David's Reformed Church Congregation

David's Reformed Church Congregation
Congregation of David's Reformed Church, Montgomery Co, Ohio, Circa, 1900

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Execution of Peter B. Suman

Researching your family tree is like (if I may quote Forrest Gump) a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get. That was certainly true in the case of my 5th great grandfather, Peter Balthasar Suman.
I discovered the Suman name in my family tree when I located the death certificate of my great great grandmother, Clarinda Swadner Routsong. Clarinda was the wife of Henry Routsong, who is pictured in my first post. According to the certificate, Clarinda's mother was Eleanor Suman, who was born in Maryland. I was excited to have a new name to research and it didn't take me long to find a Suman cousin named Ed who lived on the West coast and had done exhaustive research on the Suman family tree. He told me that Eleanor was the daughter of Jacob and Mary Templin Suman, who had migrated to Montgomery County, Ohio from Frederick County, Maryland around 1830. Many Frederick County families followed this same pathway to Ohio during the mid to late 1800's. He also informed me that Jacob's father, Peter, had been executed for treason on 17 August, 1781. Oh my gosh! I thought I had found the skeleton in the family closet. This required much further research. Peter was either a traitor or a martyr, depending upon which account of the story you chose to read. Most accounts seem to back up the martyr side of the story, however, and that's the side I choose to believe.

Peter Suman was born in Schriesheim, Germany on 17 May, 1730. At 19 years of age, he left Germany on the ship, "Dragon" with many other members of the Brethren society and followed Alexander Mack to Philadelphia. He arrived in Pennsylvania on 26 September, 1749. He settled in Northeast Lancaster County, PA because the Penn Company promised each settler 5 acres of free land if they cleared the land. At this time, he also married Eleanor Miller and together they cleared 10 acres of land. But, after all of this work, the Penn Company decided they would have to pay for the land anyway. This they either could not or would not do, so they had to leave their Pennsylvania home. They headed down the Monocacy Trail and settled in Frederick County, Maryland, in Burkittsville. Here they joined the congregation of the church now known as the Pleasant View Church of the Brethren.

When the Revolutionary War began, Peter, being a Brethren, did not believe in violence. This did not make him popular among many of the citizens of the Burkittsville area. According to the book, Brethren Society by Carl F. Bowman:
"When war broke out, Maryland was no longer hospitable. Those who refused to enroll in the
militia faced heavy fines, public embarrassment, and acts of vandalism"

Some stories will state that Peter, along with 6 others, actually did conspire to help English and Hessian prisoners escape the prison barracks and return to England. Most accounts, especially those regarding the history of the Brethren church, will tell you that Peter was a victim of prejudice and jealousy and that he was set up to be convicted of the crime in order that others could take over his land.

However, there is no doubt as to Peter's fate, and that of those who were convicted along with him on 25 July, 1781.

The Warrant of Execution read as follows: The sentence of the judge is as follows...It has been suggested to the court that not withstanding your Guilt has been ascertained by an Impartial jury, you consider the proceedings against you as nothing more than a mockery, and have adopted the Vain Idea, propegated by the Enemies of Your County that she dare not punish her unnatural subjects for engaging in the service of Great Britain. From the strange insensibility you have heretofore discovered, I have been forced to conclude that you are laboring under a Delusion which may prove fatal to your prospects of Future Happiness in the Hereafter.
The Crime of which you have been Convicted, upon the clearest and fullest evidence, is of such a Nature that you cannot and must not look for Pardon. Had it pleased Heaven to permit the Full Execution of your unnatural Designs, the Miseries to be experienced by your devoted country would have been dreadful even in the contemplation...
The Ends of Public Justice, the Dictates of policy, the feelings of Humanity, all require that you should serve as an awful Example to your Fellow-Subjects; and the Dignity of the State, with everything that can interest the Heart of Man, calls to the Heavens for your just punishment...
If the Consideration of approaching Fate can inspire proper Sentiments, you will pour forth your Thanks to that watchful rovidence, which has arrested you at an early stage of Guilt; and you will employ the short time you have to live in endeavoring by sincere Penitence to obtain Pardon from that Almighty Being who is to also sit in Judgement upon you, upon me, upon this faithful jury, and upon all mankind. I must now perform the painful Task of announcing the terrible Punishment ordained for High Treason....

You, (Peter Suman, Casper Fritchie, Henry Schell, Adam Graves, Yost Plecker, John George Graves, Nicholas Andrews) and each and every one of you, attend to your Sentence...

You shall be carried from this place to the Goal of Frederick County, and hence to the gallows of Fredericktown and be hanged thereon.

