The First Pennsylvania Settler from the Czech Lands

by Miloslav Rechcígl, Jr.

It has generally been assumed that the first emigrants from the Czechlands who permanently settled in Pennsylvania were Moravian Brethren in the eighteenth century who sought refuge in America from religious persecution. We are, of course, referring here to permanent settlers since otherwise there is a plentiful evidence that a Bohemian native, by name of Augustine Herman, traveled through this territory already in the second part of the 17th century.

The first contingent of Moravian Brethren arrived in America in March 1735. They included Anton Haberland, Frederick Riedel, peter Rosa, George Waschke, and Gottfried Haberecht, all, but the last one having been Moravians or Bohemians. Haberecht was a native of Silesia which, at that time, was still an integral part of the Kingdom of Bohemia. The group was preceded in September 1734 by another member of the Moravian Church George Boehmisch (1695-1772) from Kunin, Moravia, who was hired by Schwenkfelders to bring their religions sect to America. The second group of Moravian Brethren followed in the summer of 1735, then the third, and many others, until their migration leveled off toward the end of the century.

Although the first two groups of Moravian Brethren initially settled in Georgia, they soon removed to Pennsylvania which offered more ideal conditions for practicing their faith. In 1740 they established the town of Bethlehem which became their first permanent settlement in America.

It has now come to light that there was another settler from the Czechlands living in Pennsylvania, at least a decade prior to the arrival of Moravian Brethren there. I am referring to Stephanus Styer from Bohemia, where he was born in 1688. His father John Nicholas Steiger, as was the name originally spelled, was employed as a horseman in the famed Bernard regiment of the cavalry of the King of Bohemia.

Stephanus Styer settled in 1727 on an one hundred acre farm near Germantown, Pennsylvania in Worcester township of the Montgomery County, on a site upon which a Mennonite meeting house was built, known as Metatha Church. He was christened by a Catholic priest, an army chaplain, but died in the Mennonite faith. He had many children, including Jacob, Stephen, Daniel, Catherine, Anna, and Gertrude.

His son Jacob (1719-77) was a farmer in Montgomery County and the father of at least eight children, namely Susanna, Stephen, Mary, Henry, John, Jacob, David, and Leonard. Leonard’s son David (b. 1810) was a railroad contractor who later moved to Florence in Burlington County, New Jersey. He was in active service during the civil war. Politically he was affiliated with the Whig and the Republican parties and he was a member of the Presbyterian Church.

David’s son Henry Clay (b. 1841) enlisted in 1861 in the Second Pennsylvania Regiment and during 1861—65 served in the Quartermaster Department. After leaving the army, he eventually settled in Burlington County. He was a Republican, and justice of the peace for Springfield Township, and for twenty years had been a member of the board of education. He also served his township as collector, clerk, and committeeman. Henry Clay’s son David (b.1877) attended Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania from which he graduated with the degree of civil engineering.

Jacob’s grandson William Augustus Styer (b. 1828), a son of John Styer (1758—1816), was a farmer in Whitpain Township, residing on a farm of one hundred acres until 1898 when Morristown became the family hone. His son Freas Styer (b. 1859) graduated in 1885 with A.B. degree from Lafayette College and in 1888 with the degree of A.M. He then began to study law at Morristown and was admitted to practice in 1887. He became widely known as a lawyer of skill and ability and commanded a large practice. In addition to his law practice he was one of the original stockholders and members of the board of directors of the Penn Trust Co., solicitor and director of several building and loan associations. and director of Morristown Box Co.

A Republican in politics, Freas Styer was a chairman of the Republican County Committee of Montgomery County and a member of the Republican State Central Committee. He was a solicitor and clerk of the county board of directors and the county solicitor, and in 1921 was appointed superintendent of the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia.

Jacob’s qreatgrandson Albanus Styer (died 1901), son of Jacob (b. 1762), also a native of Montgomery County, studied medicine, becoming an able and skillful physician. He practiced his profession for many years in the village of Montgomery Square and later moved to Ambler where he owned a farm and was the proprietor of a drug store. His son Samuel was a successful businessman. He owned three mines and shipped the product, bituminous coal, to New York, Buffalo, New England, Chicago and St. Louis. He ranked among the most extensive dealers of coal in the state.

The most successful descendant of Stephanus Styer was, however, Henry Delp Styer (b. 1862). He attended the Military Academy, graduating from there in 1864, and at the Army War College in 1914. commissioned lieutenant in 1884, Styer was promoted through grades to brigadier general in 1936.

Following the outbreak of the Spanish American War, he spent three years in the Philippine Islands, winning mention in orders for his capture of Vincente Prado, a notorious guerilla leader. From 1892 to 1896, and again 1902 to 1906, he was professor of military science and tactics at the Utah Agricultural College and from 1906 to 1909 was back in the Philippines.

In September 1917 he was placed in command of the 181st Infantry Brigade at Camp Lewis in Tacoma, Washington, from there going to the Philippines to take all troops available from that point to Siberia. In August 1918, as a brigadier general of the national army, he was given command of the A.E.F. in Siberia and led the advance on the Amur River. After being retired, at his own request, as the colonel in the regular army in 1919, he was recalled for active duty in Detroit, Michigan and headed the recruiting center there until 1922. In 1924-25 he was the head of the department of military science and tactics at the Oak Ridge Institute. For his military accomplishments he was awarded the order of Rising Sun of Japan and the War Cross of Czechoslovakia.