The Real Story of
There may be more lore and legend about “Mountain Mary” than any other Berks County historical personality.
Mountain Mary has variously been described as “a legend in her own time,” “a mystic recluse,” “a hermitess,” “an elusive historical problem,” “an enduring legend,” “an intelligent and religious woman,” “judicious and far seeing,” “frugal and honest,” “a healer, herbalist and pow-wow practitioner,” and “saintly.” Because so few specifics of her life are known, some of these descriptions may even be true!
Mountain Mary—Die Berg Maria in Dutch—lived well secluded in the hills of what is now Pike Township. The many legends of the reclusive Mountain Mary have endured in this region for over 200 years. Even during her lifetime her fame had spread sufficiently so that the curious from as far as Philadelphia sought her out. After her death on November 16, 1819, there developed a steady flow of legends, stories, tales, narratives, lore, poems, and even a novel claiming to offer details about this remarkable woman. Throughout the 19th century she was the subject of a steady stream of literature. Typical is this tribute by Henry W. Bigony read at a Sunday School Picnic in 1846 and reproduced in part below (translated by Ralph Bigony of Bally):
There, underneath this mountain stone
Lies Mary Young who lived alone,
High on the lofty mountainside,
Beloved and honored till she died.
Loved and honored by the few
Who gave to virtue virtue’s due
Stranger, she that’s buried here
Was humble, pious and sincere….
The most mischief to the biographical facts was caused by the novel Mountain Mary, or “Who the Dear God Allows to do as She Chooses” written in German by Ludwig Wollenweber in 1882 and subsequently translated. It is entirely a work of fiction and has Mary Young married to Theodore Benz who was supposed to have been killed in the Revolutionary War. No such person ever existed.
That there really was a Berg Maria—Mountain Mary—is without doubt. Her name was Anna Maria Jung (Young). She was born about 1749 and immigrated with her parents and two sisters to the port of Philadelphia between 1764 and 1773; the date is uncertain. Her father was said to be Jacob Jung, of whom there were two such names signed to ship’s registers in that time period. It was not the custom to list children. Hearsay has the family, father and mother and three daughters, Anna Maria, Anna Elisabeth, and Maria Elisabeth, settling in Germantown where the father soon died. It’s not at all certain, but the story goes that after the Battle of Germantown in 1777 the widow and three daughters removed to the hills of East District, Berks County, now Pike Township, where they made a home in a small log house quite secluded in the hills. The mother too died and Anna Maria lived for 40 years in that house, her sisters having married and moved to the Oley area.
Aside from her will, there is only one other official record of Anna Maria Jung. The first census done in 1790 lists as a head of household in that township, “Mary (the Abbess),” and two other adult females in the household. What a curious entry. She was hardly the head of a religious establishment, so why would the enumerator call her by this old European term? We can speculate (and why not since most all things associated with Mountain Mary are speculation) that already by 1790 she was a famous figure with a saintly or religious reputation.
The other solid historical document is her will made out in 1813 in which she settles the bulk of her estate on her niece, Maria Elisabeth Schneider. In her will she refers to herself as a “leddich”—single woman, and not a “Wittfraa”—widow. Her estate inventory, made at her death in 1819, is remarkable in that she had over $600 in cash, a considerable sum at that time.
Much of what has been written about her later in the 19th century is not to be trusted. For example, an 1892 article about her in the Reading Eagle claims “…She was great believer in witchcraft. She frequently related that an owl came and drank out of her milk pail every evening while she was milking. She could not prevent the bird from getting near her pail except by catching it…. So one night she caught the owl and burned its feet by slightly holding it over her fire. The next morning a neighboring woman, whom she took to be the witch, couldn’t put on her shoes on account of burned feet.” There’s not a particle of evidence to support this kind of nonsense.
There is, however, one published first person narrative by a visitor. Benjamin M. Hollinshead of Philadelphia and four associates and a translator sought out Mountain Mary in the summer of 1819 shortly before she died. The account published later in The Pennsylvania German magazine in1902 is an eyewitness experience. Continued next week
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