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Funkstown - The Real Story of Jacob Funk

We are thrilled to provide this Guest Column by Virginia R. Nuta, a descendant of Jacob Funk, who recently presented at the D.C. History Conference on Funk’s real history.


Jacob Funk (1724-1794) founded a small town on the banks of the Potomac, today occupied by Foggy Bottom, George Washington University and the State Department. It was bounded by H St., 23rd St., between 18th and 19th streets, and today’s Constitution Avenue, which roughly follows the path of the Tiber or Goose Creek that existed there in the 18th century. Because Hamburgh’s street grid was set at an angle, it could not be incorporated into L’Enfant’s eventual design for the federal city and lots had to be sold to the city or swapped for new lots when Washington, D.C., was founded.


Jacob Funk was a British subject born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His father and grandfather were Mennonite immigrants to Pennsylvania in 1717, coming from Bonfeld, in today’s Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany.[i] Bonfeld was a village in what was called the Palatinate in the 17th and 18th centuries, where Jacob’s ancestors from Zurich, Switzerland, sought refuge from the Swiss persecution of Mennonites for heresy. Jacob’s father, also named Jacob, bought land in the Shenandoah Valley, underlying today’s Strasburg, Virginia, where Jacob grew up. Jacob married Ann Roland/Rowland, whose immigrant family were German Baptists, often called Dunkards.[ii]


Jacob was likely influenced by the commercial dreams of the mid-18th century, where prominent landowners planned for shipments of furs and other goods from the Ohio Country down the Potomac River to today’s Cumberland, Maryland, then overland through Maryland to Georgetown. As a young man, Jacob pieced together tracts of land to found a town on Antietam Creek near today’s Hagerstown. It was called Jerusalem but today is known as Funkstown. When it was completed in 1768, he purchased 462.5 acres below Rock Creek on the Potomac for another town, to be called Hamburgh, but also known as Funkstown.

City of Washington detail, Hamburgh, 1792 (Library of Congress)

Hamburgh was laid out in 1771 to cover about 130 acres for 234 lots, with a marketplace and a warehouse and wharf on the river. Most lots were 80’ x 230’, but river-front lots were narrower. All but about 39 or 40 lots were sold by the time a federal city was contemplated in 1790. At that time, two-thirds of the lots were owned by persons with Germanic-sounding names, one-third by persons with non-Germanic names, some prominent Marylanders. Although it has been said that Hamburgh was uninhabited in 1790, Jacob Funk himself had built a house in Hamburgh,[iii] there are a few other records suggesting houses there, and there may have been businesses along the river. The degree of habitation is simply unproven.


Jacob departed from Mennonite traditions, not only by his business activities, but also by playing a role in the larger community and supporting the American Revolution. He was elected to Maryland’s Provincial Assembly in 1773, representing Frederick County, [iv] and was a supervisor of a road from Maryland’s Seneca Creek to Georgetown, today’s MD-355 and Wisconsin Avenue, as well as a road from Watt’s Creek on the Potomac going east to Georgetown.[v] He was part of a business group planning to build a canal on the Potomac in 1774.[vi] He was named to Maryland’s 2nd, 3rd and 4th Revolutionary Conventions and supported the war effort financially.[vii] He is found in a 1776 Maryland Census living in St. John’s Parish in Prince George’s County, which would cover Hamburgh.[viii] But in 1777, he sold all his remaining acreage surrounding Hamburgh, and it appears he returned to the newly-formed Washington County, Maryland. His son, John Funk, who likely helped in his businesses, had become a officer in the Maryland Militia[ix] and Jacob may have needed to manage his mill and may have been providing wheat to the government. A 1783 Census of property owners in Washington County shows him owning 1679 acres, a mill, and horses and cattle.[x]


After the Revolutionary War was over, Jacob was elected to Maryland’s House of Delegates, representing Washington County, between 1785 and 1787.[xi] He then ran as an anti-Federalist for Maryland’s Constitutional Convention but lost that election.[xii] Meanwhile, he had been investing in land in today’s Hardin County, Kentucky, and had a mill there managed by his elder son, Jacob. After his son Jacob was killed in Kentucky by Indians,[xiii] Jacob, with the families of his son John and daughter Ann Geiger, led a group of about 50 Marylanders to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1791.[xiv]

Although there is a typescript copy of a deed granting ownership in his remaining Hamburgh property to Benjamin Stoddert as a trust for any remaining lot holders who had not appeared before the federal city commissioners, there is no proof this deed was signed by Jacob, and the trust language was unenforceable in any case. Jacob died in 1794 at his home along Bear Creek, in Jefferson County, Kentucky, southeast of Louisville. He was survived by his wife, Ann, his son John, and his daughters Ann (Geiger), Mary (Earhart), and Elizabeth (Bowyer); his daughter Rosina (Martin) had predeceased him as well as his son Jacob.[xv]

