Johannes Reitenauer (aka John Ridenour), son of Hans Georg and Julianna Reitenauer, was born in Philadelphia (now Montgomery) County, Pennsylvania, on August 3, 1750, and was baptized at New Hanover Lutheran Church on September 9 of the same year.
In his youth he removed to Frederick County, Maryland, where, on March 31, 1778, he married Elisabetha Zeller, daughter of Johannes and Maria Catherine Lauer Zeller of Tulpehocken, Berks County, Pennsylvania, who was baptized December 10, 1749, at Trinity Reformed Church, Tulpehocken. At the time of their marriage, both were living at "the Turkey" on Little Hunting Creek (near present-day Jimtown, Maryland); Johannes apparently with his brother Georg Adam, and Elisabetha with her uncle Hartman Zeller who had settled in Frederick County some years prior. They became parents of at least three children: George, Elizabeth, and Catharine.
It was during the lifetime of Johannes that the family adopted the anglicized spelling "Ridenour"; hence, "Johannes Reitenauer" became "John Ridenour". On May 11, 1781, John, as he will hereafter be called, served on a jury of "fourteen honest and lawful men of Frederick County" in a coroner's inquest regarding the death of one George Momma, who was killed by the fall of a tree "while cutting down timber to peal bark" (the bark of oak and chestnut trees, which grew in abundance on nearby Catoctin Mountain, was a source of tannin, in great demand by the developing tanneries in the region). It appears from the inquest that John and his fellow jurors were part of the same logging crew and were eyewitnesses of the unfortunate man's fate.
On November 28, 1792, he was granted a patent for a 40-acre tract called "Rocky Land", located on South Mountain, along the border of Frederick and Washington counties. The next year he sold it and removed to Berkeley County, Virginia (now Morgan County, West Virginia), settling near the town of Bath, or Warm Springs (now Berkeley Springs, West Virginia), a popular resort town famous for its therapeutic mineral springs and frequented by many prominent early Americans, including George Washington. He purchased 429 acres of land between the South and Middle Forks of Sleepy Creek, about 10 miles south of the town of Bath on the Winchester Road, on August 26, 1800.
There is evidence that while living along Sleepy Creek, the Ridenours were influenced by the United Brethren, whose circuit riding preachers conducted meetings at the forks of Sleepy Creek as early as 1797. Indeed, a log meeting house erected at the site, called Ambrose Chapel, was the only place of worship for the people in that vicinity at that early date. Services were held in both English and German to accomodate the different backgrounds of the local residents.
An incident which occurred there in August 1797 was doubtless known to the Ridenours, if not actually witnessed by them. According to Bishop Newcomer, at the close of a two day meeting, "a man affected with epilepsy fell to the ground and cried aloud. This frightened a goodly number, and some of them cleared out as fast as they could run. Others began to pray, who perhaps had never prayed before."
In 1804 the family, including daughter Elizabeth and her husband Conrad Claycomb, removed to St. Clair Township, Bedford County, Pennsylvania, near the present town of Osterburg, where a small German settlement existed at that time. There John leased 484 acres of land while retaining his property in Virginia.
Then three years later, they returned to Virginia (except for the Claycombs, who remained in Pennsylvania), where on March 2, 1807, John purchased an additional 100 acres adjacent to his other land. Apparently the arrangement was that he and Elizabeth would farm the new land while their son George, who had married while in Pennsylvania and now had one child, worked the original tract.
The year 1810 marked the beginning of a tragic period in the life of the family. That spring John dictated his last will and testament in which he bequeathed all of his land, comprised of the two tracts aforementioned, to his son George. In return, George was to provide for the care and sustenance of his mother Elizabeth for as long as she lived, she enjoying the use of the house as well as the adjacent grass and garden lots. In addition, after seven years, George was to pay his two sisters a total of $400 in annual payments of $40.
Following John's death that summer, George, on September 17, produced the will in court, and giving bond with William Allen and Abraham Bohrer as suretors, entered upon his duties as administrator of the estate. As a condition of the bond, he first arranged for an inventory to be made of his father's personal estate, which was undertaken on December 31, 1810.
Then in the new year tragedy struck when George himself died at only 31 years of age, leaving his young widow to fend for her three little orphan boys. A second inventory of John's estate, taken March 4, 1811, is believed to have been of George's personal property, and may indicate that he died over the course of the winter. At any rate, Daniel Fearnow, who married George's sister Catharine that fall, was appointed the new administrator as well as the guardian of the three orphans, John, Jacob, and George Ridenour--now the heirs of the estate--on November 11, 1811.
George's death left Elizabeth, John's widow, in dire straits as well, dependent as she was, by the provisions of her husbands will, upon George for her very sustenance. Consequently, she was obliged to resort to the court for relief. This proved to be a long, drawn out affair. From the time she first entered her petition in April 1812, seven years passed before a decree was finally issued by the court ordering the sale of the original tract purchased in 1800 to raise a specified sum. It was yet another two years before the sale actually took place. The tract was divided into three parcels and sold at public auction on September 12, 1822, Elizabeth herself purchasing one of the tracts.
A second decree issued in November 1823 resulted in the sale, on December 24, 1823, of the 100-acre home tract on which Elizabeth resided. It was purchased by Daniel Fearnow with the condition that Elizabeth would continue to have use of the house, garden, and grass lot for the remainder of her life in accordance with the provisions of her husband's will.
