A Research Report (Part I): Compiled by David B. Eller and Presented at the Eller Family Reunion, Salem, Virginia, June 22, 1986; Copyright (c) 1986. Published here with permission of the author.
This essay will explore the origins and identify the first generation descendants of Jacob ELLER, wife Magdalene, who settled in what is now Roanoke County, Virginia, in the last decade of the eighteenth century. By doing so it will address two questions of concern to Jacob Eller descendants. The first is that of his ancestry. What is known of him, his wife, and their family backgrounds? How is Jacob Eller related to other ELLER families? Secondly, the paper will explore early connections of the Jacob Eller family with the Church of the Brethern, known popularly in the nineteenth century as "Dunkers" but more formally as German Baptists. At question is when the family became associated with the Brethern. As will be noted later, the problem of Jacob Eller's origins and the family's Brethern identity are not unrelated. These are questions which should be addressed before a definitive Jacob Eller family history can be compiled.
Defining Jacob and Magdalene Eller in historical terms presents problems typical of research in early German-American family history. There are few existing church records or family papers. Legal documents which might be helpful are often vague or nonexistent. Spelling was not standardized in the early nineteenth century and diminutive forms of names ("Rebecca" and "Becky" to cite a clear example) were used interchangeably. Family tradition about certain ancestors is unclear, inconsistent, and in many cases lost.
It seems clear that the name ELLER is of German origin and means literally "one who lives near an alder tree" (German: Erle), or it may have some connection with the noun Ell-e which means a yard, as in a unit of measurement. The E-1-1-e-r spelling has remained remarkably standard, although variations including E-1-e-r, A-1-1-e-r, and E-1-1-o-r- have been found in records referring to a Jacob Eller descendant. There are literally scores of persons (and a few place names) with E-1-1-e-r spelling in West Germany today. Eller immigrants continued to come to the United States well into the nineteenth century so that there are numerous ELLER families in various sections of the country who appear to have no connection with the Roanoke County, Virginia, family.
The problem of identification for Jacob Eller begins in America as early as the mid-eighteenth century. Between the 1740s and 1810s no fewer than twenty adult E-1-1-e-r males (this spelling) immigrated to the colonies and the newly formed United States. Three of these had the Christian or given name of Jacob. These are: Johann Jacob Eller, ship "Sally," December 31, 1772 and Jacob Eller, ship "Favourite." September 5, 1785--both of whom took the oath
of allegiance in Pennsylvania; and a Jacob Eller who arrived in North Carolina in 1765 and took the oath, there. Presumably many of these families were related, Although there is no definitive ELLER family study. Interesting too is the fact that although many of these families came into the country through Philadelphia, few remained in Pennsylvania. There are only scattered references to Ellers in Pennsylvania records before 1800. The 1790 census reveals that only one Eller family lived in the state (Germantown, Philadelphia). Apparently most moved south. There are three E-1-1-e-r households in Maryland (two in Washington County) and eleven in Rowan County, North Carolina. Unfortunately, there are no existing 1790 or 1800 census returns for Virginia.2
Back to Jacob and Magdalene Eller. Family tradition is rather strong that three brothers arrived in Philadelphia, presumably from the Rhine Valley of Germany (Rhineland or Palatinate) before 1800. With other German immigrants they made their way south down the Blue Ridge mountains into Virginia. Jacob settled in what was then Botetourt County (created from Augusta in 1769-1770) while the two unnamed brothers continued south and settled in North Carolina. This tradition, while never thoroughly studied, is plausible in that there clearly was a major migration of Germans from Pennsylvania into Maryland and down the Blue Ridge into the Carolinas, beginning in the early decades of the eighteenth century.3 According to an Eller genealogy published in 1925, three ELLER brothers-- Jacob, Christian, and Melchior--do appear to have settled in Rowan County, North Carolina in the 1760's. Details concerning their travel route and point(s) of departure, however, are lacking. This Jacob Eller died in Rowan County in 1782. Another, younger Jacob Eller is picked up in the 1790 census who continued to live in western North Carolina well into the nineteenth century.4
In addition, there were two Jacob Ellers who, assuming them to have been young men when they landed in Philadelphia, would have been of the approximate age of the Virginia Jacob. Our Jacob is enumerated in the 1810 census for Botetourt County. Both he and wife are shown as over age 45, meaning that they were born sometime before 1765. The household at that time consisted of six children: a female between 16 and 26, a male and female between 10 and 26, and two males and one female under age 10.5
The "three brothers" tradition was briefly presented in JACOB ELLER FAMILY TREE (Salem, Va., mimeograph, 1948) by Henry C. Eller, now of Bridgewater, Virginia. This brief but important study was put together from information collected and preserved by his father, Christian E. Eller, and others. This family tree has been used by genealogists of related families such as BRUBAKER, BARNHART, AND FLORA. While THE JACOB ELLER FAMILY TREE is incomplete and contains some minor errors, it still provides the core of what is known about early Jacob Eller descendants.
