A Look at the Life of Henry Harbaugh
By Joan C. McCulloh
Henry Harbaugh, preacher, minister, teacher, author, lived for fifty years and two months from October 28, 1817, until December 28, 1867. In those years the many and varied threads of his life he wove into a unique tapestry, a tapestry of determined learning, high and unyielding principles, extraordinary energy, courage in the face of controversy, sad events, and some very endearing qualities.
Born on a farm southeast of Waynesboro, Henry Harbaugh was the tenth child of George and Anna Snyder Harbaugh, hard-working and God-fearing parents who reared their children in their Pennsylvania German language and German Reformed faith. As Henry's grandfather, who had immigrated, had settled on land in this same area, the Harbaughs were well-known and so dedicated to their faith that Henry's father, George, in time gave the land upon which what has always been called the Harbaugh Church was built.
According to tradition, when Henry was nine years old, a minister of the German Reformed Church, leaving after a visit, placed his hand upon Henry's head and noted that he would become a minister. Although there is little evidence that in his boyhood he enjoyed life on the farm, in his later years he visited it and spoke and wrote of it with nostalgia. Especially memorable are his poem about the old schoolhouse and his recital of the little man, an echo in what he called the pie-apple tree. In this memory he and the echo responded to each other: “Ho-ho still alive, Ho still alive, Little man in the barn, man in the barn, are you getting old? Getting old? Still your voice is good, voice is good, little man, farewell, man farewell.”
As in his youth farm work did not seem congenial to him, and academic studies for him did not seem congenial to his father, his father sent Henry to Fountaindale in Adams County so that the young man would become an apprentice to his Uncle Yost, who owned a sawmill. His father, who thought him unfit to become a farmer, would not hear of a formal extended education. The apprenticeship lasted only four months but long enough for Henry to have some affection for a girl identified only as M.I.C.
Dissatisfied with prospects for his life in the East, in July or August 1836 Henry, eighteen years old, set out for Ohio. Having taken the stage coach from Chambersburg through Bedford, Somerset, Mt. Pleasant, and Pittsburgh and then a steamboat down the Ohio River and then overland, he arrived in Massilon, Stark County, Ohio, in which Uncle Yost’s son, Daniel, lived. On his first Sunday in Massilon he sang in the church choir and was invited to attend a singing school, in which he sang for about a hundred people. That evening he organized a singing class of twenty-four people. Throughout his life his love of music was an enduring and endearing characteristic, and people throughout his life commented upon the quality of his voice, both in singing and speaking.
These Ohio years were his formative years, the years in which Henry Harbaugh became the Henry Harbaugh we know. His cousin, Daniel, got him a job as a millwright. At that time Henry embarked upon a concerted program of self-education, a private course of study and reading. In his work as a millwright he placed an English grammar on his workbench and memorized conjugations and declensions. Many years later in writing about himself in the third person he said: “We know a young man who in the course of his business as a journeyman mechanic was thrown among a company of fellow-workmen who had ‘no other resort’ as they thought, but impatient of laudable company, to spend their evenings playing cards in the mill,….He, having been trained in different habits, had no difficulty in finding another place of resort. He prepared for himself candles, fixed for himself a study in a finished bolt chest, where he spent his evenings in reading, writing, and study. As we know him well, we have been frequently assured that he still remembers some things which he learned in that bolting chest. And he is firmly of the opinion that those evenings were among the most pleasant and profitable of his whole life. While the card players would fall out in the game, and swear in fearful style at one another, the echoes of which would ring through the mill, he was getting along on the best of terms with the poets, historians, and sages of other days. These conversed with him kindly and wisely and did not seem at all ashamed of his humble company.” His quest for study as well as his interest in and capacity for wood-working remained with him throughout his life.
At this time he had questions about his future - whether to take up a trade or to study for the ministry. He also began to write essays and poems and had them published in local newspapers under the pseudonym of Edwin. He submitted essays, frequently about music, and one about George Washington and poetry often imitative of Byron and Burns.
