|Posted by Rob Phoenix on January 31, 2023 at 6:55 PM|
The legend of Mountain Mary (Anna Marie Young) is one that is as much a tale of Pennsylvania history as it is a testament to the deep roots of spiritual healing that exist within the Pennsylvania German community.
Patrick Donmoyer has collected as much information as can be found about Anna Marie Young in the included article.
Searching for Mountain Mary: The Life and Legend of an Early Pennsylvania Saint
Written by Patrick Donmoyer in the Features category and the Winter 2022 issue
“There, underneath this mountain stone,
Lies Mary Young, who lived alone,
High on the lofty mountainside,
Beloved and honored till she died.”
—Ralph Bigony, 1846
Enshrined in works of art and immortalized in poetry, the life and deeds of Mountain Mary, or Anna Maria Jung (1744–1819), has become one of the preeminent legends of early southeastern Pennsylvania, embodying the spirit of the region’s folk culture even two centuries after her death.
Venerated as a saint and folk hero, Mountain Mary lived for more than 40 years in the forested hills at the perimeter of the Oley Valley in Berks County, where she established herself as a skilled healer, productive farmer, and leader in her community. Her story provides the opportunity for us to examine the role of a female pioneer who defined the character of her society in early Pennsylvania.
To establish a clear picture of Mountain Mary and her legacy, it is necessary to make a distinction between the historical German-speaking immigrant Anna Maria Jung (later anglicized to Young) and the romanticized fiction of her life that circulated after her death. Although rich in religious and patriotic overtones, these later narratives fail to accurately represent Mountain Mary’s multidimensional impact on the Pennsylvania Dutch community in which she is still remembered to this day.
From the ashes of the war-torn Rhine River Valley and subsequent mass emigration throughout the 18th century, Anna Maria Jung was born somewhere in southwestern Germany before coming with her family to Pennsylvania. Like so many early immigrants, there is no consensus on the precise origins of Mary’s family, what their religious affiliation may have been, or the specifics of their voyage to America. Pennsylvania folklorist John Joseph Stoudt identified no fewer than 15 immigrant families arriving in Philadelphia between 1764 and 1773 bearing the name of Jung.
The earliest evidence documenting Mary’s life is an enigmatic entry in the first federal census of the United States, assessed in 1790, where “Mary (the Abbess)” is listed living with two other women in Eastern District (now Pike) Township, in the hills on the perimeter of the Oley Valley. There is little doubt that this is Mountain Mary, whose reputation as a spiritual leader appears already firmly established in her community. Although the nature of Mary’s religious authority is unclear in this early document, the sentiment is in keeping with later accounts describing Mary as a holy woman and saint among her folk.
The epithet “Abbess” suggests a parallel to the traditional veneration of historical female saints throughout Europe, such as Benedictine abbess and polymath St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179), widely regarded as the “Sybil of the Rhine” for her prophetic visions of the cosmos. St. Mary Magdalene, who according to Roman Catholic legend spent her final years in ecstatic isolation as a hermit in Provence, was a classic precedent for the archetypal female eremite saint, endowed with visionary experience and separated from society.
This concept is echoed in the legend of St. Genevieve (or Genovefa) of Brabant, a pious countess banished to the wilderness with her baby after false accusations of infidelity from a rival — a story later immortalized in a popular chapbook emphasizing piety and virtue in early Pennsylvania. The Woman in the Wilderness inspired the establishment of the ascetic community of German Pietists of the same name, led by Johannes Kelpius (1667–1708) at Germantown along the Wissahickon Creek. We see here yet again the image of the sacred feminine as being inspirational to the spiritual lives of early Pennsylvanians. Folklife scholar Don Yoder suggested that Mountain Mary fit this role as “the principal Pennsylvania analogue to the European saint’s legend,” which developed from “the human need to have tangible, visible, human-scale patterns embodying the values central to one’s society.”
At the time of the 1790 census, Mountain Mary was not yet living alone in the hills of Oley as a hermit. The two women living with her were her widowed mother Elisabeth and sister Maria Catherine, who later married a man by the last name of Noll. Mary’s other sister, Anna Elizabeth, had married John George Schneider prior to the American Revolution and moved to New York state. They later returned to Germantown, where she died in 1768. Mary’s niece, Maria Elisabeth Schneider, later returned with her father to Albany, New York. Both of Mary’s sisters were later listed as “deceased” in her last will and testament dated 1813.