Since the court papers pertaining to the case have been lost, it is not known how the final settlement of the estate was made, nor what share the orphans received from it, if any. Their guardian, Daniel Fearnow, later bought up all the land that had been part of the original estate except for one parcel. Could it have been for the purpose of holding it in trust for the orphans? Since he died in 1846 without leaving a will, the answer may never be known, but one of the orphans, Jacob Ridenour (1808-1878), certainly held him in high esteem, naming one of his sons after him. As late as the 1880's, William Wilson (1815-1899), Jacob's half brother, wrote to Henry Ridenour (1833-1915), Jacob's son, inquiring about the "fortune" and whether there was any chance of getting it. In reference to this, Pearl Ridenour (1892-1974) remembered hearing her elders speak of some land "along a river" (no doubt Sleepy Creek) in Virginia which Henry Ridenour went to view, presumably after Jacob Ridenour's death in 1878, but let go at sheriff's sale because it was not worth the back taxes owed on it. However, no record of this has ever been found.
Getting back to Elizabeth, on August 11, 1816, she was remarried to John Randall by Rev. Mathias Rizer, one of the local ministers who preached at Ambrose Chapel. John Randall died in 1821, and was survived by Elizabeth, who died about 1833 when her name disappears from the tax lists. It is believed that John, George, Elizabeth, and John Randall all lie buried beneath unmarked fieldstones in the cemetery behind Ambrose Chapel, the exact location of their final resting places known but to God.
Elizabeth, the eldest of John and Elizabeth's two daughters, for whom no baptismal record has been found, was born about 1785. On June 9, 1802 (or shortly thereafter) she married Conrad Claycomb, son of Henry and Elizabeth Claycomb, and in 1804 they removed to near what is now Osterburg, Bedford County, Pennsylvania. The last known record of Elizabeth was in 1810 (John Ridenour's will), and since Conrad had a second wife, Anna Dorothy, it is not certain whether all of the following children were Elizabeth's: John, born 1803; Henry, born December 30, 1807; Conrad, born October 6, 1810; Catherine, born July 27, 1812; George, born November 4, 1815; Peter, born May 14, 1818; Frederick, born 1821; joseph, born 1823; and Elizabeth, born 1825.
Following Anna Dorothy's death in 1852, Conrad was married a third time to Nancy Heckman. They removed to Canoe Creek, Blair County, Pennsylvania, where he died on April 3, 1861, aged 85 years.
Catharine, born July 27, 1790, was the youngest of the children of John and Elizabeth Zeller Ridenour. As such, she must have been an especial favorite of her father's as witnessed by the provision he made for her dowry in his will where, it seems, his doting may be descried behind the formal language of the document: "Also, I bequeath unto my Daughter Catharine one Bead and Bead Sted and all there unto Belonging. One Cow and a heffer, one side saddle and one young Mare called Lady, one spining Weal, one chest, and one Table and kitchen furniture which she claimes to be hers."
She had occasion for the use of her dowry the following year, when on October 1, 1811, she married Daniel Fearnow, son of John and Christina Clover Fearnow. To this union were born thirteen children: twins, Henry and Elizabeth, born November 29, 1812; Susan, born 1816; David, born February 20, 1817; Mary, born 1820; Elijah, born August 3, 1821; Daniel, born February 16, 1823; Joseph, born June 5, 1824; Catharine, born 1825; Rosanna, born February 25, 1827; William R., born February 6, 1830; George W., born February 24, 1832; and Solomon, born October 21, 1834.
The Fearnows made their home on the West Branch of Sleepy Creek, near what is now Omps, West Virginia, occupying the house built by Daniel's father after the close of the American Revolution. In 1833 they deeded a portion of their property to the Albright Church or Evangelical Association, of which they were members. The meeting house and adjacent graveyard became known as the Fearnow Chapel and cemetery. Over the course of his life, Daniel accumulated substantial landholdings. He died July 4, 1846 at the age of 55 and was survived by Catharine, who followed him on November 10, 1861, aged 71 years. They are buried in the Fearnow cemetery.
George Ridenour, of whom much has been said already, was born November 24, 1779, and was baptized at the Lutheran Church in Frederick, Maryland, on February 6, 1780. That he received at least a rudimentary education is apparent from the fact that he signed his name to the Administrator Bond for his father's estate in 1810. Most likely he attended the Lutheran school in Frederick before his family moved to the more primitive surroundings of Berkeley County, Virginia, when he was in his teens.To purchase a copy of this book or to request a look-up you may contact the author Thomas Ridenour
In 1806, while the family was sojourning in Bedford, County, Pennsylvania, he married Margaret, who, though her maiden name is unknown, was undoubtedly of German extraction, as attested by the fact that her children were acquainted with that language. She bore him three sons: John, Jacob, and George Ridenour.
Following George's untimely death in 1811, Margaret, unable to care for the little ones alone, apparently returned to Pennsylvania to be with her family. About 1815, she remarried John Wilson, a shoemaker by trade, and they were living in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania (probably in the vicinity of what is now Alverton in East Huntigdon Township) at the birth of their first child in November of that year. She bore him three children: William, Rachel, and David Wilson. The family was so penniless during the 1820's and early 1830's that the children's names appear on the list of poor children to be schooled at the expense of the county. John Wilson died about 1843 and was followed by Margaret on September 30, 1854 at the age of 65 years and four months.