Henry seems to have made good friends there as he sent his essays and poetry to them for their appraisal. From the extant replies it is certain that at least some of his friends took his writing seriously and made constructive comments. One friend, who is unnamed, commented upon one of Henry's pieces as follows: “I am happy to find that the liberty I took in criticizing has not ruffled you against me. As some allusion is made respecting metaphor and figures of speech and mystics, I would briefly reply that it depends much upon what calling you pursue….Having learned from good authority that you intend to prepare yourself for the ministry and having some idea of your means, I thought probably you would pay less attention to the mystic and more to the real simon pure….If you were to address the common people, which of course you will if you become a minister of the Gospel would you think high-wrought pictures, mysterious figures having the semblance of fiction and flaming allegories would have the tendency to arrest the attention of hearers to their benefit? ….” Later this same candid friend wrote: ”I received a paper some weeks ago from you containing a fictitious piece which is pretty well written. It is well composed and conceived for so young a hand as yourself taking your literary attainments and your chance and time for your education into consideration; there are a few expressions, though,…I thought were injudicious, and the latter parts wind up rather abrupt to continue the thread of the story….However, I do not wish to discourage you from sending me a paper at any time that contains a composition from your pen, either poetical or prosaical.” His process of self-education that included not only his solitary study but also his extension of himself to include writing for the public and accepting criticism served him well.
After having worked as a millwright, he with a friend, Perry West, a young man from Lakeview, New York, who was to become a longtime friend, went to work in a machine shop. Later Perry in one of his letters to Henry remembered: ”I am reminded of the solitary sings you and I used to enjoy in the shop…..there we have sung till I was so hoarse I could hardly make a noise like a screech owl and still could not give it up.”
Although he experienced disappointments, he did not give up. Because of the panic of 1837 Perry and he lost their jobs. Then he next went to Harrisonville in Medina County, but his employer did not pay him the $200 Henry had earned. In 1838 when he returned to his Waynesboro home, his father was still adamant in his refusal to help him. Added to this disappointment was the news that the girl in whom he was interested, M.I.C., had married a thirty-six year old man who had a fourteen year old daughter and that she was his third wife. Henry ended his note about news of this event with nineteen exclamation marks.
He returned to Ohio and taught school for two winters and attended an academy in New Hagerstown for two summers. In New Hagerstown he joined two literary societies, which met every Saturday. And always he kept writing. Two of his essays in this period were “The Mind of Man as Evinced by Its Operation” and “The Causes Which Led to the Declaration of Independence.” In one of his essays about theology he wrote: “If you were baptized in the stream under water in faith and sincerity, you in my opinion are baptized right; but I consider that sprinkling is just as scriptural ….Though I belong to a church, yet I do not feel disposed to condemn those who do not perform their worship as our church does….I believe if there were more union of heart among professors of religion it would be better.”
Henry was freely spoken and not reluctant to express his opinions about behavior. In a letter in 1838 to his friend, Perry, who had returned to his home in New York state, he noted that he had attended a ball that he described as follows: “The din and whir of carriages up and down, just up and down street, with lasses covered with gauze and lace fluttering in the air, all gathered up….How does Miss Flapwing do this evening?…. I suppose that she takes the shine off Miss Greatsplash…. Do you ever see a drove of sheep running over a stone fence? If you did, you have some idea of the circumstances…. And what did it look like? Do you eat any corn mush in York state? If you do, just look in the mush pot when it is in high condition of boiling and you will see a striking resemblance, by considering the tops of their heads as the top of the mush pot, up and down, up and down. At last the fiddle stops, and away they fly like a tale that is told.” This experience is one that he never forgot as it is said that he frequently referred to it in his sermons and articles as symbolic of the empty, meaningless life.
As his family were Democrats, in the 1836 election, in which Martin VanBuren was elected President, he supported that party and Van Buren. However, with his independent mind by 1840, the first election in which he voted, he voted for William Henry Harrison and in a letter gave the following reason: “I am afraid Van will be re-elected….I assure you that a man who says,’ the farther the power of suffrage for voting is removed from the people the better’ will not get my vote. And he also said that any person who was not worth $250 should not have a vote, and at that rate I myself would hardly have a vote, and I think that I as a freeman am as entitled to one as Mr. Van himself. Before I would vote for a man who has said all this, I would go to Texas. [Texas had recently declared its independence from Mexico]. I don’t want you to understand from all of this, however, that I belong to the Whig party. I am opposed to parties. I am a Republican, a Democrat and a friend of equal rights, but not a VanBuren man. I am a genuine Conservative”!!! From that time one he moved slowly into the Whig and later what became the Republican party.