In a letter dated August 21, 1779, Hermann Schneider of Easton congratulated Mary’s mother for securing a property with her family “in the solitude” of the Oley Hills and promises a visit to the property. This is likely the Easton tanner Herman Schneider (1722–85), quite possibly a relative of John George Schneider, husband of Mary’s sister Anna Elizabeth. The letter and associated family papers were formerly in the possession of Edith White Birch, the granddaughter of Mary’s friend and estate executor, Daniel Yoder (1748–1820) of Oley. These papers include a financial receipt from 1814, which, like Mary’s will, was signed in her own hand “Anna Maria Jungin,” including the customary German feminine suffix “in.”
Mary’s signature confirms that she was never married. Contrary to popular speculation, Mary listed herself as a “single woman” in her will and appropriately signed her maiden name. Although many accounts suggest that Mary lived in solitude for 30 years until her death in 1819, the fact that her sisters were still there in 1790 suggests that this timeframe was perhaps a rough estimate.
Mary’s will, dated March 13, 1813, describes her property in Pike Township as consisting of 42 acres, adjoining the mill property of Mary’s brother-in-law, Matthias Motz, situated 1½ miles to the northwest. Hill Union Church stood nearly 2 miles south.
Mary’s farm is first described in a valuable contemporary account written by Philadelphia Quaker Benjamin M. Hollinshead (1794–1879) who visited Mountain Mary in the summer of 1819. Mary lived in a modest log house situated beside a milkhouse fed from a mountain spring. A cemetery enclosed by a rail fence stood along the forested perimeter where her mother and two sisters were buried.
Hollinshead’s account describes his journey with apothecary Dr. Jesse Thompson (1770–1848) to visit fellow Quaker Benjamin Wright (1774–1838), whose family was expecting the birth of a child in the coming months. It is possible that Thompson was attending to the medical needs of the pregnant mother, Ann Wright (1742–1802), who gave birth to a son on November 21, 1819, and named him Benjamin Hollinshead Wright (1819–96) in honor of their visiting friend. Although Hollinshead politely omits any of the family’s personal details, it is perhaps not a coincidence that he accompanied the family to visit Mountain Mary, who was a renowned healer, and, as Hollinshead alluded, “guided by more than human judgement.”
“[We] were met by the hermitess at the threshold of her dwelling,” Hollinshead wrote. “She received us kindly, and after an interchange of inquiries on the part of her and our friends [the Wrights], she commenced speaking in a religious strain, informing us through a lady of our party who acted as an interpreter, that on serious subject, she was obliged to speak in her native tongue, the German. Her remarks breathed a strain of devotional feeling, which had a solemnizing effect upon the company, and the countenance of the speaker was one of the most benign I had ever beheld.”
After the party explored the farm, Mary served a farm-fresh meal consisting of “delicious bread, butter, cream, milk, and preserved fruits.” Hollinshead later met with neighboring fellow Quaker Isaac Lee, who regularly sold Mary’s butter, cheese and produce at the Philadelphia market. Mary also sent care packages along with him that were to be distributed to the poor in Philadelphia.
The visit with Mountain Mary must have profoundly impacted Hollinshead, who pursued additional stories relating to the hermit healer. From friends of Mary in Reading and Philadelphia, Hollinshead learned that she emigrated from Germany in 1765 and settled in Germantown before moving to Oley with her mother and sister, “that they might enjoy in seclusion the satisfaction of worshipping the Supreme Being in the manner most congenial to their feelings.”
It was not until 1902 that Converse Cleaves of Philadelphia compiled for The Pennsylvania German magazine Hollinshead’s accounts and correspondence with James Dewey, who traveled to the Oley Valley sometime around 1825.
According to Dewey, locals believed Mountain Mary had been born near Frankfurt and immigrated with her father, mother and two sisters to Pennsylvania, where they settled in Germantown and worked spinning cotton by hand. Mary’s father died before the Revolution, and the women fled their home after the Battle of Germantown and settled in the Oley hills. After the death of her mother and sisters, Mary allegedly lived for 30 years alone, when she acquired the title of “Mountain Mary.” The common Pennsylvania Dutch language iteration of her name was Barricke Marriche and was rendered two ways in Pennsylvania High German: die Maria auf den Berg (literally Mary of the Mountain) recorded in 1819 and die Berg-Maria in 1880.