One of the genealogists who used Henry Eller's 1948 compilation was James W. Hook. Hook was a descendant of a
North Carolina ELLER family (Virginia Eller and James Hook, married in 1867) and in several publications endeavored to trace various branches of these two families. The last of his books, GEORGE MICHAEL ELLER AND DESCENDANTS OF HIS IN AMERICA (New Haven, Conn.: for the Author, 1957) is a thorough updating of the earlier publications and is based on considerable research. By including Henry Eller's material, however, Hook created a past for Jacob Eller totally outside the Virginia family's tradition.
Briefly, Hook theorized that our Jacob was a younger son of George Michael Eller, a German immigrant who died in Frederick County, Maryland, in 1778, but who had earlier lived in western North Carolina where the other ELLER families had settled. His will names several children, including his "youngest son Jacob" who was given the family Bible. Three of his known sons, Peter, Leonard, and George, all lived in North Carolina.6
The evidence for Jacob Eller of Virginia being the son named in George Michael's will is circumstantial, but hardly conclusive. Jacob would have been of the approximate age to have been a younger son, that is, born in the 1760s. And, Frederick County, Maryland records do indicate that a Jacob Eller was active there in the 1790s. He married Mary Willjard in 1792, voted "Federalist" in the presidential election of 1796, and is enumerated there in the census of 1800. By the 1790s, however, our Jacob was well established in Botetourt County, Virginia. Hook believed the Frederick County Jacob to have been a son of Henry Eller ( d. 1788 in Frederick County) whom he suggested was a brother of George Michael.7
In support of his theory that the Virginia Jacob was a son of George Michael Eller, Hook cites the westward movement of David Eller, an older son of Jacob to infer a relationship between the two families. Unfortunately, David Eller has been completely lost from the Virginia family tradition and was therefore not recorded in THE JACOB ELLER FAMILY TREE. Extensive but unpublished research by Charles E. Martin between 1978 and 198O demonstrates that David moved from Virginia to Montgomery County, Ohio in the mid 1820s, to Preble County, same state in the mid 1830s, and from there to Hamilton County, Indiana, sometime in the late 1840s.8 Hook learned of the existence of David Eller through a reading of Jacob Eller's probate records, census returns, and from a brief reference to him in a Hamilton County, Indiana, history published in 1915. David's move west did parallel somewhat that of Leonard Eller, a known son of George Michael. He moved from North Carolina to Miami County, Ohio in 1801, and from there to Hamilton County, Indiana in 1834. Hook's inference is that David followed his "uncle" Leonard both to Ohio and Indiana. Such conjecture is not without merit, except that there is nothing in deed, probate, census, or other records which prove that the two men had any financial ties, or that they even knew each other.9
There are other problems with Hook's theory concening the origins of Jacob Eller. For example, three ot Jacob Eller's daughters still living in 1880 and enumerated in the Federal census that year indicate a belief that both parents were born in Virginia,10 If Jacob were a son of George Michael, he would more likely have been born in Maryland or North Carolina. Furthermore, Jacob's son David was born c1782 (according to a now lost grave marker), and David's children believed that he too was born in Virginia. This means that there is a rather strong family tradition which places Jacob in Virginia far earlier than Hook's theory would allow.