In 1840 his life changed. First during that summer he met Louisa Goodrich of New Hagerstown, and secondly in October of that year he applied for admission into Marshall College in Mercersburg. Aged twenty-three, Henry Harbaugh arrived in Mercersburg on November 11, 1840, after having come east in a two-horse carriage with his brother, a journey that took seven days. This in addition to being a time of change in his life was also a time of change in the college as well. Dr. Frederick Rauch was ill, and Dr. John Williamson Nevin, although not formally named president of the college until 1841, was in charge. The thirty-seven year old Nevin gave Harbaugh a verbal examination and admitted him into the preparatory department as he had had much less formal education than almost all of the other students. Because of Harbaugh’s age he was not required to live in the campus building but lived in a boardinghouse run by a Mrs. Boyd. One of his fellow students described him thus: “Somewhat slender and tall young man with evidences of hard work and earnest efforts - athletic frame, sunburned countenance and bony hands in his addresses and in occasional addresses to Sunday Schools in the country that he attended with other students. He was always fresh, enthusiastic, and instructive.” In a letter to a friend in Ohio he wrote:” I like the college well. Of course thus far I have not much enjoyed myself, being altogether strange. I pay $1.87 a week boarding, and the tuition is from ten to eighteen dollars per session. There are about 125 to 130 students. I am studying at present Latin and Greek only. Greek is hard - more so than planing logs…. The college course is four years. Probably I will not take a full course. Your letter found me in good health, but I cannot say good spirits, for I was exceedingly depressed in mind about the time it made its appearance.” He wrote to his father, who the next year relented and gave Harbaugh some help: “I intend to study German, as I consider it wrong for me to keep studying other things of less importance before I know the language in which I was raised better.” To his friend, Perry, he wrote: ” I chiefly read and spend some time with the Greek. I am at present reading Rollin’s Ancient History in English and Faust in German, a tragedy by Goethe. It is lengthy. I read it chiefly to get at the most classical German - he being one of the best German writers.”
Harbaugh joined campus societies. Eager to learn German, he joined Die Literarische Gesellschaft , the German literary society. The students presumably competed for Harbaugh’s membership in the Goethean and the Diagnothian literary societies. The Goetheans said that the Diagnothians were too provincial, and the Diagnothians said that the Goetheans were too lazy and lacked piety. Harbaugh in choosing the Diagnothians purportedly said: ” Perhaps I can do them some good.” In applying for membership he sent them the following letter:
Letter to the Honorable, To the Members of the Diagnothian Literary Society
Having connected myself with this institution, and in intending to spend some time in the study of literature, and being aware of the advantages which may be derived from a connection with such an association as yours, I have come to the conclusion to offer myself to your honorable body as a candidate for membership. I have come to t this conclusion not without a great deal of consideration, and have been induced to prefer your society from a belief I shall be enabled to unite with you with great pleasure and ,benefit in the several duties which your society from time to time imposes upon her members.
Should this request be granted, I hope ever after to be
Your very Humble Servant
Theodore Appel late in his life recalled Harbaugh’s becoming a Diagnothian: “He joined in 1841 and took his seat as a full-grown man, already twenty-four years old, when all the rest of us were his juniors. He sat and listened for a while, but looked as if his thoughts were somewhere else, rather absent-minded; and it was not thought that there was anything special in him, or that anything special would come out of him. On one occasion, however, when he was called to read a composition, he got up and recited a beautiful little poem, full of tenderness and pathos, something very remarkable in the circumstances, and very surprising to his fellow members. The wonder was where this rural addition to the society had found such thoughts and such words…. At once he rose up as one of our brightest stars…”
Harbaugh as a student, however, did not confine his activities to the campus. During his second year on Sunday afternoons he went about two miles out of town to teach a Sunday School class of about fifteen students. Also he organized a little singing class associated with the German Reformed Church in Mercersburg that met on Saturday afternoons and that was also a Juvenile Female Sewing Society. These two groups he referred to with affection for the remainder of his life. In 1842 he offered a prayer and sang a hymn at a funeral of an uncle and in December of that year walked to the Little Cove and preached his first sermon.