You shall be cut down to the Earth alive, and your Entrails shall be taken out and burnt while you are yet alive, your Head shall be cut off; your Body shall be divided into four Parts, and your Head and Quarters shall be placed where His Excellency - the governor - shall appoint for public exhibition. So God have Mercy upon your Poor Souls.

And on 17 August, 1781, Peter Suman, Casper Fritchie, and Yost Plecker were executed. Government accounts state that the three were only hanged, but the stories handed down through Brethren society say that they were quartered and their remains were hung on posts or fed to the dogs. The legend then tells of Eleanor and friends taking parts of the Peter's body and burying them at the Ausherman school. There are stories of members of the Brethren congregation keeping watch over the graves by lamplight to keep them from being desecrated.

The execution was so gruesome that many people began to complain bitterly to the authorities about the brutality and the remaining 4 men were not executed. To add to Eleanor's grief, at the time of Peter's conviction, Eleanor's land was taken away. One can only imagine the hardship experienced by Peter's family. Thankfully, legal action in November of 1796, gave Peter's land back to his rightful heirs.

Eleanor died on 20 June, 1818 in Maryland.

It isn't surprising to me that his grandsons, Jacob and Peter, left Maryland behind and headed for a new frontier in Ohio. I imagine them dreaming of new beginnings and I admire their courage and bravery. When I visit Jacob and Mary's gravesites, I think of how they must have struggled to build their new home here and how I'm glad that even a little bit of that DNA runs through my veins.


  1. What an interesting story. I enjoyed reading it very much. Thanks for posting!.....Louise

  2. Hi, I just wondered how you were able to find so much about your ancestor. I believe my ancestor is John George Graves and his brother was Adam Graves who were convicted at the same time as Peter Suman, but I can't find a decent source. The two of them were supposed to be sent back to France, but escaped to Canada, but I can't prove it. I haven't tried to look in the Maryland records yet, I can't seem to find the right Canadian records. I think Adam died in Sorel, Lower Canada (now Quebec) in 1823 and John George died about 1800 somewhere in Lower Canada leaving only one son, who was also named George. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear from you, my email is jillsfamilyhistory{at}shaw[dot]ca. Or my blog is iliketwo.blogspot.com

  3. I am also related to Peter Suman. I still live in Maryland, since many of the family did not leave the area. I have just started to look into my family tree. Several other members of the family have given me information that seems to be somewhat contradictory. From the book "History of Frederick County" written by a gentleman by the last name of Williams. They were tried by a military tribunal consisting of Alexander Contee Hanson, Col James Johnson and Upton Sheradine. In the book he has written the sentencing that Judge Hanson delivered to the men. And it is pretty gruesome to say the least. The sentence was that "the men should be hung by their necks, cut down while alive and disembowled and their entrails burnt before their eyes, then their heads to be cut off and the bodies quartered" or more briefly expressed :hung, drawn and quartered." This was the same punishment that was given to Sir William Wallace of Scotland.

    Either the charges were trumped up or it could have been that they really were going to free prisoners of the war, in order for them to return home. According to the book, a Tory messenger was to deliver the plot to a British officer in the disguise of an American uniform. Unfortunately, there was an American officer close by and the messenger mistakenly gave him the papers. In the papers, it stated the plot details and the names of the seven leaders, which included Peter Suman (Sueman).

    What is confusing that he was possibly not the only Peter Suman that came over at that time. He was born in Palatinate, Germany in 1710. In the book, it described Eleanor as his mother. But, it could very well be that his mother and wife were named Eleanor. I have a spelling of Elinora with a possible last name of Beauford. What I have found it is not uncommon to repeat names - especially Mary Elizabeth for one.

    Peter had two grandsons that went on to be officers during the Civli War. They fought for different sides unfortunately. Gen I.C.B. Suman fought for the South and Col (can't remember his name right off hand) actually were in a battle against each other. I.C.B. (I stands for Isaac) later founded Valparaiso, Indiana.

  4. As I said in my story, the account of the story varies depending upon which story you read. I choose to believe the account of the trumped up charges because the majority of accounts I have read seem to go in that direction. The fact that Eleanor was given back her land later could also be an indicator that the government was trying to make up for it's grievous mistake.
    I have quite of a bit of information regarding Colonel Isaac that I just haven't put up on the blog yet, but I intend to soon.

  5. I.C.B."s brother that he fought against in the Civil War was Colonel John Suman. The two brothers disagreed about the war and never spoke to one another again.

    It would be great to clear Peter's name. He and the other two (and their families) suffered greatly through this plan to surpress freedom of speech prior to the country having the right to do so under the Bill of Rights. We could contact Representative Bartlett which represents that part of the State of Maryland.

    My personal email account is ralphbartles@yahoo.com.

