Elisabet Mertz’s Birth Record: Freeing the Spirit in the Fraktur

Every time I hold a Pennsylvania Dutch illuminated manuscript in my hands, the text begins to pulsate with life. A bit of history has long been waiting to escape the confines of the paper, and it’s so much fun to bring the words to life.  First I have to transcribe the Fraktur and/or German script; assess the information; and finally research names, dates, places, and possibly quotes with the hope that I’ll find enough material to free the spirit in the Fraktur and resurrect a person, or a cultural moment in time that would otherwise not see the light of day.

Ill. 1 Elisabet Mertz Fraktur B

Ill. 1 Elisabet Mertz Fraktur, Courtesy of Goschenhoppen Historians

Such is the case with one very exciting birth record recently gifted to the Goschenhoppen Historians Fraktur, Manuscript and Rare Books collection by an anonymous donor. The Fraktur was made for Elisabet Mertz (1777-1848), born to Johan Jacob Mertz (1741-1811) and his wife Catarina (1747-1826), née Schelkopf, on July 11, 1777. The manuscript measures 8 x 13 inches; is hand-drawn, hand-colored, hand-lettered with ink and watercolor on laid paper. Water damage, and traces of scotch tape used to repair a major central horizontal tear are evident. Subsequently someone attempted to rectify this tear by mounting the piece on pressed board. The work is a candidate for conservation, and it is hoped that this can be undertaken in the near future.

Prominent decorative elements include tulip vines with red, green, and yellow blooms.  On each side a vine rises vertically out of a double-handled brown and yellow pot to frame a quintet of birds. Three are perched on an undulating banderole that runs horizontally across the upper middle portion of the work and is supported at either end by two vertical green stems: The central bird is red and green, faces left, and is flanked by two much larger inward facing brown and orange singing birds. There is a Fraktur text that has been penned in red ink within the banderole. At the bottom two more singing birds face inwards, flanking a heart from which yellow and red blooming tulip vines flow symmetrically to the left and right. Centered between the upper text banderole and the lower bird scene is the birth record in black Fraktur script:

[Original]
Elisabet wurd geboren den 11 July 1777 seine | Eltern waren der ehrbare Johan Jacob Mertz und Seine Hauß frau | Catarina p Tauf zeigen war die Ehrbare Friedricke Schelkobin

[Translation]
Elisabet was born on July 11, 1777. Her parents were the honorable Johan Jacob Mertz and his housewife Catarina, etc. Baptismal sponsor was the honorable Friedricke Schelkob [Schellkopf].

A sawtooth border in yellow, green and brown (damaged around outer edges) encloses this imaginative and picturesque work. Unusually vibrant and fresh colors indicate that care has been taken to keep it out of sunlight. The last owner purchased the illuminated manuscript at the Pennypacker Auction Center, Reading PA in May 1971. Oh, that more were known about its provenance!

Elisabet’s birth record is unusual in a number of ways.  Firstly, most all texts found on illuminated manuscripts are taken either from the Bible or religious poetry.  The text that appears in this Fraktur, however, was chosen intentionally from a morally-oriented secular text [1] to inspire others to live righteously on earth.  The banderole phrase is taken from a very popular book of manners for young people written by Johann Leonhard Rost (1688-1727), an astronomer and poet who spent most of his life in Nuremberg, Germany.  When not writing treatises on astronomy, Rost amused himself by writing romance novels about the nobility and improving the manners of gentile off-spring under the

[Original]
Wer sich läst Welt und wolust freuen den wirts dort ewig reuen Peter Scheurer

[Translation]
He who delights in temporal pleasures here, will eternally regret them there. Peter Scheurer

pseudonym Meletaon.  One would not expect a quote from his Well Considered and Newly Conceived Book of Manners [… ] for the Pleasure and Instruction of Young People, [2] published in Nuremberg in 1739, to appear on a Fraktur birth record produced in or around rural Ruscombmanor Township in Berks County Pennsylvania in 1777.  Please note that original church records situate the church in Ruscombmanor Township.[3]  Elsewhere one finds references to its location in Rockland Township.  The Book of Manners was illustrated with copper engravings, and it is on the second engraving that we find the referred to passage warning children of impending doom if they enjoy too much of the world’s pleasures.

Engraving from J L Rost’s Book of Manners: In Hell; In Paradise

Ill. 2 Engraving from J L Rost’s Book of Manners: In Hell; In Paradise

The same hand that wrote Rost’s quote on the banderole also signed Peter Scheurer at its end.  Although he is not known to have been a Fraktur  artist/scrivener, Peter Scheurer and Johann Jacob Mertz, along with their families worshiped together at the Mertz Church.  The many Scheurers who were members of this church were most likely friends of the Mertz family.  Peter also appears in the church records as a sponsor for baptisms during the same time period as the Fraktur was created. It is quite possible, therefore, that Peter Scheurer was signing the document as its artist/scrivener.

