Abraham Harley Cassel - My great-great-great-grandfather


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JUMP TO: Excerpt from “The Genealogical History of the Cassel family in America” (1896) by Daniel Kolb Cassel

JUMP TO: Abraham Harley Cassel – Dunkard Bibliophile (By Roy . C. Kulp ; Pennsylvania Folklife, Spring 1960; vol 11; no. 1)

Abraham Harley Cassel was my maternal grandmother's great grandfather and the great-great grandson of Christopher Saur (2.21.1695-1758), and whose son was Christopher Saur II (9.26.1721 - 8.26.1784), the noted colonial printer. Both Saurs, as Saur I's wife Maria Christina arrived by ship in Philadelphia on October 19, 1724.  First settling in Germantown, PA.   Christopher Saur II is buried at Buried at Methacton Mennonite Cemetery in Pennsylvania.  


AHC was born September 21, 1820 in Harleysville, PA.

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He later married a Quaker orphan, Elizabeth Rhodes, and later amassed one of the largest private libraries in the country.  (Elizabeth Harley Cassel is Ella Booz Baugher's grandmother.)

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Cassel died April 23, 1908 and is buried at Buried at Kline Meeting House in Harleysville, Pennsylvania:

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His son Yellis died less than five years later at age 69

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Excerpt from “The Genealogical History of the Cassel family in America” (1896) by Daniel Kolb Cassel




William Penn made his first visit through Germany in 1671 as a missionary, and only followed the example of his brethren in faith and stopped at Emden , Crefeld and Westphalia .


His second visit he made in the year 1677, in the thirty-third year of his age, and not yet known as the founder of Pennsylvania. Four years later, it appears, he made a third trip; and from the city of Cassel he gave notice of a meeting he proposed to hold at Frankfort. From Frankfort he went to Kriesheim, where he arrived August 23, 1681, and intended to preach. A meeting had been previously announced for that purpose, but upon the urgent request of a Calvinist minister, all preaching was forbidden by the bailiff's deputy. However, a silent meeting was held, in which all took part; also, those from Worms, who followed them in a wagon. Penn, however, got permission from Count Karl Ludwig to preach again. Consequently, on Sunday, August 26th, Penn traveled on foot from Worms to Kriesheim, a distance of six miles, and preached to the people of Kriesheim in a barn. Count Ludwig quietly entered the barn and stood behind a door listening, but Penn did not know it. Ludwig afterwards reported to the Calvinist minister that nothing of a heretical nature occurred, but, on the contrary, all that he heard was actually very good. Penn preached in the German language, which he had learned from his mother, she being a Dutch woman from Rotterdam . During his discourse he pictured the then raging persecutions of the non-resistant Christians; how they were denied the right to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience, and how they were driven from one place to another and their property confiscated.


He further explained their principles of faith regarding swearing an oath, and waging war, and of revenge, which corresponded very nearly with that of the Mennonites, and gave great satisfaction to those present. Among them were Heinrich Cassel, Johannes Cassel and Yillis or Julius Cassel members of the Mennonite church, who were so well pleased with his remarks that, as soon as the meeting closed, they took him by the hand and embraced him as a brother in the faith, and invited him to go with them, which he did. They then had a long consultation about matters of religion. He told them that he had a large tract of land in America, which had been granted to him by King Charles II, March 4, 168l, and made it free by purchase, to enable the conscientiously scrupulous to settle and enjoy their religious opinions without restraint. Thus by promising them perfect freedom and liberty to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience, was given the first impulse or motive of the Cassels emigrating to America .





The first family of Cassels that emigrated to this country, came from Kriesheim, in the Palatinate , in the year 1686, November 20, in the ship "Jefries," and settled at Germantown , near Philadelphia , then a small town; at this place the Mennonites, of which the Cassel family were members, had a church and regular preaching. An incident occurred about this period going to show, in a very striking manner, the simplicity of the church at this time. A letter came from Europe to the Cassels that a large legacy was left them by the death of a relative amounting to nearly a million of dollars, and that they should send out and get the treasure. A church council was called, and the matter freely discussed, when it was decided by a unanimous vote not to receive the money, as it would have a tendency to make them proud. Simplicity of manner, plainness of dress, frugality, honesty and economy, were some of the characteristics of this people. - Harris’ Biographical History of Lancaster .


