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Adams County Pa. Related Historical Articles

John Herman: A Marrying Man

Frederick S. Weiser

With the high rate of divorce in our society, many people have more than one spouse in the course of their lives. Before modern medicine had an impact, many people in the past also had more than one spouse because they lost one to death. One of Adams County's citizens had four wives, in brief succession, and when the third wife died, he purchased a slave by whom, presumably, he had several children whom he provided for in his will.

John Herman was born in Earl Township, Lancaster County, to Nicholas and Anna Eva Baer Herman about 1740 and lived there until his father purchased the right to over 500 acres at the intersection of today's U.S. 30 and the Carlisle road northwest of York. In 1774, Nicholas deeded 200 of these acres to John, who by now had married Anna Elizabeth Bentz and begun a family. Hannes, as he signed himself, sold this property in 1781 and moved to Newberry Township, York County, on which he erected a mill with an elaborate date stone in 1785. After Anna Elizabeth died sometime thereafter, John married Dorothea, the widow of John Shetter of whose will John had been one of the executors. She may have been Anna Elizabeth's sister. Dorothea died between 1797 and 1801, but they had moved to Berwick township, now in Adams county, where they owned another mill property in what is now Hamilton Township at the "double bows" on the Conewago Creek. John married for the third time to Catharine, widow of Henry Wehler, of Paradise Township, on 24 December 1801. She became ill, wrote a will in August 1804, which was probated on New Year's Day 1805.

Tax lists after 1799 record that John had acquired a slave named Lenah (also named in his will.) The register of Negroes and Mulattoes of Adams county names John Herman as the owner of Samuel, born 2 May 1801, and James, born 22 May 1803, both called Mulattoes. Later tax lists say Herman had four slaves. About 1807, he moved again, to Fairview Township, York County, where he was taxed until his death with a smaller acreage and at varying times one, two, or four slaves.

On October 18, 1823, John Herman entered a nuptial agreement with Regina Herman for whom he provided in advance after his death. His will, written 31 May 1825, set free all the children of his late slave Lenah except James, who was to be bound out to learn a trade if there were sufficient time between John's death and James's twenty-first birthday. The will further provided for his estate to be divided among his seven children, several of whom lived in Adams County. What became of the sons of Lenah is unknown. It is not even known if they were John's sons or used the surname Herman. What is apparently obvious, however, is that during some of the years he was a widower for the third time, Leah kept house for him before she died. Only then did he need -- and find -- a fourth (and final) wife.

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