Morton L. (Morton Luther) Montgomery.

Historical and biographical annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania, embracing a concise history of the county and a genealogical and biographical record of representative families, comp. by Morton L. Montgomery .. online

. (page 78 of 227)
Online LibraryMorton L. (Morton Luther) MontgomeryHistorical and biographical annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania, embracing a concise history of the county and a genealogical and biographical record of representative families, comp. by Morton L. Montgomery .. → online text (page 78 of 227)
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encampment of the militia oif the State. Governor Curtin
accepted this timely suggestion, and an encampment was
held at York in September, 1860, with General Keim as
the chief in command. In January following, upon visiting
his home at Reading, he called upon Capt. James McKnight
(who commanded the Ringgold Light Artillery, a company
of volunteers in his brigade), and asked him to keep his
company in readiness so as to be able to respond promptly
to any order that might be given. Through this notice,
the Ringgold Light Artillery came to be the first com-
pany that responded to the President's call for troops in
the Civil war and reported for duty at Harrisburg in
April, 1861. General Keim offered his service when the
crisis arose, and Governor Curtin appointed him to a
command of the State troops under the first requisition
of the President. After the campaign on the upper Po-
tomac, he received from the President the appointment
of Brigadier General of National troops. Resigning the
office of Surveyor-General, he obeyed the order to join
the Army of the Potomac. At the battle of Williamsburg,
one of the most severe contests of the war, he
distinguished himself. Although too sick to be on duty,
he could not be prevented from leaving the hospital, and
having mounted his horse he led his brigade on the field.
His coolness, judgment and great bravery during the action
were conspicuous. Though under fire nearly the whole
time, he was perfectly calm. A bomb fell almost under his
horse. Every one about him turned pale with fear. The
explosion covered him with mud. After the battle, General
McClellan called on him, complimented him for the great
service which he had rendered, and ordered him to the
post of honor in advance of the army. But the excite-
ment incident to this battle aggravated his illness, and
he was obliged to ask for a furlough. This was granted
and he returned to Harrisburg, where his family had
taken up a temporary residence. Unfortunately his
health was too far gone, and he died May 18, 1862, in the
very prime of life and usefulness, aged forty-eight years,
The news of his death produced a profound sensation of
regret throughout the Army of the Potomac. General
McClellan was deeply affected by the loss of this faithful
commander, and he, on May 26th following, issued gen-
eral orders announcing his death and complimenting his
faithful, patriotic services to his country, and these were
read to every regiment in the army. His remains were
brought to Reading, and burie-d with military honors in
the Charles Evans cemetery.



JACOB RUSH, the first President Judge of Berks coun-
ty, was born near Philadelphia in 1746. and was a brother
of the celebrated artist and physician. Dr. Benjamin Rush.
He received an excellent preparatory education and then
entered the College of New Jersey, at Princeton, from
which he was graduated in 1765. Immediately after the
State Constitution of 1790 was adopted, he was appointed
to preside over the Courts of the Third Judicial District,
which included the county of Berks. He afterward be-
came president judge of the First District (of which Phila-
delphia formed a part), and held that position for many
years until the time of his death. He was a patriot of
the Revolution, and in its darkest days stood firm to its
principles. While president judge of the county he re-
sided in Reading, on the west side of South Fifth street,
between Cherry and Franklin streets. He died at Phila-
delphia Jan. 5, 1820.

GEN. GEORGE MAY KEIM was actively engaged in
the financial, industrial, political, military and social life
of Reading for upward of thirty years, dying suddenly in
1861, while co-operating in the organization of troops at
Reading for service in the Civil war. He was born at
Reading, March 23, 1805, and was a member of a family
which has been settled in Berks county for over two cen-
turies, being a lineal descendant of John Keim, who
emigrated to America in the latter part of the seventeenth
century, and was one of the first settlers in Oley township,
this county. He took up land before 1718, and located
in the upper section of the township, near what is now
the village of Lobachsville, carrying on farming there
until his death in 1732. In religion he was a Friend, a
follower of Pastorius.

