A Curious Old Deed

Robert Wood


A curious old deed has come to light. The well preserved parchment says that in 1789 The Reverend Johannes Christophe Kunze,  D. D. (John Christopher Kunze) “of the City of New York” bought of Peter Richards, shopkeeper, and his wife Magdalena a parcel containing 58 acres in New Hanover Township. By reckoning the meets and bounds described in the deed, we can position it somewhere near the Swamp Pike between Leidy Road and Romig Road.

The deed describes 58 acres subdivided from a 176 acre site, for which the known chain of title begins in 1749 when “Thomas Preston, London, mariner then residing in Philadelphia” sold to “Moses Haymon of Philadelphia, Merchant” 176 acres. Moses Haymon, it seems, lived in Swamp  as he had placed the following advertisement in Christopher Sauer’s German newspaper Pennsylvania Berichte with the likely date of February 16, 1749.

(Translated) “Moses Heymann in New Hanover announces that everyone who is indebted to him, shall come to him and pay up in the next three months, or shall give him a good secure note or bond. And all those who have something to claim from him, shall come to him and receive payment. He is willing to travel to London this spring. And whoever wants to buy broadcloth, shalloon and all other goods from him, until then will find them as cheap from him as they are in Philadelphia for hard cash money or for goods in trade.”

The 58 acre property eventually was bought at sheriff sale by John Richards (Reichart) Esq. and sold to Peter Richards and wife who sold it to Kunze in 1789 for 200 pounds, Pennsylvania currency.

Why did The Rev. John C. Kunze  D.D., then a widely respected Lutheran scholar and teacher who had taken charge of all the German Lutheran churches in New York City, buy 58 acres in New Hanover? He was at that time German interpreter for the newly formed American Congress meeting in New York City. Additionally he was a trustee of Columbia College where he was a professor of German, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew; he was one of the originators of the Society for Useful Knowledge and the New York German Society; he pioneered English services in Lutheran churches and was a theological instructor of “remarkable ability.” It was noted that “Many of the pastors of the Lutheran Church owed their theological education to his love of the work.”

The obvious connection to this area was that Rev. Kunze was married in 1771 to Margaretta Henrietta Muhlenberg, second daughter of The Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. Rev. Muhlenberg, of course, founded the Lutheran Church in America and the New Hanover Lutheran congregation was among his original charge.

Johann Kunze was born in 1744 in Germany. A brilliant scholar he was found to be a “candidate of theology well grounded in knowledge and experience.”  The Lutheran University at Halle, which was perennially besieged with requests from the Lutheran churches in Pennsylvania for help, turned to young Kunze who accepted the calling.

In July of 1770 he embarked with two of Muhlenberg’s sons, who had also been studying at Halle, for New York City. They arrived the 23rd of September that year after a dangerous voyage in which “the mast was eight times broken, the sails often torn.”

He accepted an appointment to Philadelphia as Pastor of “the great congregation of St. Michael and Zion” the largest Lutheran congregation in America. He relieved Rev. Muhlenberg of some of his burden in Philadelphia and within a year had married Rev. Muhlenberg’s daughter. In Philadelphia, among other things, Kunze started Lutheran schools and a theological seminary, and was described as doing “stupendous” amounts of good work.

In 1776, “in consequence of increased physical infirmities and the civil commotion that existed,” Rev. Muhlenberg resigned his charge in Philadelphia and Kunze became the first Pastor. Although Rev. Muhlenberg tried to appear neutral during the war; the family were Patriots. Son, Colonel Peter Muhlenberg was an officer in the Continental Army; and one source notes that the “Muhlenberg name was made very suspicious among the Hessian and English officers in Philadelphia, who threatened bitterly with prison, torture and death if they could catch the old fellow.” Although Muhlenberg and two of his sons fled the city for Trappe and New Hanover the mild mannered Rev. Kunze, although Muhlenberg’s son-in-law, remained behind.

One source writes, “In 1777 the great Zion church became a hospital. St. Michaels served as a garrison for the English troops. ‘The bloody war is still raging and yet more fiercely the scarcity of money, a good dinner costing two dollars in paper money, half a dollar in silver.’ Mrs. Kunze wrote at that time, ‘It’s hard to get bread and meat; we have forgotten how butter looks, but, thanks be to God, we have enough potatoes.’ A cord of wood cost sixty dollars, and a bushel of salt (a contraband article and very scarce), thirty six dollars.


“The spirit of Mrs. Kunze is preserved in an anecdote preserved in the family. When the British occupied Philadelphia, houses of the ‘rebels’ were examined to see what supplies could be utilized for the English army. Chalk marks were made on the outer door to signify the number of men to be left at the house to demand a meal. On one such occasion, it is told, Mrs. Kunze boldly rubbed out the mark with her apron as soon as the officer had turned his back. Tradition does not give the consequences.

Reverend Kunze died in New York City in 1807.  Why he bought the New Hanover property in 1789, several years after he left Philadelphia for New York, remains a mystery.  He was never a wealthy man and was often in want of money. He once confessed that he spent too much on books; so the New Hanover property was hardly an investment of extra cash.  It’s a mystery.