But he did not focus all of his energies upon study, the classes he led, or his early work in the church. Before he left Ohio, he and Louisa Goodrich had promised to write to each other. From that time until their marriage in December 1843 they carried on a regular and affectionate correspondence. In one of her letters Louisa expressed regret that they were apart and quoted from a book he had given her, The Religious Offering, and noted to him: ”I would not call you from your post where duty bids you be.” His letters contained much concern and advice. Earlier she had mentioned that she was working as a milliner, but, since she had indicated that she wanted to go to school, he encouraged her in that endeavor. She had an aunt in Steubenville and wanted to attend an academy there but felt that it was too expensive for her parents who seemed reluctant to permit her to go. Harbaugh said that he could send her five or ten dollars to be used for her education. At last she went to Steubenville. Harbaugh in a little ruse said that he would send money to his brother who lived near her and would tell his brother that he owed that money to a local man and that he should give it to Louisa. He added that that was a little fib. He advised her about her Bible readings and devised a chart of readings for her that became the basis of The Golden Censer, a book of meditations he later wrote for young people. The title refers to a verse in the Book of Revelations. In the summer of 1842 he wrote to her: ”Do the folks think we are engaged? The ladies of the choir here suspicion that I have someone afar off. They tried to pump it out of Mr. Lesher [a friend] but he would not let anything slip.” That same summer he also wrote: “Louisa, have you concluded to join the church this summer? I do not wish to advise you as to which church you should join…but I think you should join one…. Let us, though separated, yet go to the same blessed road toward happiness and heaven….If you can get to love it, I would like you to learn to sing. No doubt they have a good teacher there, and it will be a good exercise for your lungs.” He also sent her advice about her posture: “One can injure his health soon by not sitting up straight” and a copy of the Heidelberg Catechism with the statement: “It is necessary that you know our articles of faith so that you can unite understanding with me as a minister.” Her family was Presbyterian. Always concerned about her and always showing a love of music, in December 1842 he wrote: ”Don’t forget to learn to sing. Do you love it? I pass many moments with music on my bass viol. Do any of your ladies play the guitar? I love it.” to which she replied,” I am getting along in vocal music just middling. I like it. I am glad when vocal music morning comes, but I never expect to be a very good singer. I intend to try and learn if I can. If you want to see my report, I will send it.”
Also as typical in the nineteenth century the students had their own publications. One Marshall College student created a publication called Ranala. Other students began a rival publication, the Rupjonjim, a title derived from the names of its three publishers. Then another student created a third publication with the unpronounceable title, Aldeborontiphosciphornisticos. The creator of this third student work was a mean-spirited young man who unfortunately had one leg shorter than the other and who, even more unfortunately, was prone to write nasty pieces about his fellow students. In response to this young man whom the students called Corkheel a series of satirical poems, called “Jonny Peep” appeared in the Rupjonjim. Since the extant manuscript is in Harbaugh’s handwriting, it is has been asserted that he was the author.
In the autumn of 1843 he completed his work at Marshall College and the seminary. He had spent three years in Mercersburg, the first in the college and the second and the third partly in the college and partly in the seminary. Licensed to preached later that autumn at the Synod in Winchester, Virginia, Harbaugh was now a minister in the German Reformed Church. Of one of his journeys to preach in Maryland about that time he wrote the following: “I left Mercersburg on the stage to Greencastle - about ten miles - and from there I went to Hagerstown, MD., the same day on the rail-cars. It is a beautiful way of traveling. We went nine miles in a half hour. It looks singular to see a steam locomotive with a train of cars moving over the country ‘like a thing of life’ and so fast a rate. Now it runs fast over an even plain, now it winds around a hill, and now it shoots into a deep cut, and then out again, and so on, puffing and blowing like a great monster. May it not be that some day you will ride on it?”
In that same autumn in 1843 Harbaugh accepted a call to ministry from churches in Lewisburg and began his ministry there in December and in that same month began his married life when he went to New Hagerstown, Ohio, to marry Louisa Goodrich. After having returned to Lewisburg on Christmas Day, he began to keep a diary which he kept for the remainder of his life. In the Lewisburg years the energy and sometimes truculence that characterized him are evident. There he served initially three and then two congregations, one English and one German, and each Sunday preached three, sometimes four, sermons. In addition to the usual duties associated with the ministry he organized a ladies’ sewing class for the benefit of a “female library,” purchased a magic lantern for the children’s Sunday School, created maps for the Sunday School as the congregation could not afford them, bought a second-hand piano and began to take lessons, and planted a garden, an interest which became a lifetime passion. He became increasingly active in the temperance movement and became an outspoken critic in his opposition to alcohol. In his efforts to stop one man’s drinking he followed him into saloons, dragged him past others, and sat up with him at nights.
