The Murder of Elder Glessner 1794

Historical Glessner Bridge

These words are a matter of record taken from the Bedford Gazette of May 4, 1883 and additional information has been provided from the family records in my possession.

With kind regards, W. Glessner Sr.

The Murder of Elder Glessner

    One of the oldest congregations of the Reformed Church in Western Pennsylvania, and undoubtedly the oldest in Somerset County, is the Berlin congregation, organized in 1777.  By whom this congregation was organized the records do not say. The first subject for holy baptism bears the name of Sophia, Daughter of Heinrich Glessner, 1777. Among the first members of this congregation are found the names of some of Berlin’s most illustrious men, and in it have been nurtured some of the present representatives men of the county. But upon one of the pages in the history of this congregation appears a deep crimson stain which time can never efface, namely the murder of Elder Jacob Glessner by Reverend Cyriacus Spangenberg, the reprobate and imposter in the year of 1794. Inasmuch as the present year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the occurrence of that most foul deed, it may be of some interest to the church to learn the particulars. We are indebted to the Bedford Gasette of May 4, 1883, for some of the following data:

    “Cyriacus Spangenberg was a native of Hesse and came to America with the mercenaries whom the British  brought from that country in 1776 to assist in the war against the rebellious colonies. He served under the English Flag during the revolutionary war, and , unfortunately, decided to remain here after the colonies had succeeded in establishing their independence. In 1783 he sought admission to the ministry of the Reformed Church, but the Philadelphia Corts which met on May 14, 1783, after examining into his case with great care, rejected him. In the following year he renewed his application to the Lancaster Corts, and was again rejected. His uncle, the Reverend Samuel Dubbendoriff, finally recommended him and interceded for his ordination to Reverend Phillip Jacob Michael, and the latter admitted Spangenberg to the fold with full authority to preach the word and administer the sacraments. The young minister located near Selinsgrove, but his flock was not long in discovering his true character. He won the affections of a very respectable young lady and had proceeded in his courtship so far that the day for the marriage had been fixed. But on the day preceding the one upon which the marriage was to take place a letter was discovered which revealed the fact that he had a wife and family living in Europe. This discovery forced the Spangenberg to leave Selinsgrove, and he journeyed up through the Cumberland Valley and halted near Chambersburg, where he became pastor of a small Congregation.

His character followed him, however, and he was obliged to leave. He journeyed westward till he came to Bedford. There his pastorate was of short duration. From thence he went to Somerset and finally located in Berlin, then within the boundaries of Bedford County. Here he officiated as spiritual adviser for a number of years, during which time the evil that was in him manifested itself on several occasions.

His conduct naturally caused dissension among the members of his flock; but he was successful in retaining the confidence of a portion of the congregation, so that he was able to hold his place despite complaints and protests. As a natural consequence the congregation became divided into two factions and the feeling between them was very bitter over the matter. At a consistorial meeting it was finally agreed that the matter should be settled by a vote of the congregation.

The time was designated and duly announced when the congregation should assemble in the church and there and then settle this difficulty by ballot. Spangenberg was on hand at the appointed time and remained in the church during all the deliberations. The discussions was animated, both sides presenting their views in the strongest terms.

“Jacob Glessner was one of the most prominent members of the church, of unimpeachable character, and possessed a great influence with his fellow-members.” For a long time he remained silent, but just before the ballot was to be taken he arose and spoke in favor of a change of ministers, closing by expressing the hope that the result of the vote would support him in his views. Whereupon Spangenberg, ebullient with rage, sprang to his feet, drew a dirk from beneath his clerical robe ( the “sheep’s clothing” under which he concealed his wolfish nature) and rushing upon the Elder, drove the glittering blade to his heart. With blood gushing from his wound he fell to the floor beside the altar and there expired. His assailant rushed out of the church unmolested and sought refuge among the trees near by, whilst the congregation stood paralyzed with horror. That man who had baptized their children, confirmed the youths, and administered to them the Lord’s Supper was now a murderer. HE was soon found and arrested and taken to Bedford where he was lodged in jail. “On the 27th of April 1795, the jury before whom he was tried, returned a verdict of guilty o f murder in the first degree and the court sentenced him to be taken back to the prison, from whence, at such time as the Governor should designate he should be taken to the place of public execution and there hanged by the neck until he was dead.”

