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Manuscript Group 417
3 boxes

Ignatius Garner (1816-1899), a German immigrant from Schwerghouse, Alsace-Lorraine, France, was among the early settlers of St. Marys, Elk County. He arrived in the United States circa 1832, and lived in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and New York. In the early 1840s he came to Philadelphia, where he was active in that city's German Catholic community. Seeking greater religious freedom, a group of German Catholics, drawing members from Baltimore and Philadelphia, settled in St. Marys in 1842. Garner, a lawyer, arrived there in 1845 employed as a land agent for the Baltimore-based firm of Benzinger and Eschbach, which had bought the land from the Fox Land Company in 1843. Living in St. Marys until his death, Garner, in addition to his duties as a land agent, also served as the town's first postmaster, its mayor, and an Elk County auditor. He also was an organist, organ builder, musician, church designer, surveyor, and attorney.

The papers, donated by Garner's grandson, consist of correspondence, tax receipts, deeds, legal documents, account books and miscellaneous items all pertaining to St. Marys, German Catholics, and the Garner Family. They have been used to write histories of St. Marys and Benzinger Township. They contain many details of daily life in the nineteenth century in Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Including approximately 1,300 letters, Garner's Correspondence comprises the bulk of the papers. Just over half are written in English, the remainder are in German (about 500), French (100) and Latin (1). Almost all are written to Garner and cover a wide range of topics, both business and personal. Topics addressed include land, coal, iron ore, agriculture, colony matters, the 19th Century American German Catholic Community; music, organs, pianos, and bands; and the social and cultural details of 19th century life. Especially prevalent are letters concerning Garner's activity as a land agent for Benzinger and Eschbach, the preparation of deeds and the payment of taxes. Garner also corresponded with many personal acquaintances, including family members, Catholic priests and nuns, musicians and other friends. Many of the letters were mailed from locations in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Latrobe, Duncannon, Petersburg, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, and 659 of the letters are in foreign languages (translations of the French letters and representative samples of the many German letters are included in the finding aid.

Major correspondents include Father Amandus, who inquired about friends and detailed life in a monastery; Judge G. R. Barrett, who discussed deeds, surveys and other land-related matters, in addition to lobbying for the Sunbury and Erie Railroad legislation; Fred Benzinger, who wrote on business and personal issues, including several interesting letters on hard times and strikes in Baltimore in 1855, a surge in the Know-Nothing movement, and the negative aspects of the legal profession, Mathias Benzinger, who primarily described business affairs (e.g. a land contract with Belguim); the firm of Benzinger and Eschbach, who wrote often and at length on numerous business matters, including instructions to Garner; storeowner H. Brockerhoff, who updated Garner on his orders and accounts and requested assistance in entering judgments against people who were not paying their bills; John Eschbach, who covered a range of topics from the 1848 revolution in Europe to building the railroad; Garner's son Louis, who wrote from St. Vincent's College, reporting on his health and studies and requesting money and clothing; Father Guth, who kept Garner abreast of church activities; local government official and politician Charles Horton, who informed Garner of meetings of the Democratic Party, warned of the dangers posed by the Know-Nothings, and requested political information and support; J. M. Kratzer, who bought organ parts from Garner and sought his advice on how to build an organ; Garner's nephew Aloysius Uschall, who updated him on his studies at St. Vincent's College and on the behavior of Louis Garner (at his father's request); piano builder Conrad Meyer, who confirmed Garner's orders and accounts, listed his stock, and advised Garner not to buy "trash" from New York piano dealers; Daniel Rau, who inquired about the availability and price of various tracts of land; P. Schenkel who sold Garner organ pipes and supplies and corresponded with him about accounts and payments; Father Rupert Seidenbush, who requested loans from Garner and updated him on the progress of the new church in Newark, N.J.; the firm of Simes and Hüffer; who wrote on land-related matters; Reverend A. Skopez, who discussed organs and other music related topics; Garner's niece Elizabeth Smith, who reported family news including a poignant account of her father's death; and William A. Stokes of Benzinger and Eschbach, who wrote to Garner on business matters relating to the operation of the colony, including moving it from Ridgway to St. Marys.

PA State Archives Hours, Directions, & Fees Research Topics Finding Aids for Collections Land Records