I. Tobias Wagner [Vestrymember 1831-1865]

At the December 3, 1831 meeting that decided to organize an Episcopal parish church in Manayunk and name it St. David's, two brothers were elected to the first year's Vestry. They were Tobias Wagner [1793-1868] and Samuel Wagner [1792-1879]. In March of that year the Wagner brothers had retired from their successful Philadelphia business partnership known as T. & S. Wagner, merchants and auctioneers. Neither of them yet being 40 years old, and each having done well in financial ventures, they were free to commit energies and gifts to doing good works through the religious and other philanthropic causes they supported. Beginning on December 3rd, Tobias and Samuel involved themselves in helping St. David's to grow. Tobias was annually re-elected to the Vestry until 1865. Samuel served until 1861, the year after he had helped establish, with two of his sons-in-law, St. Timothy's Church, Roxborough. Tobias and Samuel brought to their commitment to St. David's resources both earned and inherited.

Their earned resources were acquired during prosperous mercantile careers, careers that exemplified the necessity of good training and placement, experience and luck, for young men seeking success in the early years of the new nation. Although the brothers started in business along separate paths, they ended as partners in the firm that they founded in 1821.

Tobias was born in Philadelphia in November 1793. After a local education, in 1810 he was apprenticed to a Center City merchant. He succeeded so well that upon reaching his majority in 1815 the master and the apprentice became partners. Three years later Tobias entered into another mercantile partnership and three years after that he and Samuel joined as partners in the final undertaking of their business careers. At some time, either before or after their retirement in 1831, the brothers owned a mill at the lower end of the Manayunk Canal which had previously belonged to a partnership among whose principals was a son of Robert Morris, the financier of the American Revolution.

Samuel, also born in Philadelphia, was nearly two years older than Tobias. After his early classical education at the academy operated by one of the assistant clergymen at Christ Church and old St. Peter's, at age sixteen Samuel was indentured to Stephen Girard [1750-1831], the French-born American merchant, banker, and philanthropist. Samuel began service in Girard's counting house and then sailed as agent, or "supercargo", buying and selling goods on trading voyages aboard Girard's ships. For twenty months he sailed on the Voltaire to the East Indies, China, Amsterdam, and Hamburg before returning to New York. Then for twenty-two months he sailed on the Rosseau. Girard evidenced his trust in Samuel by naming him, in 1826, one of the trustees to administer the Girard Bank upon the founder's death and to control it until liquidation. Girard died December 26, 1831, shortly after St. David's was organized. Samuel's early retirement became charged with major responsibilities.

In addition to their earned prosperity, the Wagner brothers were possessed of two inherited family resources-wealth, and an interest in church and theological matters. The wealth was created by their father, John, a first generation German-American born in 1748 at Reading, Pennsylvania. John's fortune was made in Philadelphia as an importer of woolen goods. In addition to having a residence in Philadelphia, he purchased a countryseat on Wissahickon Creek bordering School House Lane above Gypsy Lane. He named it Roxborough Cottage. Purchased the year after Tobias' birth, this home served the Wagner family for many generations.

The Wagner family of Philadelphia has been traced as far back as early 16th century Bavaria to the first recorded ancestor. His Christian name was Tobias. His grandson, another Tobias [1598-1680], so distinguished himself in theological studies and personal piety that from 1662 until his death he served as Chancellor and Dean of Tubingen University, then a preeminent school of orthodox Lutheran theology. Three generations of Lutheran pastors descended from Chancellor Wagner. The pastor in the third generation, yet another Tobias [d 1764], felt called to be a missionary to American congregations. He began in Maine in 1742 and shortly later took up service in Pennsylvania where he served fourteen congregations over the years. While in Pennsylvania he was befriended by Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the patriarch of the Lutheran Church in America. Wagner even officiated at Muhlenberg's marriage. But their relationship became troubled, Wagner's irascible nature and ambitions soon overcame him, and in 1759 he returned to Germany. He went home only with his wife and youngest daughter; his other children, including John, then eleven years old, were left behind.

