Tangier Island, Max Meadows, The German Brethren, and the Wilderness Road


By: Lawrence J. Fleenor, Jr.
Copyright and All Rights Reserved
March 2015

Significant assistance from Edgar A. Howard

In 1745 a most pregnant comment was made by Col. John Buchanan. Buchanan was chief surveyor for the Loyal Company of Virginia, and was travelling west down a version of the Wilderness Trail to examine the lands he, in the name of the land company, had jurisdiction over along its course. He stopped at William Mack’s home at today’s Max Meadows, which –though transliterated – were named after him.

Buchanan’s entries in his Wood’s River (old name for the New River) Land Entry Book for October 16, 1745 states “…. Buchanan road on to William Mack’s place at present Max Meadows. Mack was probably from the noted Mack milling family in Schriesheim, Germany, whose father Yost Mack founded the German River Baptist (Dunkard) faith.

“Buchanan found Mack dead in his cabin but with him several “Long Beards” or Siebentangers from Ephrata Cloister, Lancaster, County, Pennsylvania. Newly arrived, they would build a settlement called Mahanaim.”

“The next day Buchanan with Adam and Jacob Harmon appraised Mack’s estate agreeing with the “Long Beards” to gather the crops ….”.

The Harmons (Hermann) were also German, but seemed to have come to the New River Valley before the Dunkards. They settled on the Northern side of current Radford by 1738.

Col. Buchanan’s facility with German is all the more surprising given his use of the spelling “road” for “rode”.

The Wilderness Road

Buchanan had been born in Ireland, and settled in the ‘Irish Tract’ in present Augusta County (Staunton), Virginia. The entire tract was named ‘Beverly Manor’. His notations in the Land Entry Book indicated that he had started his October 1745 trip in the Upper James River, which is that part that lies to the north of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Buchanan had patented the ‘Cherry Tree Bottoms’ along the James River right where the James burst through on the northwest side of the Blue Ridge. The main branch of he Wilderness Trail crossed the James there at Looney’s Ferry. A town later grew up there that is named after him.

The Wilderness Road (Trail) was the main Indian path in the Eastern United States. It ran from the Hudson River Valley to the Blue Grass of Kentucky. Through out the Great Valley of Virginia it had several variants. The main trail, more or less followed by US 11, had the disadvantage of a precipitous climb up Christiansburg Mountain. Many pioneers took either of the two alternatives to the main route from Buchanan to Draper’s Meadows (Blacksburg / Christiansburg), which were either up Catawba Creek or Craig’s Creek. Buchanan noted that he had taken the Catawba Creek Trail.

If the traveller had taken the main route of the Wilderness Trail, he would find himself facing a crossing of the New River at southwest Radford, at Ingle’s Ford / Ferry / Bridge. This today is close to the route of I-81. If he had taken either of the alternative routes, he would have found himself on the road to Pepper’s Ferry, which crosses the river just north of US 11. Buchanan correctly records that he was on the road that led to Max Meadows, which is on the Pepper’s Ferry route. The two routes come together at Wytheville, which is one of the reasons for that town’s existence.

Just south of Max Meadows by State 121 lies Fort Chiswell on the main Wilderness Trail (US 11 & I-81). US 52 runs from there to (Winston-Salem). It also was the Lead Mines of Austinville’s face to the world. The fort was built in 1761 as part of the French and Indian War as a wintering quarters for the expedition of Col. William Byrd III, which had been dispatched to the relief of Fort Loudoun on the Little Tennessee River. That November Major Andrew Lewis built a military road from Fort Chiswell to the Long Island on the Holston (Kingsport Tennessee), which is called “the Island Road”, and is followed today by I-81.

