St. Peter’s Lutheran Church Cemetery History and Information
HISTORY OF THE CEMETERY GROUNDS
The Barren Hill Cemetery, a division of St. Peter’s church, is one of the oldest and largest church cemeteries in Montgomery County. In 1758, an acre and 35 perches of ground were purchased by Reverend Henry M. Muhlenberg and Reverend Peter Brunnholtz from Leonard Streeper for three pounds. The land was to be used for a church, schoolhouse and burying ground. The deed dated March 14, 1758 states this land was to be “for the use and behoof of the Dutch Partisans, their heirs and successors forever.” The ground was jointly held by both Reverends until the death of Brunnholz after which it was vested to the church authorities.
In 1845 additional land for the cemetery was obtained from Peter Streeper Jr. Then on March 22, 1904 three and a half acres on the northwest corner of Ridge Pike at Spring Mill Road (now Hart’s Lane) opposite the barren hill Cemetery, known as the Annex or newer section, were purchased from Percival K. Boyer for $1,500.
The area around St. Peter’s is marked with Revolutionary War history. In May 1778 General Lafayette was encamped with 2,200 men in the vicinity of the church to keep watch on the British Army. On being warned of the British approach, Lafayette’s clever and elaborative defensive measures in and around St. Peter’s graveyard misled the enemy before the Hessians and Redcoats reached the vital road of Lafayette’s escape to Valley Forge.
The only entrance to the cemetery used to be a rough cart road with heavy ruts on either side, well neigh impassable for automobiles in wet weather. Robert Dager of Norristown, whose wife is buried in St. Peter’s, gave a donation to install a substantial road through the grounds. Mr. Dager, although not a Lutheran, was a major supporter of the cemetery restoration. He provided funds to cover the cost of two Japanese cedars which mark the Ridge Pike exit, which he called “Robert” and “Mary” for himself and his deceased wife. These trees are very rare in this country and in Japan they are used as decorations before the temples.
During the depression of the 1930’s, there was a government project by the W.P.A. to visit old cemeteries and record inscriptions. In the Bicentennial year, 1976, Montgomery County had a similar project, writing down names and dates. Without this information and a list compiled by the Washington Camp of the Patriotic Order Sons of America (P.O.S. of A.) Roxborough, we would have very little information about our deceased members. Church records were destroyed by a fire in the early 1900’s.
Preceding General Lafayette’s successful retreat from Barren Hill, six Oneida Indians from Massachusetts who served as scouts with the American detachment were killed in May 1778 and are buried here. A metal railing surrounds their gravesite.
Nine soldiers who fell in the Revolutionary War engagement are buried in one section of the old burial ground.
- Philip Sidner belonged to a Militia unit before the Revolutionary War, as most men did. He was required to be present to practice military arts. Sidner was fined “for not attending on day of exercise.” He paid the fine and later served. His epitaph:
Philip Sidner was my name
Germany was my nation
Plymouth was my dwelling place
And Christ is my salvation
Now I am dead and in my grave
And when my bones are rotten
When this you see remember me
Lest I should be forgotten
- On another stone are inscribed these words “Andrew Socks, a soldier of ’76.” Socks, who enlisted May 15th, 1777 was a Private in the Continental Army, 4th Pennsylvania Regiment, Captain McGowen’s company D and served in the Army from 1776 – 1781. He was living with Mr. Charles Corson in Upper Providence Township and died there on May 23rd, 1826 and was buried in St. Peter’s.
- Peter Duseaux, a Frenchman who saw action in the R evolutionary War is buried in old section of the cemetery.
The P.O.S. of A. of Roxborough provides markers for graves of Revolutionary soldiers buried here, and the Philadelphia Chapter of the D.A.R. decorates these graves each year.
THE CIVIL WAR
At a meeting on September 25, 1864, a motion was passed in St. Peter’s Church Council to provide a burial plot in the cemetery for the soldiers of the Spring Mill Hospital Barracks; the price not to exceed one dollar per grave. On December 13, 1864, Mr. D. O. Hitner called on the council to memorialize the veterans by providing a burying place in the cemetery for soldiers of Whitemarsh. A motion was passed to give a 50-foot plot for this purpose, under the direction of Mr. Hitner, in accordance with his proposed plans.
At the conclusion of the War Between the States, the citizens of Whitemarsh Township erected a 25-foot monument of native white marble in the cemetery of the Barren Hill church. This was in memory of the Civil War dead and was erected on the exact spot on which Lafayette camped.
A parchment from The Civil War Roundtable of Montgomery County Pennsylvania listing the names of the Civil War veterans buried in St. Peter’s is displayed in the church.
The cemetery contains the graves of soldiers of every war and conflict in which America has been engaged: 9 Revolutionary War; 106 Civil War; 2 Spanish-American War; 39 World War I; 26 World War II; 5 Korean War; 1 Vietnam Conflict; 5 Other Conflicts.
- The oldest tombstone bears the date 1760 and is to the memory of John Heinrich Kleinges. The second oldest grave is that of Philip Sharp, aged 75 years, who was interred in 1777.
- Three ministerial sons of St. Peter’s congregation rest in the cemetery: Reverend Fred W. Staley, D.D.; Reverend William Freas, D.D. and Reverend Mark S. Cressman, D.D. The families of Reverend Michael Schlatter, the Father of the Reformed Church are buried here.
- Peter Legaux, the brilliant but financially unfortunate citizen of Spring Mill, who enthusiastically endeavored to turn his farm into a vineyard, but failed, is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery. He was one of the outstanding citizens of his day, often entertaining the likes of General Washington and Benjamin Franklin at this home “Mt. Joy” in the Spring Mill section of Whitemarsh Township.
- Buried in the cemetery are men with presidential names: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren and Millard Fillmore. There is even a George Washington 3rd. Other names include Washington Napoleon, Columbus Americanus, and Absolom and Albanus, twin boys.
- In the late 1800’s, the cause of death of those in St. Peter’s cemetery included diseases we only know by name: scarlet fever, lead poisoning, malaria, typhoid fever, cholera, diphtheria, and small pox. By the 1900’s consumption, diseases of the heart, pneumonia and a cherry stone in the bowels were added to the list as causes of death. Accidents also took their toll; several women burned by coal oil lamps, another in a coasting accident, and accidents in the workplace. Three men were killed in an accident at the marble quarry in Whitemarsh. A landslide in the iron quarry resulted in one man’s death. Suicide was first mentioned in 1902.
- Matilda Bartel with “her two stillborn infants in her arms, on the sad occasion of her death” is buried in Barren Hill Cemetery.
- Charles Bolton and his wife Elizabeth were buried on the same day and time.
- Three men are listed as “a foreigner,” two are from Isfeld, Germany. There are several men from Ireland, two men from the county of Almigh. Occasionally people died who were visiting the area.
- Anna E. Winder whose address was Washington’s Headquarters, Valley Forge was the wife of the man who was probably the caretaker of the house.
- The housekeeper for Stephen Girard lies here, as does a missionary, Bessie Grace Forbes who worked in China and died in 1915.
Full-size plots are available in the main cemetery and in the annex across Ridge Pike from the church.
Small plots suitable for cremated remains are also available in the Memory Garden in the annex.
A burial area dedicated for the cremated remains of loved ones has been set aside in St. Peter’s Church Resurrection Gardens. The area is located at the front of the Church near the bell tower entrance. A huge Celtic cross overlooks the garden. Names of those buried in the garden are engraved on a granite tablet. A marble bench is provided for meditation.
For further information, please contact the church office at 610-828-3098.