  6. Lori,
    Out of curiosity, I thought that I would check into the judges from the military tribunal. Alexander Contee Hanson, was the son of John Hanson, the first President of the Continental Congress. Some people describe John Hanson as the real first president of the country, prior to the Constitution. Colonel James Johnson, is the brother of Thomas Johnson. Thomas Johnson was the first Governor of Maryland. He was also to be a signer of the Declaration of Independence, but was called home prior to it being signed. Thomas Johnson nominated George Washington to be the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. Thomas Johnson was also an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. James and Thomas had a brother by the name of Joshua. His daughter married John Quicy Adams. Don't you love these political connections. So far on Upton Sheradine, he was a big property owner in Frederick County.

    I am going to try to get a transcript of the trial.

  7. Ralph,
    I need to correct the following: "Peter had two grandsons that went on to be officers during the Civli War...Gen I.C.B. Suman fought for the South...I.C.B. (I stands for Isaac) later founded Valparaiso, Indiana."
    Col. I.C.B. Suman fought for the Union army and was the commander of the 9th Indiana Infantry. He was promoted to Brigader General shortly after the war by order of the president, Abraham Lincoln. I.C.B. Suman is my great-great grandfather, son of Albert Elsworth Suman, son of Peter B. Suman.
    Thank you,
    James Gallant

    May 7, 2010 2:47 PM

  8. Thank you James. I do have informaton about Colonel Issac Suman. He has quite a fascinating story himself. I just haven't had the time to write the type of story I think he deserves yet. Thanks so much for clarifying Ralph's facts. Also, it sure it nice to meet another cousin!

  9. Lori,

    Thank your for well-written account of my 7th generation great grandfather! I don't know if you spoke to my dad, Ed on the West Coast or San Diego Ed Suman but I really appreciate your blog on our shared grandfather of generations ago.

    Sara Suman

    1. Your dad Ed shared emails with me some years ago. He has done a wonderful job compiling so much information! I am descended from George Suman and Sousana Longman

  10. Sara, I love your dad! He is one of my favorite "cousins". He is the one that told me about the book "A Pleasant View". He knows so much about the Suman family. I haven't talked to him for so long. I miss hearing from him. Thanks for your comments!

  11. I just found out from my mother via email about Peter Suman from Schriescheim Germany. I am a direct descendant of his. I am currently stationed in Germany, probably about a 2-3 hour drive from there. We are planning a trip early this spring. Oddly, my wife's family has family buried alongside Sumans in Frederick, MD.

  12. My grandmother was Ethel May Suman.
    My Great Grandfather was Thomas Cromwell Suman
    His father was William Temple Suman, the son of Peter B. I just found this same story on the Find-a-Grave site this morning. There is also a continuation saying that their land was returned to his wife Eleanor in November, 1776 (Maryland Hall of Records, Annapolis, Frederick County Equity Court Record #183, Box 155, Location 1-41-12-35.

    Paul Norman
    Baltimore, MD

  13. I am a Plecker descendant and I am interested in any info
    on Yost Plecker; if he had a wife, children, where he came
    from etc. If anyone has information on Mr. Plecker, please
    contact me at ougang@cox.net. Thanks in advance.

    Karen McCracken
    Sapulpa, OK

  14. My paternal grandmother was a Suman, granddaughter of George Suman and Sousana Longman. They left the Middletown area about 1855 and settled then in Darke Co., Ohio. So glad to find your blog.

    1. Deb Lynch OsborneMay 29, 2015 at 11:20 AM

      Hi Joy,
      I believe Peter B Suman was my 5th gr grandfather, my line being the oldest son, Isaac. the name was used frequently in the family. I believe my line moved to Dayton area from Maryland, early 1800's. I also have Clark family living in Darke Co. Ohio in 1895; do you have any knowledge of Clarks? Sarah Ann Suman married William J Clark in Dayton in 1829. most of the family moved to Fort Wayne IN around 1860. Brother John was living in Twin, Darke when his sister Martha Clark Darker died in 1895.

  15. I think I have found the right place. My grandfather was Russell Suman from Isaac Suman (not the Col) from John Suman (brother of Col ICB Suman) from Albert Ellsworth Suman son of Peter Balthazar Suman. Would love more info especially if rumor true that Albert fought in the American Revolution under Col Francis Marion. Found this information in ICB's obit, but is it true. And I have no info on John other than he married Catherine Row, died young and she re-married. I know there is a book or CD out there some where covering Suman history.

  16. My Grandfather was Herman Suman who was the son of Isaiah Suman and and Elmina (Halsey) Suman. They had a tobacco farm near Eaton, Ohio. I have seen a few family trees that indicate a direct line to Peter Suman but we have no documentation to verify the relationship.