The Berbers

The Berbers are the indigenous Caucasian people of Northwest Africa. They had been forcibly converted to the Muslim faith by their Arab conquers. In 711 the Berber Governor of Tangier, Morocco was invited to intervene in a Spanish civil war. He took his Berber army with him to Spain, and after winning the war, assumed possession of the Iberian Peninsular. Hundreds of years of warfare between the Christian Spaniards and the Berber Spaniards ensued. In 1492 the Christian forces won, and started a genocide of the Muslim Berbers. Tens of thousands were murdered, or sold into slavery in the New World. Many wound up in Virginia and in North Carolina. Some converted to Christianity (Conversios) and were sent as settlers into the New World. North Carolina, along its border with Virginia, had a string of fortified settlements of these people. In 1588 Spain abandoned most of its North Carolina settlements in the withdrawal to St. Augustine, Florida caused by the planned invasion of England by the Spanish Armada.

Some Conversios, joined by some Caribbean French Huguenots, became pirates, praying upon the Spanish treasure galleons as they passed up the Carolina and Virginia coasts on their way to Spain. The Spanish term for these pirates was ‘Picaroons’.

Tangier Island

Tangier Island lies in the Chesapeake Bay just south of the Maryland / Virginia line. It had long been used as a base of operations against English shipping in the Chesapeake Bay area, and was finally settled by the Picaroons. They named the place Tangier Island, in memory of their homeland, Tangier Morocco. Among the first settlers were the French Huguenots, the Crocketts. This surname remains the most common surname on the Island.

The German Brethren

In the early 1700’s in the lower Necker River Valley around Heidelberg a small group of Pietists broke away from the Lutheran Church. They were esthetics, and did not believe it state religions. They are closely related to other similar German Pietist sects, such as the Amish and Mennonites, and are all theological descendants of John Huss. Some of them considered Saturday to be the Sabbath, and some did not baptize, and some required total immersion. The men never shaved their beards, hence Buchanan’s having referred to them as “the Long Beards”. They never numbered more that 200 in Germany. They organized in 1708. They were persecuted, and scattered to the four winds. Records of all of them do not exist. The group easiest to follow is that led by Alexander Mack, Sr. of Schriesheim, who led a group to the Brethren community of Ephrata Cloister in Pennsylvania in 1729. It is significant to note that there were already unspecified groups of them there when Mack got there. Alexander Mack died in 1735, and the Brethren community began to fragment.

Is should be noted that Buchanan gave all the correct information about this individual, including the fact that he had come from a family of millers in Germany. However, he gave his common name as ‘Yost’.

There is a common confusion over the given names of German Americans because of the difference in the naming traditions of the Germans and of the British. In Britain the common name is the first name, but in Germany in the majority of cases the first name was the name of the Saint on whose day the infant was born, and the elective common name is the second name. This second name is the name the individual’s family used to call them by, and the one used by friends who were close enough to have used his “calling name”. Their British American neighbors often thought that their common name was their first name, and often wrote this second name down in records as the first name. Likely Mack’s name was Alexander Yost Mack.

Alexander Mack, Jr. led a portion of the Ephrata Cloister community “into the Wilderness” “beyond Christian civilization” to Dunkard’s Bottom on the New River in Virginia. He had a son named ‘William’ who is often confused with the William Mack that Buchanan had found dead in his cabin at Max Meadows in 1745. William, the son of Alexander Mack, Jr., was not born until 1747, and served in the Revolutionary War. No other William Mack can be identified in this family cluster. Quite likely we are dealing again with the naming pattern problem, and are confusing first names with given names. No one knows who this William Mack was, or whether “William” was his first or second name.

Incidentally, this pattern of using the second name as the common name still exists in Southwest Virginia.

When the Dunkards first came to the New River bottom land that would be named after them, they found living there “a kind of white people who wore deer skins, lived by hunting, associated with the Indians and acted like savages”. The only likely source of these white people living with the Cherokee was the Berbers.
The Siebentanger

The most startling aspect of Buchanan’s comments about the events in William Mack’s cabin on Reed Creek at Max’s Meadows is his having called the seven Long Beards present at the wake as “Siebentanger” from Ephrata Cloister. This German term translates as “seven men from Tangier”. Note that this term does not differentiate between Tangier Island, and Tangier, Morocco. Also note that Buchanan equated the two slang references “Long Beards”, and “Tangers”, at the same time acknowledging that they were from Ephrata Cloister, Pennsylvania, and hence German Brethren.

