Bernard Eisenhuth, Pennsylvania’s Oldest Man

Bernard Eisenhuth (1755-1866)

by Jonathan Beacher,
his great grandson,
and this website’s owner.

No one in our family tree is more mysterious or controversial than my third great-grandfather Bernard Eisenhuth:

  • Bernard Eisenhuth became famous as Pennsylvania’s oldest living man, dying at the age of 111 years, 3 months, and 12 days in 1866. But a genealogist might dispute his actual age, as you’ll see.

  • Bernard’s obituary mentions his wife Catherine Saylor, but there is evidence suggesting he had two others he sired children with.

  • There is debate whether he actually served in the Revolution or not.

His full-page obituary story appeared inThe Pottsville Standard and is reprinted below.

Here is more on the controversy surrounding this most interesting ancestor, Bernard Eisenhuth, also known as Bernet or, as my family called him, Old “Barney.”

Was Bernard 111 When He Died?

His obituary says he was baptized on the 10th of May, 1755, in the old Lutheran church at Lebanon at the age of two months. But several records suggest he was born 10-11 years later:

  • The 1810 Census lists Bernard Eisenhood in West Brunswick, Berks County (now Schuylkill), as a 26-45 year male. This would make 1765 his earliest possible birth year.
  • The 1850 Census in Pottsville, Schuylkill County, lists his age as 84, which would make his birth year about 1766.
  • At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, a search on Eisenhuth reveals a research file exists there: “Bernet Eisenhuth, (1765-1866) of Schuylkill County, PA.” We visited their library, reviewed the file, and it offered no real evidence that the date was 1755 or 1765. In fact, the file offered little of value.

We searched without luck for a baptism record, since the obituary mentions his baptism at the old Lutheran church in Lebanon. If we can locate that, the mystery will be solved. Lutheran churches near Lebanon in 1755 were Quitapohila Hill Evangelical Lutheran Church; Heidelberg Congregation (now St. Luke’s), Schaefferstown; Zoar Evangelical Lutheran Church, North Annville; and Kimmerling’s Reformed Church, North Lebanon.

We suspect it may be found at Kimmerling’s Reformed Church in North Lebanon Township. The reason: on 5 Nov 1769 a Anna Maria Eisenhut is christened here, daughter of John Bernard Eisenhut. We do not yet have access to these original church records to see if there is a christening in 1755 to 1766 for a younger Bernard, which would make John Bernard his father.

How Many Wives?

Our family tree shows nine children by his wife, Catherine Saylor, born 9 May 1767. Eisenhuth family members tell us she died in 1849 when she got too close to the fireplace grate because she was blind. Bernard’s obituary mentions she was born in Philadelphia, but we have yet to identify Catherine Saylor’s father. She and Bernard were married in 1780 and a child immediately followed.

But Catherine was not Bernard’s first wife. We find in the baptism records of Zion Red Church (Union Lutheran), West Brunswick Township, Schuylkill County, that Bernard and Anna Maria Orwig christened two children in 1773 and 1778. If it’s the same Bernard, which everyone assumes, then this makes it more likely he was born in 1755, not ten years later, unless he was a father at age eight!

But we also find records at Swatara Reformed Congregation, Jonestown, Lebanon County that Bernard Eisenhuth and Elizabeth christened on 8 September 1782 a child Magdalene Eisenhuth, born five months earlier on 10 April 1782. Is Elizabeth a third woman in his life? Or was Catherine Saylor also an Elizabeth? Or was this another Bernard (perhaps the John Bernard mentioned earlier as his possible father)?

Was Bernard a Revolutionary War Veteran?

Eisenhuth family stories say that Bernard was a soldier of the Revolution, and because he spoke French and German, was of special value. Many online family trees say something like: “He was in the Revolutionary War as a private, and became a Captain under General Anthony Wayne. His claim to fame is that he held George Washington’s horse when he went into a meeting.” So many family trees include this that it has become fact that will live forever.

But Bernard’s obituary states he did not serve: “During the Revolutionary War he was left at home to take care of the family, while his father who Captain of Riflemen under General Anthony Wayne, was in the Army. It is supposed that Captain Eisenhuth was killed, as he never returned.”  So, if an Eisenhuth did hold General Washington’s horse, it was likely Bernard’s father.

But historians note there was no such Eisenhuth serving with General Wayne. There are no records for Eisenhuth or Eisenhut (or similar spelling) from Pennsylvania in:

  • Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M246, 138 rolls), which is the “official” register.
  • Pennsylvania Veterans Burial Cards, 1929–1990. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Bureau of Archives and History. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
  • Daughters of the American Revolution or Sons of the American Revolution applications.

Historians in Schuylkill County generally include Bernard in lists of those who served, but in the area where a soldier’s specific military company or commander is specified the listing for Bernard merely says “tradition” as no specific information is known to put there.

Phyllis Osborne, an Eisenhuth descendant, sent me a copy of United States Senate Documents, Vol. 3, 81st Congress, January 3, 1950 — January 2, 1951, in which on page 140 is a list of Pennsylvania graves of soldiers of the Revolution listing “Eisenhuth, Bernard, birth 1755, death June 1866, buried Ringtown, service: Captain under Gen. Anthony Wayne.”

He is probably the “Bernet Eisenhuth”  index card on file in the Pennsylvania Archives which states in total:

  • Inactive Duty, Militia
  • Eisenhuth, Bernet
  • Lancaster County 9th Battalion 4th Company John Herkerider
  • Date: 1 May 1782

“Inactive” meant volunteering but not fighting in battle, ready to be called up if needed, or perhaps guard duty at a military post.