Finally, there is a weak argument from silence. George Michael's Bible, important enough to be mentioned in the 1778 will, is not in the possession of any known Jacob Eller descendant, nor is there any known family tradition about such an important book. Given the family's strong ties to the German Baptist Brethern in the following generations, surely it would have been preserved. A Bible is not mentioned in the Jacob Eller's will or in an inventory of articles in his estate which were sold in 1830.
Unfortunately, for the present, Jacob Eller's background remains unclear. There simply is no hard evidence to support Hook's belief that he was the son of George Michael Eller. It does seem probable, however, that he was related in some way to one or more of the Carolina ELLER families.
The background of his wife Magdalene does not help resolve the matter. That her name was Magdalene (or Magdalena/Magdalen/Magalein) is without question since it appears with Jacob on an early deed record in Botetourt County. Some family researchers have suggested that her maiden name was PETERS, and indeed, this is the name recorded on the family record in the Latter Day Saints church archives.11 Documentation of her family name is circumstantial at best. There is no known recorded marriage of Jacob Eller to a Magdalene of any name before 1800 in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia or North Carolina. Obviously more research on her background needs to be undertaken before the full Jacob Eller family history can be completed.
The land records of Jacob Eller in what is now Roanoke County (created from Botetourt in 1838) are helpful in locating him. As mentioned previously, the earliest first known reference dates Eller in Roanoke County in the 1790s. On July 19, 1790, the Commonwealth of Virginia conveyed to him 150 acres on "Wolf Run, a Branch of Back Creek." This tract was apparently part of a land warrant originally issued to one John Minter (or Minten?) in 1788. Minter assigned a portion of the warrent to Humphrey Smith, who in turn assigned it to Eller. A few years, in 1804, Eller sold this same property to his in-law, John Brubaker for $500.12 Research to date has not been able to locate "Wolf Run" or the 150 acre tract. It may well have been located in Franklin County (created in 1787).
The farm which until a few years ago was known as the "Eller homeplace" was conveyed to Jacob Eller from Jacob Yest in 1799. Located approximately seven miles southwest from the county seat at Salem, "on the headwaters of Craven Creek," this property of 470 acres was part of survey originally granted by the Commonwealth of Virginia to Thomas Harrison in 1790. Harrison sold a portion of this grant to John Harris, who in turn sold it to Yest. Yest had it resurveyed, then sold 470 acres of it to Eller for $1165.67. His title was not recorded until 1802.13 The "sheepskin deed" (land grant) which contains a survey description of the property patented to Harrison has remained in the Eller family until the present.
Jacob Eller also acquired an additional 49 acres next to the Craven Creek land on "Mudlick, a Branch of the Roanoke." This was obtained from the estate of Abraham Statler, deceased, in 1819, although Eller was not a Statler heir.14 This brought his real property to approximately 519 acres.
The only other land transaction known to involve Jacob Eller is intriguing, but vague. In 1814 the Commonwealth of Virginia, under a newly enacted law, moved to collect back taxes of $3.25 on 400 acres which Jacob Eller owed for the years 1797 and 1798. The location of this property is unknown, as are the details as to when and how Eller acquired it. The tax could have been on the Craven Creek farm. Eller may have rented here prior to purchase in 1799 and part of the now lost purchase agreement was to pay taxes owed by Yest. The Back Creek property to which he then did have title, consisted of only 150 acres, and it was transferred in total to John Brubaker in 1804. In any event, the county Deputy Sheriff certified to the Commonwealth "that no property could be found," and declared the 400 acres legally for sale in a Richmond newspaper. Fifty acres was sold in August, 1814 for $3.45 to Frederick Barst, who was subsequently given a Sheriff's deed, recorded May 21, 181715. What makes this transaction even more unusual is that Garst was Eller's son-in-law, he having married Susan Eller in 1809.