Nicholas Keim, son of John, was one of the earliest
successful merchants of Reading. He was born in Oley
township April 2, 1719, and engaged in farming until
1755, when he moved with his wife and only son to Read-
ing, where he opened a general hardware store and also
engaged in grain dealing, etc. In 1769 he purchased from
Mark Bird the W'eiser store stand, familiarly known as
the "Old White Store," on Penn street, near Fifth, where
he continued to do business successfully for a number of
years. During that time he was one of the principal mer-
chants of the place, and he had extensive transactions with
the leading merchants of Philadelphia and Germantown,
many prominent names appearing on his receipt books.
In about 1785 he transferred the business to his only son,
John, and retired from active life. He died Aug. 3. 1802,
after a lingering illness. Mr. Keim was a progressive man,
not only in the conduct of his own affairs, but also in the
promotion of every cause affecting the develooment of the
community in which he lived. He married Barbara Sny-
der, and they had one son, John. They lived in a large
two-story stone dwelling located on the Northwest corner
of Penn and Ninth streets.

John Keim continued in his father's footsteps as a suc-
cessful merchant, but surpassed him greatly in the accum-
ulation of property. He was born in Oley township July
6, 1749, and was six years old when the family removed
to Reading, in whose development and commercial life he
was destined to play so prominent a part. In the fall of
1777 he marched with the battalion of Lieut.-Col. Nicholas
Lotz to reinforce the army under Washington, and was
honorably discharged in 1782, after five years' service.
After his return from the war he joined his father in
the conduct of the general hardware store, of which
he became sole proprietor in 1785, as previously related.
AlDout the year 1800, he took into, partnership his two
sons, Daniel and George, under the firm name of Keim
& Sons, and they carried on the business for a number
of years. Meantime John Keim was acquiring new and
varied mterests, and became prominentlv identified in
different ways with the life of his adopted city. In 1787-90
he served a term as county commissioner," and he was
also burgess for a time. He became a large property
owner, and in the improvement of his own holdings
saw the value of internal improvements in the city, of
which he was an enthusiastic advocate. He built a num-




£"■7^ bu £ G '^''M>''ns S.- Brc A/" 5-^




BIOGRAPHICAL



339



ber of dwelling-houses and put up the first three-story
brick building in Reading, and he was accounted one of the
wealthy men of Berks county in his day. In 1806 he
leased to Charles Evans, Esq., the three-story brick
building on South Fifth street which afterward became
the property of Mr. Evans, who resided there for many
years. Mr. Keim was prominently identified with the
first steps taken toward the building of the Penn street
bridge, lending all his influence to the project. He was
a man highly respected and well thought of, for though
strict in business and of the highest integrity he was
never stern or unreasonable in his transactions. In an
obituary notice which appeared in the Berks and Schuyl-
kill Journal it was said : "He had resided in this borough
for sixty-four years, during which time he amassed a
large fortune, which never caused a widow's tear nor
an orphan's execration . . . What he has left behind
him was justly his own. As a creditor he was ever lenient
and his numerous tenantry can testify to his goodness as
a landlord." He died Feb. 10, 1819, in his seventieth
year, and was laid to rest in the Episcopal burial ground.

On Oct. 15, 1771, John Keim married Susanna de Benne-
ville, through whom General Keim is of French-Hugue-
not extraction, she having been a daughter- of Dr. George
de Benneville. They had four children: Daniel de B.,
bom Sept. 8, 1772, who died in 1833 ; George de B., who
is mentioned further on; Benneville, born at Reading,
Nov. 30, 1790, who died there Oct. 30, 1872; and Esther
de B.

Dr. George de Benneville was one of the early prac-
' titioners of medicine in Oley township, where he was
located before 1750. He was born in London July 26,
1 703. a descend ant of George de Benneville, a Frenchman
of Normandy, born in the city of_Rouen. The Doctor's
father, who bore the same name, wa-s~a~ "French refugee,
who, being persecuted for his religion, retired with his
family and connections into England upon invitation of
His Majesty King William, who took a tender care of
them and employed them at his court." After a varied
career, in his thirty-eighth year (1741), with the aid
of Queen Anne, of England, Dr. de Benneville came to
Philadelphia. He was in failing health at the time of
his arrival, but the changed environment was to bring
renewed strength. Benne ville was met at the whdrf
by Christopher .Sane r, the printer of the oldest Bible in
this country, who did not know him but was led to meet
him by the influence of a dreajn. He took the stranger
home with him and there" Benneville met Jean Bertolet,
of Oley, Berks county, where a colony of Huguenots
had settled. The Bertolets had located there as early
as 1726. Bertolet persuaded the Doctor to settle near him
in the forest, and in 1745 he married Es'ther de Bertolet,
daughter of Jean. While in Oley he taught school, prac-
tised m'edicine and preached the gospel, becoming the
founder of the Universalist Church in America. He held
the first meetings in the home which he had built (on
the farm at one time owned by Daniel Knabb) near
the "Oley line," for teaching the doctrines and beliefs
of that religious denomination. The walls of this historic
old de Benneville house in Oley township are still stand-
ing, although it was erected in 1745. He was there until
1755, when he moved to Branchtown, on the old York
road, Philadelphia county, where he acquired an ex-
tensive medical practice. He died there in 1793, aged
ninety years, and his wife died in 1795, aged seventy-five
years.

