York’s Barbara Smith unusual 18th century woman
The legacy (or bequest) of widow Barbara Smith
Joseph Smith left a sizable amount of property and other assets to his widow, Barbara Smith, when he died in 1784. He also left funds to the Catholic congregation in Lancaster and had probably already given property to the Catholics in York.
Barbara Smith served as Joseph’s executor, usually a male post in the 18th century. What is even more unusual for the time is that Joseph, the staunch Catholic, was married to Barbara, who must have felt just as strongly about the Lutherans. Barbara, who, judging from her estate papers, was one of the wealthiest people in York when she died in 1798, left just about her entire estate to Christ Lutheran Church. Her will included specific instructions to have some of the proceeds used to construct an organ for the Lutheran congregation. The organ, finished in 1804 turned out to be Moravian master organ builder David Tannenberg’s last organ. You can hear it played every Friday in July and August at York County Heritage Trust.
My recent York Sunday News column on the widow Barbara Smith is below:
York’s Barbara Smith–a woman of means
The inscription on the last organ built by Moravian master organ builder David Tannenberg reads: “Ein Vermaechtnisz von Witwe Barbara Schmidt” (The Legacy [or Bequest] of Widow Barbara Smith) This organ, now at York County Heritage Trust, was built in 1804 for the congregation of Christ Lutheran Church.
We know a good bit about organ builder David Tannenberg, but what do we know about benefactor Barbara Smith (c.1724-1798)? Records of women were elusive 200 years ago, even women of considerable property, such as Barbara. To be listed by herself as a property owner or the head of a household, it usually required a woman to have a dead husband. Barbara filled the bill; her husband, Joseph Smith, passed away in 1784. When Joseph’s originally named executor, Thomas Lilley, declined, Barbara even became the executor of his estate, also uncommon for a woman.
Joseph’s and Barbara’s estate papers are some of the most interesting I have ever seen. Joseph was evidently a staunch Catholic. His will leaves two bequests to Father James Bellentz [Pellentz], one of 50 pounds “for the use of the Roman Chappel in the Borough of Lancaster” and the other of three pounds a year for three years from the rent of one of Smith’s properties. Joseph also bequeathed property to the York Roman Catholic congregation adjoining the burial ground on Beaver Street. (St. Patrick’s website credits Joseph Schmidt with purchasing the site of their church in 1776.)
Except for a bequest of his wearing apparel and an eventual 100 pounds to nephew Peter Drexler, Barbara inherited the rest of Joseph’s estate “for life, as long as she remains a widow.” Even if she remarried, she was to get half of his estate for her heirs, with most of the other half, after her death, going to Peter Drexler’s children.
This was an era when Catholics and Lutherans didn’t associate very much, much less marry. Barbara, however, proved to be as much a supporter of local Lutherans as Joseph was to the Catholics. Barbara’s 1795 will, except for a few minor bequests, left her entire estate “for the use of the Lutheran Congregation in York,” now Christ Lutheran Church. Part of the inheritance was to be specifically used to purchase an organ for the congregation. Interest from some of the bequest could also be used to pay for schooling of the congregation’s poor children.
Barbara’s will also provided that “In case any of my nearest relations come from Germany to America within the space of Ten Years after my decease and should be in a poor and needy state, my Executors pay unto them such small sums as they judge proper and no more.” She named leading Yorkers Peter Diehl, Jacob Barnitz and Frederick Youse her executors. In a January 1798 codicil, signed the day before she died, Barbara left her bed, bed clothes and most of her personal clothing to her “trusty maid Barbara Ziegler” and made provision for her support by Rev. Goring and the Lutheran Church Elders.
Barbara Smith/Schmith/Schmidt signed all of the legal documents with a mark instead of a signature, but that doesn’t mean that she was uneducated. Girls and boys both were taught to read; that was important to be able to read Bibles and hymnbooks. Girls also learned needlework and domestic skills, but not always writing. Boys instead learned the writing and arithmetic they needed to be successful businessmen and tradespeople.
The extensive estate inventory of Barbara’s goods includes a “wild cherry cloaths press,” a Bible, books, seven silver tea spoons, 16 pewter plates, 10 cups and saucers, 11 pictures, two China bowls and four Queens ware bowls. The item with the highest value is the eight day clock and case at 18 pounds, three times the value of her cow. The total estimated value of her personal possessions, including over 74 pounds cash, was over 222 pounds. To use as a comparison, her dwelling house was sold to A. Danner for 700 pounds. Other assets besides real and personal property included numerous bonds and notes for money owed by York’s citizens. Barbara’s total estate amounted to over 2,141 pounds.
Barbara’s administration, filed in February 1805, listed 52 disbursements, some for multiple items. Besides the usual expenses, such as the funeral, taxes, advertisement of public sale and recording legal documents, a house and lot on Duke Street, later the site of Zion Lutheran Church, was purchased from her estate for the Lutherans. After all the expenses, including the Tannenberg organ, the executors were left with over 1,240 pounds for the further benefit of the Lutheran congregation.
No. 34 on the inventory list itemized the largest expenditure, the building and installation of the organ. Tannenberg’s executors were paid 355 pounds for his shop having built the organ. Three Yorkers: George Shank, Nicholas Diehl and Martin Ebert, were paid for hire and expenses for transporting the organ in their wagons from Lititz. Three weeks and four days boarding was charged for organ builders David Tannenberg and his son-in-law Philip Bachman and an unnamed assistant, the time it took them to set up and finish the organ in York. They ran up a separate bill of nearly two pounds for “wine, rum etc.” Some Yorkers, such as woodworker Peter Streber, painter Charles Fisher and smith Henry Pickel also had a hand in finishing the organ. The total organ expense was just over 400 pounds.
Barbara’s legacy lives on today. I like to think that she would be surprised and pleased to know that the very organ she funded over 200 years ago is still used to play beautiful music. (Free concerts are given on the Tannenberg organ by members of the York Chapter, American Guild of Organists every Friday during July and August at York County Heritage Trust, 250 East Market St., York from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m.)