His friends made strenuous efforts to secure a pardon for him from the Governor, but failed. Then efforts were put forth to have his sentence commuted from death to imprisonment for life, but in this they failed also. All the papers in the case were sent to George Washington, President of the United States, by the Governor, requesting his opinion, and they were soon returned with his opinion against pardon or commutation.  Thereupon the Governor issued his warrant for the execution.

“On Saturday, October 11th, 1795, Jacob Bonnett, Sheriff of Bedford County, led Spangenberg from his cell, and the unfortunate man, seated upon his coffin, was driven to the place of execution.” A scaffold was erected on the commons near the site of the Episcopal Church, and upon it he expiated is crime. This was the first public execution in Bedford County, of which Somerset County was then a part: the town of Bedford being the County Seat. It is said that, for a long time, one of the Bedford physicians had in his possession the skeleton of this preacher murderer.

What is worthy of mention in connection with this history, is the fact that none of the Glessner family, became of this murder, ever withdrew from the church, and today in the western part of Pennsylvania the name is still favorably known among the people of the Reformed Church.

A.B. G.

Cumberland, MD. Sept. 20, 1894

Historical Generations of Glessners’

Elder Jacob Glessner          First Generation

His son Jacob Glessner      Second

His son Joseph Glessner    Third

His Son Henry M. Glessner      Fourth

His son Charles B. Glessner     Fifth++ (My Grandfather)

His son George M. Glessner     Sixth      (**My Father )

His son Wayne Glessner Sr.      Seventh

His Son Wayne Glessner Jr.      Eight

His Son Wayne Glessner 3 rd   Ninth


The Marrage:

Henry Glessner of Somerset County, Pa.

Harriet Boyer of Somerset County, Pa.

Henry Glessner, born Feb. 19, 1839; died June 28, 1922 and Harriett Boyer were married Nov. 27, 1862 in the presence of Edward Landis Daniel Glessner.


Maggie Glessner   born Nov. 30 1864

Laura Glessner     born Jan 13, 1867

++Charles B. Glessner    born May 25, 1869

Lee Glessner         born June 5, 1871   (died at age 6 months)

Catharine Glessner     born April 14, 1873

Grace Glessner             born Sept. 18, 1875

Albert Glessner            born Dec. 15, 1877    (died at 8 days)

Henry Glessner            born Jan. 30, 1879

Susan Glessner            born Nov. 18, 1881    (died at 5 days)

Robert Glessner          born Feb. 27, 1883     (died at 2 days)

George Glessner          born Mar. 1, 1885       (died at 3 days)

Harriet Glessner         born Nov.24, 1886

Essie Glessner             born Oct. 13, 1890      (died at 6 days)


Fifth Generation:

Charles B. Glessner            born May 25, 1869; died 1952

Rebecca K. Lowery            born Sept 8, 1863; died Aug. 5, 1949


Kate A. Glessner               born July 24, 1887         Died July 25, 1887

Essie M. Glessner              born june 3, 1888           Died Dec. 17, 1890

Henry Lewis Glessner       born Aug. 8, 1890           Died Feb. 9, 1953

Ralph Glessner                   born Apr. 2, 1892            Died Nov. 26, 1953

Rean S. Glessner               born Feb. 17, 1894   Died May 17, 1904

Winnie B. Glessner           born Aug. 29, 1895 Died April 17, 1929

Charles L. Glessner           born  Apr. 11, 1898   Died Apr. 23, 1898

Alton V. Glessner              born Mar. 22 1899

**George M. Glessner          born June 25, 1900        Died Mar. 9, 1980

Gertrude F. Glessner        born Feb. 14, 1903

Leroy Kaske Glessner       born Dec 12 1904  Died July 30, 1970

Nevin L. Glessner             born Nov 26, 1906   Died Jan 23, 1968










1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. John Lee

    April 6, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Wonderfully amazing that you have and know this heritage. Looking at the size of the families though, looks like you haven’t been holding to the family tradition!

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