Dewey further described Mary’s reputation as a skilled farmer. She managed a herd of four dairy cows, from which she produced significant amounts of butter. This she carried 3 miles down the mountain on her head to a neighbor who sold her products at market. Mary also kept hives of bees and sold honey. Dewey mentioned Mary’s large orchards surrounding her house and outbuildings, and beyond this a meadow, from which she cut and dried enough hay for her cows. Mary also established a productive garden surrounded by a stone wall.
As there were no direct wagon roads to reach Mary’s property but only winding mountain paths, Dewey reported that Mary set about straightening and grading the pathways by herself. To this day, the road leading up the mountain to her property and extending to the nearby St. John’s Hill Church is called Mountain Mary Road.
Dewey mentions that Mary cared for her neighbors with provisions and medicine. Then he refers to Mary practicing “vivisection,” which is puzzling. Given that elsewhere, Dewey describes Mary’s unwillingness to harm animals, “even of a noxious kind,” it is highly unlikely that Dewey was actually referring to vivisection, the experimental dissection of live animals, but rather to venesection, an old word describing phlebotomy or bloodletting used as a healing art. This was a common practice documented in German farmer’s almanacs throughout the 18th and 19th centuries in Pennsylvania for the treatment of illnesses among humans and animals. Along with dairy and honey, Dewey described this as one of her “occupations, which did not only enable her to live, but to make considerable money.” Medicine was therefore not simply an addendum to her neighborly activities but also her profession and livelihood.
Dewey may have been alluding to Mary’s role as a healer when he described her rapport with her community: “She was said to be a very intelligent and religious woman, and was visited by her neighbors to have her advice on their difficulties, which was often so judicious and far-seeing that she was thought by some to have a way of acquiring knowledge unknown to many.”
This enigmatic statement was perhaps a polite way to allude to her reputation among the Pennsylvania Dutch as a Braucherin, commonly called a powwow doctor, one who ritually applies prayers and procedures for physical ailments and spiritual concerns, as well as to uncover hidden information, assistance in times of need, and countermeasures against witchcraft.
Nowhere is this perception more overtly stated than in a sketch published by journalist and editor for the Reading Eagle newspaper, Frank B. Brown (b. 1876), who collected stories from his birthplace in the Oley Hills. Brown wrote: “[Mary] was a great believer in witchcraft. She frequently related that for a time an owl came and drank out of her milk pail every evening while she was milking. She could not prevent the bird from getting near the pail except by catching it, since it was so tame that it couldn’t be scared away. So one night she caught the owl and burned its feet by slightly holding it over her fire. The next morning a neighboring woman, whom she took to be the witch, couldn’t put on her shoes on account of burned feet. ‘Die Berg Maria’ was known not only in every corner of this county, but all over eastern Pennsylvania. She was sometimes called as far as Philadelphia to practice medicine in her novel way.”
Brown’s account is not the only supernatural occurrence attributed to Mountain Mary. Hollinshead described that a loyal friend attended Mary for two weeks before she passed away on November 16, 1819, at the age of 75. The friend was Susanna de Benneville Keim (1748–1837), daughter of the Universalist minister George de Benneville (1703–1793) of Oley. Susanna allegedly awoke from a vivid dream in which Mary appeared to her in “dire distress.” Despite inclement weather, Susanna traveled the mountain path with her grandson to find Mary gravely ill and her livestock unfed. Susanna remained with Mary until she died, later relating to her family that she “counted among her earthly blessings the privilege of being with this sainted woman in her last hour.”
Two days later, friends and neighbors throughout the Oley Valley assembled to pay their respects at her graveside, where she was interred alongside her mother and two sisters. Daniel Bertolet (1781–1868), a local preacher, hymnist, poet and farmer, recorded the event in his ledger, which reads in translation: “Today, Mary of the mountain was buried — Lord help us, for the saints have been decreased. The deceased looked quite lovely and beautiful, and without doubt she has entered into rest.” This inscription was accompanied by “Grab-Schrift vor Maria Jungin, die am 18ten November 1819 begraben” (“An epitaph to Mary Jung, buried on November 18, 1819”;), produced here in translation from the German verses: “Here under this stone softly rest the bones of pious Maria. Her heart and whole life were devoted to her God, as anyone could see from her way of life. Untiringly she lived in solitude until 30 years had passed. The lines of her face revealed God’s love, with which the Lord rewarded her. Yet even after her departure, one saw the sweet peace in her countenance, full of love and bliss, as always, directed toward the sun of grace. Now she is taken away. God call her unto thee, from this valley of tears, where in the meadows of heaven, she will behold Jesus amongst his chosen number.”
