Hager book aims to set record straight

July 28, 1997


Staff Writer

Think you know your Hagerstown history?

OK, in what year did Jonathan Hager found the City of Hagerstown?

A. 1761

B. 1762

C. 1765

D. 1768

While 1762 traditionally is considered to be the year Hagerstown was founded, it could be any of the above dates or none of them, according to a new book on Jonathan Hager going on sale today.


The year of Hagerstown's founding could remain one of several mysteries surrounding Hager, according to the book, "What God Does Is Well Done: The Jonathan Hager Files," by John H. Nelson.

Nelson said that in an effort to set the record straight, he has compiled information about Hager during his more than nine years as Hager House curator.

"I believed it was time to put out a paper that would correct the record. There have been a lot of misstatements, a lot of myths," said Nelson.

For example, it has been said that Hager died on Nov. 6, 1775, when he was crushed by a piece of timber at a sawmill near Hager's Mill.

Hager actually died at the Zion Reformed Church when a log slipped and rolled over him, according to the book.

There is, in fact, no evidence that Hager owned or operated a sawmill, Nelson said.

Even Hager's age at the time of his death has been debated.

Hager was born in 1714, not 1719, making him 61 years old when he died, Nelson said.

But it is the unanswered question of Hager's birthplace that probably will haunt Nelson the most, he said.

"In the beginning, it was very hard because I always wanted to be the one to pinpoint Hager's birthplace," Nelson said.

Like many details of Hager's life, his birthplace remains a mystery.

"We're talking about a time period when there's very few written records," Nelson said.

Nelson said he's not even sure if Hager, a German, spoke English.

Previous publications on Hager didn't properly footnote sources, leaving many details open for debate, Nelson said.

There have been questions about whether Hager built the Hager House, in which he lived from 1739 to 1745.

One story says Jacob Rohrer, to whom Hager would sell the house in 1745, was its architect, according to the book.

That story is based on a tale that a large hinge on the front door had the initials "JR" pounded into the metal, but the hinge was not in the house when it was named a historical site in 1962, according to the book.

The book states that when Washington County historian John Frye asked the late Dr. Richard Prather, curator of the Hager House for 22 years, about the hinge he wouldn't answer, but smiled knowingly.

Nelson said Prather might not have known that there was a hinge on the cellar doors signed "Jacob Rohrer 1773." That hinge was donated to the house during its restoration and might have been confused with the one in the story, he said.

Nelson said he hopes the book will help prevent misstatements from being spread about Hager. From now on, students writing papers or business people looking for brochure information about Hagerstown can turn to a documented resource book, he said.

Some of the information about Hager in previous publications might be correct, but it's hard to prove, Nelson said.

Historian Mary Vernon Mish says Hager was a justice of the peace, Nelson said. That could be, but there is no solid evidence, he said.

"We'll never know where she got that information from," Nelson said.

To prevent such doubts from cropping up about his publication, Nelson has footnoted much of his information.

"Many of these facts have never been seen before," he said.

For example:

  • Hager arrived in the New World in 1736, not 1730.
  • Hager was a farmer, gunsmith, blacksmith, cattleman, farm manager, fur trader and Maryland assemblyman, but not a miller, which he often has been called.

It was a different Jonathan Hager who was a miller, according to the book.

The book costs $10 each, including tax. Copies are available at the Hager House and will be on sale at Jonathan Hager Frontier Craft Days this weekend in City Park.

The book was published by the City of Hagerstown with money left to the Hager House by the late Boyd A. Mason Jr.

Proceeds from the book's sale will go back to the Boyd Mason fund to finance future improvements at the Hager House, Nelson said.

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