But Harbaugh faced bigger challenges and became embroiled in theological controversy. In the early nineteenth century the effects of the Second Great Awakening had reached Central and Southern Pennsylvania so that more and more people were attending revivals and what were called “protracted meetings” held by people such as the Methodists and Baptists. John Williamson Nevin of the German Reformed Theological Seminary partially in response to an event in the German Reformed Church in Mercersburg published in 1843 The Anxious Bench: A Tract for Our Times. The ideas of Dr. Nevin, Dr. Philip Schaff and their followers, which became known as the Mercersburg Theology, with emphasis upon the person of Christ as the centrality of the church and the historical development of the church, in which Christ lives and through which people receive Christ, contrasted to the ideas of the revivalists. Harbaugh, of course, was a staunch upholder of the ideas of Nevin and Schaff and as a minister was in a position to further those ideas and to defend them. He became an ardent interpreter of and spokesman for the Mercersburg Theology.
But he was to experience heartache. Although the Harbaughs’ first daughter, Mary Olivia, born in 1845, was healthy, their second daughter, Laura, died in April 1847 as a baby. Later that year Harbaugh took his wife and daughter to his wife’s home in New Hagerstown, Ohio. Unfortunately on their way there they stayed in an inn, in which Mrs. Harbaugh caught scarlet fever, and after a few weeks of extreme suffering she at age twenty-three died on September 26, 1847, at the home of an aunt whom she was visiting when she became ill.
After his return with Mary Olivia from Ohio he began to increase his writing. After the death of his wife he preached about Heaven and, based upon those sermons, entitled his first book on that subject, The Sainted Dead, a title he later changed to Heaven: or an Earnest and Scriptural Inquiry Into the Abode of the Sainted Dead in keeping with the two other books he wrote about Heaven called Heavenly Recognition: or an Earnest and Scriptural Discussion of the Question: Will we Know our Friends in Heaven? and The Heavenly Home: or the Employments and Enjoyments of the Saints in Heaven. He also in his condemnation of alcohol wrote “A Word in Season or a Plea for Legislative Aid in Putting Down the Evils of Intemperance” and a book, The Drunkard Maker Taken from His Bar to the Bar of God. He also wrote many articles for and became the distributor of The Mercersburg Review founded in 1849 by Dr. Nevin and Dr. Schaff.
One of the families in Harbaugh’s church was the Linn family. Harbaugh persuaded two of the sons to attend Marshall College and on November 14, 1848, married their sister, Mary Louisa. In 1849 after the death of their first child, a daughter, Harbaugh began the publication of a monthly magazine for young people, The Guardian, with a drawing of an angel on the front with the motto, Life - Light - Love, a magazine aimed at young people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five. He had published and wrote most of the articles for that magazine from its first issue on January 1, 1850, until 1866, the year before his death. The articles, short pieces of fiction, and poetry taught theological truths and morality. To achieve these goals he also wrote both autobiographical and biographical sketches. He enjoyed celebrating Christmas so that he wrote Christmas stories, the most famous of which is “The Star of Bethlehem: A Christmas Story for Good Children” and wrote about Christmas customs in other countries, his own memories of Christmas, and Christmas stories translated from the German. In his writings that he usually signed H.H. or the Editor his biases are apparent. He did not approve of the circus, dancing, fashionable clothes, chess, dominoes, cock-fighting, lotteries, or marriage with an unbeliever. Despite his evident dislikes The Guardian shows concern and affection for young people. In one issue a poem by Blanca, in reality Blanche Nevin, the daughter of John Williamson Nevin, appeared. In addition, Harbaugh wrote many articles for a church paper, The Messenger of the German Reformed Church, later called The Reformed Church Messenger.