A cemetery wall was constructed under the direction of her executors Thomas Lee and Daniel Yoder. As directed by her will, all personal property was to be sold and the money divided among the husbands and children of her deceased sisters. Mary’s will also specified that her niece Maria Elizabeth Schneider was to inherit the largest portion of the proceeds of her estate, as well as her books and manuscripts. Perhaps she was Mary’s protégé?
The contents of the farm were inventoried and auctioned on December 14 and Martin Yoder purchased her 42-acre property for the sum of $950 on January 15, 1820. The inventory of Mary’s household and farm goods were typical of the era, including wheels for spinning flax and wool, garden and farm tools, culinary implements, clothing, furniture, beehives, vinegar barrels, two cows, a wheelbarrow, and storage produce, including apples, potatoes, cabbages, turnips, red beets and rye.
Mary’s estate records show that the heirs of Elizabeth Schneider from New York appeared to claim their shares of the inheritance in June 1820, and the Noll relatives received their shares in December. The whereabouts of Mary’s books and manuscripts are presently unknown. If the manuscripts had been penned in the hand of Mountain Mary, perhaps they would have documented her healing practice in the form of a ledger or book of recipes, such as those commonly attributed to doctors, midwives and lay practitioners throughout the region. These works would have provided significant insight into the healing traditions of early Pennsylvania.
In the decades that followed, a series of poetic tributes to Mountain Mary appeared in local newspapers and other publications recounting the virtuous legend of the local saint. The first of these appeared in The Phantom Barge and Other Poems, published in Philadelphia in 1822 by an anonymous poet listed only as the author of “The Limner,” but later identified as Charles West Thomson (1798–1879). The poem describes Mary in the present tense and demonstrates an intimate knowledge of Mary’s property and the cemetery where her mother and sisters are buried:
There is a little spot, which she
Now holds within her cottage view –
There sleeps her line of ancestry,
And she will sleep there too.
And tho’ the name of Mary Yong [sic]
Be not, on earth, remembered long
There is a world where virtue lives
Beyond the limit memory gives,
And from its earthly frailties free,
Blooms on, in one eternity. –
Within about a decade or so, Mary Keene Evans (1769–1838) of Reading, penned a 36-stanza ode to Mountain Mary, which she dedicated to her friend Mary May Keim (1781–1854), daughter-in-law of Susanna de Benneville Keim who attended Mountain Mary in her final days. The poem describes in lofty imagery Mary’s life of quiet isolation in the Oley Hills and was only published for the first time in a Reading newspaper in 1874. In 1846 Henry Bigony, produced an adapted translation of Daniel Bertolet’s Grab-Schrift von Maria auf dem Berg, setting the English to metrical rhyme. The concluding stanza is featured at the opening of this article, which first appeared in the Berks-Schuylkill Journal in 1856.
In 1880 Palatine immigrant and newspaper editor Ludwig August Wollenweber (1807–88) published a romantic novella, Treu bis in den Tod: Die Berg-Maria (Faithful Unto Death: Mountain Mary). In the spirit of the American centennial celebration, Mountain Mary served as Wollenweber’s literary vehicle to recount the hardships of early German-speaking immigrants and celebrate their ardent participation in the Revolution.
In this work of historical fiction, Mary is portrayed as an immigrant girl, orphaned at sea, whose sweetheart Theodore Benz rides off to war mere moments after their wedding ceremony. Now a grief-stricken virgin war widow, Mary retreats to the Oley hills to escape the world, where finally “she resolved to cease bewailing her fate to become useful to mankind.” Not surprisingly, in a period of history dominated by the voices and writings of men, Mary’s saintly reputation and deeds as an herbal healer are relegated to mere paragraphs, while whole chapters are devoted to the patriotic deeds of her fictional husband.
Wollenweber tethers his fictional narrative to reality by interweaving names of celebrated historical figures such as Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (1711–87), organizer of the Lutheran Church in America, and Col. Joseph Hiester (1752–1832), later governor of Pennsylvania, 1820–23. The book concludes with four stanzas of verse from Daniel Bertolet’s epitaph.
