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The Life and Times of Jacob Albright
by
Kenneth R. Good ’47
(1925 - 2003)

DEAR ALBRIGHTIAN,

How would this man whose name our College bears view this institution today?

To be sure, the “Honest Tiler” would be proud of the buildings, past and present, that have housed our College and its students. He would marvel at the learned, talented teachers and administrators who have served the school through these 140 plus years.

However, his greatest pride might most likely be (although he was not a proud, but a humble man) in the thousands of young men and women of many faiths, creeds and backgrounds who have gone forth from this institution to serve in a myriad of noble endeavors.

We “Albright people” have an individual whom we can be proud to emulate - he’s Johannes Jacob Albrecht. As you pass that statue on the Albright campus, I hope you remember him as the hero who inspired the founding fathers of your school.

Sincerely,
Kenneth R. Good ’47


~ THE EARLY YEARS ~

Christened Johannes Jacob Albrecht, Jacob Albright was one of nine children born on a farm in the “Fuchsberg” (Fox Mountain Region), three miles northwest of Pottstown, Pa., Montgomery County, on May 1, 1759. His parents, Johannes and Anna Albrecht, came to America from the Palatinate Region (Wittenburg) of Germany on the ship Johnson of the Holland-American Line, arriving in the port of Philadelphia in September 1732.

The two-and-one-half story home in which he was born no longer stands, but foundations of stones, on which another home was built, are still visible.

Helping on the family farm was how Albright spent his early life. Baptized at a young age into the Lutheran Church, his early education was acquired through the study of the Bible and the Lutheran catechism. He was confirmed in the Lutheran faith in 1776 and educated in German, his native language. Historians note that Albright was an intelligent, able student, although it is unknown to what extent he participated in any formal schooling.


~ THE DRUMMER BOY AND A STAY IN READING ~

In his early 20s, during the Revolutionary War, Albright served as drummer boy in the 4th Battalion of the Philadelphia Militia, organized in 1781. His brother John was a fifer and the two participated in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown.

During the late winter and early spring of 1782 he served guarding Hessian prisoners in Reading, Pa. (Today, this region in Reading bears the name “Hessian Camp” from the early Revolutionary encampment of German mercenaries.)

The Hessian Camp region is only two or three miles southeast of the current Albright campus. One could easily conjecture that, while at Hessian Camp, Jacob traversed the fields and forests which 150 years later is the land on which Albright College is located.


~ A BRIGHT, HANDSOME YOUNG MAN TAKES A WIFE ~

At his maturity, Jacob was described as being taller than medium height with a high forehead and slender build. He possessed deep-set, penetrating blue eyes with a somewhat narrow, oblong face. His black hair was groomed in the straight fashion of the day, and it is said that he possessed his mother’s sharp wit. Accounts of the period indicate that he had a fair complexion and was neat and tidy in appearance. Jacob had a reputation for being punctual in his appointments and honest in all his dealings.

In 1785, at age 26, Jacob Albright married Catherine Cope. The newly married couple settled on a 63-acre, fertile farm in the northeastern part of Lancaster County, near the present town of Ephrata. Here he was not only engaged in farming, but he also became known as the “Honest Tiler,” as he manufactured tile used as roofing material. It was his home for the next 23 years of his life. Today, the house and barn still stand, although they were modified in more recent years.

How many children were born to Catherine and Jacob remains debated though. Some sources say nine; others say six. It is known, however, that only three survived to maturity. Sarah, their oldest child, married Noah Ranck and settled in Tioga County. His oldest son, Jacob, died without a family. And David, the younger surviving son, married Mary Raidabaugh. They had 11 children. The current Jacob Albright lineage stems from David’s marriage.


~ A PERIOD OF TURMOIL ~

The death of several of his children from what was reported to be dysentery in 1790, coupled with several reported “close call,” life-threatening incidents, had a profound effect upon Jacob Albright’s
life. He became mentally and emotionally troubled. He suffered bouts of depression, but religion saw him through.

Although united with the Bergstrasse Lutheran Church near the small village of Hinkletown, the Albrights sometimes worshipped in the Reformed Church near their home. It is believed that Catherine was of the Reformed faith before marriage. During this period in American history, there were many similarities in worship services between these two faiths.

