Friday, January 23, 2015

Who was the Rev. Philip Jacob Michael?

Rev. Philip Jacob Michael, born in Switzerland, was a theological student at Heidelberg, Germany and came to America as a young man. He was a minister in the German Reformed Church in Pennsylvania and served many of the congregations in the counties surrounding Philadelphia.[1] A typed genealogy by Alice Michael, my great grandmother, traces five generations descending from Philip Jacob Michael. There is, however, more to her story especially with regard to his acceptance as a minister by his congregations.

            “In June, 1759 several Webb families lived in Amity twp. Berks Co. Philip Jacob [Michael]
            married Sallie Webb, an English Quakeress. While attending his church, their horses
            were tied side by side, the foot of one became entangled in the other’s bridal, they
            become acquainted in untangling them, that led to their marriage. He could hardly
            speak English, nor she German. Her parents opposed her marrying ‘out of meeting’ –
            gave her a load of furniture and a horse and some land and told her ‘Sallie this is all
            thee gets’ – disowned her.”[2]

What a description! This couple faced many challenges. Genealogically, this story provides clues and raises questions for discussion in future posts but for now, my focus is the ministry of Philip Jacob Michael.

Philip Jacob Michael founded many Reformed churches in Berks and Lehigh counties prior to the Revolutionary War.[3] A profile in The Colonial Clergy of the Middle Colonies: New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania 1628-1776 lists at least fifteen churches in three counties at which Philip Jacob Michael served, two of which he founded. In 1777, he was appointed Chaplain of the First Battalion of Berks County Militia during the American Revolution. This profile also states that he was not ordained.[4]

“In 1764, Domine[5] Michael appeared before the Coetus of the Reformed Ministers of Pennsylvania and asked for ordination and admission as a member. This request was presented to the Holland Church Fathers and denied. Philip Jacob Michael could not be ordained in Pennsylvania but had to travel to Holland. With travel being a hardship, ‘he being aged does not press his case, and his congregations are satisfied with him without ordination.’ He was 48 years old and continued to serve his welcoming congregations, without ordination, throughout Berks, Lehigh and Montgomery counties until his death in 1786.”[6]

[1] “Rev. Philip Jacob Michael,” notes compiled by Alice Michael, undated, photocopy held by her great granddaughter, Katherine Kearney Lowrie, Alice Michael is the great-great-granddaughter of Philip Jacob Michael.
[2] “Rev. Philip Jacob Michael,” notes compiled by Alice Michael.
[3] “Berks Plaque to Honor Revolutionary Pastor,” Reading Eagle, Reading, Pennsylvania, 13 April 1977, page 15; digital image online, ( : 14 November 2014), search for Philip Jacob Michael.
[4] The Colonial Clergy of the Middle Colonies: New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania 1628-1776, Frederick Lewis Weis, American Antiquarian Society, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, 1978, p. 105-106.
[5] : 16 January 2015. Obsolete title of respect.
[6] Pennsylvania Folklife Magazine, “Philip Jacob Michael: Ecclesiastical Vagabond or ‘Echt Reformirte’ Pastor” by David H. Rapp, Spring 1979, vol. 28, no. 3 (Pennsylvania Folklife Society).

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kate!
    Do you have any information on where he embarked from and why when hw came to America ?