[Last updated: 4 June 2016]
Johan Friederich Stembel (Grandfather)
Frederick Stembel (Father)
JOHN STEMBEL (1787 - 1861)
John Stembel was born March 15, 1787,(1) in Middletown, Maryland, and was baptized at the Zion Lutheran Church on May 28, sponsored by 'Georg and Magdelina Scheifle'. John was the seventh child born to Frederick and Esther Stembel.
John was raised in a large family, with four older sisters (though two may have died by the time he was born) and two older brothers. Another brother and sister were born soon after. In addition, when John was about 13 his oldest sister's infant daughter was taken in and raised as part of the family.
John's father was 38 when John was born and by that time Frederick was well established in the church and community. He was beginning to prosper and could afford a good education for his children, or at least his sons. John probably enjoyed a relatively comfortable childhood and no doubt received some education at a private school or local tutor. Plus John was certainly exposed to the many activities his father and older brothers were involved in, including civic affairs. We know that by 1809 he was part owner of a mill with his older brother, Henry(2). I assume John's father supplied some of the backing for this venture.
On May 9, 1809, John married Eleanor Swearingen(3), daughter of Joseph Van Swearingen, who was soon to be appointed General Swearingen of the Ninth Maryland Militia in the War of 1812(4).
Entry in John Stembel's family Bible, presumably written by John or Eleanor
John and Eleanor's first child, a son they named Frederick, was born in Middletown on January 29, 1810. Sadly Frederick died the next day. Undeterred, they had a second child, a daughter named Isabella, a year later. Isabella was born February 28, 1811, but died 18 months later. Two weeks after Isabella's death, Eleanor gave birth again, to a daughter they named Ruth Esther. Ruth was born on September 7, 1812, in Washington, D.C.,(5) where John and Eleanor had recently moved. By December 1813, they were living back in Middletown, for that's where Eleanor again gave birth, this time to a son, Theophilus.
Chances are John's brief move to Washington was actually a move to the town of Georgetown. Washington and Georgetown were seperate towns in the District of Columbia, but Georgetown was an established commercial center while Washington was a new town being carved out of marsh and fields to house the federal government. In 1810 Washington was a rather squalid place with few permanent residents.
In 1818 a local newspaper, announcing the death of John's sixth child, Joseph Swearingen Frederick Stembel, described John as a "merchant of this town." Besides the death of his child (the fourth to die before the age of two), it appears that John's commercial endeavors died also, for in 1819 he was deeply in debt and being sued by his debtors. Looking for a way out, John appealed to the state of Maryland for relief from his debt. Here is what the Maryland Gazette reported on the day his debt-relief bill was presented for vote before the Maryland Senate: "The bill for the relief of John Stemble, of Frederick County, an insolvent debtor, was read [before the Senate] the second, and by special order the third time, and will not pass. Mr. [Roger Brooke] Taney was excused from voting, being engaged as counsel against said Stemble."(6) Roger Brooke Taney, the Senator excused, was a well-known successful lawyer in nearby Frederick. As such he was undoubtedly influential. He may have been excused from voting but no doubt had influence on the those who did vote. It should be noted that Roger Brooke Taney went on to become a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, appointed by President Andrew Jackson. He was the author of the notorious Dred Scott decision in 1857.
It is hard to know what to make of John's financial woes. His father, Frederick, was wealthy, and could have covered John's debts, in the form of a loan. Maybe his father had done that before and decided this time John had to take more responsibility for his actions. However, the fact that John appealed to the state for debt-relief might indicate that the state was somehow partly responsible for his debt. In any case it appears John wasn't successful getting the relief he needed. I don't know how John fared financially after that. We do know that four years later his wife, Elenor Swearingen's father died and she inhereted some land, and possibly money as well, from his estate.
John and Eleanor had twelve children altogether. Tragically, six died in infancy. This must have been a great emotional burden for Eleanor. Of the six who survived to adulthood, however, one lived to be 75 years old, another lived to be 88, and a third died at the age of 91.