Yelles or Julius Cassel was a native of the Palatinate , Pfalz. He suffered considerably on account of his religion, during the Thirty Years War. He was a member of the Mennonite Society, and a minister; he had to flee from one country to another, during which time he wrote a number of German poems in accordance with the circumstances, some of which have been brought over by his descendants, and are now in the hands of Abraham H. Cassel, of Harleysville Montgomery county, Pa.   He was born before 1618, and died about 1681.

Excerpt from “The Genealogical History of the Cassel family in America” (1896) by Daniel Kolb Cassel



The following sketch was prepared by George R. Prowell, of York county, Pennsylvania: Abraham Harley Cassel, antiquarian and bibliophile, founder of the Cassel library, was born in Towamensing township, Montgomery county. Pa., near Union Square, generally called White's Corner, on September 21, 1820 , and lived there until the year 1834.  [Then his father, Yelles Cassel, bought a farm in Lower Salford , above Harleysville, Montgomery county. Pa., and moved there, Abraham going with him. It is on this place where his well known library is located, the collections of which he commenced about 1830.—AUTHOR.]


Though he has spent almost his entire life at this secluded spot, six miles from any railroad, following the occupation of a farmer, he is well known in this country and in Europe for his remarkable literary attainments and his great success as a collector of rare books, pamplets, papers and manuscripts. Having acquired a vast fund of valuable information by his own individual efforts from the many thousands of books he has collected, and never happier than when inspiring others with his own thirst for knowledge, or when dispensing the contents of his books to his many guests, for many years his country home has been the favored resort for editors, authors, learned men, and students of history, from all over this country and parts of Europe. On the paternal side he is a descendant of Hupert Cassel, a nephew of the pioneer, Johannes Cassel, Mennonites, who with many early German emigrants, by the personal invitation of William Penn, came over and settled at Germantown near Philadelphia , in 1686. On the maternal side he is a great-great-grandson of the first Christoph Saur or Sower, the celebrated scholar and printer of Germantown , and of Peter Becker, the first elder of the German Baptist Church in America . From these men noted in the colonial history of Pennsylvania , Mr. Cassel doubtless inherited his great thirst for knowledge and taste for historical and classical literature. Many of the unlettered Germans in his state and neighborhood, in consequence of a supposed attempt in a previous generation to proselyte their children by compelling them to attend schools in which the religion of rival sects was taught, were averse to giving, a boy an opportunity of gaining more than the rudiments of an education. This view was held by his stem father, who endeavored to crush the son's desire for private study and reading by imposing upon him an extra amount of farm work. But Abraham seemed to have been born with a love for books; as a little child his attention was attracted to a book more than any other plaything. An elder sister taught him to read in his eighth year, by the side of her spinning wheel.  His only additional advantage was six weeks' attendance at a country school near his home; but he employed all his leisure time; from his labors on his father's farm in diligent study of such books as came within his reach. His fondness for books developed in a wonderful degree, and he even spent much of the night, wrapped up in the covers of his bed, sitting in a cold room by the dim light of a tallow candle, eagerly obtaining a comprehensive knowledge of their contents. Being strongly endowed with mental concentration and a retentive memory, he soon learned to absorb from a book its most valuable features, without the assistance of others, and he thus became a complete example of the self educated man. By his own efforts he obtained a thorough knowledge of German and English, and became quite familiar with Latin and Greek. At the age of eighteen he began to teach school and continued in that avocation from six to eleven months in each year, for eight years, and then engaged in farming at the paternal homestead, where he still resides. Mr. Cassel prospered as a farmer. Early in life he became interested in colonial literature and began to collect rare and valuable books. While teaching school he learned the whereabouts of those now priceless works, which the religious enthusiasts who settled Pennsylvania , brought across the Atlantic . In after life, in search of rare volumes, he made many a long trip, partly on foot through Pennsylvania , Maryland , Virginia , Ohio , and the west of the Mississippi river and beyond. On one of these tours he traveled over 6,000 miles. His sole object in bringing together these literary treasures was a love for books and his desire to study them. So the wonder grew until this plain, unpretentious farmer astonished the historical societies and learned men, when it became known that he owned a library of over 50,000 valuable books, pamphlets, and documents—historical, theological, and scientific. He brought together probably the most complete collection of the Franklin , Saur, Ephrata, and Swenkfelder publications in America . His library establishes the fact that the early Germans in Pennsylvania were the most prolific publishers of books in this country, previous to the revolution. He has many original documents of the literature of the reformation, and first editions of the works of all the principal reformers, the earliest Bibles in many languages, first issue of all the leading newspapers in the American colonies, and a great variety of works on ancient philosophy and archeology. For half a century he wrote for German and English periodicals and furnished a vast amount of valuable historical information to local histories in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Early in life he was the companion of Watson the annalist, and of I. D. Rupp, the historian, and furnished to them much information. Fearing that his priceless volumes might some day be scattered through many libraries and their value lost to the investigator, Mr. Cassel gave about 28,000 books and documents to the Brethren's Collegiate Institute, at Mount Morris; 111., and contributed to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania,: about 3,000 valuable books and papers relating to the early history of that state; besides making liberal donations to Bridgewater College, Virginia, and a College in Ohio. His library now contains about 8,000 volumes and about 16,000 pamphlets and miscellaneous documents. Mr. Cassel is a very prominent and influential member of the German Baptist-or Dunkard Church , and has long held a commanding position in its conferences, but he persistently refused to enter the ministry in answer to the earnest appeals of his brethren, because he loved his studies so much, and because he thought he was not "called of the Lord." For half a century he has been a wise counsellor in his church, and his decisions on important questions are generally accepted as final. He is universally recognized as the historian of his church. He declined lucrative situations offered him by merchants and by a bank, and twice refused to accept public office. He is the personification of benevolence, and has a gentleness of manner and kindliness of heart which win for him recognition among all classes of people, who find in him a worthy friend and charming companion.  Crowning all his noble qualities, is the spirit of humility which shows itself in all his daily acts. He has a certain simple eloquence of speech which is made impressive by his earnestness, and to which is lent an added charm by a slight German accent. He dresses in the plain habit of his brethren, and possesses a clean-cut face which is lit up with intelligence and kindled with enthusiasm when he discourses on his favorite themes. It is one of the best evidences of the complete development of Mr. Cassel's mind and character that he is held in the highest esteem by his prosaic neighbors who care little for books, and everything for the crops and for thrift and economy. This is partly due to the fact that he has thrived by holding the plow himself, and has accumulated a competency, but the universal respect in which he is held by a large circle of acquaintances in all classes of society is mainly due to his sincere and noble character.