[i] Rudolf Petzold, Anne und Helmut Schüßler, eds. Bonfeld, (Druckerei Odenwälder, Buchen Walldürn: Stadt Bad Rappenau, 2000) [ii] Daniel Bly, From the Rhine to the Shenandoah, Vol. 1 (Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, 1993): 49-51. [iii] Robert H. Harkness, “The Old Glass-House” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., Vol. 18 (1915), pp. 209-238 at 212-213. [iv]Proceedings and Acts of the (MD) General Assembly, October 1773 to April 1774, Vol. 64: 42, 85. Also, Edward C. Papenfuse et al., “Proprietary Assembly 0f 1773-1774,” Archives of Maryland, Historical List, new series, Vol. 1, Annapolis, MD: Maryland State Archives, 1990. [v] Archives of Maryland, Vol. 0203, p. 0101-102--Hanson’s Laws of Maryland 1763-1784, accessed 13 March 2017 [vi] Richard K. MacMaster, “Georgetown and the Tobacco Trade, 1751-1783” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C., Vol. 66/68, the 46th Separately Bound book (1966/1968): 28. [vii]Meeting of the Inhabitants of Frederick County, Maryland, Committees of Observation and Correspondence, and Delegates to the Conventions Appointed, American Archives, Series 4, Vol. 1:0986. Accessed 17 Aug 2013 <American Archives: Documents of the American Revolution: 1774-1776.> Produced by Northern Illinois University Libraries. [viii]Council of Safety (Census of 1776) [MSA S961]. Accessed online 2 July 2013 <http://guide.mdsa.net/viewer.cfm?page=census > Maryland Indices (Census Index) 1776-1778 [MSA S1419]. See also the book 1776 Census of Maryland by Betty Stirling Carothers located at REF A-2-2. Source: Box 2, f. 18, p. 58, and Gaius Marcus Brumbaugh, Maryland Records: Colonial, Revolutionary, County and Church from Original Sources, Vol. 1 (Privately Printed, 1915): 58. A later parish map shows a St. John’s Church below the Anacostia, and a St. John’s parish close to the District of Columbia. [ix] S. Eugene Clements and F. Edward Wright, The Maryland Militia in the Revolutionary War (Silver Spring, MD: Family Line Publications, 1987): 248. [x] Assessment of 1783, Washington County, Maryland State Archives, S1437: 56. [xi] “General Assembly of 1785,” Session 192, November 7, 1785-March 12, 1786, Edward C. Papenfuse, et al., Archives of Maryland, Historical List, new series, Vol. 1, Annapolis, MD: Maryland State Archives, 1990. Also Edward C. Papenfuse, et al., A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789, Vols. 1&2. Annapolis, MD: Maryland State Archives, 1985. Also: J Thomas Scharf, History of Western Maryland, Vol. II (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1882): 987-88. [xii]James Haw, “Samuel Chase and Maryland Antifederalism: A Study in Disarray,” Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 83 (Spring, 1988): 38 (33-49). Haw cites the Maryland Journal, 4, 15, 18 April 1788. [xiii] Thomas Scharf, History of Western Maryland, with a History of Montgomery, Carroll, Washington, Allegheny, and Garrett, Vol. 1 (Philadelphia, PA: Louis H. Everts, 1882): 101 fn. 1. “The Maryland Journal of June 26, 1789, contains the following: ‘Last week a person passed through this town on his way from Kentucky, who informs us that on the 22d of May last he and eleven persons were in company, at the distance of four days' journey from the Crab Orchards, in the wilderness, and were fired upon by a party of Indians. Five of the company were killed; the rest made their escape, but lost all their horses except two. A young man by the name of Funk, from Funk's Town, another of the name of Lewis Myers, from Pike Creek.’” The “Crab Tree Orchard” was located about 45 miles from Louisville. Wayland, The Bowmans: 110-111. Numerous ads in the Kentucky Gazette show that it was a meeting place for groups of pioneers to journey through the wilderness. Jobson of Jefferson County, KY, believed Jacob Jr. was killed by Indians, but did not include a citation. Robert C. Jobson, “Divorce in Early Jefferson County: Two Case Studies,” The Kentucky Genealogist, Vol. 26, no. 2 (Apr/Jun 1984): 61-62. [xiv]The Washington Spy, 23 May 1791 [xv]Will of Jacob Funk, Jefferson County (KY) Will Book 1:49–51.

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