a local expert on old and historical homes, who inspected our property prior to our real estate closing, the property’s Servant House is the location of the original homestead on the property, preceding the construction of the Neebor Lee house in 1785 by a unknown number of years. The only remnant of that original homestead is a large stone fireplace, around which the Servant House was later constructed.

Anton only lived on his new land for three years; he died in 1751. His death was documented in the personal journal of the Rev. Henry Muhlenberg of the Trappe Augustus Lutheran Church. Rev. Muhlenberg is considered to be the founder of the Lutheran Church in North America.  Muhlenberg’s journal describes his visit to the dying Anton Vanderslice and provides a rather colorful description of Anton’s father-in-law as well as the Vanderslice family’s aversion toward religion. An excerpt of Rev. Muhlenberg’s journal is presented below [from Journals of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg in Three Volumes, Philadelphia, PA: Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium of Pa. and Adjacent States, reprinted 1982, v. I , p. 310-312, Dallas Public Library]:

“In the Month of October, 1751, a Dutchman at New Providence succumbed to a severe illness. He was born in this country, but had never been baptized. He was married to a Dutch surveyor’s daughter and had five grown children who also had not been baptized or instructed in the Christian religion. This man was stirred and awakened through God’s Word after my coming to this country and gave very energetic assistance at the time when the church and schoolhouse were built, voluntarily contributing toward the necessary support of the pastor. He received the Word of God, the living seed, with joy, but it did not take root. So when the time of tribulation came, he fell away. His numerous and, as far as the world was concerned, rather influential relatives, most of whom had a contemptuous dislike for the Sacraments and the whole counsel of God concerning salvation, envied his attitude and thought he was going too far. His father-in-law who was a drunkard and a slanderer of our church and practice, never ceased to express to his son-in-law his hatred and contempt for the office of the ministry and the Holy Sacraments. The fact that there were so many so-called Lutherans who lived such disorderly lives must also have served to increase the stumbling block. So instead of heeding the first motions of grace and other workings of the Spirit of God through the means of grace and allowing himself to be led further, he gave way to the specious charms and allurements of the world, grieved the good Spirit of God, and was gradually drawn into the counsel of the ungodly the way of sinners, and the seat of the scornful. The poor sheep became so entangled that he finally stayed away from hearing the Word of God altogether and not only spoke of my unworthy person in hostile terms, without cause, when he was in the company of wretched, God-forsaken drunken companions, he even ridiculed God’s Word and ordinances. His grown children were more inclined to follow the broad rather than the narrow ways, though they did occasionally have good stirrings and intentions. The blind and godless worldings exulted and cried marvel at the heroic feat they had accomplished in bringing the man over to their side and delivering him, as they said, from the fantasy of worshiping God.

After I had been home from New York several weeks I heard that this man had suddenly been taken sick and that he was in great anxiety. For love of his poor soul I went uninvited to his house. He was greatly alarmed at my coming and said that my visit astonished him beyond measure because he had so often insulted me. I asked him whether I had ever in all the time I had been in this country in the least offended or injured him or his people, whether in truth there was anything in my teaching or life that he could take exception to. He replied, “Oh, no, no. I must confess before God that I have found no fault in your teaching or conduct and that I was on the right road at the beginning.” He then turned around in his bed, clasped his hands together and began to cry out bitterly, “O condemnable sinner! O child of hell! O woe is me! Mine iniquities are gone over my head. My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness. O just and holy God, whither shall I flee from Thy presence? O Crucified Saviour, I have counted Thy blood an unholy thing. O just judgment where there is no mercy! O good Spirit, I have grieved Thee knowlingly and against my conscience. O my false, wicked, spiteful heart! O godless company, you have brought me to this misery! O stinking lust of the world, how thou betrayed me!”

When he had cried himself weary and poured out his heart, I asked him whether I should pray with him and for him .”Yes, I beseech you with all my heart, though I am utterly unworthy.” Then, since I knew that one’s mother tongue is the most intimate and best in time of fear and need, I knelt with his distressed wife beside his bed and in the Dutch language laid this sinful worm and lost son before the compassionate High Priest’s throne of grace, prayed for grace and mercy, and held up to the great Shepherd of the sheep His Word, promise, and example. The sick man forced himself in his weakness to his knees in bed and wept again as much as his strength would permit. After the prayer he declared with fear and trembling that he meant to abide by the words which Christ the Saviour of the world had spoken from the cross, etc.