The atmosphere of piety pervading his home, the beautiful simplicity of his manners, the endurance of his friendship, and the story of his remarkable career, have kindled a love for him, which is not bounded by the county or the state, but which even extends to foreign lands.


The following is taken from the "Norristown Herald":


"Born and bred among the simple country-folk who make up the population of the German districts of the county, Abraham Harley Cassel is one of the most remarkable men that Montgomery county has produced. He has, strongly developed, the qualities of originality, acquisitiveness and persistence, as may be learned from the story of his life.


"Surrounded by his books in his Lower Salford home, remote from the centres of learning and culture, he presents a most striking personality, indeed. An affection of the eyes prevents him from that close application, to his beloved books which would be his choice, and which would be the solace of his old age.


“He can still read a few minutes at a time, glancing in an hour, perhaps, at what would have occupied him ten minutes when his sight was perfect. In this way he is still able to enjoy to a certain extent the accumulations of a lifetime.


“His books and other literary rarities are stored in the upper rooms of his dwelling, which is occupied by himself, his wife, his sister and an unmarried daughter.  Visitors' mount old-fashioned back stairs, and are ushered at once into one of the rooms containing his treasures. The room is long, low and narrow, containing many thousand volumes. Both sides are lined with drawers to the height of three feet. Above are bookshelves extending entirely around the room. At the ends are Mr. Cassel's worktables, between which extends a sort of partition in the middle of the room, lined on both sides with books, classified into various kinds; In this room there is scarcely space to turn for books.


