Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Waynesboro, Franklin County
Preacher and theologian Henry Harbaugh was an important figure in the German Reformed Church.
Henry Harbaugh, born October 28, 1817, in Waynesboro, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, was a recognized and influential pastor and author. Following a brief period of youthful exploration in Massilon, Stark County, Ohio, Harbaugh completed his education in Pennsylvania. He preached at the German Reformed Church of Lewisburg, Union County, Pennsylvania and the German Reformed Church of Lancaster, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Later, he became a professor at Mercersburg Theological Seminary in Mercersburg, Franklin County. Harbaugh founded the periodicals Mercersburg Review and Reformed Messenger. He died on December 18, 1867 in Mercersburg due to a lengthy battle with cerebro-spinal infection.
On October 28, 1817, among the fall foliage of South Mountain and the log cabin that his father built, Henry Harbaugh was born to George and Anna Snyder Harbaugh. Their residence was located in Mercersburg, four miles southeast of Waynesboro in Franklin County, near the Pennsylvania/Maryland border.
This area had been home to the Harbaughs since Henry’s great grandfather, Yost Harbaugh, immigrated to America from Switzerland in 1736. Adapting to the new culture, Yost Harbaugh indulged his family in the traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch. The Harbaughs developed strong ties with the German Reformed Church of Lancaster in Lancaster County. Henry’s father, George Harbaugh, was one of the founders of the German Reformed Church at Waynesboro.
Being the tenth of twelve children, Harbaugh spent much of his time with his siblings exploring the South Mountain. He was known to push the limits and climb higher among the rugged terrain than any of the other children. It is not a surprise that he also pushed the limits later in his life when it came to his theology.
Harbaugh was close to his father, and would later exhibit the same industrious and sociable characteristics that his father possessed. Being a farmer, Harbaugh’s father expected all of his sons to follow in his footsteps, and he was not particularly supportive of his tenth son’s idea to pursue a career in the ministry. However, this was not the opinion of everyone; recognizing his maturity at a young age and his graceful intelligence, a member of the German Reformed Church, Reverend F.A. Scholl told Harbaugh, “You must become a preacher.”
Only a meager education was available to Harbaugh. He learned to write and read English well, but his true skills developed through lengthy amount of reading he did on his own. Proper English was difficult for Harbaugh considering he spoke in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect. Sermons at the church were delivered in German, so Harbaugh also learned this language. He would later write works in both English and German.
His father remained content as long as Harbaugh worked on the family’s farm. Once he was 18, Harbaugh was free to leave, and his mind and ambitions began to stray. He moved west to Ohio. His family was supportive to a degree, though his mother and father did not want him to leave.
Harbaugh found his first vocation as a carpenter in Massilon, Stark County, Ohio. Hours not working were occupied by singing in a church choir, and his talented voice did not go unrecognized. He was invited to attend a singing school several miles outside of Massilon. A vocal class was organized for Harbaugh to teach.
Also in his free time, Harbaugh continued to read extensively. His writing techniques and style developed due to a committed exploration of English and German literature. An opportunity to learn was never passed up. He attended as many lectures and debates as possible, and developed a strong opinion in politics as a Democrat. Endless debates with his fellow peers ensued, and Harbaugh delivered patriotic addresses to the community.
Harbaugh wanted to expand his knowledge even more. He attended New Hagerstown Academy in Carroll County, Ohio for two summers. During this period he wrote over fifty poems, half of which were featured in current publications. Honors in a literary contest were awarded for his essay “The Mind of Man as Evinced by its Operations.”
With writing experience under his belt and some money in his pocket, Harbaugh returned to Pennsylvania in 1840 to continue his education. Marshall College, “the little Dutch College out somewhere along the mountains,” appealed to Harbaugh. Here he was a member of the Diagnothian Literary Society. Although he was ambitious, Harbaugh was not necessarily the most outstanding student in the beginning, as recognized by Dr. Theodore Appel. “It was a doubtful case whether he would come to anything at all in the ministry. He was free-spoken and had very little cant about him. Both he and his ancestors were genuine Swiss, and could not be anything else but Reformed. Henry, however, was not behind anybody on the subject of temperance or slavery.”
During the second and third years at Marshall College, Harbaugh began to participate in the Mercersburg Theological Seminary. He studied practical theology and engaged in pastoral work. Near Mercersburg, in the “Little Cove,” he preached his first sermon. It lasted 55 minutes.
Three years passed before Harbaugh felt the need to venture on. By this time, he also had very little money left. Graduation from Marshall College was not a reality for Harbaugh, but he did muster the capabilities needed to make it through the conclusion of classes at the Mercersburg Theological Seminary.