There are few family traditions about Jacob Eller. It is assumed that he farmed but he may also have liked to hunt, and if so was probably absent from the family and farm for long periods. It is entirely possible that he spoke both German and English and he could apparently sign his name in English script. Local records have him being appointed overseer of the road" in 1799. According to a C. E. Eller statement, Jacob's two story house (cabin?) stood on the homeplace close to where his son Abraham and later his son J.W. Eller built homes.16 Interestingly enough, in 1805 Jacob Eller sold to Michael Danner various household and kitchen furniture, "shop tools used for making wagons." as well as a stud horse and cow, apparently in an attempt to settle a debt.17
When Jacob Eller prepared his will in May of 1830 he had sufficient real property to make a detailed bequest to
his wife and children. Since the will and the settlement of the estate provides the clearest identification of his children, it merits careful attention. His wife (unnamed) was allowed to remain in the house where they lived "throughout her natural life." half the garden, a clock, two beds, a cupboard, table and other furniture and household items, a mare, saddle and bridle, and $200 in cash. Two sons, John and Abraham, were to equally divide his plantation of "about five hundred acres" after it was surveyed, each son posting an appropriate bond. John, also an executor of the estate, was to receive that portion of the division on which he then lived. Abraham received various farming implements. An unmarried daughter Rebecca received various household items, including a spinning wheel, a saddle and bridle, a cow and a calf, as well as $50 in cash. Further, it was Jacob's desire that she live with her mother during her lifetime "and if she thinks proper to remain after the death of her mother in the house where they both occupy and is to have the use of the upper room in the said house so long as she conducts herself decently." Finally, Eller directed that his remaining personal property be sold at public auction and that the proceeds be distributed equally among his children and wife. To be included in this distribution were the heirs of Susan Garst, deceased, wife of Frederick Garst.18
The sale was held November 12, 1830, which meant that Jacob probably died sometime in early fall. The location of his grave and that of Magdalene, death date unknown, has not been preserved. Both are probably buried on the family farm.19 According to estate administration papers filed in January, 1840, his real property was valued at $2,538.17 and a division of $239.99 paid to nine heirs, including Magdalene. These heirs were: Henry Brubaker, wife Sarah; Frederick Garst; Peter Himley, wife Nancy; Isaac Wertz, wife Rebecca; David Eller; Daniel Peters, wife Elizabeth; Abraham Eller; and John Eller.20 These then are the known children and grandchildren of Jacob Eller. They are arranged in order of marriage, not in order of birth:
1. DAVID ELLER, c1782-1858; m. 1)Anna Brubaker, 1785-1825 on December 21, 1802 in Franklin County, VA; 2) Elizabeth Foutz (1825), and 3) Mary Martin (1827), the latter two in Montgomery County, OH. Anna Brubaker was a daughter of John and Anna Myers Brubaker who moved to Franklin County in 1781 and to whom Jacob Eller sold land in 1804. David Eller moved to Ohio in the mid 1820s, then to Hamilton County, IN in the late 1840s. He is not in the 1850 census and died without a will or property (intestate).-Several children in the 1850 census are enumerated in other households, Preble County, OH.
Children by Anna Brubaker:
|Catherine Eller, 1806-?; m. William R. Bowles|
|Mary Eller, 1808-1882; m. (as the 2nd wife) William|
|Bowser, ?-1842; 2) George Miller, ?-1856|
|Daniel Eller, 1810-? (unmarried)|
|Abraham Eller, c1815-? (unmarried)|
|Andrew Eller, 1819-1896; m. 1) Elizabeth Auchenback,|
|1816-1868; 2) Hannah M. Smeltzer; 3) Elizbeth Bright|
|Samuel Eller, c1825-? (unmarried)|
|Joseph Eller, 1826-?|
|Nancy Eller, 1828-?; m. Zachariah Clark|
|Benjamin Eller, 1830-1870; m. Diana Dacus|
|Henry Eller, 1834-?|
2. SARAH ("SALOMA") ELLER21, c. 1787-1882; m. (2nd wife to) HENRY BRUBAKER, 1775-184B, on January 24, 1810 in Franklin County. Brubaker was a brother to Anna Brubaker (above). He owned land on Peters Creek, Roanoke County, where he bequeathed the land for the Peter Creek Brethern meetinghouse. He fathered nine children by his first wife, Elizabeth Flory.