Gen. George de Benneville Keim, second son of John
Keim, was born at Reading Dec. 16, 1778, and received
his education in the school held in the old Friends' meet-
ing house. He was then sent by his father to Phila-
delphia, entering the large hardware establishment of the
Chancellors, in order to familiarize himself with the bus-
iness. When he returned to Reading, in his twentieth
year, he was taken into partnership by his father, who
carried on the business established at what was known
as the "old white store." This building was the first
business place at Reading. In addition to merchandising
George de Benneville Keim also engaged in the manu-



facture of iron, being interested in the Reading Furnace
and various forges. From 1809 to 1814 he did business
in Philadelphia in connection with the export of bread
stuffs. Many of his business interests were of direct
benefit to this region, not only in the way of furnishing
profitable employment to a large number, but also in
introducing new industries, thus, increasing the resources
of the section materially. He was one of the first to
attempt the cultivation of -the grape and the manufacture
of wine; he used his means and influence in raising the
quality of the live stock in Berks county; and was active
in promoting agricultural interests generally, owning sev-
eral farms in Exeter township and vicinity. Mr. Keim
served as president of the Branch Bank of Pennsylvania
for over thirty years; he was one of the promoters of
the Reading Water Company and its first president, fill-
ing that position for a long period.

Mr. Keim was the chief burgess of Reading, served as
president of the town council for many years, and was
prominent in the development of the county and of Read-
ing, not only in business afl[airs and as a factor in the
local civil government, but also in the promotion of edu-
cation and other matters affecting the broader develop-
ment of the community. He took an earnest interest
in the establishment of the Reading Academy and the
Reading Female Seminary, both of which held an im-
portant place in the literary training of the young peo-
ple of that day. The matter of local public improve-
ments always received his hearty support, and he was
active in the erection of bridges and the building of good
roads, being for many years one of the managers of
both the Perk'iomen and Reading & Sunbury turnpikes.
He was a zealous worker in Christ Church, and took an
active part in the building of same, the lot for which was
donated by a member of the Price family, to which his
wife was related. All benevolent objects and worthy
charities were encouraged and supported by him.

When the whiskey insurrection broke out, in 1794, Mr.
Keim volunteered, serving in the government forces, and
he always took the keenest pleasure in military matters.
In 1821 he received the appointment of aid on the staff
of Governor Hiester, with the rank of colonel; in 1830
he was elected major-general of the 6th Division, Penn-
sylvania Militia, succeeding his brother-in-law, Hon. Sam-
uel D. Franks, and when he retired, five years later, was
succeeded by his son, George M. Keim, who in turn was
succeeded by his cousin. Gen. William H. Keim.

On Feb. 4, 1799, Mr. Keim married Miss Mary May,
daughter of James May, and to them were born seven
children, three sons and four daughters, namely : John
M., George M., Daniel M., Ann, Susan, Catharine and
Rebecca (m. Wirt Robinson, an eminent civil engineer
of Richmond, Va.). George de B. Keim passed away
Aug. 20, 1853, a.nd his wife died in 1854.

James May, father of Mrs. Mary (May) Keim, and
maternal grandfather of Gen. George May Keim, was a
well-known citizen of Reading. He was born March 20,
1749, in Coventry township, Chester county. Pa., son of
Robert and Elizabeth May, and grandson of Robert May,
who came to this province before the year 1700, and
married a daughter of John Brooke. Mr. May was of
Quaker ancestry. Prior to the Revolution he moved to
Reading, where he ever afterward made his home, be-
coming one of the prominent citizens of that place. In
the Act of 1783, incorporating Reading into a borough, he
was named as one of the assistant burgesses, and he
was particularly well known as an early advocate of
public improvements in this section, being identified orom-
inently with such ventures as the Union canal. Centre
turnpike, etc. He was a general merchant and also dealt
extensively in grain, lumber, etc.. and was connected with
various important institutions, being a director of the
Branch Bank and a member of the first Board of Trade
at Reading. He was one of the two wardens of the
Episcopal Chvrch, the other having been Marks John
Biddle, Esq. His death occurred at Reading in 1819.