During the autumn of 1843, Harbaugh left Mercersburg and began to preach unofficially. He returned to the valley below South Mountain where his childhood years were spent, and he was well received by his family and friends. Inspiration for Harbaugh flourished here. Travel was next on his itinerary, and Maryland and Virginia were the destinations. On October 17, 1843, in a meeting of Synod at Winchester, Frederick County, Virginia, Harbaugh was officially granted the authority to preach.
In December of 1843, the people of Lewisburg, Union County beckoned Harbaugh for his services. He was greeted with a type of warmth and kindness that persuaded him to remain as their minister for seven years. Before settling down in Lewisburg, Harbaugh returned to Ohio to see a young woman he met during his time at New Hagerstown Academy. He and Louisa Goodrich, of New Hargerstown, were married on December 14, 1843. Together they had a daughter, Mary Olivia. Unfortunately, nearly four years after their marriage, Harbaugh’s bride was stricken with scarlet fever and died on September 26, 1847. He remarried to Mary Louisa Linn of Lewisburg on November 14, 1848. They brought four sons and two daughters into the world- Wilson L., Henry Lange, John A., Linn, Margaret Anna, and Mary Louisa.
In 1850, Harbaugh began to work as a pastor at the First Reformed Church in Lancaster. The next ten years spent there were by far the busiest of his life. During this time he wrote various publications. He founded and continued to edit the Reformed Messenger. Between 1850 and 1852, Harbaugh delivered more than 400 sermons and at least ten lectures. The latter part of his time in Lancaster proved to be difficult as controversy arose in his congregation pertaining to his position on certain subjects. Temperance and liturgy were the concepts in question.
On October 18, 1860, Harbaugh became the pastor of St. John’s Reformed Church in Lebanon, Lebanon County. His time there was short. On October 28, 1863, Harbaugh’s birthday, he was elected to the Professorship of Didactic and Practical Theology at Mercersburg. He chose to pursue this position and left Lebanon.
While busy with writing and delivering lectures and meeting with his students, Harbaugh still found the time to edit the Guardian, another periodical that he founded. In January, 1867, he also became the editor of the Mercersburg Review.
Family and friends feared that Harbaugh might become physically and mentally exhausted, but he managed his time well, and even took moments out of the day to care for and prune the trees that grew on campus. Appreciated by all, Harbaugh planted a garden that bore “the choosiest fruit.” His exemplary contributions to the church, school, and community were observed by all. On July 26, 1860, Harbaugh was presented an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity by the Board of Trustees of Union College in Union County.
Harbaugh continued the next few years of his life with passion and integrity, and he persisted to write and preach. Unfortunately, in 1866 his health began to decline. He developed cerebro-spinal affection. At the age of 50, Dr. Harbaugh died on December 18, 1867 in Mercersburg. .
A monument to his memory was erected at Synod of the Reformed Church in Mercersburg. There are several other memorials at a few of the churches in which Dr. Henry Harbaugh made an impact.
A Word in Season. Philadelphia: Reformed Church Publication Board, 1846.
Heaven; Or, an Earnest and Scriptural Inquiry into the Abode of the Sainted Dead. Philadelphia: Reprint Services Corp., 1848.
Heavenly Home; Or, the Employments & Enjoyments of the Saints in Heaven. Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1853.
The Birds of the Bible. Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1854.
Union with the Church. Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1856.
The Fathers of the Reformed Church in Europe and America. Lancaster: Sprenger & Westhaeffer, 1857.
Life of Michael Schlatter. Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1857.
The True Glory of Woman. Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1858.
Hymns and Chants with Offices of Devotion for Sunday and Other Schools Arranged According to the Church Year. Philadelphia: S.R. Fisher Co., 1861.
Heavenly Recognition: Or, an Earnest and Scriptural Discussion of the Question ‘Will We Know our Friends in Heaven?’. Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1863.
Youth in Earnest. Philadelphia: Reprint Services Corp., 1867.
Harbaugh’s Harfe. Philadelphia:Reformed Church Publication Board, 1870.
“Communications.” Reformed Church Messenger (1867-1874) 33.23 (1868): 2.
Harbaugh, Linn. Life of the Rev. Henry Harbaugh. Lancaster, PA: The Pennsylvania German Society, 1902.
Harris, Alex. A Biographical History of Lancaster Co. Being a History of Early Settlers and Eminent Men of the County. Lancaster, PA: Elias Barr & Co., 1872. 269-271.