I wish we had more information about their life in Pennsylvania. We do know that Lizzie wore a prayer cap, and her grandchildren tell us that she was Amish. However, the Ebersole family was an established Mennonite family. We do have this photo of John and Lizzie in Amish/Mennonite dress.
It is often difficult to identify what Anabaptist sect a person is from based on dress because every congregation could set their own standards and the Amish and Mennonites had so much in common. Even people who grew up among them might determine they are one only to later learn they are another. I did notice that Lizzie’s prayer cap is white and the ribbons are black. I spent a lot of time researching this detail and finally came across a reference stating that “the Old Colony Mennonites wear white head shawls until they are married and it is changed to black. Similarly, Old Order Mennonite single women wear white strings on a white cap, then the strings are changed to black after marriage. (Source: Bree Komiske ). This is the only reference I have found of the black ribbons with a white cap, which makes me believe they were Mennonite.
Another indication that they were Mennonite is the fact that Amish men more beards, without a mustache, after marriage, and John Jacob does not have a beard in this picture or in the family picture below, which was likely taken about 1913 before they moved West. I believe the picture was taken before they moved west because their son, Ted, wrote a short history and talked about a picture of “Mother Dad and our family in Penn,” and I believe this family photo was one of those pictures that was taken in Pennsylvania
In fact, I have not seen a single photo of John Jacob with a beard. Mennonite men were either clean shaven or wore beards along with mustaches. In addition to John Jacob not wearing a beard is the fact that none of their children are dressed in traditional Amish clothing. Amish children would usually have traditional dress, including caps, whereas Mennonite children were typically not dressed in traditional clothing. Note that none of the female children are wearing prayer caps.
A final thought is that Amish do not have their pictures taken, whereas Mennonites are not against photos. So the fact that John and Lizzie have several intentional photos, including one where they are wearing traditional clothing, is another indication that they were likely Mennonite and not Amish.
Again, we don’t have a lot of info on their life before they moved West. However, I was happy to find a short history, which appears to be a rough draft, written by John and Lizzie’s son, Ted, that includes a little bit of information about his life in Pennsylvania. He’s the boy in glasses in the bottom right corner of the photo above. Here is what he wrote in his own hand, which I have transcribed without correcting spelling, grammar, or punctuation:
“Spent the first 9 years of my Life in Penn. The Last 3 of them we lived on a tobacco far[m] and raised tobacco Acorn and Hogs. We had one white mule that my Dad used to cultivate with Drove by jerk line and Ge and Haw also had 2 more mules Tobe and Pet leaders of a 4 horse hitch and 2 horses,Jack and Mike. I drove this four horse hitch in tobacco harvest by Jerk Line and Ge and Haw–Ge to the right Haw to the left. The wagon had a rack 4′ high four standard and 2 long poles one on each side. Tobacco lath was five foot long sharp on one end. We would put Five tobacco stalk on each lath and hang them between the poles on wagon and haul them to tobacco shed hang them up to cure. In the winter we would strip the tobacco leafs and bail them Ready for the auctioneer to come sell them to the tobacco companys to the highest bidder besides this I had to help gather the acorns for hog feed. Are home was beautiful around the house and fences yard we had Vine trelles’s covered with Hop’s grape and morninglories Vines a big beautiful yard. We had two miles to walk to school. And always had fun going to and from school we would pick poposis that Grew along the Fences on both side of the road. We had a herd dog name Spot that would go with us kids to school. I also plaid a 5 string bango and sister Emma plaid organ…We would all go to uncl[e] Martin Eberso[l]e Mother’s Bro at Mount Joy to his farm and for a family Reunion once a year. And would we have fun”
A good explanation of the tobacco growing, harvesting, curing, stripping, and selling process can be found at https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/d513b480-8a84-4dd6-a53c-03ca21712e7d Go to page 10 to read about the process that Ted describes above. You’ll learn why the plants were hung and why they waited until winter to strip the leaves. The pdf as a whole is interesting to scan over. It also talks about the early settlers of the area and why Lancaster, PA was such a good place to grow Tobacco. Here’s a 1939 photo of a Mennonite farmer taking tobacco to the barn.
I am so happy to have this little bit of information. It allows me to picture a little bit of what their life was like. Our own lives may seem rather ordinary, but writing down a little bit about our daily life may be the only information our posterity will have about us in the future.