The year was 1753 when a land warrant in the Fredericksburg area for the first-generation Eisenhauer immigrant to the American colonies was granted. Two centuries later, sixth-generation Dwight Eisenhower was elected to the highest office in the country.
Now, the Lebanon County Historical Society (LCHS) is acting to conserve an important family artifact that reflects the family’s humble roots.
The Eisenhauer family Bible, printed in 1717 by Johann Andreä Endters of Nuremberg, is one of at least two Eisenhauer-related items that LCHS possesses; the other item is a wooden door from the family’s Fredericksburg home.
LCHS has hired Gettysburg-based conservator Maria Pukownik to undertake the task of conserving the almost 1,500-page-long Bible. It’s a hefty task for a hefty book — with its wooden plates, metal bands, and clasps, the tome measures up at 9 x 6½ x 4½ inches. According to Pukownik’s conservation proposal, the Bible contains the Old and New Testaments as well as an “extensive hand written genealogy of the E. Johann Eisenhower Family,” in German script.
Now over 300 years old, the Bible is in need of conservation work. The binding of the book is intact, though the folios have been partially fragmented. Pukownik’s proposal for the artifact recommends hand-cleaning to remove dirt and stains, extensive photographic documentation for archival purposes, and select replacement and addition of lost or weakened material with appropriate furnishings. Proper conservation work in this domain does not permit the recreation of lost text or images that are not definitely known.
Conservation of an item like the Bible can take months or more, so it may be some time before the artifact returns to LCHS.
The circumstances leading up to LCHS’s acquisition of the Bible are not entirely clear. According to a notice in the Lebanon Daily News, it arrived as a donation in 1970. The donator’s name is unrecorded, possibly for the sake of privacy.
It’s a document that links the family of the president with its colonial roots planted right here in the Lebanon Valley.
A long American history
The story of the Eisenhauer family in America begins with Hans Nicholas Eisenhauer. According to Fannie B. Richardson’s book “President Eisenhower’s Ancestors + Relations,” Nicholas arrived in Delaware on the passenger ship Europa in 1741 along with several children and his wife, Anna Margreta. Hailing from the Palatinate region of Germany, Nicholas was the youngest in his family, forced to search for a living away from his home farm in Karlsbrunn.
The Eisenhauers made their way to the soon-to-be-founded community of Fredericksburg in what was then Lancaster County. A land warrant in the name of “Nicholas Ironcutter” (an approximate translation of the German name) was issued for 168 acres of land to the northwest of the town center.
Notably, the date of the warrant is January 20, 1753 — exactly 200 years before President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration on the same date in 1953.
The Fredericksburg property stayed under Nicholas’s name until 1759, when it was sold to his son and remained in the family until 1779. The Eisenhauers lived a frontier life as some of the first farmers in the area and even had run-ins with Native Americans in the region. A letter from one of the Blue Mountain forts of the area, Fort Henry, stated that Native Americans had burnt Nicholas’s house.
Historical speculation posits that one of the Eisenhauer family members was the 19-year-old “John Ironcutter” that participated in the 1768 massacre of about 10 Native Americans near Carlisle along with Frederick Stump. Further complicating the story is that some sources state that this Frederick Stump and the Frederick Stump that founded Fredericksburg in 1755 (previously Stumptown) were actually two separate individuals.
Subsequent generations of the Eisenhauer family moved into Dauphin County and then out of the state altogether, finding a new home in Kansas. The lineage of Dwight Eisenhower’s side of the family from Nicholas (born 1691) is detailed below:
- Second generation: Peter (b. 1716) and Ann Eisenhauer. They married at the Christ Lutheran Church in Stouchsburg in 1777.
- Third generation: Frederick and Barbara Eisenhower (b. 1794, 1789). Note the name change — Frederick, the youngest of 17 children, was the first adopter of the modern spelling. And yes, according to the records, Frederick’s father was in his late 70s by the time of his birth.
- Fourth generation: Jacob Frederick and Rebecca Eisenhower (b. 1826 and 1825).
- Fifth generation: David Jacob and Ida Elizabeth Eisenhower (b. 1863 and 1862).
Dwight David Eisenhower, a sixth-generation descendant of Nicholas, was born Oct. 4, 1890, in Denison, Texas, though his family was soon back in Kansas in the town of Abilene with only $24 to their name. Both he and his brother Edgar, two of seven sons in the family, wanted to attend college but lacked the funds to go simultaneously. After two years of work to support his brother financially while he took his turn in college, Dwight accepted an appointment to West Point in 1911.
At West Point, Dwight had a much friendlier encounter with a Carlisle-area Native American than did his distant historical relation when he skirmished with legendary athlete Jim Thorpe in a 1912 football match. During his time in college athletics, he also visited Gettysburg and York in Pennsylvania, where he gained a fondness for the state’s farmland. From his graduation and service in World War I, Dwight famously went on to play a major role in the European theater of World War II, where he oversaw and carried out Operation Overlord at Normandy — D-Day.
A hero in America, Eisenhower ran his successful 1952 Republican campaign for the presidency against Democrat Adlai Stevenson II and won against Stevenson again in 1956.
Dwight, whose mother at one point belonged to a Mennonite sect, considered himself to be highly spiritual but not attached to any one denomination or faith until he asked to be baptized into the National Presbyterian Church at 62 years old. In 1950, Dwight and his wife, Mamie, purchased a 189-acre farm near Gettysburg. The farm would become Dwight’s home away from the White House and today the Eisenhower National Historic Site preserves and provides tours of the property.
He came even closer to his ancestors’ first home in the Americas when he appeared in Hershey in 1953 for a birthday celebration.
Though portions of the family moved out of the Lebanon County area, Eisenhauer (and all of its variant spellings) is still very much a Lebanon name. Like the Bible, the name is a reminder of the origins of one of the most important figures in American political and military history.
The story of the Eisenhauers is, in many respects, the fully-realized American Dream — and that story began on a farm just north of Fredericksburg.
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