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Der Familien Freund (The Family Friend)
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2020-11-18

            As newspapers throughout the United States continue to fall and go out of business due to the pandemic and the rise of social media as the main news source of many people, we'll introduce our readers to one that functioned just across the

Front page of Der Familien Freund from the archives of the 

Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center, Pennsburg.

MontCo-Bucks county line in Milford Square.

            The story begins with John G. Stauffer working on his father's farm in Milford Township until 1856.  That's when the 19-year old took a job as an apprentice at the Mennonitische Druckverein (Mennonite Printing Association) in Milford Township.  It was the first Mennonite publishing organization in America.

            John's mother, Elizabeth, was a daughter of Rev. John Gehman, a Mennonite minister in Hereford, Berks County

            Soon after the founding of the Eastern District Conference on October 28, 1847, Rev. John H. Oberholtzer, who had taken the leadership in the new conference, decided

Rev. John H. Oberholtzer

to publish a periodical that would promote and unify the church.

            The Association had erected a brick building in Milford Township in the 1850s as a printing house for a bi-weekly religious and education publication.  It was there that Stauffer learned the printing trade under the guidance of its editor, Rev. Oberholtzer, and an experienced German printer named John Schaup.

            Stauffer was described as a hard-working typesetter.  In just six months he took over as foreman in the print shop.  Rev. Oberholtzer appreciated the work Stauffer performed.  In addition to his duties at the West Swamp Church, the local minister produced several church-related publications from 1852 into the early 1860s.

            In 1861 Stauffer took on the duties of editor in addition to his job as foreman.  Two years later health problems prompted John Stauffer to take a trip through the western states to recuperate.  Upon his return, he went back to work on his father's farm for a short period during 1864.

John G. Stauffer

            But, that didn't last long because during his time with Oberholtzer, Stauffer's blood had turned printer's ink black.  He went back to the Milford Square printing office in late 1864 as foreman and publisher and later bought the establishment.  There, in 1867, he began publishing a small German weekly newspaper called Der Reformer.  It was a huge success and, like most newspapers, it wielded considerable influence.

            After a few years, Stauffer changed the name from Der Reformer to Der Patriot und Reformer and increased the size of the paper.  In 1880 the circulation rose to over 1,600 copies.  Around 1883 he moved the paper to Quakertown.  There he also published the Bucks County Patriot, the precursor of the Quakertown Free Press – a weekly newspaper in the English language.

            After publishing Der Patriot und Reformer from the offices of the Free Press for several years, John Stauffer sold the German language newspaper to his brothers-in-law Uriah Stauffer and Anthony Shelly in 1886.  A few years later John's younger brother Daniel G. Stauffer purchased Der Patriot and Reformer, renamed it Der Familien Freund, and moved it back to Milford Square. 

Daniel G. Stauffer

            Daniel wasn't new to the newspaper business.  He was involved in the printer's trade since 1871.  John G. Stauffer went back to printing church-related papers.  Throughout most of the 1890s Stauffer continued to print monthly church publications.  Most were non-denominational and printed in English and German.

            Daniel published Der Familien Freund for 18 years at a location on Allentown Road.  His printing shop was located almost directly across the street from brother John's office.  At the time, the newspaper was a four-page weekly. 

            When Daniel Stauffer retired in 1906, David M. George purchased the newspaper and operated the weekly publication until 1910 when it ceased operations due to a continuing drop in subscribers.  One account described the reason for the demise of the newspaper as a combination of factors. The older folks who were likely to read a German newspaper were rapidly diminishing and the younger element paid scant  attention to anything in the Pennsilfaawnisch Dietsch (Pennsylvania German) dialect.

            Some churches continued to deliver their lessons in the "native tongue" well into the 1900s, but English dominated public schools in Pennsylvania since their inception a few decades earlier.

            At the turn of the 20th century, our region had several newspapers that were still printed in the dialect of our German ancestors.  Bilingual newspapers were as common back then as they are today – only the language has changed.  Perhaps our forefathers should have welcomed those new to the area with "Welcome to our region – nau Ich kenne du laerne Pennsilfaawnisch Deitsch Schwetza (now I can teach you Pennsylvania-German speak)!"

John G. Stauffer began printing his newspaper, Der Patriot, in this

building on Allentown Road in Milford Square.

 


 

 

 

 

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