Jacob & Eliza Ryder Stouffer Journals, 1843-1880 51 vols. (Collection 3051)
The journals of Jacob and Eliza Ryder Stouffer tell the story of an American family living in central Pennsylvania throughout the mid-nineteenth century. They describe work done on their farm, daily weather conditions and short passages about the Civil War, especially the Battle of Gettysburg. The diaries begin on January 1, 1843, as Jacob stands to inherit his father’s mill. He continues to keep this meticulous, uninterrupted record until April 24, 1880, ten days before his death. In between, Jacob avoids discussion of personal matters, choosing instead to focus on farm business. On occasion, he strays from this to make observations about the natural world, report family news, or note events in town. His wife Eliza’s eleven diaries (1862-1874, with some gaps) are similar, although the work she describes focuses more on the house and yard and her entries include more family detail than corresponding entries in Jacob’s journals.
Jacob Stouffer (1808–1880) was descended from Swiss immigrants who first moved to Pennsylvania in the early eighteenth century. Jacob's grandfather Abraham Stouffer (1747–1809), a son of Lancaster County inhabitants, moved to Stoufferstown, part of Guilford Township, Franklin County, in 1792. It was there that he built the Falling Spring Mill, where several generations of Stouffer men would live and work. Jacob was born there on March 4, 1808, one of fourteen children born to Abraham’s son Jacob (1773–1843). The younger Jacob inherited the mill one month before his father died on July 3, 1843.
Jacob married Eliza Ryder of Loudon, Pennsylvania in 1833. Eliza was born February 20, 1809 to Adam Ryder (formerly Reyter) and Elizabeth Longenecker. Eliza was one of six children, alongside siblings Mary, Michael, Catherine, Leah, and Benjamin. Throughout Jacob’s journals, frequent reference is made to “Sister Leah,” in an affectionate tone.
Jacob and Eliza had five daughters: Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine, Emma, and Annie; and two sons: Amos and Benjamin. Another boy died in infancy between the births of Catherine and Amos. Both sons worked at the mill with their father throughout their adolescence. The mill itself survived well into the 1950s when it was demolished to make way for the construction of Interstate 81.
In addition to the grinding of wheat and plaster that took place at the mill, Jacob oversaw a tremendous number of activities taking place on the farm around him. In addition to milling, the Stouffers owned cattle, chickens, and hogs. Regular products included smoked pork, veal, sausage, butter, and cheese. With the help of hired hands – sometimes as many as ten each day during the July harvest – Jacob and his family grew corn, wheat, oats, potatoes, rye, hay, tobacco, dahlia root, cabbage, clover, and sugar cane, which was boiled down to make molasses. They kept orchards of apple, peach, cherry and pear trees, grape and raspberry vines, a limekiln and, after 1857, bee hives. Jacob writes often about his fruit trees.
Most of the Stouffers' business partners and close friends were related to them through Jacob’s brothers and sisters, many of whom lived nearby. They were especially close to the Snively and Dietrick families, clans into which Jacob’s sisters married. Similarly, the Stouffer children married close within the family. Mary Stouffer married her first cousin, Jacob Lehman, in 1869. Lehman was her aunt Mary’s son. In 1871, Emma also married into the Lehman family, although her husband Abraham was a more distant relation than Jacob Lehman
Professional relationships were also cemented by marriage. Elizabeth, Jacob and Eliza’s eldest daughter, married David Miller in 1855, a young man apprenticed to Jacob four years prior. The couple moved to Carlisle, Cumberland County the same year. In 1860, younger sister Catherine was married to Amos Miller, most likely David’s brother, also from Cumberland County. The Stouffer brothers, Amos and Benjamin, married women from families without direct connection to their own. Amos married Mary Immell and Benjamin married Jessie Ferguson, both in September of 1868.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Stouffers were at the height of their prosperity as a farming and milling family. Although Jacob took steps to remove his sons from the draft list, the family became closely involved in the war effort. They hosted Union soldiers in their home and on their land, especially in the days and weeks following the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg. They also participated in relief work through their Mennonite meeting. Eliza, Amos, Emma, and Benjamin were present to hear Lincoln’s Gettysburg address in November, 1863. Most dramatic of all, the Confederate invasion (and subsequent burning) of Chambersburg and the surrounding country in June 1863 and July 1864 pulled them into the war experience like nothing else. By the end of the war in 1865, the Stouffers were faced with a greatly reduced enterprise. Fewer crops, decreased livestock and scarce labor, in addition to a wheat blight, were only some of their losses.
After the war, Jacob became interested in a parcel of land with a farm and a mill in nearby Middlesex, to which they moved in 1869, leaving Amos in charge of the Stoufferstown mill. The Stouffers were forced to sell their land at the end of 1873, when their financial difficulties resultant from the panic of that year pushed them too deep into debt. Jacob ends his journal of 1873 with:
“The close of the year leaves us in different circumstances to what any previous one has done – we are in reduced worldly circumstances, having on the 20th day of October 1873 made an assign of all our property to James D. Scott, John M. Armstrong and John Steward Eager, all of Chambersburg, for the benefit of our selves and that of our creditors so that we now own nothing but what is left us by the benefit of the three hundred dollar ($300) law.”
Little is known of the Stouffers' lives in the years after 1873. Eliza Stouffer died on May 1, 1880, at the age of 71. Jacob quickly followed, dying two days later on May 3rd. They were buried side by side in the family plot on May 4th.