In fact, both groups worshipped in the same building on many occasions. These churches were called “union churches” and were common among the Pennsylvania German settlements.

In spite of his depressed mental state, Albright continued his business, paid his bills, and took care of his family and farm. However, deep down inside, he was troubled about his “personal salvation.”

Albright lived in a community where evangelical religious experiences were not frequently expressed. However, there were some Methodists, as well as a few very evangelistic Reformed clergy, who were
making their impact in this Pennsylvania-German region.


~ THE DIE IS CAST ~

It was in this perplexed state of mind that Jacob frequently visited the home of Adam Riegel, a lay preacher in the church of the United Brethren in Christ. Hours were spent in prayers and meditation.

Though baptized, confirmed and instructed in the Lutheran faith, Albright described his spirituality as “a walk frivolously in the path of a carnal life with little thought about the object of human life.”

So in July 1791, at 33 years of age, Albright received what was described as a “genuine conversion experience,” and it changed his life completely.

He searched for a church which shared his recently acquired religious viewpoint. This search led him to a Methodist class near his home. Isaac Davis was the class leader.

The discipline and practices of the Methodists were what Albright desired in his new found faith. Albright enjoyed his associations with the Methodists and, even though he was still learning English and it was not always easy for him to understand, he was pleased with his Methodist relationship.

He conducted devotions for classes at the Davis home. (In those days, religious meetings were called classes and were held in private homes.) And he sought to attain a high degree of personal Christian living.

Through these experiences, he gained the courage to express himself privately and in public meetings. He developed a very dynamic, persuasive preaching style and was able to present the Gospel message with great power and tenderness. He moved people when he spoke.

Realizing his need for Christian fellowship with those who shared his convictions, he became more and more involved with the Methodist classes.

Albright’s greatest concern was that his newfound religious zeal and his experiences be transmitted to the Germans; the largest segment of the population in this region of Pennsylvania. As “the spirit” called him to carry out this mission, he was eager to bring these truths and feelings to the “Pennsylvania Dutch.”


~ LICENSED TO EXHORT ~

Albright’s zest for religion grew. With the gifted ability to teach the word of God, he became a licensed exhorter, permitted to speak frequently at the Methodist meetings.

It was 1791. Albright was 33 years old. Experiencing a very deep, personal call to preach, Albright reviewed the religious practices carried out by the then-established churches (Lutheran, Reformed, and the Plain Sects such as the Dunkards and Mennonites). Through this study, he saw what he termed “the great decline of true religion” among his fellow Pennsylvania Germans. As he reviewed his divine call, in spite of his feeling of personal inadequacies, he felt a strong desire to take his
message to his German neighbors.

He needed an ecclesiastical connection though. As was true of other evangelicals of that period, there was a strong desire on the part of the itinerant ministers to unite with the Methodist movement that was spreading across America. The Rev. Martin Boehm, the Rev. Wilhelm Otterbein and Albright comprised this group.

Bishop Francis Asbury, leader of the American Methodist movement, did not share Boehm’s, Otterbein’s and Albright’s desire to adopt the German language and bring the Evangelical Gospel message to these people in their native tongue. Feeling that there was no future for the German language in this country, Asbury refused to sanction any work in it. Thus, the Revs. Boehm and Otterbein started work which later became the United Brethren in Christ Church. And Albright set out
on his own, preaching and evangelizing as opportunities presented themselves.

The Discipline and Articles of Faith were always the guide to Albright’s religious policies, even though he no longer had an official relationship to the Methodist Church.

Tradition has it that his first preaching was at Flickinger’s Church near his home. It is here where the children of Adam Riegel, a lay preacher in the United Brethren in Christ, were converted by Albright.


~ A DYNAMIC PREACHER TAKES TO THE ROAD ~

It was not an easy matter for Albright to leave his business and farm and become a preacher among his fellow Pennsylvania Germans. He took on the awesome task of becoming a self-educated exhorter and preacher to a people for whom he had a great love. However, his personal struggle was great.

According to records, in October 1796 Albright set out from his home to start missionary preaching. He remained close to home at first, but later ventured to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, conducting services in homes, barns and even in open market areas.

At the height and prime of his ministry, Albright possessed a very persuasive, mystical quality that attracted those who were in his gatherings.

