Shenandoah Settlement

In the early 1700s, most European religious dissenters coming to the colonies arrived at Philadelphia, the "city of brotherly love". Products of the Reformation, these newcomers were directed to the Great Valley of Virginia to form a human shield of settlements protecting the eastern English Piedmont and Tidewater plantations against the Indian nations to the west.

German or Swiss Lutherans and Anabaptists (Brethren, Amish, and Mennonite) and English speaking Scots-Irish Presbyterians from the Ulster Plantations settled the Shenandoah Valley. Generally, very generally, the northern Valley, including Shenandoah County, was predominately German while the southern portion was mostly Scots-Irish. Many early Valley newspapers were published in German.

Though English was spoken by everyone, with the independence given by farming, spoken German persisted in some Shenandoah families into the 20th century. During WWII German POWs were kept on a Rockingham County farm, Shenandoah County churches ministered the communion to them. Though bound by language, the churches kept seperate Communion plates for their German-speaking but American congregations and the German officers! It wasn't until the 1960s that the educational system squashed the last of this uniquely American "mountain Dutch" language.

Visual differences of the settlement patterns can be seen today. Early Lutheran churches usually have a squared zweibeldom or 'S-curve' on the roofs of their bell towers. Anabaptist meeting halls are notably plain, lack high ceilings, and have a short plain tower if they have one at all. Presbyterian churches are typically more English-appearing, with moderate tapered belfys, substantial construction, and a single, centered entry.

In a Judaic tradition, early Germanic churches had seperate entry doors for men and women. By 1970 all had been converted to single doors, but traces of the original doors can still be seen. Germanic houses, even the simplest, often had two front doors; one for family or friends, one for formal visitors.

Following a County-wide day of "prayer and reflection" Peter Muhlenberg, a German Lutheran minister of Shenandoah County, preached a sermon based on Ecclesiastes, urging his congregation to take up the cause of American Independence. "There is a time for all things - a time to preach and a time to fight, and now is the time to fight".

Shenandoah County volunteers fought honorably and successfully under (now) Colonel Muhlenberg in the Revolution's first battles. Devastated by disease from South Carolina garrison duty, remnants of the original unit stood with General Washington at Yorktown when "the world turned upside down".

The Anabaptist tradition of pacifism was a problem in the Revolution; it's followers accepted only non-combat support duties, if at all. In the county next to Shenandoah, pacifists rioted against a militia draft before being arrested; but pacifism actually helped Shenandoah after the Civil War.

Though slavery was common in central Valley farms, the terrain didn't support the large plantation systems of eastern Virginia Tidewater. The 'tipping point' of Abolitionist sympathy was on Shenandoah's western border, becoming the new state of West Virginia. After the war Confederate supporters and participants were disenfranchised, stripped of their right to vote or hold office, and often their property was confiscated. Pacifist Mennonites and Brethren could still vote and hold office, enabling continuity in local government.

Early History

Shenandoah County Genealogy

Thumbnail timeline

Hottel-Keller Memorial, a Germanic heritage museum

Shenandoah County Cemetery List

Related Links:
Another Shenandoah history

Some photos of early dual door homes

Calvin Sonner's northern Shenandoah County