In 1977, years of research and writing came to fruition with the publishing of Noah Zimmerman and Spencer Kraybill’s History of a John Graybill Family in America, 1754-1976. The volume, over 700 pages, is known as a defining scholarly work on the history of the village of Richfield and the Graybill family who first settled in the Richfield area in the 1770’s. Kraybill and Zimmerman painted a picture of this small town in central Pennsylvania from its beginnings until the time of the writing of the book. They gathered primary source documents, records compiled by other historians and geneologists to trace branches of the Graybill family who moved away from the Richfield area, background information on the Anabaptist persecution in Europe which resulted in a wave of Anabaptist immigration to “Penn’s Woods,” and a brief history of the Juniata Valley prior to settlement by European peoples. Personal stories and pictures of many of the Graybill descendants are added, bringing the names and places to life for the reader. Even more impressive is that this book was done long before internet was available for public use, and all the research was conducted by collecting information in person or by correspondence.
The Graybill family were of Swiss origin. Early spellings of the name were “Krahenbuhl,“ or “Krohbiel,“ “Krehbiel,“ and other variations. Peter and Jakob Krahenbuhl were Bernese Mennonites, with family origins in Canton of Berne in Switzerland. A 1953 letter from Don Yoder of Franklin and Marshall College, to Ursula Shelley, whose research was instrumental in helping to compile data for the Graybill book, states: “From the history of Bernese Anabaptism by Pastor Ernst Muller, published 1895, I find that Peter and Jakob Krahenbuhl lived on the Buchelhof near Wimpfen on the river Neckar in the year 1731, and that Michel Krahenbuhl was a deacon of the congregation in that area, his residence being at Dreschklingen. In the same year Samuel Krahenbuhl lived at Wesingen, eastward from Durlach in Baden. These were Bernese Mennonites in name, that is, they or their ancestors had emigrated from the Canton of Berne in Switzerland (lovely land) to the Palatinate in Germany. An early reference to the name in Switzerland, also from Muller‘s book, tells us that Anna Krayenbuel was an Anabaptist at Langnau (in the famous Emmenthal) in 1621. This is in Canton Berne. Much more could be gathered from the printed sources, but this is enough to show the Bernese origin of your family, which is of course the important fact first of all to be established.“
The Anabaptist faith brought persecution from the Swiss government, due to several controversial teachings of the Anabaptist faith. The Anabaptists faced opposition for their unwillingness to baptize infants, and to swear oaths in court, but most of all for their doctrine of nonresistance and its followers’ refusal to bear arms against their fellow man. The Swiss republic had been maintained by hard-fought battles against neighboring monarchies. The Swiss government feared that if the Anabaptist faith were to become common, large numbers of its citizens would refuse military service, and the Swiss republic would be in danger from larger, stronger kingdoms around them. By the 1680’s, Anabaptists were so severely persecuted in Switzerland that a group of about 700 left Switzerland and emigrated to Germany about 1681. Among them were Peter Krehbiel and his family. The Krehbiel family lived in Weierhof, in the Palatinate in Germany for several generations. It is likely that Johannes Krohbiel, who would later emigrate with his family to Pennsylvania, was a grandson of Peter Krohbiel, although records that would prove that definitively have not been found. But in Germany, the Mennonites again faced persecution because of the doctrine of nonresistance, which was at odds with the mandatory military service which was required of young men in Germany in the mid-1700’s. Across the Atlantic Ocean, William Penn’s newly founded colony of Pennsylvania was a refuge for many who were persecuted for their religious beliefs. The colony was founded on, and governed by, Quaker principles, which were in sympathy with the Mennonites’ doctrine of nonresistance. Johannes (John) Krehbiel, his wife Elizabeth, and their children John, Elizabeth, Barbara, and Maria emigrated to Pennsylvania in the early 1750‘s.
On June 14, 1753, John Krehbiel, Sr. applied for a land patent in Manheim Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In 1766, after the death of the elder John Krohbiel, this land was passed to his son, John Krehbiel, Jr.
The younger John Krehbiel was born 8-18-1735, in Weierhof, Germany. He would have been a teenager when he emigrated to Pennsylvania with his parents and siblings. He married Barbara Daradinger, b. 5-9-1737.
Oral tradition holds that John Krehbiel, Jr. went north from Lancaster County to what was then Northumberland County in the early 1770’s, searching for vacant land on which to settle. He made his way up the Susquehanna River to the Mahantango Creek, where he left the river and cut a road from Millerstown or Liverpool to an area near the Mahantango headwaters in what is now West Perry Township, Snyder County. Finding a piece of land which would suit his needs, he hid his axes, singletrees, wagons, and sticks in a sinkhole on the farm at the foot of Shade Mountain now owned by Ronald Weaver. He then went back to Lancaster County to bring his family north. John Krehbiel purchased the land from the current owner, a Mr. Simpson, who lived at or near Philadelphia, and the Krehbiel family came from Lancaster to the frontier of Northumberland County in the spring of 1774. (At the time of the publication of the “Graybill book” in 1977, the land originally purchased by John Krehbiel had been passed down through the family so that a Graybill descendent had lived on that farm for 200 years. The farm has since been sold out of the Graybill family but is still a working farm, well maintained and cared for by its current owners.)
In the 1770’s, much of Pennsylvania was still wild frontier. The land was heavily wooded and game was plentiful. Travel was via waterways, on foot, or by horseback. Roads were few; most were paths or Indian trails. Wild animals were a danger to man and beast, and Indian attacks on frontier settlers were not uncommon. Huge stands of virgin timber had to be cleared for building and farming. Tools and implements for felling trees, working the soil, and building barns and dwellings, were primitive. It was a land rich in resources, but to settle on Pennsylvania’s western frontier was not for the faint of heart. This was the place to which the Krehbiel family came.
World events indicated turbulent times. The American colonies were on the cusp of revolution, and would soon declare their independence from the British crown. The Krehbiel family was somewhat geographically isolated from the events taking place to the east of them--a Declaration of Independence, and a Revolutionary War which was to decide the future of the nation. The revolution created a crisis of conscience for the nonresistant folk who believed in paying taxes--”Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s...”--but could not, in good conscience, go to war. The Mennonite objection was both to war itself, and also to the rebellion against the King of England, whose authority they viewed as given by God Almighty. The Mennonites could not give their support for war, or for rebellion against the British throne.
On the land which John Graybill purchased stood a solidly built stone structure, built over a spring. Oral tradition and maps of the time show a fort on the Mahantango Creek, called Pomfret Castle, which had been built for frontier defense around the time of the French and Indian War. Pomfret Castle is believed to have stood on what was to become the Graybill homestead. The question of the existence of Pomfret Castle has been the subject of much debate by historians. The author will explore this debate in a future post, as it seems to deserve its own chapter of this story, rather than being an afterthought of the story of the John Graybill family.