In 1848 the church at large appointed a committee to write a new liturgy and named Harbaugh as one of the committee members. This provisional liturgy, adopted in 1857 and because of dissatisfaction discarded in 1861, caused Harbaugh much work and because of controversy much pain.
On March 1, 1850, the local Lewisburg area newspaper reported that Harbaugh had accepted a call from the First Reformed Church of Lancaster. Upon learning this fact the Consistory of the Lewisburg Church wrote to the Consistory of the Lancaster church the following: “From the gray-bearded fathers and mothers in the service of the Lord till the blooming youth of the Sabbath School baptized with his hands, all send up the united cry. Leave us not perish without anyone to break unto us the bread of eternal life. Are not the immortal souls of Lewisburg as much value in the sight of God as those of Lancaster?”
Although Harbaugh seemed to like Lewisburg and referred to it as home, life in Lancaster was the opposite. Paradoxically or perhaps consequentially, in the Lancaster years from 1850 to 1860, as Harbaugh was becoming more prominent in the German Reformed Church at large, he was embattled in his local church. Thirty-two years old when he went there, he immediately disliked what he considered the materialistic ways of the city and encountered a congregation already riven with conflict between the English speakers, who were the majority and the German speakers, who were the minority. His duties in this bi-lingual church included holding three services each Sunday, two in English and one in German, being in charge of the Sunday School, holding a catechetical class on Tuesday evenings throughout the year, leading an English prayer meeting on Wednesdays, attending a young people’s prayer meeting on Thursdays, leading a German prayer meeting on Fridays, and directing a children’s singing class which gave a concert once a month to benefit missions. In addition to his work with his congregation, after Marshall College in 1853 had moved to Lancaster to join Franklin College, Harbaugh was secretary of the Board of Trustees.
The text of his first sermon taken from Galatians 1:10,”If I please men, I am not the servant of Christ,” was prophetic as he displeased many of the people. The causes of the friction were many. He preached against alcohol even though one member of the Consistory was a tavern-keeper. Dr. Appel later wrote: “He preached not only against intemperance - intemperately - but every now and then hit not only the taverns but the tavern -keepers, their family and friends, at milkmen and persons getting milk from them on Sundays and other classes of people.” Early in his ministry there when he visited Buchanan at Wheatland and was offered a glass of wine, he was insulted. He with his heavy workload and his writing schedule was irritated by interruptions. Also he did not mind reproving people publicly. His diary entries include the following: “had to reprove one of the ladies for talking” that in prayer meeting, “lectured on the impropriety of Christians attending the circus,“ Also he noted in his diary “Alluded to slavery which caused no small stir. Also one Advent he preached about the Virgin Mary in a way that sounded to some people like Roman Catholicism. Then a controversy erupted over who was eligible to take communion. One of the largest sources of irritation, however, was his use of the new liturgy in the worship services. A member of the denominational committee to develop the new liturgy, he was one of the first to force its use. Also always a proponent of the theology of Nevin and Schaff, he preached their theology. On one occasion he and a minister in a nearby Lancaster church preached rival sermons.
Also, as the church in 1851 began to sell property and later to build a new church, he was blamed for the church debt. Since some people out of dislike for Harbaugh lowered or stopped giving, Harbaugh whose family was growing and would eventually include seven children who grew to maturity was disturbed that his salary was in arrears. In addition, as the church needed money, a dispute arose over pew rents.
During these contentious ten years Harbaugh was a prolific writer. His pamphlets included A Tract for the Times: The Duty and Privilege of Making a Public Profession of Religion, The Trials and Triumphs of Religion, and Union with the Church. Books that he had published in this period include Birds of the Bible, a translation from the German of The Heidelberg Catechism, Union with the Church the Solemn Duty and Blessed Privilege, The True Glory of Woman as Portrayed in the Beautiful Life of the Virgin Mary, The Child’s Catechism, The Golden Censer, Poems, A Tract for the Times, Christological Theology, Youth in Earnest, Systematic Benevolence or a Plea for the Lord’s Portion of a Christian’s Wealth, The Life and Travels of the Rev. Michael Schlatter, and Annals of the Harbaugh Family. In addition, he wrote the first two volumes of a planned eight volumes of Fathers of the Reformed Church.
