JOSEPH FILBRUN'S REALLY LARGE FAMILY - photo (click here)

Adapted by William S. Filbrun  

In 25 years Joseph and Lydia Filbrun produced as many children - 15 - in Ohio as it took six of Joseph's ancestors to beget during 175 years in Germany.  For Joseph, Johann Peter Fillbrunn's oldest son, the United States really was the fertile land of opportunity.

Of Joseph and Lydia's 13 children who lived to maturity, three were girls and ten were boys.  Having ten boys created some interesting situations.  In his later years, Joseph J., the sixth oldest of the ten boys, enjoyed telling stories of the boys' childhood spent in Clark County, Ohio, and McCoupin County, Illinois.  Following are a few of these tales, as recalled by Joseph J.'s grandson, D. O. Schechter, in "A Fillbrunn Family History".

All ten boys loved to wrestle, although their father frowned on such activity.  When corn was ready to harvest, the boys would clear a section in the center of a field.  Then they would leave a ring of standing corn around the edges to hide themselves, so they could wrestle without being seen by Joseph.  However, there was a room at the top of the house with a cupola that offered an excellent view of the fields.  Their father just happened to own a spyglass that he did not hesitate to use to check on the boys who were supposedly at work.

Perhaps Joseph, who lived from 1823 to 1889, came by his serious, hard-working nature from the hardships and deprivations he had endured growing up, as much as from his strict German Baptist Brethren religious upbringing.  He was six when he came from Virginia with his parents across the Appalachian Mountains to Ohio.  (His father had left Germany in 1818 and was to be the forefather of almost all of the Filbruns in the United States.  Once here, Johann Peter dropped "Johann" and shortened the spelling of "Fillbrunn".) 

The family came in a Conestoga wagon in 1830, but since Joseph had two younger brothers, John and Henry, he had to walk as much as his young legs would allow.  Sometimes, if he was lucky, he got to ride the bony back of one of the oxen pulling the Conestoga.  The Filbruns settled in Wayne Township, Montgomery County, Ohio, on land that is now part of Carriage Hill MetroPark & Farm.  When Joseph was 22, he married Lydia Frantz of Clark County.  They lived in Clark County for 18 years (and had 12 children there) before moving to Illinois.

Meanwhile - back on the farm - the boys all liked to play ball.  But at that time, it was quite improper for German Baptist Brethrens to play ball on Sunday.  Being boys with nothing to do on long, lazy Sunday afternoons, they would wait until Joseph had left on his Sabbath-day round of visits.  Then they would begin to play ball.  The youngest brother was posted at the end of the farm lane in order to alert the ballplayers of their father's return so they could disguise their activity in time.  Unfortunately, the young guard fell asleep a couple of times and their father's return came as quite a surprise.

If wrestling and ball playing were not permitted, the boys thought surely Joseph would approve of swimming.   He didn't object - after all, all boys should know how to swim - but the boys needed a place to swim.  Their father firmly said, 'No!' to building a pond.  Of course, the boys were little deterred.  As soon as Joseph left for Annual Meeting of the church one summer, the older boys got out teams of horses and equipment.  They set to work digging a hole by the barn.  By the time their father got home, the boys had themselves a nice swimming hole filled from the nearby spring and creek.  This accomplishment was much to their father's consternation.

For a little fun after bedtime, the mischievous boys would crawl stealthily under each other's beds with their mother's long hatpins.  They would poke them through the straw mattress ticks, then make a mad dash back to bed before one of their parents came to investigate the yelping that ensued.

Obviously, such activity led many times to their father's need to exercise some authority over the boy or boys who had done such wrongs.  But often the boys would not tell on each other, so Joseph would have to punish all the boys to ensure punishing the correct wrongdoer - or doers.  One of the younger boys would be sent out to get a switch.  However, he had been instructed (more likely, threatened!) beforehand by the older boys to make a little cut in the switch so that when used, it would break.  Then the boys who had not yet been punished would look in awe of their father, telling him, "See how hard you are beating him!"  They would plead that they needed only a stern lecture to repent their ways.  Joseph was sorely (no pun intended) tested to be a match for ten such active and enterprising sons!

Joseph and Lydia were members of the German Baptist Brethren church.  In 1874, the church held its Annual Meeting on Joseph's farm.  For a brief time, the already-large Filbrun household grew to include church services held on the Illinois farm for 10,000 - yes, 10,000! - including 5,000 present for meals.  But that's another story.  (See "Religions of the Filbruns" in the "History" section of this site.)

Another more sober tale about Joseph himself needs to be told.  In 1887 he decided to retire from the farm and return to Montgomery County, Ohio, to live at his son Henry's farm.  It was said Joseph had brought a lot of money with him to Illinois and was taking even more away.  He was known for his thrift and business ability (although he never bothered to sell the rights to the coal on his farm - the sale of which made his daughter, Lavina Filbrun Bowman Flory, quite "a wealthy Dunkard lady" after she purchased most of Joseph's farm.)

But Joseph, like his sons after him, had some unusual ideas.  As he had the gift for divining water, Joseph, now 65, also thought he might be able to find gold or other treasure.  After his return to Ohio, Joseph and someone else, possibly his youngest son, Daniel, received permission to dig for "buried treasure" on a farm near New Lebanon.  William Yoder, who lived on the farm as a boy, recalled the story his mother used to tell of Joseph's actions:  Joseph and the boy with him had some kind of instrument or rod (a willow branch was often used for divining water) that they used to detect metal, she reported.  It would draw to one side and they would dig where it pointed.  Finally it seemed to quit working.  They decided there must have been a hex placed on the treasure.  The boy with Joseph jumped down into the hole they had dug and turned some somersaults.  He said that would undo the hex.  But they never did find any treasure (nor did anyone who later lived there.)

Returning home late in the afternoon from this failed expedition, Joseph's spirited horse took fright at the signal whistle of an approaching train.  The horse became unmanageable (as testified to by an eye witness) and started to run.  The boy jumped just as the horse pulled Joseph's wagon onto the track.  The engine ran under the back part of the wagon and broke it into kindling.  Joseph was thrown about 40 feet.  He was picked up unconscious by the conductor and assistants, placed on the train and taken to a Dayton hospital where he died in a few hours.

In his will, Joseph made provisions for his wife and each child, his wife receiving the real estate he still owned in McCoupin County, Illinois.  Apparently Joseph foresaw some problems with his headstrong sons and wanted to make sure that no one stirred up trouble over the will.  He added a provision that if any of his heirs (by now he had 13 living children and 59 grandchildren) brought suit against the will, they would lose all rights to their stated share and instead receive just $5.00.

So Joseph had the last word with his ten boys after all!

 


"Joseph Filbrun's Really Large Family" - by William S. Filbrun. Edited and Adapted from "A Fillbrunn Family History" - all rights reserved.  Permission to reproduce it or any part thereof must be obtained from the filbrun.com webmaster.

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