No doubt inspired by Wollenweber’s melodrama, Mountain Mary was featured in “Saint of the Oley Valley,” part XV of the Romances of Pennsylvania series in the North American newspaper of Philadelphia, May 31, 1914. Although a striking illustration emphasizes Mary’s self-reliance and capability, she is also incorrectly identified as illiterate, an “unlettered woman living alone in her mountain clearing.”
Wollenweber’s text was later translated into English in 1974 by John Joseph Stoudt, who cast doubt on the historical “impact this story made on a culture then already growing weary of reading German.” Ironically, despite Stoudt’s criticism of Wollenweber’s novelette, his translation revived the 19th-century romance from obscurity, introducing the fictional story of Mountain Mary as a widow of the Revolution to popular belief, where it has become the predominant local narrative today.
This perception of Mary as a war widow was likely the impetus behind the placement of a Daughters of the American Revolution memorial plaque near Mountain Mary Road featuring a biblical verse likening her to Mary of Bethany: “She hath done what she could.”
Beginning in the 1930s a group of local community members, scholars and clergy established an annual pilgrimage to the gravesite of Mountain Mary, which began at Hill Church and followed Mountain Mary Road to her property. The events included prayers, readings, homilies, vocal music, poems and reflections, as well as original works of art inspired by the legend of Mountain Mary.
The most notable of these works was a triptych in the style of a modern altarpiece painted by the prolific artist Henry W. Sharadin (1872–1966), a professor of art at Kutztown State Teachers College (now Kutztown University). His painting consisted of a central portrait of Mountain Mary, flanked by 12 different vignettes of her life, caring for the sick, farming and expressing religious devotion. Sharadin later worked with playwright and artist Paul Wieand (1907–93) of Allentown to coordinate a series of hand-printed banners from woodcuts produced by public school teachers and their students that were displayed at the annual gatherings in Mary’s honor.
Although the pilgrimages ceased to be held annually sometime in the 1960s, groups still visit the gravesite today, which is on private property and guarded by two large bulls residing on the farm. Mary’s story continues to inspire artists, folk musicians and live portrayers at local cultural festivals. New generations of Pennsylvanians are eager to connect with Mary’s healing traditions and closeness to nature and the land as a means to explore new spiritual modalities and their cultural roots in the region.
Today the legend of Mountain Mary, with all of its colorful and contradictory iterations, continues to satisfy the need for a patron saint embodying the positive traditions and values of the region’s folk culture. The story of Anna Maria Jung, as immigrant, healer, farmer and spiritual leader, persisting in times of war, illness and adversity, is precisely the kind of mythical hero we need to remind us of the potential for kindness, mutual cooperation and generosity to sustain our American culture.
Author of “The Limner.” The Phantom Barge, and Other Poems. Philadelphia: E. Littell, 1822. / Donmoyer, Patrick J. Powwowing in Pennsylvania: Braucherei and the Ritual of Everyday Life. Kutztown, PA: Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center, 2018. / Miller, Daniel. “The Saint’s Legend in the Pennsylvania German Folk Culture.” Transactions of the Historical Society of Berks County 3 (1912): 209–220. / Wollenweber, Ludwig August. Mountain Mary: An Historical Tale of Early Pennsylvania. Translation and introduction by John Joseph Stoudt. York, PA: Liberty Cap Books, 1974. / Yoder, Don. “The Saint’s Legend in the Pennsylvania German Folk Culture.” In: Discovering American Folklife: Essays on Folk Culture and the Pennsylvania Dutch. 1989; reprint, Kutztown, PA: Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center, 2015.
Mountain Mary: Contemporary Visions of the Sainted Healer, a new virtual exhibition at the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center’s Digital Folklife Portal, will explore the historical and legendary figure of Mountain Mary through contemporary works of art, highlighting her role as saint, healer and folk hero among the Pennsylvania Dutch.
Patrick J. Donmoyer is the director of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University. He is the author of several books, including Powwowing in Pennsylvania: Braucherei and the Ritual of Everyday Life and Hex Signs: Myth and Meaning in Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Stars. His most recent articles for Pennsylvania Heritage are “More Than Decoration: Barn Stars Sustain the Spirit of Folk Tradition” (Spring 2021) and “The Easter Egg: A Flourishing Tradition in Pennsylvania” (Spring 2020).