The implication of this is significant. Buchanan felt that his readers throughout Virginia would equate the terms “Tanger, Long Beards”, and Brethren or Dunkards. How could this be so? Why would the term ‘Tanger” be term that would first occur to a Virginian for a Brethren?

Histories of Tangier Island do not mention the Brethren. However, the first cases of Maple Syrup Urine Disease ever discovered were discovered around Tangier Island. It is a genetic disorder among members of the German Pietist sects, specifically the Amish, Mennonites, and Brethren. In fact, another name for this condition is “Tangier Disease”.

The churches on Tangier Island are mostly either Baptist or United Methodist. In both cases, these specific churches on Tangier Island say that they are descended from Churches of the Brethren. Early on in America the Churches of the Brethren split into divisions that were described as being either “like the Baptist” or “like the Methodist”. In fact, the current United Methodist Church nationally is the result of the union of the Evangelical United Brethren and The Methodist Church.

Similarly, there are concentrations of Brethren Churches in Tangier, Ohio, and in Tangier, Indiana. There are even Brethren churches in the vicinity of Morocco, Indiana. This last reference is all the more tantalizing because the Berber Picaroons who first founded a settlement on Tangier Island were originally from Morocco.

An affinity between Brethren and Tangier Island and of Tangier, Morocco is further documented by the fact that the Brethren maintained a church mission in Tangier, Morocco in the mid 19th century.

The Midwest was settled soon after the Revolutionary War. There is no documentation, either direct or indirect, of the Brethren being on Tangier Island after their exodus to Ohio and Indiana. They emigrated to the Midwest, leaving only their religion, and Tangier Disease, behind. None of the German Dunkard’s surnames remain on Tangier. However, this data brackets the time period of Brethren residency on Tangier Island, which would have been roughly 1730 to 1800. This represents three and a half generations.

Col. John Buchanan’s 1745 comment in Max Meadows calling the seven Brethren gentlemen from Pennsylvania “Tangers” shows that to that generation of Virginians, Brethren were equated with Tangierians.

But the mindset of Virginians even extended further back into history than that. Recall the Picaroons? During the American Revolution, Tangier Island remained a Loyalist bastion. A small navy of Loyalist Tangierians preyed upon Rebel shipping in the Chesapeake. The rebels of Maryland and Virginia referred to these people, and to their fleet, as the Picaroons. Maryland and Virginia attacked the Picaroon Fleet in what has been called the largest naval battle of the Revolution, and destroyed it.

This state of affairs may have been the event that sent the pacifist Long Beards fleeing from Tangier Island. There are no German names listed among the participants in this fighting. Yet, after 3½ generations on Tangier Island, the Brethren seem to have acquired a pleasant sense of identity with the place, as they carried its name to their new homes in the Midwest. The related issues of their naming one of their new homes in Indiana “Morocco”, and their decision to establish a mission in Tangier, Morocco raise the question of whether or not their association with the Berbers of Morocco may not have been of longer standing than their sojourn on Tangier Island, Virginia.

It is a fact that the French and Indian War pushed the Dunkards out of Dunkard’s Bottom and into the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina, where they continued to live with the Berbers they had met in the New River Valley of Virginia and on Tangier Island.

Johnson, Patricia Givens – The Early New River Settlement
Buchanan and the Siebentanger –

White Savages of Dunkard’s Bottom

Fort Chiswell, Island Road, and Maj. Andrew Lewis
Fleenor, Lawrence – The Bear Grass, a History

Berber Conquest of Spain

Berber Picaroons of the Cheasapeake Bay and of Tangier Island
Shores, David – Tangier Island – Place, People, and Talk

Ephrata Cloister

Dunkard’s Bottom

Brethren of Tangier Island

Tangier Disease (Maple Syrup Urine Disease)

Brethren Churches in Tangier, Ohio and Indiana

Brethren Churches in Morocco, Indiana

Brethren mission to Tangier, Morocco
library.manchester.ac.uk – NOT WORKING

Revolutionary War and the Tangier Island Picaroons
Rhoads, James – Somerset County