MOUNTAIN MARY, Die Berg Maria, An Historical Tale of Early Pennsylvania, By Ludwig August Wollenweber
Translators Introduction, John Joseph Stoudt
"Mountain Mary" is an enduring Pennsylvania Dutch legend and an elusive historical problem.
As legend it has grown from a cryptic notice in the 1790 Census of the United States to an effusive flood of words that gush forth from regional historians. The legend has had many formulations, including
Die Berg Maria, the novelette here translated. Not all versions of the legend agree; details vary. So the historical problem of digging out the truth about "Mountain Mary"" remains. There are some who have denied that such a person ever existed.
An honest historian, liberated from the positivism that chains him to facts "as they actually were," knows that legends are history too in the sense that they project the inner meaning of events. Parson Weems’ Washington, for example, may not be accurate biography but it does
show that General George was indeed first in the hearts of his countrymen. So too, "Mountain Mary" gets her historical significance from the legends that have grown up around the historical person, Anna Maria Jung.
Actually, we have here two historical problems that are so interwoven that a critical historian may extract truth from them only with great difficulty. The question is basic: who was the historical figure about whom these legends have grown? What is the meaning of these
legends for the field of Pennsylvania Dutch studies and for Pennsylvania history? Evidence remains sketchy, only partially deduced from objective fact.
It is said that Anna Maria Jung (Young) was born near Frankfurt-Main, Germany, in or about 1749. She is said to have migrated to Pennsylvania, arriving sometime between 1764 and 1773. This date is uncertain.
If her father's name was Jacob-a fact not yet established-there are two possibilities: a Johann Jakob Jung signed the ship list of the Jenefer, November 29, 1764, Captain George Kerr commanding; and a Jakob Jung made his mark on the ship list of the Minerva, September17, 1771, Captain Thomas Arnot commanding. Neither list mentions or names dependents. If his name was not Jacob, then we have to examine the thirteen other persons with the family name Jung who arrived between 1764 and 1773. 1.
The Jung family, having arrived in Pennsylvania, may first have settled in Germantown, but this is tar from certain.
The first bit of precise information that we have about a person like “Mountain Mary’"-and a tantalizing bit it is!-comes from the first Census of the United States taken in 1790, 2 Listing the heads of families in East District, Berks County, the enumerator recorded "Mary (the Abbes)" who was living with two other females, probably her sisters Anna Elisabeth and Maria Elisabeth, later to marry citizens of Oley. This cryptic statement of only three words confirms that there
already was a "Mountain Mary" legend. But what does “Abbess" mean? Was Mary head of a female religious establishment? Or was this a personal designation? Why was she not simply listed by her family name
rather than by this European stereotype? So already around 1790, just a few years after her arrival in Oley, Mary was an historical figure around whom a legend was growing.
The second bit of precise information that we have is the will of Anna Maria Young. On the date March 13, 1813, a person who signed herself "Anna Maria Jungin"(the in" is the feminine ending) wrote a
will which was recorded in Will Book D, Page 343, Berks County. From this significant document we may garner some interesting deductions, evidence that both confirms and contradicts materials in the legends.
First and perhaps most important, we know that Mary was an historical figure, that the person listed in the 1790 Census was more than a creation of the imagination.
Mary listed herself as a 'single" person. This contradicts the study as written by Wollenweber, who makes her a war-widow. Mary may have been betrothed to Theodore Benz.
Mary bequeathed to her niece, Maria Elisabeth Schneider, a not inconsiderable sum of money. And she owned a cabin with over forty acres of land. She was not impoverished.
Mary mentions books and manuscripts! Was she a scholarly recluse? Did she write? If Mountain Mary was an authoress, what treasures her works would be!
She mentions her trusty friends: Daniel Yoder (Joder) (1777-1826), one-time county commissioner of Berks who was an affluent citizen of Oley;3 and Thomas Lee, of an old Quaker family in the valley.4
Nor was Mary solitary. She named her two deceased sisters, Anna Elisabeth Schneider, mother of Maria Elisabeth and wife of Johann Georg Schneider; and Maria Catherine Noll, mother of John Noll, Henry
Noll, Elisabeth [Noll ] Helm, and Mary's namesake, Anna Maria Noll.
Mary Young was indeed an historical person.
