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THE REV. JOHN DREISBACH,
Pages 229-231

(Portrait)

minister of the Evangelical Association, and for many years a resident of Pickaway county, was a descendant of Martin Dreisbach, who was born in 1717, in the earldom of Witgenstein, Germany, and came to this country in 1746, taking up his residence upon a farm in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. The Emigrant, Martin Dreisbach, and his wife (Anna Eve Hoffman), daughter of a teacher in Nausauseigen, had six children, Jacob, Henry, John, Martin, Margaret, and Catherine. The father died in 1799, at the age of eighty-two years, and the mother in 1789, at the age of sixty-five years. Martin, their fourth son, and the father of the subject of this biography, was born in Berks county, Pennsylvania, in 1764, and married Sabina Fred. Buch, (pronounced, as anglicized, Books) who was born in Sussex county, New Jersey, in 1762. Martin died in 1831, in Pennsylvania, and his wife died in Fairfield county, Ohio, in 1849. They were the parents of six children. John Dreisbach, who became the prominent preacher, and of whose life we shall give the particulars, was the eldest, and was born June 5, 1789. His brothers and sisters were Anna Eve, Susannah, Leah, Elizabeth, and Martin.

John Dreisbach was the son of pious parents. Both of them were for many years--from 1816 to the close of their lives--members of the Evangelical Association. It was natural that the son should inherit a religious nature. He obtained a rudimentary education, and at an early age exhibited the tendency which constantly grew stronger as he advanced in life and knowledge, and which made him one of the great forces in the building up of the Evangelical Association, and of christianity among the Germans. That was his lifework, and he labored in it with enthusiasm and zeal. Every leaf of the history of the Evangelical Association bears tribute to his influence and ability. He entered the ministry of this association in Pennsylvania, when eighteen years of age, as is asserted by some of his descendants, but probably when seventeen, according to the early records of the church in Pennsylvania. This first mention of his name is as one of the four local preachers of the society, in 1806. Young Dreisbach went out the following year as a traveling preacher, and thus began his career of widely extended usefulness. He was the fifth itinerant appointed, and during his first service in that capacity, was often accompanied by the famous founder of the association, the brave, zealous, conscientious, and much maligned Rev. Jacob Albright. Mr. Dreisbach wrote in his late years of Albright, as follows: "I derived great benefit from his paternal instruction and pious example, as well as from his fervent prayers, childlike confidence in God, and his humble resignation to his holy will. All this made deep impressions on my mind, and was highly useful to me afterward in my calling as a christian and minister of the gospel." Dreisbach was stationed in 1807, with another preacher, George Miller, upon the old circuit, which embraced about twenty appointments, and included parts of the counties of Dauphin, Lebanon, Lancaster, Berks, Bucks, Montgomery, Northampton, Lehigh, and Schuylkill. The next year he was transferred to the Northumberland circuit, where his duties were difficult and attended with great disadvantages and self-denial. About this time there arose a powerful storm of opposition, persecution and calumny against the association, and all of those who preached and labored in the cause. The storm was directed principally against the methodists, who were then increasing very rapidly, but the people generally, at that time, understood by the term "Methodists," also the Evangelical Association, the United Brethren, and all who held the same or similar religious views. A very bitter feeling of prejudice was developed. Libels were uttered, and as they obtained many believers, the feeling of enmity ran so high against the new and struggling church, that violence was often threatened, and some declared their willingness to take up arms against the people of the little flock, and exterminate them, if it were not contrary to the laws.

An incident in the life of the Rev. John Dreisbach confirms what has been said of the bitterness against the preaching of the association. We obtain the facts from the Rev. W. W. Orwig's History of the Evangelical Association. In the month of August, 1808, it appears that the preacher returned from a general meeting near the Muelbach, in order to fill an appointment in the evening in Jonestown, Lebanon county, Pennsylvania; but as he had before been disturbed while preaching there, it was his intention to hold service, on this occasion, among his friends, without giving any public notice. "From fear, not of the Jews, but of the heathen-like christians," the doors were locked and the window-shutters fastened on the inside, before the preaching was commenced. After singing and prayer, Mr. Dreisbach began his sermon, but as the preliminary exercises had probably been heard by some of the adversaries, he had proceeded but a brief time when a mob gathered, and forcing the doors and shutters open, entered the house, making a great noise and giving utterance to violent imprecations, putting a stop to the services. The preacher went among the crowd to restore order, but was seized by several ruffians and dragged toward the door. The lights were all extinguished and he was very roughly treated. The men who had seized upon him hallooed to their companions who were outside, "Boys, open the door, we have got him;" and they replied, "Give it to him; kill the priest!" Dreisbach was apprehensive of the worst, and concentrating his strength, by a sudden effort he freed himself from the strong hold of the men and escaped from them. But he was still in the midst of the crowd in the pitchy darkness. As his assailants were groping around for him, cursing his escape, they accidentally bestowed several blows upon each other, and while they were thus engaged he slipped out of the crowd and the mob got out doors. Alarmed for the minister, some of his friends hastened out also, but were seized and much abused. The ringleaders in the mob were arrested.