James May married Bridget Douglass, daughter of
George Douglass, and by this union lost his birthright in



830



HISTORY OF BERKS COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA



the Society of Friends, the Douglass family being Episco-
palians. Their children were: Mary (m. George de B.
iCeim), George, Sarah (m. Hon. Samuel D. Franks),
Thomas and Elizabeth.

George May Keim received his early education at home
and at Bentley Hall, the school conducted by Joshua
Hoopes, at Downington, Chester Co., Pa. In 1833 he
was graduated at Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa. He
studied law under Charles Chauncey, Esq., at Philadelphia,
where he was admitted to the bar June 5, 1826, being
admitted to the Bar in Berks county on Aug. 11th fol-
lowing. As a leader in important public affairs, in var-
ious business enterprises of note, and in the government
of his country, he found this preparation of immense
value. In fact he used his legal knowledge more in such
ways than in direct professional labors. At the early age
of twenty-two, in 1837, he was elected cashier of the
Farmers' Bank of Reading, of which his uncle, Benneville
Keim, was the president, and held that position until 1836.
He held a substantial interest in many projects tending
toward the commercial development of Reading, and en-
couraged the establishment of others. He aided in the
erection of the first rolling-mill and nail works, owned
by Keims, Whittaker & Co., and was a member of the
firm of Jones, Keim & Co!, who carried on the Wind-
sor Furnace, in Windsor township. This firm had a re-
putation for its fine castings, made directly from the iron
ore, notable among which was "The Last Supper," after
Leonardo da Vinci. He understood thoroughly the val-
ue of agriculture in the economy of the county, and used
his influence and means in raising the standards in var-
ious branches of farming. He introduced imported thor-
oughbred cattle into the county, and was one of the or-
ganizers of the Berks County Agricultural Society, de-
livering the address at its first annual meeting, Oct.
28, 1852. He was the second president of the society,
serving as such for several years, and it was during his
administration that the county commissioners leased to the
society for ninety-nine years the "Commons" for the
annual exhibitions. He made agricultural addresses in
variotis parts of the State by request. Another source
of revenue which he considered valuable in the State
led him to an early investigation of her mineral resour-
ces, and he made a thorough study of the geology and
mineralogy of the State, in the course which he acquired
a comprehensive collection of minerals, including valuable
specimens from all parts of the world. In this connec-
tion might be mentioned his Indian relics, which were
principally from central Pennsylvania, and which after
his decease were presented to the Smithsonian Institute.
The minerals were given to Lehigh University. In 1829
General Keim was commissioner, and later for some years
manager, of the Mill Creek and Mine Hill Navigation
and Railroad Company.

General Keim early became identified with public af-
fairs. He represented Berks county at the convention
called to amend the State Constitution held during 1837-
38, and his speech on banking attracted considerable and
most favorable notice. His name appears among such
distinguished ones as John Sergeant, Charles Chauncey,
Thaddeus Stevens and George W. Woodward as a mem-
ber of the committee of nine who issued a stirring ad-
dress concerning the ways and means of providing for
common school education and the general diffusion of
useful knowledge, as well as the industry and pecuniary
prosperity of the State. In 1838, when a vacancy oc-
curred in Congress because of the resignation of Hon.
H. A. Muhlenberg, who accepted the mission to Aus-
tria, General Keim was elected to fill out the term, and
he was subsequently re-elected for two terms, remain-
ing in Congress until March, 1843. At the election for
Speaker of the House in the XXVIth Congress he re-
ceived a complimentary vote. During the XXVIIth Con-
gress he distinguished himself in a patriotic speech against
a petition praying for the dissolution of the Union.
He declined renomination for a fourth term. In 1843,
toward the close of his Congressional career, he pre-
sided at a dinner given to Charles Dickens in Washing-



ton, in March of that year, when many men prominent
in politics and letters were present to welcome the great
author.