Until some more evidence is found, considering his obituary says he stayed home to care for his mother, what I currently publish in my family tree for Bernard is: “Bernard Eisenhuth volunteered but never saw battle in the Revolutionary war. He didn’t volunteer until May 1, 1782, and the war was essentially over the previous year with the surrender in Yorktown on October 17, 1781. Bernard was available to fight if the British invaded Pennsylvania in 1782, but they did not.”

Bernard the Explorer!

From his birthplace in Lebanon, Bernard set out to cross “over the Blue Mountain” into the wilderness in what is today’s West Brunswick Township, Schuylkill County, then Berks. In early tax lists found in the Pennsylvania Archives we see “Bernard Eisenhood 50 acres Brunswig” and in 1779 “Eisenhude, Barnet 200 acres.”

Our family stories recall that Bernard set out to the wilderness to pursue lumbering and trapping, with his family expanding into Centre County over the years. “Barney” as my family called him, was close friends with my fourth great-grandfather, Jacob Bücher, born 1758 in Lebanon, and buried in 1842 there with his tombstone engraved “Jacob Bicher,” pronounced in Pennsylvania Dutch country like “Beecher.” These family stories must be true, for while Jacob Sr. never left Lebanon, his grandson, Jacob Bicher Jr. born 1812, around 1830 also traveled over the mountain to work with Eisenhuth in the timbering business. The young Jacob even marries Barney’s daughter, Angeline, in 1837 in Pottsville, when she became my second great-grandmother Beacher.

Our Beacher family members recall having possession of Bernard Eisenhuth’s old timber cross saw and his rifle. On the family wall in the late 1800’s hung a framed copy of Eisenhuth’s obituary, now in the possession of Bruce Beacher, herewith reprinted…

Obituary published in The Pottsville Standard, June 30, 1866

Bernard Eisenhuth Aged 111 years, 3 months and 12 days

Death of the “Oldest Inhabitant.” – On Friday morning of last week, June 22, 1866, Mr. Bernard Eisenhuth died at New Castle in this county, aged over one hundred and eleven years. He was probably the oldest man in Pennsylvania.

He was born in Lebanon county, Pennsylvania and was Baptized on the 10th day of May, 1755, in the old Lutheran church at Lebanon. His age then was two months.

During the Revolutionary War he was left at home to take care of the family, while his father who Captain of Riflemen under General Anthony Wayne, was in the Army. It is supposed that Captain Eisenhuth was killed, as he never returned.

Mr. Eisenhuth afterwards removed to Berks county, where he married Catherine Saylor. She was born in Philadelphia. They had 10 children, 5 of whom are still living.

The early history of the family is not known correctly, as the house of Mr. Eisenhuth was destroyed by fire in 1806, and the family records etc. were consumed. His wife died in 1848, aged 95 years. Mr. Eisenhuth leaves 5 children, 41 grandchildren and 116 living descendants; probably as many more have died.

He was sick only five weeks, apparently suffering from nothing but weakness, and retained his consciousness to the last, dying as gently as though falling asleep.

In his younger days he was a powerful man. He was about 6 feet in height, raw boned and heavily built, with light brown hair, light complexion and blue eyes. He was a lumberman and trapper, and at the age of 105 years he worked in the harvest field with apparent ease.

He was always “early to bed and early to rise,” being up at daylight every morning. He always ate plain food, and frequently lectured his descendants for using too much shortening, etc. in their food. He used liquor occasionally, but never to excess, and would taste only the best old-fashioned rye Whiskey.

At the age of 105 years, while at work clearing new land, he fell and severely injured his hips. He was by a physician fastened to a plank for nine weeks, and requested to remain nine days longer, but he refused to do so; and attempted to walk, when it was discovered that his hip was dislocated. The injury was properly attended to, and he was soon able to walk, but he was lame ever after from the effects of it.

He was attended during his last illness by Rev. U. Graves, of the English Ev. Lutheran Church of Pottsville, who at his request gave him the Communion; during the service the old man was melted to tears, and partook as intelligently as ever of the sacred elements. Nor did he forget this service while he continued to suffer out his days.

The last Sabbath of his life on earth he expressed a wish that he might be at church and hear Mr. Graves preach, but in a few days after that Sabbath he left these earthly scenes for the realities of another world.

The text from which Mr. Graves addresses the friends of the family at the funeral is found in Gen. XLVII, 9: “And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years; few and evil have the days of my life been and I have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their Pilgrimage.”

Mr. Eisenhuth always voted the Democratic Ticket. He voted for Washington, and cast his vote at every presidential election in the United States. His last vote he cast for Abraham Lincoln, he (Mr. Lincoln) appearing to him like Washington.

Mr. Eisenhuth was one of a class that seem to be getting smaller yearly; to the class who do their duty to God and man, love their country for their country’s sake, pay their debts and live honestly and frugally. He goes down to the grave respected and honored by all; and thus is broken one of the few living links between the by-gone past and present.

He was buried on Saturday last at the Old Lutheran Cemetery at Ringtown. His descendants are generally healthy and able-bodied, and carry their age remarkably well. Like himself, they are good, useful and law-abiding citizens. May our country be blessed with many more such men as the old patriarch who has been gathered to his fathers, Bernard Eisenhuth. – Pottsville Standard, June 30, 1866.