Peter Binkley was born to Christen Binggeli and Elsbeth Burri on March 2, 1704, in the village of Guggisberg, Canton Bern, Switzerland. He appears to have been the fifth of at least eight children. The family was extremely poor: Peter's Moravian funeral memoir records that he "had been obliged to seek his support from outsiders already in his sixth year." Whether this was through labor, charity, or both is not clear. When his father died around 1713, his mother moved to Alsace.
The following year Peter moved in with an unnamed brother and worked for him herding cattle for three years. Peter then hired out to a farmer, for whom he worked two years. In 1719, upon the advice of the farmer, Peter became a shoemaker's apprentice. Evidently he found the work unsatisfactory almost immediately because after only two weeks he became a driver for an innkeeper. Peter's memoir indicates that soon after becoming a driver, he became concerned about the spiritual risks of his environment. The memoir reports cryptically, "In order to get away from that place he married Anna Maria Werle and remained in the neighborhood, that is, in the Steinthal District, for twelve years, supporting his family by cutting wood in the forest and burning charcoal." (One would hope that he also had other reasons for marrying Anna Maria.) However, the chronology of the memoir does not match the marriage record, which shows that they were married on February 2, 1725. Perhaps in his old age Peter had forgotten the exact date.
The Steinthal District was in what is now the French department of Bas-Rhin. Since the Protestant church in the village of Waldersbach holds records of the Werle and Binkley families, Peter must have settled in or near that village. By 1732 Anna Maria had given birth to five children, four of whom died young. Only Catharina, born June 26, 1731, survived to adulthood. By that year Peter was already planning to move his family to America. Then, while sheltering under a beech tree during a thunderstorm, Peter and a coworker were struck by lightning. Peter's burns delayed his plan to emigrate until 1736.
In that year Peter and his family travelled down the Rhine River to Rotterdam, where they boarded the Princess Augusta, an English ship captained by Samuel Marchant. In accordance with British law, the Princess Augusta stopped at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, where she received clearance to continue her voyage. The passenger list shows four Binkleys, Peter, then age 32; another Peter, age 28; Hance, age 41; and Hance, Jr., age 18. [These last two may have been Peter's brother Johannes and his son.] As was customary at the time, the passenger list shows the names of only a few women and children.]
Durst Thommen, a fellow passenger, described the voyage to friends at home in a letter written from Philadelphia on October 20, 1736:
As to the journey, we were detained for 5 weeks, have slept on the Rhine for 2 weeks and travelled from Rotterdam across the sea for 12 weeks and 4 days until Philadelphia, but only 8 weeks from land to land, and we did not have good wind save for 8 days, more contrary winds than side wind. And as we saw land a new pilot came to us and we thought all was well and won. All evening we got good wind from behind so that the ship moved vigorously. The new pilot, however made cast anchor because it was not far (from there) dangerous; in the morning when the anchor was lifted again and on had barely gone 30 feet the boat ran into a rock, and it crashed that one thought it would break in the middle. The anxious crying began, and one could see where there was faith or not. Then the captain had a warning shot fired and had a flag of distress hoisted, but we drove far out to the sea so that we saw no land anymore for days and even thought we would never see it again. As far as illness are concerned, the Mannheim skippers had two of the boats sidewise together; in the one besides ours 7 children died of small pox and a woman of spotted fever, and in our boat 19 people died until Rotterdam. Those people who have means and are interested in this land and need not go into debt, those I advise to stay where they are because the journey is onerous and very dangerous.
The Princess Augusta arrived in Philadelphia in September. On the sixteenth the male passengers swore their allegiance to the British government at the courthouse. Hardship did not end with the arrival in Philadelphia. The colonies were under the restrictions of the Navigation Acts, designed to ensure that the English motherland received maximum benefit from her colonies. Under the terms of the Acts, only English goods could be imported into the colonies. The passengers on the Princess Augusta, being primarily Europeans seeking a new home, had naturally brought with them a number of personal and household items. As described in a petition by Durst Thommen, the immigrants had replaced their household goods with less bulky versions of the same items before they reached Rotterdam. These were seized by the authorities at Philadelphia, presumably on the pretext that the items were for resale. The passengers appealed in a petition drafted by passengers Nicholas Tainy, Benedict Youghly, Bastian Graffts, and George Graffts. Although the appeal was initially successful, the authorities took advantage of the death of the judge to ignore his order; and in spite of the subsequent petition, drafted by Thommen, the government sold the goods and retained the proceeds.