A German quote from one of his followers expressed:

“In Seinum Angesichte flammt Die Weishat die Von oben stammt”

Translated, this means: “The wisdom coming from above glowed in his face.”

One can only imagine the reception this radical barnstorming evangelist received in the very religious and conservative communities he visited. In fact, several incidents are documented of the persecutions of this gentle, dynamic preacher.


~ ENCOUNTERS WITH EVIL FORCES ~

On October 8, 1797, there was a dedication of a new church in Schaefferstown (Lebanon County), Pa., about 10 miles from Albright’s home, with both Lutheran and Reformed congregations holding joint services.

Albright, mingling among the crowd, became aware that the church building would not hold all the people gathered there. So, he went to a nearby market house and ascended a pile of lumber outside the market where he began to preach and conduct his own service.

By doing so, Albright antagonized some of the rowdies in he crowd who pushed him from the pile of lumber and threatened him with bodily abuse. A strong man by the name of Maize rescued Albright,
carrying him safely to the friendly home of Peter Mohr. Albright’s courage in carrying out what he felt God wanted him to do was truly remarkable.

Two years later in 1799, documents show Albright returned to Schaefferstown for the celebration of the Cherry Fair, an event which continues today. At the fair, Albright preached along the roadside, but a cruel, rowdy mob did not like what he had to say and abused him.

Albright fled in a semi-conscious state, taking refuge in the home of the Zentmeyers. When he arrived his face was bloody, his clothing was torn and soiled. He could barely stay on his horse.

And the violence continued. Documents show he had an incident along what was then known as The Turnpike, being built from Reading to Womelsdorf, Berks County (currently Route 422).

Some construction workers on The Turnpike were not sympathetic to him. One day, as he passed by on horseback, they threw stones at him.

Albright dismounted his horse, fell on his knees in the middle of the road under a shower of stones, and called upon God as Stephen once did, praying that God might have mercy on his persecutors.

His prayer had such an effect on his adversaries that they immediately ceased throwing stones and Albright was left to go on his way.


~ THE HONEST TILER ~

Throughout the time he was an itinerant preacher presenting his message whenever and wherever he could, Albright continued to carry out his duties to his family.

Tiles were made. The farm work was done. And his business relationships were maintained. Although Albright went away for periods of time, preaching and evangelizing, he always returned home to take care of his responsibilities. And, in fact, his wife and children conducted much of the day-to-day operation of the farm and tile business. Records show that Albright’s farm was actually very successful, as his estate was valued between $3,000 and $4,000, a considerable amount of wealth in that period.

His family, however, was never really involved, nor very much interested in his Evangelical outreach. They remained in the Reformed faith.

Some of his descendants to date have remained in what’s known today as the United Church of Christ. Albright’s father never accepted Jacob’s religious zeal for the ministry. His wife, though, was a member of the Evangelical Association at the time of her death in 1828. And, his daughter, her husband and, subsequently, some of the other grandchildren, did become part of the Evangelical movement.


~ A CHURCH MOVEMENT IS BORN ~

Albright became widely known as a powerful preacher. Whether in a private home to just one family, at a neighborhood gathering, or a large group, Albright’s message was heard.

But, with his followers so widely scattered, it was difficult to believe that any organization of these “Albright people” would ever materialize.

The first attempt was a general meeting of representatives held in the latter 1790s, at which five followers were present.

Not long after his ministry started, Albright was openly attacked by the conservative churches on every shore imaginable. One pastor warned, “Beware of this false prophet who comes in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly is a ravenous wolf.” Because of his activities, the Bergstrasse Church removed Albright’s name from their roles.

Even though it was not Albright’s intent to start a new church organization, in 1800 his work had increased so much that he knew that some form of supervision was needed for his religious ministries.

So, as the years progressed, classes were organized in and around the central Pennsylvania region.

A small group of ministers including Albright, George Miller, an early convert of Albright’s, and John Walter, the most prominent in the movement, took to work with little salary.

They were fed and housed in the homes where the meetings were held.

In 1803, the ministry grew as the first General Conference of Albright’s followers was held. And, as time passed, additional men were added to the ministerial roles with classes growing in number.

Albright was ordained by his associates on November 5, 1803, and selected as the nominal leader.

Some called him the Bishop, but it was never a title he truly accepted.