We have sill more evidence. In the year 1819, just before Mary’s death, Benjamin M. Hollinshead visited Oley, properiy fortified with letters of introduction (from whom?) to seek information about Mountain Mary. He was accompanied by Dr. Jesse Thompson. The party set out in July. This was one of the last visits by reporting travelers. Hollinshead wrote:
After riding a few miles along the valley, we began to ascend the mountain ...On reaching the summit, and passing through woods we came to an enclosure, on the opposite side of which was situated the humble log cabin of "Mountain Mary." Fastening our horses to the fence, we lowered the bars, and walking slowly over the greensward, were met by the hermitess at the threshold
of the dwelling, She received us kindly and after an interchange of inquiries on the part of her and our friends, she commenced speaking in a religious strain, informing us through a lady in our party who acted as interpreter, that on serious thought she was obliged to speak in her native language, the German.
Her remarks breathed a strain of devotional feeling which had a solemnizing effect upon the company, and the countenance of the speaker was one of the most benign I had ever beheld. After a pause which succeeded her discourse, we walked forth to make a
survey of the premises. The view was bounded by the surrounding forest except in the northern direction, where a farmhouse was seen on the slope of one of the neighboring hills. Mary took us into her milkhouse, which was a few steps from her door, and which was
beautifully supplied from the solitary cow that stood near us. A limpid stream from a neighboring elevation was conducted into the building and then guided peacefully away irrigating the meadow in the course down the mountain. We now walked to the margin of the woods, where we found a square enclosure of rails, which
contained three graves, one of the mother, the others of the sisters of Mary, and a head and footstone for another grave.
On returning to take our leave, we were surprised to find a table sprcad with delicious fruits; and we were invited to partake in a manner so sincere and courteous, that we did not distrust our kind hostess when she assured us we were welcome.5
Mountain Mary had been ailing for several years, as we gather from her will. In November, 1819, she was taken seriously ill and was attended by Mrs. Susanna deBenneville Keim, wife of john Keim and daughter of
the founder of American Universalism, Dr. George deBenneville, former resident of Oley.
Mary died November 16, 1819. In spite of her fame and reputation a search of contemporary newspapers does not yield any formal notice of her passing.
However, the Mountain Mary legend continued to grow. In 1822 it was already widely known. In that year a poem about her appeared in The Phantom Barge and Other Poems by the author of The Limner"
in Philadelphia. It gives the substance of the Mountain Mary legend and so is worthy of quotation:
Whoe'er has trod by Schuylkill's shore,
Where Oley's hills are stretched along
And in romantic beauty soar, -
Has heard of Mary Young.
They tell for many a mile around
Where her lone dwelling may be found,
And show the green hill where it stands
Surrounded by its cultured lands,
Where yet the traveller stops to see
The poor and humble devotee.
Far from the world and all its strife
And care, old Mary dwells alone -
And tho' she treads the vale of life,
Her mind is not o'erthrown;
But the bright evening of her days
Is passed away in prayer and praise,
Like that fair bird, whose latest form
Is full of music's magic power,
And who, in death, awakes a tone
Far sweeter than her life had known.
She owns no sect - but thus has trod
The path of piety from youth
And she is one who worships God
In spirit and in tru th.
Her praise is pure - devoid of art -
The adoration of the heart; -
And tho' 'tis simple, has no less
The majesty of holiness;:
And shines as bright, when prayer is heard,
As oft by loftier life prepared.
As the sweet star of evening shines,
When sinking nightly to repose,
Towards life's last goal she now declines,
The horizon of her close -
With as much calm serenity,
As tho' she waited but to die:
As tho' the toils of time were o'er,
And she were lingering on the shore,
Till the light bark of death should come
To bear her to a happy home.
There is a little spot, which she
Now holds within her cottage view, -
There sleeps her line of ancestry.
And she will sleep there too.
And tho' the name of Mary Young
Be not, on earth, remembered long,
There is a world where virtue lives
Beyond the limit memory gives,
And from its earthly frailties free,
Blooms on, in one eternity.6
Around the year 1825 a young friend of Hollinshead visited Oley again, seeking information about Mountain Mary. He found the following hearsay information: Mary was born near Frankfurt-Main; she came to
Germantown where she spun cotton on a wheel, living with her father, mother and two sisters; the father died; after the battle of Germantown (October, 1777) she took refuge in the Oley hills with her mother and
sisters; on their death Mary lived alone. She was a recluse for thirty years. (This would make her sojourn in Oley from 1784 to 1819.)7 Hollinshead's friend wrote this about Mary:
She was said to be very intelligent and a religious woman, and was visited by her neighbors to have her advice on their diffculties, which was often so judicious and far-seeing that she was thought by some to have a way of acquiring knowledge unknown to many.
The most interesting feature in her character ...was her great industry. She kept three or four cows, food for which she raised on a meadow near her cottage. The grass she used to cut herself, and, after drying, carry home. Her cattle were cared for in a superior manner and consequently she was enabled to make a
great deal of butter, this she carried on her head to a person who took it to market for her, and who lived about three miles away. She also had bees and collected a large quantity of honey.