Having already associated himself with Moravians in Alsace, Peter settled first at Warwick (now called Lititz)in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There, in February 1738, Anna Maria gave birth to a daughter, Christina, their first child born in America. Later that year the family moved to Catores, in York County, where six more children were born to them. Of these, four died in infancy or early childhood, including Anna Maria's last children, twins born in September 1745,who died at or soon after birth. Three years later, in September 1748, Anna Maria died at the age of 44. On February 3, 1749, Peter married Anna Maria Margaretha Geiger Shemel. The widow of John Shemel, Margaretha had a two-and-a-half year old son, John Warner, whom Peter accepted and loved as his own. Peter and Margaretha's first child, Elisabeth, was born in December of that year, the first of nine children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. Details about one child are unknown, and Anna Maria, born in 1755, died four years later. Two of the children were described as "simple minded": Christian, born in 1751, who lived to be 48, and a second Anna Maria, born in 1764, who died when she was 25. In 1750 Peter finally became a member of the Moravian Church and two years later received Communion for the first time. (It was common among Moravians for there to be a prolonged period of membership before first communion.)
In 1763 Peter moved his family to Monocacy, Frederick County, Maryland, on or near the present site of Camp David. According to his funeral memoir, he moved in order to be closer to a school. This is puzzling: surely there was a school closer to his Pennsylvania residence than Maryland. In any event, the land did not have adequate water; and in 1771, he again moved his family to North Carolina. In 1753 the Moravians had purchased nearly 100,000 acres of land in North Carolina. They called this tract Wachau, later Wachovia; and it was to Wachovia that Peter moved. He settled on a farm three miles from the Moravian community of Bethania (then in Stokes County, now in Forsyth County). On September 30, 1771, Peter posted a bond to guarantee that he would resell the 307 acres he had purchased only to a Moravian. On November 3 a Moravian record keeper noted, "This fall again several families have come from Pennsylvania; one of them, a Communicant Brother from Manakasy, named Binkele, has bought 300 acres near Heinrich Schmidt..." At least one child did not accompany the family to North Carolina. Daughter Elisabeth had married George Johann Harbaugh on January 23, 1770, and remained in Maryland with him and their children until her death in 1780. By this time daughter Anna Margaretha, born in 1735, was also married, to Hans Ulrich Fulwider, and daughter Catherina, born 1727, was probably married to George Honig, of whom nothing is known. It is likely that both of these daughters were living in Virginia.
Moravian records do not indicate that Peter's life was much different from that of a typical farmer of the day. He sometimes travelled with clergymen as they made their rounds of the community. The Bethania Diary entry for May 30,1777, notes, "Early in the morning I set out with Br. Pinkely, going by Mr. Walker, Linshy, Artshy and Anderson, spending the night at the last-named place, on our way to the German settlement on the Reedy Fork, where we were received with much love." And on June 5, 1777, the Salem Diary records that,"Brother Ernst and his companion the elder Brother Pinkle returned from his preaching tour to the Reedy Fork of Haw River. Last Sunday he preached there in the Lutheran Church and baptised six children, and afterwards visited in many of the homes."
By this time the colonies were at war with England. Although officially pacifists, many Moravians could not ignore entirely their pro-colonist sentiments. Three of Peter's sons, Adam, Frederick, and Peter, served in the Revolutionary Army. And Peter himself rendered civilian service to the revolutionary cause as noted in the Salem Diary on February 15, 1779: "Peter Binkele set out today for the second time for the south, taking baggage for the militia there. He came here 14 days ago, and turned back; today there was only one man with him, and we hear there should have been thirty, who were left from the last Draft." The Daughters of the American Revolution have honored Peter for this patriotic service, making his descendants eligible for membership.