Elisabet Mertz was an important addition to a very special family. Her grandparents were Johann Heinrich Merz (1708-1788) and Anna Maria, née Rosmann, who are known to have emigrated from Württemberg to Pennsylvania in 1733, and to have donated the land on which Christ Church was built. The church itself was organized in 1747 by Rev. Tobias Wagner, who began the Evangelical Lutheran Church Records with the first five births and baptisms of this couple’s children. The initial three children were Johann Philipp, Johann Wilhelm, and Johann Jacob, the latter of whom was born 18 August and baptized on 30 August 1741. It is interesting to note that one of the sponsors at his baptism was Anna Magdalena Scheur. Johann Jacob married Catarina Schelkopf, and is known to have served in the American Revolution in Captain Crouse’s Company from 1777-1778 (Second Battalion). Unlike his siblings he never strayed from his place of birth. Both his wife and he are buried in the Mertz Church Cemetery
(Row 1, graves 35, 36).

Tombstone of Catarina (née Schelkopf) Mertz

Ill. 3a Tombstone of Catarina (née Schelkopf) Mertz

Catarina’s maiden name, as is clearly discernable on the tombstone that appears online at the Find a Grave website,[4] was Schelkopfin,[5] not Schaller. It is not known when this image was posted on Find a Grave, but in the interim acid rain has erased the gravestone lettering. The face of the stone as of June 2015 is almost completely blank.

Ill. 3b Christina Mertz's tombstone with acid rain damage and Johann Jacob Mertz's replaced gravemarker d

Ill. 3b Christina Mertz’s tombstone with acid rain damage and Johann Jacob Mertz’s replaced grave marker

Knowing Catarina’s surname before marriage helps to solve another curious peculiarity of Elisabet’s Fraktur. The name of her baptismal sponsor appearing on the illuminated manuscript is Friedricke Schelkobin, but in the church records Friederica Emertin.  An entry in the church birth and

Ill. 4 Birth & Baptismal Entry in Mertz Evangelical Lutheran Church Records

Ill. 4 Elisabetha Mertz Birth & Baptismal Entry in Mertz Evangelical Lutheran Church Records

baptismal records confirms that Friederica Emert must have been very pregnant when she stood for Elisabet on 10 August 1777, for she gave birth to a baby girl Maria three days later on 13 August 1777. The father and mother are listed as the deceased Emert; wife Friederica. Catarina Mertz’s and Friederica Emert’s surname before marriage was Schelkopf (Schelkob; Schellkopp), and were more than likely sisters.

Ill. 5 Maria Ebert Birth & Baptismal Entry in Mertz Evangelical Lutheran Church Records

Ill. 5 Maria Ebert Birth & Baptismal Entry in Mertz Evangelical Lutheran Church Records

At present very little is known about Elisabet except that she grew up attending Mertz Church, stayed in the same vicinity, and married perhaps a cousin whose name was also, like her father’s, Jacob Mertz (1774-1845). Both are buried in the New Jerusalem Union Cemetery in Fleetwood, Berks County, Pennsylvania.


Endnotes
[1] For another example see Del-Louise Moyer, “Amyntas, The Story of Christina Schneider’s 1777 Vorschrift,” Der Reggeboge: The Journal of the Pennsylvania German Society (Kutztown, Pennsylvania, 2012), Vol. 46, no. 1, pp. 53-67.
[2] Johann Leonhard Rost, Die wohlangerichtete, neuerfundene Tugendschule, in welcher 24 anmuthige Historien zu erlaubter Gemüths-Ergöztung der Jugend auf eine erbaulich Art vorgetragen und mit nützlichen Anmerkungen und Lehren begleitet werden (Nürnberg 1739/ Nürnberg: Bieling, 1800 ), second copper engraving.
[3] See:  Evangelisch Lutherische kirchen buch von die Gemeinde in Ruscombmanner und die umligende nachbarschaft, Ms. at Christ Mertz Church, Dryville, Pennsylvania.
[4] Find a Grave: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=53657558&PIpi=29550788 (accessed 1 June 2015).
[5] An –in at the end of the surname in German signifies female gender, but is not included in the English translation.

Many thanks to Sandra Highouse and Bob Wood of the Goschenhoppen Historians, as well as Eleanor Dreibelbis, Pastor Cheryl Meinschein, and Stef Boyer of Mertz Evangelical Lutheran Church at Dryville, PA.

© Del-Louise Moyer  2015

9 thoughts on “Elisabet Mertz’s Birth Record: Freeing the Spirit in the Fraktur

  1. Marsha Campbell

    Del-Louise Moyer’s attention to detail as she frees the spirit of a centuries-old fraktur makes reading her findings a delight.
    I feel a quiet pride in Elisabet Mertz whose birth is beautifully announced in this small scrap of hopeful acknowledgement.
    I want to believe that this girl-child became a delight to all that knew her and that she pleasured herself in myriad spiritual experiences leaving her with no regrets in this life.
    Thank you so much, Del, for sharing your wonderful talents.

    Like

    Reply
  2. Dorothy McCoach

    Great piece of research, Del! and oh so satisfying. Who needs mystery novels when such opportunities exist and there are so many of them !
    Dotty McCoach

    Like

    Reply
  3. John L. Ruth

    A fine example of how much thought and information can be teased out from a humble Pennsylvania fraktur! Many thanks, John L. Ruth

    Like

    Reply
  4. Martin Stepper

    Thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating article with all the background needed. Thanks for letting us “see” all the images and implied symbolism in these beautiful fraktur pieces, and, above all, for bringing a personal touch to this side of history.

    Like

    Reply

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