Sometime between 1830(7) and 1832(8), John packed the family's belongings into covered wagons and moved from their home in Maryland to Urbana, Ohio. Older family members tell me that John was accompanied by some slaves owned by the Stembels in Maryland (we know that John owned one slave at the time of the 1810 federal census). The slaves, of course, were free once they set foot in Ohio. It's unfortunate that we have no way of knowing if this tradition is true, and if so, how many slaves accompanied John's family to Ohio, for there are a couple of mysterious graves associated with John's family that might be the resting places of former Stembel slaves (see "Stembel Research Questions" for a list of unknown Stembels and other mysteries associated with the family).
In Urbana, John operated a store for a short time, but a year later he purchased two hundred acres of land in Champaign County, four miles southwest of the town of West Liberty. This land had never been cultivated, so John had the unenviable task of clearing the land before it could be farmed.
The fact that John would give up his store to become a farmer carries more significance than one might think. Unlike the majority of Americans at the time, John was raised in a town rather than on a farm. It's likely he had a far greater exposure to commerce than agriculture. His father at various times was a blacksmith, a store owner, and later operated a tavern. John's older brother Frederick operated a tannery. One of John's first ventures was part ownership of a mill. I have found no evidence that John had any previous experience farming.
As a child, John attended the Lutheran church in Middletown. Once he moved to his new farm, however, there was no Lutheran church nearby, so John opened his home and barn for church services until a church could be built.(9) At some point in their life, however, John and his family began attending the nearby Wesley Chapel church. Wesley Chapel was organized in 1845 as a Methodist Episcopal church. The present structure was built in 1848.(10) This church was located very close to John's farm. I don't know if he was one of it's 20 organizers, or whether he began attending the church later because it was convenient. In any case, by the 1850s, the Stembels were members of Wesley Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church. According to a biographical sketch published in a county history, John was also a member of the Masonic order and was an ardent Democrat.
John lived the remainder of his life on his Champaign County farm. He died in 1861 at the age of 74. After John's death, Eleanor lived with her son Joseph. According to Dr. William McLean (an early Stembel family researcher), Eleanor was kicked by a cow as an adult. The kick broke her hip, and it didn't heal right. As a result she had a lot of trouble getting around in her later years. She died 13 years after John died, at the age of 85. Both Eleanor and John are buried in the Wesley Chapel Cemetery.
There may have been a special relationship between John and his father. In Frederick's Will, John was bequeathed a special legacy of four hundred dollars which was to be paid before any other money was distributed. This was the only special legacy included in his will. Even though John had borrowed far more money from his father than any of his siblings, Frederick obviously didn't feel John had been irresponsible with his money.
Here is a brief description of John and Eleanor's twelve children. Their birth and death dates are from John and Eleanor's family Bible.
A. Frederick.(1810-1810) Frederick was born January 29, 1810, in Middletown (or possibly Washington, D.C.). He died the following day.
B. Isabella (1811-1812). Isabella was born February 28, 1811, in Middletown or Washington, D.C. She died August 25, 1812, probably in Washington, D.C. Eleanor was almost nine months pregnant when Isabella died.
C. Ruth Esther (1812-1851). Ruth was born September 7, 1812, in Washington, D.C. Ruth never married. She lived with her parents until her death in 1851 of typhoid fever.
D. Theophilus (1813-1902). Theophilus is the subject of a later chapter.
E. Joseph Van (1815-1817). Joseph was born October 12, 1815, probably in Middletown. He died August 17, 1817. Eleanor was about seven months pregnant at the time of his death.
F. Joseph Swearingen Frederick (1817-1818). Joseph was born October 23, 1817. He died March 11, 1818.
G. Mary Eleanor (1819-1888). Mary was born August 31, 1819, in Middletown. Although she was John and Eleanor's seventh child, only two were still living at the time of her birth, Ruth and Theophilus.
In 1841, Mary married Rev. Moses B. Hebbard (the 1840 census shows their last name as Hubbard, but the family insists it was Hebbard), probably in West Liberty, Ohio. It seems they remained in the West Liberty area all of their life. They had two children, Joseph, who died shortly after birth, and Theophilus who died when he was 2½ years old.
Mary died in 1888, at the age of 58. Moses died four years later. The Hebbard family Bible was last in the possession of Mary Stembel Davis, daughter of Mary's nephew, Marcellus Stembel (see the section on Oliver Frederick).