Children by Sarah Eller:
|John Brubaker,* 1811-1887; m. Susannah Flory, 1816-1886|
|Nancy Brubaker, 1813-?; m. Christian Wertz|
|Tobias Brubaker, 1814 (d. infant)|
|Benjamin Brubaker, 1816-1891; m. 1)Mary Garst,1822- 184B; 2) Susan (nah) Wolfe 1820-1903|
|Magdalene Brubaker, 1820-1892; m. 1) Samuel Franz; 2) David Blocker, 1812-1886|
|Abraham Brubaker, 1820-1898; m. Elizabeth Rivercomb|
|Isaac Brubacker, 1825-1897(8?); m. Christine Beckner 1828?-1910|
|Elias Brubaker,* 1828-1899; m. Susan Beckner|
|Elizabeth Brubaker, 1829-1899; m. John Beckner|
|Moses E. Brubaker, 1831-1904; m. Susannah Grisso|
3. SUSAN ("Susanna") ELLER,22 c1778-1827; m. FREDERICK GARST (Jr.), 1784-1850, on December 28, 1809. This is undoubtedly the same Garst that purchased 50 acres from Virginia in 1814 to settle Jacob Eller's back taxes. He and his wife lived in Botetourt County until c1826 when the family relocated to near Jonesboro, Tennessee. Children:
|Samuel Garst, 1810-1876; m. Susannah Peffley|
|Jacob Garst, 1812-1893; m. 1) -Wrightsman; 2) Fanny Sherfy, 1817-1898|
|David Gart, 1814-1886; m.1) m. 2)Anna Bashor, 1808-1895|
|Magdalena Garst, 1816-1906; m. Abraham Sherfy, 1818-1866|
|Nancy Garst, 1817-1860; m. Samuel Sherfy,* 1817-1896|
|Henry Garst, 1818-1898; m. Mary Bowman, 1820-1890|
|Catherine Garst, 1820-1911; m. Richard Deakins, 1798-1873|
|Sarah Garst, 1822-1917; m. Michael Bashor, 1811-?|
|Elizabeth Garst, 1824-1892; m. David Bowman, 1828-1896|
|Joel Garst, 1824-1892; m. Catherine Sherfy, 1822-?|
4. ELIZABETH ELLER, cl793-aft.1880; M. DANIEL PETERS, cl782-aft.1850. The family resided in Franklin County at the census of 1850. Known children:
|Rebecca Peters, c1816-?; m. Henry Donahue|
|Moses Peters, c1819-?; m. Rebecca Barnhart 1626-1903|
|Jonathan Peters, cl823-?|
|Magdalene Peters, c1829-?; m. Jacob Eller 1823-1907|
|Aaron Peters, c1831-?; m. Frances Flora|
|Samuel Peters, c1833-?; m. Hannah Flora, 1830-?|
5. JOHN ("Johnny") ELLER,* c1795-1871; M. CATHERINE BRUBAKER, 1794-?1880 on February 19, 1818. Catherine was a sister of Anna Brubaker and Henry Brubaker (above) --all children of John and Anna Myers Brubaker. John Eller lived on part of Jacob Eller's Craven Creek property, seven miles southwest of Salem. He was a Brethern minister.
|Lavina Eller, 1826-?; m. John Deaton; 2) Samuel Danner|
|George Eller, 1821-?; m. Nancy Sloan|
|Jacob Eller, 1823-1907; m. ?I)Susan Fisher 2)Magdalene Peters, c1829-?|
|Joel W. Eller, 1825-1902; m. Martha Reynolds|
|Abraham J. Eller.* 1828-1923; m. Saloma Flora, 1834-1919|
|John B. Eller, 1831-1912; m. I)Marly Flora, 1829-?; 2) Sarah Weddle Flora|
|Henry Eller, 1837-1912; m. Harriet Reynolds|
|Ann(a) Eller, 1835-1919; m. James Parker|
|Catherine Eller, 1841-?; m. 1) Carey F.Johns; 2) John B. Peters|
6. NANCY ELLER, c 1800-?; m. PETER HIMLEY on February 24, 1820. His name is also spelled HIMLECK and HIMLICK. This family is not in the 1850 census for Virginia.. Himley was present at the sale of personal property for Jacob Eller's estate in 1830, and he received a share of the estate for his wife in 1840. Himleck bought land in 1819 from John and Daniel Barnhart, and in 1825 from John Stoner. No other information.