Reverand Henry Muhlenberg

Afterward he implored me to baptize him, and I could not refuse because he had a knowledge of the necessary, fundamental truths and his case was similar to that of the keeper of the prison, Acts 16: 29-33. To the question concerning his faith, he replied with fervent emotion, “Lord Jesus, I want to believe; I believe, help thou mine unbelief!” After he had made his profession of faith and renounced the enemies of the soul, and after I had once more commended him in prayer to the mercy of the Triune God, he put his head outside the bed and received the seal and covenant of grace, namely, Baptism.

When I visited him the next day I found him closer to Christ in whose wounds he was seeking the fullness of healing. He mourned the fact that he had spent his precious season of grace in such a wretched and sinful manner and had sown so much to the flesh; he wished that he could live over that time and use it to the glory of his Saviour. He summoned his three grown daughters and youngest son to his bed and spoke to them in the following words: “Beloved children, I have neglected you and never had you instructed in the way of salvation or baptized. I have grossly sinned against God and against you. God, who is rich in grace and mercy in Christ, has forgiven my sins. You, too, must forgive me and promise your dying father here in the presence of God that after my death you will seek instruction in the Christian faith, give place to the workings of God’s Spirit, and be brought into God’s covenant of grace through Holy Baptism. Will you promise me this from the bottom of your hearts and do it with God’s help?” With many tears the children replied, “Yes.” The father entreated them once more to keep their promise with God’s help, otherwise he could not die in peace. After I had spoken of several other necessary matters and prayed with him once more, he begged me to visit him again and prepare him for the Lord’s Supper. He never received it, however, for the next day I had to go to New Hannover to render pastoral service there and the following day I was informed by a messenger that he had passed away. I was requested to return home and conduct the funeral services.

In view of the fact that a large congregation of English and German people was expected to be present, owing to the large relationship, an expectation that was fulfilled, I delivered in the church first a German address on Zechariah 3:2, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” and then an English address on Psalm 73:17, “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.” Since it happened to be a Sunday and my regular service was in New Hannover, I had to officiate at New Hannover in the morning and then ride to Providence in all haste and conduct the funeral in the afternoon. But the gracious God granted me grace so that I was able to take care of both. I made the application in great earnest to the various hearers and did not fail to tell the whole story. It went straight to the hearts of some and made a deep impression, but others, proud Pennsylvanians, took offense and felt they were being exceedingly insulted because of their departed friend’s more recent conduct. Some of his old fellow-boozers and scoffers had their fun and jest over the text concerning the firebrand, etc. and threatened to report me to the authorities, etc.

The old father-in-law, mentioned above, made every effort to preserve the children and the rest of the relatives from succumbing to the same fantasy, as he called it, and submitting to Christian discipline. The deceased man’s oldest son and oldest daughter stayed away and were ashamed to receive instruction and Baptism. The other three grown children came to me for instruction at my house for a time. Later they made their profession of faith in the presence of the Christian congregation and amid great emotion, whereupon they received Holy Baptism in accord with Christ’s command and promise and their departed father’s wish and desire. This vexed the old surveyor, the grandfather, beyond all measure, and, as I learned, he tried to ridicule the young people and also uttered all sorts of offensive speech against Holy Baptism and the office of the ministry. May the faithful Chief Shepherd who is more powerful than he, have compassion on the poor children and not let them be plucked out of His hand. The old man has since been snatched into eternity by sudden death”

Hendrick Pannebecker, the vexed old surveyor, drunkard and slanderer of the church, died in 1754. His descendants, however, would remain a force in America. Under the family name’s new spelling, Pennybacker, his descendants would go on to furnish a United States Senator to Virginia, a State Treasurer to Tennessee, and a Governor to Pennsylvania. During the Civil War, the family contributed two generals, four colonels, twenty-two other commissioned officers, one Medal-of-Honor winner, in all one hundred and forty-eight men, the largest ascertained contribution of any single family in that war. One of those family members is to this day, at the age of twenty, the youngest soldier ever to have been promoted in the United States Army to the rank of Brigadier General. Two months after becoming a Brigadier General, he was brevetted Major General.

1. The “Pennsylvania Dutch”, also known as Amish, are not descendants of the early immigrants from Holland, a common error made by many people. Rather, they are individuals who descended from German immigrants. The “Dutch” name was derived from the German word “Deutsch”.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Mark E. Dixon says:

    Thanks for this. My wife is descended from a brother of Vanderslice’s wife — Heinrich Pennypacker, who married Rebecca Kuster. Your site came up first on a Google search when I started searching for more information on Muhlenberg’s encounter with the family.

    Like

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