...These appear to have been her occupations, which did not only enable her to live, but to make considerable money.8
Here we see how a Mountain Mary legend is growing, somewhat slowly at first, and the character of the legend is beginning to emerge. By the time that I. Daniel Rupp wrote his History of Berks and Lebanon
Counties Mountain Mary was a full-blown legend,10 Mrs. Charles Evans of Reading had composed a longish poem of thirty-six strophes that kept the Mountain Mary legend alive.
About the same time Henry W. Bigony wrote some verse which was read at a Sunday School picnic August 21, 1846. This was translated from the German by Ralph Bigony of Bally, Pa., as follows (my trans-
lation appears at the end of the novelette);11
There, underneath this mountain stone,
Lies Mary Young, who lived alone,
High on the lofty mountainside,
Beloved and honored till she died.
Loved and honored by the few
Who gave to virtue virtue's hue,
Stranger, she that's buried here
Was humble, pious and sincere.
The even temper of her days
She passed in grateful prayer and praise -
Her heart was like a gentle dove
That came from heaven with promised love.Her head, her hand, her cottage door
Were open to the rich and poor -
Her faith confirmed, her will resigned,
So sweetly calmed, so pure her mind,
The God of mercy from His throne
Looked down and claimed her as His own.
Interestingly, as far as the Mountain Mary legend is concerned, little was being said about her folk medicine, about her traveling over the countryside to comfort and to heal the sick.
By 1880 the legend of Mountain Mary was given new impetus in the novelette Die Berg Maria written in high German and translated here. How forceful an impact this story made on a culture then already growing weary of reading German cannot be assayed.
Ludwig August Wollenweber (1807-1888), a political refugee from the struggles of Germany during the 1830s, wrote this story to project the Pennyslvania Dutch mood during the Colonial period-the sufferings
on the voyage to Pennsylvania, the sordid redemptioner system, the hard service of the earlier years, the struggle with British tyranny and all the lonely pathos of a Revolutionary War widow spending her declining
years serving others. Writing during the centennial of the American Revolution, Wollenweber gave political cast to the legend. Wollenweber had been born at Ixheim near Zweibrücken in the Palatinate and he had come to America during the political troubles. He
arrived in 1833, setlling in Philadelphia where he founded the Philadelphische Demokrat in 1839. He served as its editor for many years, championing liberal politics. Upon his retirement he settled at Womelsdorf, Berks County, where he wrote novelettes, dialect prose and poetry that appeared in provincial newspapers under the pen name, “Der Alte vom Berge." He became an ardent advocate of Pennsylvania Dutch matters.
With all its lack of accuracy as far as Anna Maria Jung, the historical figure behind the legend, is concerned, Wollenweber's Die Berg Maria still is the classical study of Pennsylvania Dutch life during the Revolutionary period.
This novelette takes many liberties with the facts. Yet it stands apart from all other versions of the Mountain Mary legend by the structure and art of its composition. It is myth. Its characters can do no wrong, Here all is sentiment, saccharine and sweet, full of romantic
idealization. Man's struggle, as in the old Greek myths, is against fate, against the darkness that resides in events that dominate us. Die Berg Maria, then, is a novelette without villain or evil in human form. Only
young Peter Muhlenberg keeps his mischief, a trait he later overcame when he became a famous general.
What was Wollenweber's purpose? He was building myth, taking elements from his background, from history, from life, to fashion into a tale that carries some universal Pennsylvania Dutch elements. Wollen-
weber made Mary Young, an orphan, fall in love on shipboard with Theodore Benz, a fictional character. The tall muscular young man was to become Knecht (farmhand) in Oley for Farmer Leinbach, an historical figure. By faithful service dutifully performed, Theodore earns the farmer's gratitude. Enlisting in the Berks County Volunteers (his name cannot be found on the muster), he is made to have served in the Battle of Long Island where he was among the missing. Thus Mary, who had married Theodore in a quick ceremony, became a war widow. This is the motivation that Wollenweber adds to the Mountain Mary legend-
fictional in our sense, mythological too.
What Wollenweber achieved was to put the Mountain Mary legend into a universal mythological frame of reference, thus making it in one sense a classical tale of the Pennsylvania Dutch during the Revolution. As the story of Regina Hartmann became mythological in John Birmelin’s fine ballad, standing for the sufferings of frontier families during the Indian troubles, so Wollenweber's "Mountain Mary," by exploiting and
expanding a traditional theme, has become the classical mythological projection of Pennsylvania Dutch life during the American Revolution.