A great lover of Christmas and the celebration of Christmas, in this period of church turmoil he also wrote, it is believed in 1858, A Christmas Service of Worship. This love of Christmas, regardless of his own circumstances, extended throughout his life. Within a few months of his death in Mercersburg he complained about the Presbyterians and wrote that they “spend the day working as on any other day. Their children grow up knowing nothing of brightly lit Christmas trees, nor Christmas presents. God have mercy on these Presbyterians….”
As a result of this upheaval while he and his family were on a trip west, rebels in the Consistory held a congregational meeting to which they did not invite people loyal to Harbaugh and at that meeting stated that he was responsible for the church debt and asked for his resignation. This action brought about a trial in the Classis. Harbaugh was exonerated, and the Classis determined that the accusation making Harbaugh responsible for the debt unfounded, that the Consistory was “animated by a spirit of persecution,” and that the Consistory “had transcended its authority in discharging the pastor.”
However, peace was not yet established as on a Sunday in the beginning of October 1858 when the parishioners arrived for morning worship service, they found that the rebel group opposed to Harbaugh had locked the six church doors. The Consistory gave Harbaugh permission to create a study in the basement of the church into which a door was cut so that he could retain a key to this seventh door. By 1860 peace had returned to the church as those opposed to Harbaugh had left.
When in 1869 a delegation of three men from St. John’s Church in Lebanon came to Lancaster to ask him to become minister of their church, one of his parishioners said to him, ”Mr. Harbaugh, I think you had better now go.”
In this ten-year period despite the conflicts with his congregation because of work on the liturgy, his early work for the tercentenary of the Heidelberg Catechism and his prolific writings he became well-known in the German Reformed denomination. Before he left Lancaster, he was awarded on July 26, 1860, an honorary doctorate by Union College in Schnectady, New York.
The Lebanon years, in contrast, seem to have been peaceful. This was a new church, a new congregation that gave him time for his writing. In addition to his duties as a minister he continued his writing, his publishing The Guardian, his writing for The Mercersburg Review and The Messenger. One question is whether “Jesus, I Live to Thee” was written in Lancaster or Lebanon, as both churches claim that distinction. This hymn so familiar to us and the hymn of the Mercersburg Academy was first printed in Hymns and Chants for Sunday School printed in Lebanon in 1861.
His support for the federal union was strong in this period. In the election of 1860 he voted for Andrew Curtin as governor and Abraham Lincoln. In February 1861 he went to Harrisburg to see Lincoln when Lincoln’s train stopped there on the way to Lincoln’s inauguration. Earlier when he was in Lancaster, he had predicted: “We will have two parties thus ‘slavery and anti-slavery’ then the union will be divided. It cannot stand. It will not stand six years longer, unless the current of our country’s history will take a sudden turn. We are now going toward a split fast and far.”
His biggest crisis in this period seems to have been personal. In 1863 his daughter, Mary Olivia, the child of his first wife, eloped with a young man named Lineweaer of a family in St. John’s Church. After Harbaugh learned that a minister in the town of Milton had officiated at the wedding, he had arrest warrants issued against both the minister and the couple and the young people and followed the couple to Elmira and Port Jervis, New York. Since they were married, his efforts came to naught.
Always his mind was busy. Since 1863 marked the tercentenary of the Heidelberg Catechism, Harbaugh initiated a church-wide celebration, upon which he had begun to work earlier, of that seminal event in the life of the German Reformed Church. To mark the occasion he edited and wrote most of a large book, Tercentenary Monument: A Celebration of the Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Heidelberg Confession. During his last summer in Lebanon he conceived a plan to combine a theological and missionary institute to be established somewhere “west of Ohio,” a scheme for a school and a farm to be built for support of mission work in cities.
But another change was to come. At a synod meeting in Carlisle on his forty-sixth birthday on October 18, 1863, he was elected to the chair of Didactic and Practical Theology in the Theological Seminary in Mercersburg. With knowledge that he would receive $1,000 in salary each year and would receive free housing on campus Harbaugh with his family arrived in Mercersburg on January 7, 1864. They stayed first in North Cottage but soon moved to South Cottage that became the permanent residence of the family. Since the seminary after the events of early July in 1863 had been closed for a term, it was in a weak state. Also Dr. Wolfe, whom Harbaugh replaced had left, and Dr. Schaff had applied for a leave of absence for two years. Therefore, only Harbaugh and the tutor, Mr. Jacob Kershner, were responsible for the twenty-nine students in the seminary until Dr. E. E. Higbee came in May. When the students in mass greeted him, their spokesman reminded him that he was following in the footsteps of several great men and added: “To your keeping is now committed in part the honor of this seminary.”