~ JOHN DREISBACH-THE ALBRIGHT COLLEGE CONNECTION ~

The first official minister’s license of Die Evangelische Gemeinschaft (Evangelical Assocation) was issued to John Dreisbach in 1807. This was significant in the history of Albright College, as
Dreisbach, a protégé of Albright, planted the seeds that started the educational movement in the organization. Dreisbach traveled with Albright on many of his preaching missions.

As Albright’s Die Evangelische Gemeinschaft became better known, Dreisbach became a prominent leader. He is credited with planting the seed that started the movement for more formal education of the ministry and laity of the Evangelical Association. Albright impressed upon his young protégé his love of order and the need for proper conduct. And, as the movement grew, it became more evident that a process of formal education was necessary.

Seeing this need, these early evangelists, including Albright, carried with them in their saddle bags a Bible, a Catechism, a prayer book and even a hymnal. And Dreisbach, with a clear vision of more formal education, wrote an article titled “Teachers and Preachers Should Not Be Ignorant” in 1845.

In 1847, at a session of the General Conference of the Evangelical Association held in New Berlin, Pa., Dreisbach introduced a resolution that a school should be established.

The resolution, put to a vote by the general church membership, was defeated. But with the seed firmly planted, it wasn’t long until the church reconsidered. Union Seminary in New Berlin, Pa., was established in 1856. It was rechartered as Pennsylvania Central College in 1887, and became known as Albright College in 1898.


~ THE FINAL YEARS ~

Albright carried out his ministry from 1803 to 1808 at a high level of activity. He and his followers continued to see acts of harassment and agitation from various opposing groups. But in spite of this, the work continued to grow and more and more followers were received into his fellowship. All of this activity, many times under very adverse conditions, took its toll on the life of this very sincere, dedicated leader.

Finally, in May of 1808 when Albright was traveling with several companions from a general meeting held in Linglestown, Pa., northeast of Harrisburg, he became tired and weak from tuberculosis. His
companions knew he could not make it to his home in Lancaster County, 50 miles to the south. So, after 30 miles, they reached the home of George Becker in Kleinfeltersville, in the Millbach area of Lebanon County.

Here, it was determined that Albright was too weak to travel further.

Upon his arrival at the Becker home, Albright asked, “Have you my bed ready? I have come to die.”

Albright died on May 18, 1808, at the age of 49. Buried in the Becker family burial plot, his body remains at that location today.

As a tribute to Albright, a chapel was erected in 1850 and rebuilt in 1860 at the site of his burial. His wife did not arrive before his death. The home in which he died remains, but was moved to a slightly different location visible from the burial grounds.

It was not until after his death that Jacob’s family chose to change his surname from Albrecht, to the more familiar, Albright.


~ THE LEGACY ~

From the very first time Jacob Albright went to Adam Riegel’s house for prayer and meditation in 1790, he was impressed with the theology and the Methodist form of worship. Essentially, Albright followed and practiced Methodism in his establishment of classes throughout the Pennsylvania-German classes he visited.

The Evangelical Association, established as a church unit by Albright’s followers, had as its foundational model the Methodist discipline and articles of faith. It is truly ironic that Francis Asbury, the Methodist leader in Albright’s name, refused to sanction his Pennsylvania German ministry. Today, most all of the religious groups which grew out of the Evangelical Association are now amalgamated into the Methodist church.

Even Albright College, which is today a Methodist college, can trace its basic roots back to that Evangelical Association.


~ BIBLIOGRAPHY ~

  1. Albright, Raymond - A History of the Evangelical Church, The Evangelical Press, Harrisburg, Pa., 1956.
  2. Yeakel, R. - Jacob Albright and His Co-laborers, Publishing House of the Evangelical Association, Cleveland, Ohio, 1883.
  3. Vey, Raymond - Thumbnail Sketch of Evangelical Bishops, The Evangelical Publishing House, Harrisburg, Pa., 1939.
  4. Wilson, Robert - Jacob Albright, The Evangelical Pioneer, Church Center Press, Myerstown, Pa., 1940.
  5. Barth, Eugene and Gingrich, Wilbur - A History of Albright College, Albright College, Reading, Pa., 1955.
  6. Also, selected material from the archives of the Evangelical School of Theology, Myerstown, Pa.