"The drawers mentioned are filled mostly with books, placed on their edges in rows, for economy of space. In these are also pamphlets and other documents, all disposed so as to take up as little room as possible. In another room adjoining is a somewhat similar arrangement of literary treasures, numbering thousands.


"In the course of a long life Mr. Cassel has received and written many letters. He opens drawer after drawer and shows all that have come to him, fifteen or twenty thousand, preserved and filed away with the most scrupulous care! They are from more than 1200 correspondents, many of them men and women distinguished in the world of letters. He is a most indefatigable collector, as everything around you indicates.                                       i


"Unassuming, and gentle as a woman, Mr. Cassel is a delightful talker. In listening to him you can imagine that he has familarized himself thoroughly with the best thoughts of the multitude of books before you- He is one of the best informed men of his day and he can converse intelligently on almost any subject. His countenance bears the impress of the innocence and simplicity of the Dunkard faith in which he is an earnest believer. You do not attempt to carry on a conversation in the ordinary sense of the term. You simply listen while he tells you, his eye lighted up with enthusiasm, of his matchless collection of books. He takes down reverently a King James Bible, a commentary, or other work, religious, scientific or medical. He shows you that electricity is not the entirely modern science that you believed it, and that there are a hundred English Grammars older than Lindley Murray.


"You listen enthralled to the flow of words from one who is thoroughly familiar with his subject, knowing more, perhaps, about rare books than any man in America . He hands you down from his shelves old volumes bound in vellum, in parchment, in hog-skin. You take hold of another volume with a shiver, for you .feel that there is something weird and uncanny about it as soon as you see it -and he informs you that it is bound in human skin. He goes on, showing you his treasures until night falls, and you regret that the time has come to part with one who impresses you as a man of wonderful patience and industry and learning and wisdom and gentleness.


"He still detains you in conversation, and you find yourself, like the listener in Coleridge's 'Ancient Mariner,' held by his ' glittering eye.', He talks of the men he has known, of the various experiences of his long life, of his passion for books and other topics. You finally bid him farewell and go away, wondering where you will find another like him.  You have been charmed with the visit, which has opened directly to your eyes that of which you had formed but a faint conception from what you had read or heard."






Abraham Harley Cassel – Dunkard Bibliophile

By Roy . C. Kulp

Pennsylvania Folklife, Spring 1960; vol 11; no. 1


The largest private collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century Pennsylvania Germaniana during the last century was Abraham Harley Cassel's. In 1893, when Professor Oswald Seidensticker published his "The First Century of German Printing in America," he dedicated it to Cassel, "whose unselfish zeal and inspiring example have been of eminent service to German-American bibliography."


For more than fifty years, historians interested in Pennsylvania 's early roots wended their way to the modest two-story brick farmhouse along the Indian Creek, near the village of Harleysville in Lower Salford Township , Montgomery County , to see the famous A. H. Cassel library and to chat with its interesting and learned owner.


Our bibliophile was born on the 21st of September, 1820 , in Towamencin Township , Montgomery County , the son of Yellis and Mary Cassel. His mother was the great-grand-daughter of the famous eighteenth century printer, Christopher Saur of Germantown , and of Elder Peter Becker, the first minister of the Church of the Brethren (Dunkers) in America .


After traveling thousands of miles, often on foot, and as far west as the Mississippi River , he brought together more than 50,000 items, consisting of books, pamphlets, and manuscripts. His library was particularly rich in the publications of the Franklin, Saur, and Ephrata presses.


Cassel acquired seventeenth century religious manuscripts, some of them brought to this country by his own ancestors. Among these is a little volume, containing poetry written by Yellis Kassel, Mennonite minister from Kriesheim , Germany ; it depicts the trying conditions and horrible persecutions which the early Mennonites had to endure during the Thirty Years' War.