This tremendous achievement was bought at a price that some may find too high-the distortion of the Mountain Mary history. Be that as it may. Such dangers to the Mountain Mary story, deviations from fact,
are compensated for by the greater purpose that Wollenweber proposed-the mythological projection of the Pennsylvania Dutch experience during the American Revolution. This is then a novelette not so much
about Mountain Mary as about Pennsylvania Dutch life during the later years of British rule in America. In this sense then Die Berg Maria is a Pennsylvania Dutch classic. So Wollenweber's novelette stands by itself and it ought to be seen apart from the Mountain Mary legend. For it takes sustenance from a broader theme, one that may even go far beyond the Mountain
In all honesty we must say that Wollenweber's novelette did little to influence the Mountain Mary legend. On August 27, 1910, the Reading Weekly Eagle printed a long account of Mountain Mary by James G. Dengler of Philadelphia. Here an interesting new theme was
stressed: Mary was a healer and practical nurse.
In 1934 the Mountain Mary legend was recognized by the Daughters of the American Revolution, Berks County Chapter, who erected a monument near her cabin with the following inscription:
To the Memory of Mary Young
Who lived to the south in these hlls from
early womanhood until her death, Novem-
ber 16, 1819, at the age of 70 years. A
pioneer nurse, comforter of body and soul,
benevolent, pious, brave and charitable.
"She hath done what she could"
Erected by Berks County Chapter D. A. R. in 1934
In 1940 Luther A. Pflueger translated Wollenweber's novelette and it was published in Dr. Preston A, Barba's 'S Pennsylfawnisch Deitsch Eck
in the Allentown Call, on June 1, 8, 13, 22 and 29. This translation was somewhat pedestrian and did not put German verse into English.
After 1942 periodic pilgrimages were made to Mountain Mary’s grave near the Hill Church, Bechtelsville, Berks County. Notable persons attended, sharing the festivities: Dr. Barba, dean of Pennsylvania German
scholars; Dr. Elmer E. S. Johnson, founder of the Schwenkfelder Library: Dr. Alfred Shoemaker, Rev. William A. Rupp and Mrs. Mary deTurk Hottenstein, prime mover of the pilgrimage. At the second pilgrimage in 1947 John Birmelin, Pennsylvania Dutch dialect poet, read an original poem, An de Baerrick Maria Ihr'm Graab. 12 At the third pilgrimage in 1951, Professor Henry W. Sharadin of Kutztown explained the tryptich
that he had painted expressing his views of the Mountain Mary story. The seventh pilgrimage was held November 2, 1952.
In final assessment then Mountain Mary is both fact and legend. There are few proven facts about Anna Maria Jung, facts that stand the tests of the laws of historical evidence. However, at the same time, legends are historical too and the tales about this strangely attractive
person of the Oley hills attest to her historical meaning.
We can see, also, growth to the legend itself. During the earlier period Mountain Mary was a religious recluse, in fact an “abbess." Wollenweber made her a grieving war widow of a Revolutionary hero. Now she is seen as a devoted practical nurse. While the emphases vary,
all points of view may be part of the historical facts.
Obviously we cannot at this late date go back to the historical Mary, the sources being as obscure as they are. Only historical positivists insist that Mary is what Mary was. By the same token we must refrain from gushing romanticism that passes itself off for history-a flood of sentiment that does credit neither to Mary nor to those who admired her. Mountain Mary is therefore both fact and fancy, both truth and interpretation, one of the more interesting of Pennsylvania legends.
1. Vide: Strassburger and Hinke (1934) PENNSYLVANIA GERMAN PIONEERS,
Volumes I and III,; Norristown, Pa., passim.
(1909) HEADS OF FAMILIES AT THE FIRST CENSUS OF THE
YEAR 1790, PENNSYLVANIA: Washington,
UNITED STATES IN THE
3. CÉ. P.C. Croll (1926) ANNALS OF THE OLEY VALLEY: Reading, Pa., p. 33.
Daniel Yoder's wife was Margaret Oyster (Eyster), aunt of the clockmaker,
4. Ibid., p. 31 and passim.
5. CE. Benjamin M. Hollinshead (October 21, 1939) *Mountain Mary" in 'S
PENNSYLFAWNISCH DEITSCH ECK, Allentown Call.
10. I. Daniel Rupp (1844) HISTORY OF BERKS AND LEBANON COUNTIES:
11. (June 29, 1940) ECK. The original German appears in Rupp, op. cit.
12. Cf. (1951) "The Later Poems of John Birmelin," in PUBLICATIONS OF THE
PENNSYLVANIA GERMAN FOLKLORE SOCIETY, XVI: Allentown, Pa.,