1710 Lancaster County Immigrants
In 1710 the first extensive settlement in what would later become Lancaster County (1729) was established in the area between the Conestoga River and Pequea Creek encompassing parts of modern-day Pequea, West Lampeter, and Strasburg Townships. It was in this region, then known as Conestoga, that the first Conestoga Wagons traveled the old Conestoga Road, and the first Pennsylvania long rifles were made.
Settling on Native American grounds, these Mennonite immigrants took ownership of 10,000 acres granted to them by William Penn on the western edge of what was then Chester County (Learn more about why Lancaster became its own county in 1729 here). Other large land purchases later followed.
These Swiss-German Mennonites came to Pennsylvania in search of religious freedom after much persecution, as well as economic opportunities. They came as peacemakers and learned from their Native American neighbors the ways of this rich wilderness.
Tschantz Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Lancaster County. It is believed to contain the graves of three of these 1710 pioneers: Martin Meylin, Jacob Miller, and Wendel Bauman (Bowman).
Martin Meylin is arguably the most famous of the three being credited with the creation of the Pennsylvania Long Rifle (often misnamed the Kentucky Long Rifle). In 1719, Martin Meylin or his only son built the gunshop. Sometime before 1745, he or his son created the first known rifle in America—a strong, light gun known for its precision, great distances, and quick loading.
The rifle was made with waterpower and Martin’s mechanical skill. Meylin’s new creation was likely influenced by his acquainted with the Jaeger Swiss Riffel from his earlier days in Europe.
Unfortunately, no single rifle has been found to date to signed by Martin Meylin. Two were previously attributed to him, but both turned out to be bogus. One, owned by the Lancaster Historical Society, has been shown it to be a European musket of a later date after close expert examination. The other has a date of 1705 predating Meylin’s 1710 arrival. The search continues…
The plaque on Meylin’s Gunshop reads:
Martin Meylin, 1670-1749, gunsmith of Switzerland settled here in the Pequea Valley in 1710 and made in this gun shop the earliest known Pennsylvania or so called Kentucky Rifle. He was the first of a group of Lancaster County rifle makers who prior to 1745 originated and gave to America that historic and colorful firearm.
The Martin Meylin Gunshop still stands today in Willow Street on the aptly named Long Rifle Road. Click here for directions.
There are two other tombstones connected directly to Meylin. There’s a stone for his wife and son, Barbara Meylin and Martin Meylin, Jr.
Of these three early Mennonite immigrants, only Jacob Miller’s grave marker is legible. It is also the oldest surviving tombstone in the graveyard with its April 20, 1739 date. The English translation of the German script on his tombstone stone reads:
1742. Here lies buried the old Jacob Miller. Born in Germany. He died Apri 20, 1739. When he died, his age was 76 years, 1 month and 3 weeks.
Some historians believe there was an epidemic in the Pequea settlement between 1739 and 1742; thus, the stone cutter made four stones in 1742 even though some deaths were earlier.
Miller passed on 600 of his 1,008 acres to sons, Samuel, Martin, Jacob Jr. and to two grandchildren. Samuel received the land by this cemetery, and later his widowed wife married the well-loved Mennonite bishop of this Pequea community, Hans Tshantz. It was Tschantz who set aside the land for this West Lampeter Township graveyard in 1740 thus the name of the cemetery.
This Hans Tshantz should not be confused with his son, Hans Tschantz, Jr. who by 1762 was a minister and by 1773 was a bishop for the Mennonites near Bowmansville, PA.
Wendell Bowman, who lived nearby and died in 1735, is also thought to be buried here but the exact location of this tombstone is unknown. Many of the graves at Tschantz Graveyard are illegible.
After arriving here, Wendel Bowman built himself a log cabin in 1712. It was said to be a substantial two-story long house located near the center of his 530-acre tract. The house was chinked, plastered, and whitewashed. Under the eastern end, there was a stonewalled arch cellar. Unfortunately, it was torn down in 1874. If it were standing today, it would be the oldest-known structure in Lancaster County.
This drawing shows the home of Wendell Bauman and wife, Anna, as imagined by an unknown artist. The house was located on the north side of East Penn Grant Road near a hand-dug well.
Oldest Cemetery in Lancaster County
While Tschantz Cemetery has the potential to be the oldest European cemetery in Lancaster County being on land laid out in 1710 by Swiss pioneers, there are no tombstones that old there. Older, dated headstones exist at the Old Chestnut Level Presbyterian Church Graveyard in Drumore Township.
The earliest legible grave probably belongs to Elizabeth King, who died February 21, 1732, at the age of 23. Several of the stones at Chestnut Level are made of black slate, which preserves engravings better than sandstone or limestone.
Chestnut Level contains 14 of the 20 oldest tombstones in Lancaster County. Tschantz has four. Click here to read more about Chestnut Level and finding Lancaster’s oldest tombstone.
Visiting Tschantz Cemetery
Tschantz Cemetery is open to the public about a mile outside of Lampeter at 2100 Pequea Lane, Lancaster, PA 17602. Click here for directions.