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Henry Ernst Muhlenberg, D. D.

Muhlenberg, Henry Ernst, D. D.,1 was the youngest son of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, D. D., and was born at the Trappe, Montgomery County, Pa., in the year 1753. The rudiments of his education he received in his native place, and, after the removal of his father to Philadelphia, he attended the public schools in that city. In the Spring of 1763, when in the tenth year of his age, with his brothers Peter and Frederick, he was sent to Europe, to finish his Academic studies, and to lay the foundation of his theological course. After a voyage of seven weeks, they reached England, and soon after they sailed for Holland. The brothers proceeded directly to Halle, and young Henry, having been placed under the care of an attendant, went by way of Oldenburg, Bremen and Hanover, with the intention of visiting Einbeck, his father's native place, and in which many of his relatives still resided. On the journey an incident occurred, which showed the resolute purpose, which even at that early period of his life he possessed. Having been basely deserted by the man to whose protection he had been confided, in a land in which he was an entire stranger, he commenced the long journey on foot, without money or friends, in no way depressed or disposed to despond. As he approached the end of his dark and dreary journey, when almost exhausted by the fatigue, he was met by a stranger, whose benevolent heart was touched, when he heard the sad tale of the inexperienced youth, and pitying his helpless condition, he generously carried him on his back to Einbeck, and cheered him by the way with the recital of please It stories. He never ascertained the name of this kind friend who relieved him in his lonely situation, but at the time he confidently believed that it was some good angel, commissioned by Providence to afford aid to him in this hour of need. He was soon after sent by his friends at Einbeck to Hallo, where he at once commenced his studies, to use his own language, "among the orphan children at the Orphan House." In this school he continued for some years, spending a larger time in the highest classes than was necessary, as he had not yet reached the age required for admission into the University. This he entered in the year 1769, and remained a member about one year. After an absence from his home of seven years, it was natural that he should wish to return. He thought it desirable, also, to take advantage of Dr. Kunze's company, who was about to sail for the United States, a trip across the ocean, in those days, being a much more formidable undertaking than at the present. During his residence abroad, he had made good use of his time and opportunities, storing his mind with useful knowledge, and disciplining it for future effort. He also secured the acquaintance of some of the most learned theologians of Germany, with whom he, in after life, maintained a correspondence, and whose friendship he found of great value to him.

Dr. Muhlenberg arrived in this country in 1770, and was the same year ordained by the Synod of Pennsylvania, Mon in session at Reading. he immediately commenced the work of the ministry, and was associated in his labors, for many years, with his father, who was still preaching in Philadelphia, and had charge, of several congregations in the vicinity. He occupied this field till 1776, when, in consequence of his attachment to his county, and his devotion to the principles of the American Revolution, he was obliged, with his family, to flee from the city on the approach of the British. Although he afterwards returned for a season, he was again forced to retire, during the occupancy of the city by the enemy. Disguised under a blanket, and with a rifle on his shoulder, narrowly escaping by the way with his life, he withdrew to the country, where, relieved for a time from professional duties, he engaged with great zeal in the study of Botany.

Here, no doubt, was awakened that ardent and enthusiastic love for this favorite pursuit, which afterwards so strongly manifested itself. On the departure of the British troops he resumed his clerical duties in Philadelphia, and continued to labor there, till the year 1770, when he resigned, in order to take charge of congregations in Montgomery County, Pa. In the following year, however, having been invited to Lancaster, and believing that it would afford a sphere of wider influence, and more extended usefulness, he consented to accept the appointment. In the Spring of 1780, he removed to the scene of his new home, and at once entered upon his work here, to which he assiduously and faithfully devoted himself, during a period of thirty-five years, till the end of his life. In the midst of his usefulness, the shaft of death was sped, and his earthly career terminated. On the 28d of May 1815, he died of apoplexy, in the sixty-second year of his ago. Conscious of his approaching dissolution, he committed his congregation and the interests of the church at large to the Great Bishop and Shepherd of souls; clasping to his heart the Bible, as his dearest treasure, and firmly clinging to the Rock of Ages, he calmly and peacefully fell asleep in Jesus, and entered upon his eternal rest. His remains were followed to the grave by an immense concourse of weeping friends, and an appropriate discourse was delivered by Rev. Dr. Helmuth, of Philadelphia, from the text-Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

The death of Dr. Muhlenberg was universally lamented.