Count Zinzendorf, a leading figure in Moravian history, had instituted the tradition of the Lebenslauf, or funeral memoir, so that the deceased might have a voice at his own service. On July 11, 1782, the seventy-eight-year-old Peter, being illiterate, went to Sister Cramer to dictate to her his memoir. By March 1791 Peter found it prudent to make his will. It is noteworthy that he treated his stepson, John Shemel, as one of his birth children and that he made thoughtful provision for the mentally retarded Christian. By the time of Peter's will daughter Christina had moved to what is now Robertson County, Tennessee, with her husband Caspar Fischer; and son Adam had moved to what is now Cheatham County, Tennessee.
Peter remained active almost to the end of his long life. When health problems prevented his riding horseback to church, he walked the three miles to Bethania. In the spring of 1793, he suffered a fall. However, on August 11, he suffered another fall, from which, it soon became apparent, he would not recover. In accordance with Moravian custom, members of the congregation visited him in his last days to comfort him with hymns. His funeral memoir says, "He remained conscious to the end and passed away gently and peacefully toward evening on the twentieth of this month." Peter was buried in the churchyard at the Bethania Moravian Church, where he was the oldest member of the Bethania congregation.
By 1800 two more of his children, John and Jacob, had left North Carolina for Tennessee. Son Christian, who after his father's death had chosen to live with his half-brother John Shemel, died in April 1799. Peter's widow, Margaretha, outlived him by nearly ten years, dying on February 10, 1803, at the age of 81. She was buried in the Dobb's Parish Graveyard. Peter's funeral memoir ends with the note that "Of his twenty-three children by his first and second marriages, eleven are still living. He left sixty-two grandchildren and fifty-six great-grandchildren. So that as far as we can learn the entire number of his still living children and children’s children is 129." No one knows how many descendants Peter has had or how many of them are living today. The author of the postmortem portion of his funeral memoir wrote, "All who knew him honored him as an upright and peace-loving man" as many of his descendants so honor him today.
Bridget McCartney Rogier, Compiler, Peter Binkley, Born 1704 and His Descendants, 1997.
"Memoir of Brother Peter Binkley," translated by Dr. Adelaide Fries, 1934, Southern Moravian Archives, Winston Salem, North Carolina.
Pat Smith, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ralph Beaver Strassburger, William John Hinke, Editor, Pennsylvania German Pioneers, A Publication of the Original Lists of Arrivals In the Port of Philadelphia From 1727 to 1808, Pennsylvania German Society, Norristown, Pennsylvania, 1934,pp.162-167.[Data posted on "The Olive Tree Genealogy" by Eleanor Orthune, August 2, 2001.]
Adelaide C. Fries, Editor, The Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, Volume 2 ,North Carolina Historical Commission, Raleigh, 1925.
Adelaide C. Fries, Editor, The Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, Volume3,North Carolina Historical Commission, Raleigh, 1925.
Public Accounts of the State of North Carolina, 1-6; pp. 118-126, (Original manuscript in keeping of North Carolina Historical Commission).
Letter by Durs Thommen, published in "On The Power of Pietism" by Leo Schelbert, PhD, in the Historic Scaefferstown Record," Vol. 17, Issues No. 3 & 4, provided by Wayne Strasbaugh, posted at http://www.mcn.org/2/noel/voyage.htm.
Katherine M. Faull, Moravian Women’s Memoirs, Their Related Lives, 1750-1820,Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York,1997.
Chester S. Davis, Hidden Seed and Harvest, A History of the Moravians, Wachovia Historical Society, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 1973.
PRINCESS AUGUSTA PASSENGER LIST
DURST THOMMEN'S LETTER
PETER BINKLEY'S WILL
PETER BINKLEY'S MEMOIR
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BETHANIA MORAVIAN CHURCH (a brief history of the Moravian community at Bethania, North Carolina, and of its congregation, from the Web site of the Rolling Hills Moravian Church in Longwood, Florida)
HISTORY OF BETHANIA MORAVIAN CHURCH (from an outdated Web site of the Bethania congregation)
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