Posted By Norman Gasbarro on August 19, 2016
Peter Crabb, one of the earliest settlers of Gratz, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, was an African American who was born in Pennsylvania about 1787. He was the father of two known Civil War soldiers, John Peter Crabb and Edward Crabb, both previously profiled here. At the present time, there are two working theories on where Peter Crabb was born. One theory has him as the son of William Augustus Crabb, a white man who was a slave owner from Middletown, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Another theory has him as the son of George Crabb, an African American from Northumberland County.
In support of the former theory is some DNA evidence and some circumstantial information related to Pennsylvania’s gradual emancipation law. If Peter Crabb was born to an enslaved woman in Pennsylvania in 1787, he would have been manumitted (freed) by an 1780 Pennsylvania law which, according to a Wikipedia article:
respected the property rights of Pennsylvania slaveholders by not freeing slaves already held in the state. It changed the legal status of future children born to enslaved Pennsylvania mothers from “slave” to “indentured servant,” but required those children to work for the mother’s master until age 28. To verify that no additional slaves were imported, the Act created a registry of all slaves in the state. Slaveholders who failed to register their slaves annually, or who did it improperly, lost their slaves to manumission….
Was Peter Crabb, who was born about 1787, an indentured servant (not a slave) until he reached the age of 28, or about 1815? An 1788 Amendment, required a Pennsylvania slaveholder to register the birth of a child to an enslaved mother within 6 months of that birth. However, if Peter Crabb was born in 1787, one year before the Amendment, he probably would not appear on any registry. The census of 1790 for Harrisburg, identifies three slaves in the household of William Augustus Crabb, and also identifies two persons in a category called “other free persons,” i.e., non-white, but free. It could be that the young Peter Crabb was one of the two “other free persons” since he was not a slave (indentured servants, by law, were not considered slaves), but also was non-white, and his mother could have been one of the three slaves.
According to the book, A Comprehensive History of the Town of Gratz Pennsylvania, published in 1997, the Crabb family arrived in Gratz at about the time that Peter Crabb purchased Simon Gratz Lot No. 47, on 7 April 1824, located on the northwest corner of the intersection one block east of the town square. At about the same time as the purchase, a log house was constructed on that site. According to the same source, that log house is the central core of the house presently found at that location.
In 1830, Peter Crabb is found in the census in “Gratztown,” as head of a family with six colored and one white person in his household. By 1850, he was enumerated in Lykens Township as a free “mulatto.” (Gratz was not incorporated until later in the decade, so it was not a separate entity in the 1850 census). Peter Crabb was a blacksmith. In 1860, he was enumerated in Gratz and in addition to himself, some of his sons living in his household were also blacksmiths. In 1862, Crabb family properties include two homes on Market Street, as shown on a map previously presented here on this blog. Because Peter Crabb does not appear in later censuses, it can be assumed that he died some time between 1860 and 1870.
The “Gratz Book” makes the following assumptions: (1) [He] either died [in Gratz], or moved to some other area, and (2) “[He is] not buried in the Gratz area.” There is no known evidence that he did or did not die in Gratz and it not known for certain where he is buried.
It has been previously stated on this blog that the publications of the Gratz Historical Society never indicate African origins of any persons or families named, but nearly always note the German and English origins of other families. This has been one of the problems in researching the Crabb family. By recognizing that Peter Crabb had an African origin, different records groups can be utilized in researching him.
In 1978, a book was published on the history of the Simeon United Lutheran Church. That book included a large section which identified the cemetery burials in the Union Cemetery surrounding the church. Originally, the first cemetery section north of the church was for Reformed Church burials and the second section north of the church was for Lutheran Church burials. Those persons buried in those sections, particularly in the first several rows, were the earliest settlers in Gratz. The 1978 book names eight persons of the Crabb surname who are buried either in the first or second section north of the church, and six of those are buried in Section 1, in either Rows 4, 5 or 6. This would seem to suggest that these burial plots were purchased by the family very early in the history of the cemetery. However, since only six persons are named in this very large burial plot, this could indicate that many more family members are buried here and that their graves are not marked.
It is possible that because of Peter Crabb‘s status in the Gratz community, including in the Reformed Church, that he had the means and influence to purchase this large burial plot in the 1830s when the cemetery was established.
The 1978 history indicates (page 10) that a Lutheran congregation existed long before the church building was built. The earliest recorded baptism was in 1822 and at that time there were 59 Lutherans in the Gratz area. The church building itself was not constructed until 1831 and it is assumed that the cemetery was created at about the same time. Not much is known about the earliest history of the Reformed Church in Gratz, although much more is known about the early history of the Hoffman Church, located in Lykens Township just a few miles from Gratz.
At the top of this post, a portion of the Crabb family burial plot is pictured. Shown is Row 4. However, the cemetery records as presented in the 1978 book, indicate that there are some Crabb burials in Rows 5 and 6, just behind the row pictured. As previously noted in the blog post, Edward Crabb – Victim of Bigotry in Gratz, the family plot is not well maintained and may have been vandalized at some point in the past. Also noted in that blog post is the fact that Edward Crabb is not currently recognized as a Civil War veteran although he certainly was! This non-recognition almost certainly has to do with the fact that he was an African American.
It is possible that Peter Crabb is buried in one of the unmarked places in either Rows 4, 5, or 6 of Section 1. If there is a non-invasive way to determine whether there are burials in the unmarked places in the Crabb family area of this cemetery, it should be attempted. There are other older sections of this cemetery where grave markers are missing and where burials may have taken place. But, there is also the possibility that because Peter Crabb was an African American, that his grave may have been marked at one time, but the marker was destroyed or vandalized because of his race. It would be highly unusual that a family could afford to purchase such a large burial plot in this oldest section of the cemetery and then not be able to afford to properly mark the graves with appropriate memorials to those buried there.
Another approach would be to try to determine when the grave markers were broken. There are living persons who have claimed to be caretakers of this cemetery. Curiously, one of these persons is Charles Schoffstall, who in a most recent book, Wonder Boy (Sunbury Press, 2016), stated that “for a few years” he took care of the Simeon’s Lutheran Church Cemetery [a.k.a. Gratz Union Cemetery] and was paid to dig graves. What is interesting about Schoffstall’s revelation is that he and his wife Lois Schoffstall are the chief perpetrators (race deniers) of the lie that African Americans never lived in Gratz. The Schoffstall’s were previously profiled here in several blog post which described their illegal takeover of the Gratz Historical Society and the “cooking of the books” of the Society (more than $30,000 is documented as missing from the Society’s Endowment Fund). They are also responsible for maintaining a shrine to the Ku Klux Klan and producing a video showing one of the Society members giving a “Heil Hitler” salute to the shrine. If Charles Schoffstall was a caretaker of the Gratz Union Cemetery, he knows some of the history of the large Crabb burial plot and he knows that those buried there were of African American descent. This “longtime Gratz resident” should be asked to give a truthful history of this family burial site. Are there other members of the Crabb family buried in this plot? And, if so, who are they?
It is very possible that Peter Crabb, one of the earliest settlers of Gratz, is buried in Gratz, at the Gratz Union Cemetery, in a large family burial plot that he purchased for himself and for his family.
Additional thoughts are welcome from readers. Please add appropriate comments to this post or send via e-mail.
Note: The History of Simeon United Lutheran Church, by Lynn C. Schadle and published in 1978, was dedicated to William Dietrich and Helen [Hoffman] Dietrich, long-time members of the Simeon Church in Gratz, and was made possible by a generous contribution by Kathryn [Dietrich] Gasbarro in memory of her parents, both of whom died in 1977. The book is sometimes available on the used book market.