He had enjoyed the uninterrupted regard, not only of his own congregation, but his virtues wore enshrined in the hearts of the whole community. He was highly esteemed in all the walks of life, and everywhere produced the impression that he was an upright and sincere Christian. He possessed those excellencies of character, which always win the affections, and secure for an individual warm and devoted friends, he was over ready to furnish relief to the needy, and to minister comfort to the afflicted. His heart overflowed with sympathy for the suffering, and all who came within his reach experienced his kindness and liberality. The young he regarded with the most tender interest, and zealously labored to promote their good. His influence over them was unbounded. They entertained for him feelings of the most profound respect, which they on all occasions evinced. When the Doctor met them on the street, engaged with their sports, they would immediately suspend operations, and quietly, with their hats raised, wait until he had passed them. His manners were easy and affable, but dignified. There was nothing in his composition austere and repulsive, yet there was that which repelled rudeness or undue familiarity. At times he was quite humorous and playful, his conversation abounding with pleasantry, and diffusing a genial charm over all who came within the circle of his influence. His eye .was expressive of a kind heart, and his whole countenance reflected the warmest benevolence. He was extremely fond of music, and on several instruments performed with much skill.

In person, Dr. Muhlenberg was of medium stature, of a florid complexion and a robust frame. In the city, in which he spent more than half his life, there are given many traditional accounts of his extraordinary physical strength. On a certain occasion a beggar visited his study, and behaving rather insolently in his presence, it is said the Doctor, without any ceremony, picked the fellow up, and carried him out of the parsonage, with the greatest facility lifting hint over the front porch, very much to the surprise of the stranger, and the amusement of the spectators. At another time he observed some men, as he was passing, laboring to remove from a wagon a large plank; he stopped and told them if they would desist from their profanity, he would help them, and apparently without any difficulty, he alone accomplished the work, in which they had unitedly failed. He was a great pedestrian, frequently starting on foot from Lancaster to Philadelphia, a distance of 60 miles, and regarding the walk as a trifling feat.

Dr. Muhlenberg possessed a vigorous intellect and extensive acquirements. The University of Pennsylvania, in 1780, conferred upon him the degree of A. M., and at a later period, honored him with the Doctorate of Divinity. He was regarded as a sound Theologian, a good linguist, and a fine oriental scholar. His attainments in medicine, chemistry and mineralogy were considerable. In the natural sciences, generally, he took a deep interest. Botany was his favorite pursuit. Finding that this study displayed in North America a vast field of inquiry, he very soon engaged in it with ardor and perseverance, in which he was assisted by his European friends, Hedwig, Schreber and others.

In this department, at that time, he was probably unsurpassed by any one in the United States. Dr. Baldwin2 pronounces him the American Linnaeus, and says, to this appellation he is justly entitled. He was often quoted in Europe as authority. He carried on a large transatlantic correspondence with the most distinguished naturalists then living, and by his communications to learned societies, contributed much to the advancement of natural science. He was connected with numerous scientific associations, and was visited at his home in Lancaster by Humboldt, Schoepf, and other savans of Europe, on their tour through this country.

Dr. Muhlenberg frequently wrote for the press. Numerous articles on scientific questions, from his pen, appeared in the newspapers of the day. His Catalogus Plantarum and Descriptio Uberior Graminum are well known. His Flora Lancastriensis remains still in manuscript. He has also left valuable materials on Theology and Mies, the preparation of which for publication, we hope will yet engage the attention of one of his surviving relatives. He also published "An English and German Lexicon and Grammar," 2 vols. "Reder bei der EinwEinwelhung des Franklin Collegiums," Lancaster, 1788. "A Companion to the Catechism, or a course of Instruction in the Christian Religion, for the benefit of the young."

  1. Abridged from a sketch In the Evangelical Review for April 1854.
  2. Reliquise Baldwiniansee. By William Darlington, M. D., 1843, p. 188.

Source: An authentic history of Lancaster County, in the state of Pennsylvania; Lancaster, Pa.: J.E. Barr, 1869, 813 pgs.

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