Rev. Mr. Dreisbach continued preaching in the Lancaster, Northumberland and Lebanon circuit, for many years. He received a tempting off from Bishop Asbury, of the Methodist church, to join that denomination, but declined it on account of his affection for the Association. His allegiance to this organization was unwavering, although he could have many times bettered himself, in a pecuniary pay at least, by joining a church of similar faith. The pay was small for a number of years--thirty dollars, then fifty dollars--sums insufficient to keep an itinerant in clothes, much less to meet other needs of self or family.

In 1812 Mr. Dreisbach was placed in charge of the mission of New York, during which year he passed through many trials, among them, physical ailment, which rendered him incapable of attending to his ministerial duties, as he had formerly done. For a time he was threatened with entire prostration, but he passed through this trying period safely, and was, perhaps, only strengthened for the enlarged responsibility he was to bear. Almost the entire duty of managing the affairs of ten associations devolved upon him after 1812, and, instead of laboring in the older-established circuits, from that time forward he was engaged in laying out new circuits, farther west.

In 1814 the conference elected the first presiding elder--the subject of this sketch. During 1815 he preached several times in Philadelphia, and in the following year he traveled westward as far as Buffalo and Niagara Falls, preaching at those places and in Canada with good effect. From this time onward the preacher's sphere constantly enlarged. He had compiled a catechism, which came into general use, and now, in conjunction with a brother minister, he arranged the German hymn book, and re-arranged and improved the "Articles of Faith and Discipline."

In 1816 he was the leader in the movement to effect a union of the United Brethren and the Evangelical Association. In 1817 he preached (March 2d) the dedicatory sermon of the first church erected by the society at New Berlin, Union County, Pennsylvania [see link at end of sketch].

John Dreisbach constantly increased in popularity, both as a preacher and man. In 1828 and 1829 he was a member of the legislature of Pennsylvania, and at a later period, was talked of as a candidate for governor of that State. He had no ambition for distinction, however, and no enthusiasm for any labor except that which would advance the interests of this church and the cause of christianity.

He removed to Ohio in 1831, and bought a farm in Pickaway township. He paid but little attention to this, however, but continued his labors as a minister, beginning among his neighbors, and afterward having charge of the circuit which included Pickaway county. He was also stationed, for a time, at Dayton, and also at Chillicothe, and for several years was editor of the Evangelical Messenger, the organ of the association at Cleveland, Ohio.

His life was one of unintermittent activity. His pen was constantly employed after he had, in his old age, ceased preaching, and he wrote a vast deal of matter, chiefly religious. Much of the material for the history of the association was gathered by him. With scarcely any though for himself, but seeking constantly the advancement of the church and the spiritual good of his neighbors and of humanity in general, he labored on day after day, and year after year, until the close of his life.

He died in Circleville, where the last years of his life were spent, August 20, 1871, loved, respected, regretted and mourned by all.

The domestic life of the preacher began in 1811, when he married Catharine Eyer, who died a little more than two years later, leaving two daughters--Salome, born January 13, 1812 (who married Henry Buchwalter, of Ross county, and is now deceased), and Elizabeth, born July 12, 1813 (now Mrs. Benjamin Steeley, of Pickaway township.)

Mr. Dreisbach married his second wife, Fanny Eyer, a sister of the first, in 1817. The offspring of this union were five sons and four daughters, all of whom are living but three. Abraham E., born February 21, 1818, was a minister, and for many years a worker in the church. He died February 27, 1864. Isaac E., born March 28, 1819; married Lydia Hittel, and resides in Pickaway township. Catharine E., born August 17, 1820; married Rev. Louis Einsel, and lives near Lafayette, Indiana. Sophia E., born November 27, 1821, is the wife of Eli Loos, of Monroe county, Michigan. Jacob E., born March 17, 1823, became a minister, and is now president of an orphan institute at Flat Rock, Seneca county, Ohio. He married Catharine Wagner. Leah E., born October 28, 1924, married D. B. Wagner, and resides in Circleville. Martin E. was born September 8, 1826. He is a farmer, and has his home in Circleville. He married Elizabeth Reedy. Susannah E., born March 4, 1828, is the wife of George L. Kamp, of Woodford county, Illinois. John E. was born April 28, 1830, and died February 27, 1864. Fannie E. (now Mrs. L. C. Spickler, of Pickaway township), was born November 26, 1832. Martha E.was born November 7, 1834, and died November 25, 1876. She was the wife of Dr. W. C. Gildersleeve of Hallsville, Ross county, Ohio.

The owner of the old Dreisbach homestead in Pickaway township is Clifton R., a son of John Dreisbach, deceased. He is a farmer by occupation, and one of the best in his part of the county. He married Lina, daughter of Abraham Hitler.

See also:  First Church Building and Publishing House of the Evangelical Association

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