Upon his retirement from Congress the General was
offered his choice of three positions by President Ty-
ler, and he selected that of United States marshal for
the Eastern district of Pennsylvania in order to remain
at home. In 1844 he was re-appointed by Polk. Mean-
time he found his popularity throughout the State in-
creasing steadily, and such was the confidence in his
ability and integrity that he could have had the Dem-
ocratic nomination for governor in 1848, but he would
not consider the proposal. In 1853, upon the death of
Mayor Getz, he was elected to fill the unexpired terjn„
entirely without sohcitation. In 1860, at the Democrat-
ic convention in Reading, he was elecrea a Presidential
elector at large.

From early manhood General Keim manifested his in-
terest in military matters. In 1830 he was elected cap-
tain of the Reading Artillerists, to succeed his uncle,
Capt. Daniel de B. Keim, and not long afterward he
became colonel of the 53d Regiment, Pennsylvania Mili-
tia. In 1835 he became major-general of the 6th Divis-
ion, Pennsylvania Militia, which included the compan-
ies of Berks, Schuylkill, Dauphin and Lebanon coun-
ties, succeeding his father in tliat position. When the
Civil war broke out he immediately identified himself
with the Union cause, and he labored faithfully and
zealously to hold the Democratic party in his county
together in the trying period immediately preceding the
war. In the spring of 1861 he raised a company of
volunteers for home defense, and he was active and
enthusiastic in drilling and preparing them for actual
duties. One of the last acts he performed was to head
a paper with his name, offering the services of this
coiTLpany to the government. It was undoubtedly the un-
usual exertion of this undertaking that brought on the
stroke of paralysis from which his death soon ensued,
on June 10, 1861, when he was fifty-six years old. He
was buried at sunset on the 12th, in the Charles Evans
cemetery, with military and Masonic honors. His fun-
eral was one of the largest ever seen in Reading up
to that time, his death being sincerely mourned through-
out the State. The numerous enterprises he encouraged
and supported won him friends in every walk of life,
and his genial disposition, open-hearted and companion-
able nature, i"etained them forever.

General Keim married in 1837 Julia C. Mayer, youngest
daughter of Hon. Christopher Mayer, of Lancaster, and
si.x children survived them: George de Benneville. Charles
Wetherill, Henry May, Julia Mayer (Mrs. Gustavus Au-
gustus Behne), Susan Douglass and Mary May. . Mrs.
Keim died May 12, 1857. The sons have attained an
eminence in the public life of the State worthy of the
name and family traditions.

CONRAD WEISER was the most prominent historical
character in the county of Berks previous to 1760. His
great prominence arose from his intimate connection with
the provincial government of Pennsylvania for thirty
years. He was the principal judge of Berks county from
17S2 to 1760. He was born Nov. 2, 1696, at Afstaedt, a
small village in the County of Herrenberg, in Wurtem-
berg, Germany, and there he acquired a general education,
wliich included the principles of the Christian religion
according to the catechism of Martin Luther. Whilst in
his fourteenth year he emigrated with his father and fam-
ily (which included himself and seven other children)
to New York, landing June 17, 1710. At that time several
thousand Germans were sent to America by Queen Anne.
Shortly after their arrival they were removed to Livings-
ton Manor by the Governor of New York, to burn tar
and cultivate hemp to defray the expenses incurred by
Queen Anne in conveying them from Holland to England
and from England to America. They labored till 1713 in
this employment under the direction of commissioners;
then, finding that they were existing under a form of
bondage, they protested against the treatment and this




GRAVE OF CONRAD WEISER IN HEIDELBERG TOWNSHIP



BIOGRAPHICAL



331



effected their release. About 150 families of them, in-
cluding the Weiser family, removed to Schoharie, forty
miles west of Albany. Whilst spending the winter of
1713-14 at Schenectady, t he elder W eiser was frequently
visited by an Indian chief of the Mohawk tribe, and dur-
ing one of these visits the chief proposed to Conrad to
visit the Mohawk country and learn the language of
that tribe. This proposition was agreed to.

Conrad Weiser was in . his eighteenth year when he
went to live with the Indians. He was a strong young
man, but all of his strength was necessary to endure the
sufferings which he was compelled to undergo whilst living
with them. He had scarcely clothing sufficient to cover
his body during the winter of that trying year. Besides
much suffering, he was frequently threatened with death
by the Indians during a state of intoxication. In July,
1714, he returned to his father's home at Schoharie. In



Online LibraryMorton L. (Morton Luther) MontgomeryHistorical and biographical annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania, embracing a concise history of the county and a genealogical and biographical record of representative families, comp. by Morton L. Montgomery .. → online text (page 78 of 227)