Tobias Hirte

Tobias Hirte, Early Lititz Character Repeatedly Aroused Ire of Community

Schoolmaster, itinerant pharmacist, able musician, bachelor and hermit with Liberty and Independence his motto. “A priest in spite of Himself” – Kipling

Undoubtedly the most colorful citizen Lititz has ever known. A backsliding Moravian if ever there was one, and the church diaries of 1778 show him being in the hot water he apparently became accustomed to. “There is no reason for Tobias Hirte to possess a gun which be bought; indeed, on the contrary it’s an unseemliness! What use has a schoolmaster for a gun? He must be ordered to dispose of it” was one complaint.

When in 1771 the Warwick and Lititz schools were combined, the boys were under Br. Roessler with Tobias Hirte an assistant. This school building was then at the corner of Main and Water Streets.

After school, the summer season from early spring, opened the highway of Toby’s enjoyment. His travels took him to all parts of the state to dispose of his curatives. When mounted on his sorrel mare with huge saddle bags on each side and a large umbrella with a handle of unusual length mounted on the pommel of his saddle, he bestrode the pinnacle of his glory.

Toby was dressed as an early Moravian brother with a straight unlapelled dark brown coat, a broad-brimmed low-crowned hat, and knee buckled trousers. His broad round-toes shoes were also characteristic of the early brethren.

All winter long he would be preparing medicants (sic) for his next summer’s trip which included cures for “all the ills of human inheritance.” Many of these were old tried and proven Indian remedies, some in use to this day. However, there is no doubt but that he enhanced their effectiveness by adding liberal amounts of spirits.

Just what Toby’s famous Indian Oil was has not yet been learned. For his supply of this magic healer he made an annual trip to the Senecas and became a close friend of their chief Corn planter. Here he would learn the Indian customs, manners and peculiaralities (sic) which when retold, endeared him to all his listeners.

In 1778, for the first time, a note of dissension crept through Lititz. Heretofore the citizens lived a quiet peaceful life, entirely separate from the outside world. Now that the wounded war veterans were brought into their midst the young men were caught with the ‘insidious contagion of spirit” which resulted in much unrest and misunderstandings among their elders.

One evidence of the new spirit of independence of action and disregard of the constituted authority was the laying out of a special place at the Big Spring for merrymaking which was indulged in late into the night by the young people, some musicians, and the convalescing soldiers. Again it was learned that this was the work of the irrepressible Tobias and he was summoned before the Church Fathers. He was told not to dare begin such a thing on their land without permission, and to leave the spring as it was.

Then they jogged into dozy little Lebanon by the Blue Mountains where Toby had a cottage and a garden of all fruits. He also recounts his annual trip north to the Seneca Indian Village for a supply of his wonderful Seneca Oil.

Near the end of Kipling’s tales one of the children cries, “Tell us more of Toby”, but he never did. He must have come across records in Philadelphia in which he found him not only a schoolmaster, but – as he indicates in his stories – an itinerant pharmacist, an able musician and a hermit. He had lived not only at Philadelphia and Lititz, but also at Lebanon as well as Salem, N.C.

Chief Cornplanter, the Seneca Indian Chief, was a noble specimen of his race in person and in purpose, and was an efficient aid to General Washington. Whenever he came to Philadelphia he called on Tobias. It was here that Ritter learned a verse in the Seneca language beginning thus:

“Jesus mil u ner, Toma Time na. Ipse Woolaa den a Waagen.” This being the Seneca version of “Jesus hear our prayer, Take of us good care.”

The chief and Toby were near the same age and both lived to the ripe old age of “near 100.” (Resources – Ritter’s History of the Moravian Church of Phila. – founded 1742. Published in 1847)


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