Wistarburgh’s Caspar Wistar set the precedent for “red rose rent” that Baron von Stiegel followed over 30 years later.
Since 1892, Manheim Pennsylvania has enjoyed a quaint ceremony, the annual “Feast of the Roses,” on the first Sunday in June. Each year, a descendant of Henry William “Baron von” Stiegel is honored, and receives a single red rose. The red rose was stipulated in the original deed to the land granted to what is now the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Manheim.
The rose so stipulated was actually the rental fee set by the proprietor of the land. Feudal English practice of setting quit-rents was commonly adopted throughout the lower counties of Pennsylvania. In a nutshell, the payment of a quit-rent freed the tenant from all obligations save for fealty to the proprietor of the land, usually the Crown or his assigns such as, in Pennsylvania, William Penn and, thereafter, such parties to whom the rights to the acreage had transferred.
In Manheim, the rights belonged to Baron von Stiegel. The flamboyant Baron – who was not a true Baron, but spent like he was- amassed a fortune in colonial Pennsylvania by operating an iron furnace and, later, one of the most important early American glassworks, the American Flint Glass Manufactory.
Baron Von Stiegel, however, was beaten to the punch on all of the above accounts by Caspar Wistar.
Over a generation prior, Caspar Wistar, Baron von Stiegel’s fellow German emigrant, began the industrial modes of his entrepreneurship with the purchase of a furnace, and diversified into glassmaking. The Wistarburgh glass operations predated Stiegel’s American Flint Glass.
Caspar Wistar may be best remembered for the glass factory but, outside of William Penn, who was the largest private owner of acreage on the world, Caspar Wistar became the largest landowner in the region. Wistar was, in fact, America’s first real estate tycoon, buying large tracts from the Penns and others, carving them into smaller parcels, and selling them to German immigrants settling in the vicinity of Berks County.
Pronounced business acumen made Caspar Wistar a rather wealthy man, which certainly made it easier to be as charitable as he was.
In Germany, the Wistar family had been most recently tied to both a Lutheran Church in Neckargemund, and a Reformed
congregation. When John Wister, Caspar’s brother, arrived in Pennsylvania in 1727, he was, at least briefly, associated with the Moravians and Pietists in Germantown. John Wister, in fact, married one of the sisters of the Roses of Sharon at Ephrata Cloister, Anna Thoman, known at the commune as Sister Anastasia. Caspar Wistar, however, was more pragmatic than his brother John when it came to religion and marriage. As Rosalind Beiler notes,
“just as his father and grandfather used their confessional identities to secure their government positions and enhance their social standings, so Wistar realized the benefits of religious membership for establishing his reputation in Pennsylvania. As early as 1721, he indicated his Quaker sympathies…By 1726, Wistar had become a member of the Philadelphia Friends and thereby gained entrance into the dominant network of merchants and political leaders in the province.”
Caspar also married a Quaker, Catherine Jansen.
Although he had “indicated his Quaker sympathies” in writing, having signed a declaration of allegiance to the King, rather than swearing an oath, which was, as Beiler points out, anathema to Quakers, Caspar Wistar’s status as a “card carrying” Quaker did not totally overcome his sympathies for the other Protestant sects with which he’d become familiar in Germany, and which dominated the Germantown area.
As proof, Caspar not only sold, but also granted acreage to those who were not Quakers, or who could otherwise not afford to purchase real estate.
One such grant was made to the Reformed congregation in Tulpehocken. The Tulpehocken church received 100 acres from Wistar in 1738, upon which they built a church, cemetery, and a schoolhouse. Wistar carved the church parcel out of his total Tulpehocken Valley holdings, sales of which were enormously profitable. The transaction specified a quit-rent the church was required to pay annually: one red rose.
Other Berks County families received similar deals from Wistar. In 1910, the New York Times quoted a Berks County historian who claimed that “at least 20,000” acres in the vicinity of Reading and Germantown were deeded on similar terms. Only two men were cited as responsible for the deeds: the British merchant John Page, and Caspar Wistar.
The Lutheran Church in Manheim, whose grounds were deeded by Baron von Stiegel, may receive more press coverage today
for its annual Feast of Roses, but Caspar Wistar’s donation to the Reformed Church set the American precedent for Stiegel to follow.
Red Rose Rents are paid annually to the descendent’s of the Wistars. The roses are considered priceless heirlooms. The most lavish of the rose rent ceremonies involving the Wistar family was in 1902, when 30 Philadelphia Wistars gathered to receive their due: 157 red roses, representing rent in arrears.
Shortly after the original grant, Caspar ceased to insist on even the token tribute of thanks for his generosity.
Sidebar 1: Caspar’s grant to Tuplehocken was notarized by Conrad Weiser, a Justice of the Peace who, even while busy negotiating on behalf of William Penn or closing agreements with the Native Americans, was a resident of Ephrata Cloister, toward which we’ll look next.
Sidebar 2: James Logan was the official overseer of the collection of quit rents in Pennsylvania, as well as the acting governor of the province from 1736-1738. Logan’s personal physician was Christopher Witt, a prominent member of the brethren of Ephrata. James Logan also was the prior holder of the grant to the land that was purchased by Stiegel and subsequently transferred to the Lutheran congregation at Manheim.
 Beiler, Rosalind J. Immigrant and entrepreneur: the Atlantic world of Caspar Wistar, 1650-1750.