His collection included many fine eighteenth-century account books, journals, diaries, and documents written by some of the early Pennsylvania pioneers. Among these are two documents [in the Juniata College library] signed by Dan iel Pastorius; they pertain to the naturalization of sixty-two "High and Low Germans,' written in 1691; also a three-page manuscript concerning the laying out of Germantown . Another interesting document is a contract for the sale of land near the Wissahickon Creek, written by Johann Kelpius, the "Hermit of the Wissahickon."


The account book and diary of Alexander Mack, Jr., 1712-1803, a weaver and bishop of the German Baptist Church in Germantown , from 1748 to 1803, was owned by Cassel . Martin G. Brumbaugh in his "German Baptist Brethren" wrote, "Before me, as I write lies the private diary of this pious man. It is in manuscript and has never been published. What a mine of gold!  When its full contents are made known, the memory of this godly elder will be cherished in every believing heart."


Brumbaugh, in his history, mentions another outstanding journal in the Cassel collection. It is the Poor Book of the German Baptists at Germantown . It is the official record of money received and paid by the deacons, 1747-1806. In this journal, Christopher Saur's signature appears many times.


One of the rarest and oldest books in the Cassel library was the writings of Menno Simons, printed in Holland in the year 1539; this is at present a part of the Cassel collection at Juniata College in Huntingdon , Pennsylvania .


A small but especially valuable part of the Cassel library consisted of a collection of nearly fifty newspapers, which date from 1872 to 1908 and attest to the popularity of this unpretentious Dunkard farmer. Most of them carry a front page story telling about his unusual collection of books. Some of them are from as far west as Omaha , Nebraska ; Cedar Rapids , Iowa ; and Ashland , Ohio .


What with so extensive a library, it is readily understandable why so many of Pennsylvania's notable historians spent days and even weeks at Cassel's home searching through his collection and listening to the mild-mannered collector—such men as John F. Watson, I. D. Rupp, Abraham R. Horne, Dan iel K. Cassel, William J. Buck, Henry S. Dotterer, Oswald Seidensticker, P. C. Croll, Samuel W. Pennypacker, Theodore W. Bean, Horatio S. Jones, and Martin S. Brumbaugh.


Gathering all these books was many times a hardship and a real challenge for Cassel . As a boy he had a yearning for books and he dreamed that some day he would have his own library, but we find that his Plain father was violently opposed to his son's desire for knowledge, and did whatever he could to hinder his son's worldly ambition, allowing him to receive only six weeks of schooling. He wanted to bring up his children in "Pious Ignorance."

Cassel gives us an interesting account [From the December 31, 1875 , issue of the Norristown Daily Herald] of his early childhood:


“As soon as I could read and write a little I became the possessor of a small Walker 's Pronouncing Dictionary, which I had occasion to use more than any other book in my life. I had no opportunity of hearing or learning English, except from the Dictionary, and had made it a point never to pass by anything without fully understanding it, which made it necessary to look up the commonest words, and when the Dictionary was not at hand I would frequently write long strings of words on slips of paper to look up, when I had the chance. I also wrote slips of definitions to commit to memory. In this way I soon understood the language well so far as the meaning of words was concerned. I could read it intelligently without much difficulty, but as I had no opportunity of learning to speak it, it was a long time the same to me as a dead language.


“The next difficulty was the want of suitable books. We had no English books in the house, and but very few German, except the Bible and a few hymn books. There were also but very few books in the neighborhood that I could borrow, until Dr. Fronfield and a few other kind friends heard of my case; they kindly gave me what assistance they could, but, as they lived so far away, it did not amount to much. Still I managed to get the most necessary text-books. But now the most serious of all my difficulties arose. Father was so opposed to my studying that he tried by various means to prevent me as much as possible. The most effectual was to keep me so closely at work as to leave me no time.


“I might say the love of books was born with me, for, from my earliest recollection—even long before I could read, nothing attracted my attention so much as hooks—and my parents used to say that even when I was a mere infant sitting in the cradle, or on the floor, that no plaything would interest me except a book, but with a few old books I would amuse myself for hours, and even when sick or in pain, they would quiet me above anything else.