7. ABRAHAM ("Abram") ELLER, 1801-?1870; m. Mary (Polly) WERTZ (WIRTZ), on March 31, 1831. They lived on a portion of Jacob Eller's Craven Creek land, seven miles southwest from Salem in Roanoke County on what became known as the "Eller homeplace." Children:
|Anna F. Eller, 1832-1906; m. 1) Frances Asberry Deaton, 1827-1865; 2) John W. Deaton 1838-1911|
|Magdalene Eller, 1833-1894; m. Joseph W. Barnhart 1832-1900|
|John W. Eller,* 1836-1899; m. 1) leah Barnhart 1836-1865; 2) Hannah Brubaker,1842-1902|
|Eliza Eller, 1838-1926; m. John B. Naff,* 1836-1905|
|Sarah Eller, c1838-l921; m. James Neff|
|David Eller, cIB40-?; m. Julia Neff|
|Christian Eller, 1846-1866 (unmarried)|
|Abraham C. Eller, 1848-1924; m. Salome Brubaker, 1850-1921|
|Amanda Eller, c1848-c1869 (unmarried)|
|Francis Asberry Eller,* 1851-1938; m. Elizabeth (Bettie) Brubaker, 1855-1941|
|Nannie Eller, c1854-1945; m. Daniel R. Brubaker, 16501928|
8. REBECCA ELLER, c1810-?; m. ISAAC WERTZ (WIRTZ) c1813-1891 on June 9, 1832. The family lived in Franklin County at the census of 1850. Known children:
|Magdaline Wertz, 1832-1911; m. Henry Laprad|
|Ann(a) Wertz, c1835-?; m. Abraham Barnhart|
|Catherine Wertz, c1836-?|
|Noah Wertz, c1839-?|
|Samuel E. Wertz, 1841-1928; m. Barbara 1841-1931|
*indicates a Brethern minister),
James Hook also suggests another son, Jacob, based an the fact that a second Jacob Eller, age 26-45, appears in the 1820 census for Botetourt County. His household consisted of female over 45, a female 26-45, three males under 26, and a female under 16.23 Our Jacob in 1810 had a male "under 10" that cannot be explained in terms of known sons. However, this child is clearly not old enough to be the second 1820 Jacob. The 1810 male could have a son that did not survive or the child of a relative. In any event, the second 1820 Jacob is not in the 1830 census for Botetourt County and is otherwise unknown. Hook and Henry Eller also list a daughter Magdalene based on the fact that she received an equal share of Jacob Eller's estate. As noted earlier,, however, this is Eller's wife, not daughter.
(Eds. Part II of David B. Eller's Research Report will trace the relationship between the Ellers and the Brethern Church and will appear in the August Newsletter. Dr. David B. Eller is Editorial Director, The Brethren Press, Church of the Brethern General Board, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120. Several members of the Jacob Eller of Virginia lineage belong to the Eller Family Assoc. and we are delighted to share this excellent paper and the following story, JAY VERNARD ELLER by Geraldine Crill Eller, with them and other readers. The Jay Vernard Eller story concerns another of the many descendants of Jacob Eller of Virginia who were ministers in the Church of the Brethern. The uncertain but probable relationship described by David Eller between the North Carolina and Virginia Ellers raises an interesting challenge that should be pursued by researchers of both groups. Only one clarification can be offered here to David Eller's account: The Jacob Eller who " arrived in North Carolina in 1765 and took the oath there" indeed did so on that date but his presence in North Carolina dates from 1761 or earlier and he arrived in North Carolina from Montgomery County, PA where he was married in 1753. Records of the date and place of his arrival in America have not been found; he probably entered at Philadelphia c1750.)