When Tobias began his service on the Vestry of St. David's--service which during his lifetime was to span the ministries of eleven priests: three clergymen who led the parish before the consecration of the first church building, and eight Rectors who led thereafter-he committed both his time and his wealth. He was the first treasurer of the Church as well as its first Church Warden. Most notably he was a generous benefactor, "contributing largely to the fund for building" the first church [in C. V. Hagner's words]. The Vestry Minutes for later years record several occasions when Tobias made contributions to reduce the debt of the parish.

His good works for the church extended beyond St. David's. In the Diocese of Pennsylvania he was a delegate to Diocesan Convention beginning in 1834. In the Episcopal Church of Pennsylvania he was one of the active managers of the Corporation for the Relief of Widows and Children of Clergymen, and was also a member of the Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church for the Advancement of Christianity in Pennsylvania. To the latter he gave a legacy that is still used to support missionary work in the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

His public service and generosity extended beyond the church to community institutions promoting the general welfare. He was a manager of the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society; he held directorships with both the Franklin Fire Insurance Co. and the Academy of the Fine Arts; he was a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania; and he was a member of the American Philosophical Society.

At St. David's his presence, and the benefits of his generosity, survive to this day. After his death on February 19, 1868 the Vestry adopted resolutions of condolence in which it observed that during all the years of his Vestry membership he "gave liberally of his means, and spared no efforts in his desire to establish permanently St. David's Parish, and even in his last illness thought of our affairs, and contributed to the late improvements of the Church." Five years later, his widow (who was the daughter of Samuel Rhoads, a member of Philadelphia's Quaker mercantile aristocracy and a friend of Benjamin Franklin) wanted a window memorializing her husband placed in the church. In acceding to her wishes, and deciding to put the window in "a suitable place in the chancel", the Vestry evidenced its action of April 21, 1873 as follows:

Whereas, the Vestry of St. David's Church, has learned indirectly that it would be agreeable to Mrs. Tobias Wagner to place in St. David's Church a memorial window to her late husband Mr. Tobias Wagner and Whereas Mr. Tobias Wagner was one of the first Vestrymen of this Church, its first Warden, Chairman of the committee to arrange for laying the cornerstone, as also to arrange for its consecration; and gave the leading subscription for its erection. . .and upon resigning his position as Warden made a free will offering. . .which he had advanced for its aid, and Whereas, he remained a Vestryman more than thirty years and these acts but represent his continual aid and intimate connection with all the interests of the Church from its foundation . . .

Mrs. Wagner contributed to the cost of the window. By December 1874 two memorial windows, one to Tobias Wagner, the other to Alfred Crease, had been completed by Messrs. I. & G. H. Gibson and installed in the church. When that church building was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve Day 1879, the two memorial windows were salvaged and re-installed in the present church building. Thus the Tobias Wagner window, an element of the first church building, continues to memorialize this major founder and benefactor of the parish.

And his far-sighted generosity still graces St. David's. In 2001 the Trustees of the Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church for the Advancement of Christianity in Pennsylvania made a grant from the Tobias Wagner Legacy Fund for re-roofing the church. To this day, so many years after its founding, St. David's continues to be enriched by the gifts and memory of Tobias Wagner.


Author's note: Other than the Vestry Minute Books, important references are to be found in Colonial Families of Philadelphia ed. J.W.Jordan [1911:Lewis Publishing Co., New York, Chicago]; F. W. Leach, Old Philadelphia Families [unpublished scrapbook in holdings of Germantown Historical Society]; T.E.Schmauk, A History of the Lutheran Church in Pennsylvania [1903:General Council Publication House, Philadelphia].

Part 3

Stained Glass Windows

Stained Glass Windows at St. David's Church

About The Church

The Episcopal Church of St. David's, Manayunk, was founded December 3, 1831 to be the spiritual home for people churched in the Anglican tradition who had recently arrived in the area. For the most part, these were mill workers, and they had come, with their families, fo find employment in the local textile industry then being built near the new canal in the Schuylkill River.

In 1832 the cornerstone was laid for the first church built on the present site. That structure was destroyed by fire in 1879 and the church edifice now in use, designed by James Stafford, a Vestry member and local mill-owner, was consecrated in 1881.

St. David, the patron saint of Wales who died March 1, probably in 589, and for whom this parish is named, is so honored in his native land because his ascetic example, missionary zeal, and monastic foundations were significant contributions in maintaining the light of Christian life and learning during the European Dark Ages.