“This fondness for books seemed to grow with me, so that by the time I could read I had a perfect mania for books, and every penny that I could command, was invested in them. Although I loved candy and sweetmeats as much as any child, above all I preferred books. Every scrap of printed matter was so carefully preserved that I might say the foundation of my great library was laid before I was eight years old, and the acquisitions to it were constantly continued under the greatest imaginable difficulty. My parents were as much opposed to my getting books as they were to my studying them, therefore they would hardly allow me any money—the other children would often get a few pennies as an encouragement for being smart. In their estimation I never was smart, and because I would spend it for books such reward was generally withheld from me.


“No time was allowed me to do anything for myself, except on Sunday. I would often work harder than on any other day of the week, picking cherries for the neighbors, grubbing roots and gathering herbs for Dr. Fronfield, for which he often paid me double and treble their value, because of the laudable use I made of the money. I also gathered nuts and acorns and whatever else I could, besides cultivating beans, etc., in the fence corners and between the rows of corn, to realize a little money to get books. Later in life when I had more means to buy them, I was so sternly forbidden not to bring any more into the house, that when I got a book—to escape a severe scolding—I was obliged to hide it somewhere in the barn or under the stack until some favorable opportunity appeared, either after the rest had gone to bed, or on Sunday when they were from home. To prevent me from getting more books they also kept me very scant; in clothes, so that I really had none fit to put on to go from home, saying that I might save some of my book money and buy myself clothes.


By the time he was nine years old, he could read and write both German and English, and when only twelve he could cipher and had mastered mathematics. His Cyphering Books, which have been preserved, are evidence of his ability and knowledge in mathematics.


On the 12th of October, 1840, Cassel accepted an invitation to teach in the local township school, which he continued doing for several years, when he decided to go into another township; here he was once again a great success, attracting much attention because of his popularity with all the pupils. He had a special method of instruction which made him a popular schoolmaster.  He was always introducing new studies—children even passed by schools nearer home so that they could attend Mr. Cassel's school. Many local well-to-do parents even preferred his school over a nearby private boarding school. He was heard to say many times, "I put my whole heart into teaching."


On the first of April, 1843 , he was married to Elizabeth Rhoads, a Quaker, whom his parents objected to strenuously because of her religious affiliation, even though she accepted the Dunkard faith. They had eight children. Some of Cassel 's grandchildren have a wonderful story to tell about their grandfather, how he tried continuously to encourage them to have a special interest in books. He was always delighted in having them come to see him and willingly allowed them to use his library, but he always wanted to see what the title of each book was before he would give them permission to read them, mainly because some of his books were mystery and murder stories; these he forbade them to read. They also recall seeing various notable people coming to see their grandfather's library, such as Governors Samuel W. Pennypacker and Martin G. Brumbaugh who would sit and chat for hours in his upstairs library, talking about old times and books.


Clayton Stauffer, a grandson, used to recall how he and his brother, as boys, one time helped their Grandpop Cassel chop and pile wood. Mr. Stauffer said, "The following day Grandpop came to our house and gave my mother two cents for each of us boys for helping him. The next day ho returned and told mother, 'I made a mistake yesterday; I gave the boys too much money. I only wanted to give one penny to each of the boys.' My mother thereupon returned two pennies to Grandpop."


Even though Cassel never penned any voluminous treatises, he did occasionally write for some of the local newspapers, and at various times he was a contributor to some church papers on subjects close to his interest: family history, church history, and old books and Bibles. The last thirty years of his life he suffered from failing eyesight, becoming totally blind the last year of his life.


As Cassel grew older he became concerned about the disposal of his valuable collection of books, desiring that they should be kept together as much as possible. In 1882, he sold to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania approximately two thousand volumes, the best of his collection; a few years prior to this Mt. Morris College in Illinois received more than twenty-seven thousand volumes; and most of the remainder of his library went to Juniata College. [Martin G. Brumbaugh was responsible for having the remainder of the Cassel library going to Juniata College, at a price of $2,500. See Donald F. Durnbaugh’s article “Abraham H. Cassel and His Collection” in the Pennsylvania History, vol. XXVI, no. 4, October 1959.] In spite of this disposition, many of Cassel's books, bearing his nameplate, are still being found. Some of the best parts of his library have, in fact, recently been offered in the book market. Some mystery attaches to their source.



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