H. Margaret Isabella (1821-1824). Margaret was born November 11, 1821. She died July 20, 1824. She was two and a half years old at the time of her death.
I. Elizabeth Miranda (1823-1824). Elizabeth was born February 20, 1823. She died September 12, 1824, two months after her sister Margaret died.
J. Oliver Frederick (1825-1887). Oliver is the subject of a later chapter.
K. Maria Josephine (1827-1902). Maria was born in Middletown, but moved to Ohio with her family when she was young.
Maria never married, but according to family tradition, she was engaged to a man named William Cook. When the Civil War broke out, William enlisted. Sometime during the war, William was killed. Maria was heartbroken and never recovered from his death.
When I first heard this story I was skeptical, for Maria was 33 years old when the Civil War broke out. But when I examined the 1860 census page that recorded Maria's family, living next door was a "Wm. Cook, age 21." And somewhat to my amusement, I noticed that Maria's age was recorded as 23, just two years older than William (but 10 years less than her real age!). Then Maria's niece, Mary Stembel Davis, confirmed the story in a letter.(11) Mary wrote that Maria kept a daguerreotype of William Cooke all her life and that it was now in her possession.
In 1882, Maria's nephew, "Lafe" Stembel, was about to embark on a trip west. Maria gave Lafe a Bible to take with him. Her inscription was dated March 30, 1882.
Maria died in 1902 at the age of 75.
L. Joseph Van Swearingen (1828-1920). Joseph is the subject of a later chapter.
1. Just two months after John's birth, the Philadelphia Convention convened. It was at this convention that fifty-five delegates from twelve colonies (Rhode Island refused to send delegates) wrote the United States Constitution.
2. Bartigis's Republican Gazette (Frederick-Town), July 29, 1809 edition (reprinted in Western Maryland Newspaper Abstracts, Volume 3. p.105).
3. Maryland State Records gives April 28, 1809, as the date of John and Eleanor's marriage, but their family Bible, in my possession, shows they were married May 9, 1809. I believe the date in the Bible. Their Bible was printed in 1806 by Matthew Carey of Philadelphia. It was a wedding gift to John and Eleanor, and it contains a complete list of all the important dates in their lives.
4. History of Frederick County, Maryland. Volume 1. Thomas John Chew Williams. 1910. Gen. Swearingen had charge of the commisary in Frederick during the War. Though county histories are notorious for including erroneous information, I've confirmed that Joseph attained the rank of General by an entry in the Catalogue of Correspondence and Papers of James Monroe referencing a letter from James Monroe (War Dept.) to General Swearingen on 7 Oct 1814 on the subject of "guard for prisoners at Frederick, Maryland."
5. In the 1850 federal census, Ruth's place of birth was given as Washington, D.C. I have not been able to determine why John and Eleanor were in the nation's capitol at this time. The War of 1812 was in it's early stages (the House voted to declare war on England just a few months earlier on June 4, 1812. The Senate followed suit 13 days later) but this probably had little affect on Washington (the British didn't invade Washington until August, 1814). Whatever his reason for being in the District of Columbia, John's stay was probably more than just a visit or he would not have been accompanied by his pregnant wife.
6. The Maryland Gazette [Annapolis], Thursday, Faebruary 3, 1820. Page 3.
7. History of Champaign County, Ohio. Vol II. 1917. pp 804-806. Author and publisher unknown. A copy of this volume is owned by the late Dorothy Stemble Akey. According to this source, John moved his family to Ohio in 1830, however, this information came from John V. Stembel, John's grandson, who wasn't born until 1855.
8. There is some doubt as to just when John moved his family to Ohio--for he, his wife, and his daughter Ruth all appeared in the Middletown Lutheran Church register in the fall of 1831. I put the date of their move at 1832.
9. History of Champaign County, Ohio. Vol II. 1917. p. 805.
10. History of Champaign County, Ohio, by W. H. Beers, 1881. p.479. (Copy found in the D.A.R. Library, Washington, D.C.).
11. Letter from the late Mary Stembel Davis, dated September 12, 1986. She said shortly before Maria died she sent word to Lafe (Maria's brother, Mary Davis's father) that she wanted to see him. When he got there, she gave him the Hebbard Family Bible and two daguerreotypes of William Cook, her late fianceé.
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