A diligent worker, he was up before 5:30, conducted morning prayers, and taught his classes between seven and nine and eleven and twelve o’clock. When Dr. Appel, who moved to Mercersburg in the next year, visited him, he noted: “He is at work with his sleeves rolled up but somewhat nervous, I think, on account of his close application and sense of the new responsibilities resting upon him.”
In Mercersburg he found congenial people and pursued activities that gave him pleasure. Dr. Appel, Dr. Higbee, and he convened in the evenings, read their scholarly papers to one another, and discussed them. At other times they got together with other people for musical evenings in which Dr. Appel played the bass viol, Mr. Kershner played the flute, and Harbaugh led the singing. Also Harbaugh, always a gardener, planted a garden and apple and quince trees, and had a grape arbor, and invited people to enjoy apple and quince parings. Upon occasion Dr. Higbee and he went swimming, and he and another friend went squirrel hunting. Always a lover of woodworking, he build a sled large enough to carry his adult friends.
Life for him seemed to go smoothly with the Civil War as a backdrop. During the burning of Chambersburg in July 1864 his inaugural address at the seminary and almost all of the printed copies of the Tercentenary Monument were destroyed. After having learned of the surrender of Lee at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, he took the seminary choir, which he directed, to the cupola on the top of the seminary building where the choir members unfurled a large American flag and under his leadership sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The next week after he had heard of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, he wrote about it with passion in The Guardian and on June 1, the official day of mourning, spoke on the topic, Treason and Law, in Clear Spring, Maryland, in which his brother-in-law, William Goodrich, was a pastor.
His always fertile mind was busy. Not favorable to Franklin and Marshall College, in 1865 he with cooperation from Dr. Appel and Dr. Higbee was the driving force behind the establishment of Mercersburg College that was to last thirteen years and designed for it the shield bearing the Latin phrase, Via Crucis, Via Lucis, that Mercersburg Academy used for many years. He even on one of his rides from Clear Spring, in which he frequently preached, conceived a plan to transfer bass from the Potomac to the Susquehanna.
Life went on in an orderly way with thinking, writing, teaching, supervising and speaking among people compatible with his ideas. Directly involved with his students, he in either 1866 or 1867 supervised their re-grading the hill from the town to the seminary. But in 1867 he became ill and died on December 28 of that year. On December 31,1867, his many friends, former students, and colleagues attended his funeral in the Reformed Church in Mercersburg which was still decorated for Christmas, a holiday he had always loved. At the service, in which the liturgy for the burial of the dead used was that written by him many years ago as a member of the liturgical committee, Dr. John Williamson Nevin, his teacher, mentor, and friend, based his sermon upon verses three and four in chapter four of I Thessalonians: ”I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.”
Fox, Merle U., An Annotated Bibliography of the Works of Rev. Henry Harbaugh, D. D., October 28, 1817 - December 28, 1867, 1997
Harbaugh, Linn, Life of the Rev. Henry Harbaugh, D.D., Philadelphia, Reformed Church Publication Board, 1906
Kieffer Elizabeth Clarke, “Henry Harbaugh,” Journal of the Pennsylvania-German Society Volume LI, Norristown, 1943
Russell, George B., Four Score and More, Philadelphia, Heidelberg Press,
Harbaugh, Henry , Poems, Philadelphia, Lindsay and Blakiston, 1860 - themes - transience of life, nature (birds, tree. roses, autumn rain, water lily, a swan), power of love, New Year’s Eve, child’s Christmas hymn
Harbaugh’s Harfe, a book of Pennsylvania-German poetry including his own translations of some of his poetry into English and woodcuts of sites of his home area in Franklin County, was published by his friend, B. Bausman, in 1870
Note: The white Italian marble memorial marking the grave of Harbaugh in front of Trinity United Church of Christ in Mercersburg was dedicated by the Synod on October 18, 1870, with a procession of faculty and students of the Theological Seminary and Mercersburg College, and public schools were closed for the day.
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