Peter Ruffner and Mary Steinman
Peter Ruffner – the first Ruffner of our family to come to America was born about 1713 in Switzerland. It is presumed that he came to this country in 1732. He settled in Pennsylvania, eventually in Lancaster County, and there he met his future wife, Mary Steinman.
After he was settled in life and living in Shenandoah County in Virginia, according to records of the court, he was several times appointed by the court to oversee the apprenticeship of young boys in order to instruct them in the weaver’s trade. From this, even though we cannot know whether he had learned the trade prior to coming to America or while living in Pennsylvania, we can safely determine that Peter himself had learned this trade. It is something he had in common with his friend and brother-in-law, Abraham Strickler, the husband of his sister Mary.
We can only voice conjecture as to why Peter decided to come to America, but like many young men, he probably felt he could advance himself in a new country. The advancement from weaver to that of a prosperous farmer and landholder came through his marriage to Mary Steinman, the daughter of Joseph and Frances Steinman/Stoneman. A yeoman himself, as well as a prosperous land purchaser, Joseph Stoneman was very generous to his daughter Mary and her new husband Peter Ruffner when he deeded to them land along Hawksbill Creek in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia following their marriage in 1739.
According to grandson David, Peter was not a large man and had a quiet nature. Peter Ruffner died in 1778; his will filed for probate in January of that year.
Mary Steinman – was the first member of our family to be born in America.
Mary’s father Joseph came to America from Wurttemberg, Germany several years before her birth. Mary was born in 1714 in Chester County (later Lancaster County), Pennsylvania, possibly at a place called Willow Street, the home place of her father and mother. When Mary married Peter Ruffner in 1739, she would have been 25 years old, several years past the age when most girls married in those colonial times. She was most likely referred to as a spinster.
Mary was one of the seven children named in her father Joseph Stoneman’s 1756 will. She was mentioned as having previously been provided for, a statement evidently referring to the land she had already received from her father. As a final inheritance from her father, she was left “one English shilling.”
Peter and Mary’s grandson David, son of the couple’s eldest son Joseph, described Mary as a large dark-haired woman possessed of a strong personality, a loud voice, and a remembrance of the fact that what the family possessed came to be because of her father.
After husband Peter’s death Mary lived for another twenty years, dying in 1798. Both Peter and Mary are most likely buried on their land along the Hawksbill Creek in what is today Luray, Page County, Virginia.
It was because of the generous gift of land to Mary by her father Joseph Stoneman that the couple would travel to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Joseph was a very successful yeoman who had settled in the Pequea Valley of Pennsylvania. Because of Joseph Stoneman’s prosperity, he was able to purchase many parcels of land and he acquired the Hawksbill Patent, consisting of 1300 acres in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, from Francis Thornton in 1737. At or about the time of her marriage to Peter Ruffner in 1739, Joseph Stoneman deeded 900 acres of this patent land to his daughter Mary. Later, the remaining 400 acres of the Hawksbill Patent was added to Peter and Mary’s land holdings.
This was the land where Peter and Mary settled following their marriage in 1739. They called their home Big Spring because of the spring that cascaded down the adjacent hillside. They built their home on this land, lived, worked, reared their family, died, and are buried on their land.
It appears that from the very beginning of their life together that Peter and Mary prospered as a team. They raised their children and developed their farm. They greatly expanded their holdings of land. During one five-day period in May of 1761, Peter is recorded as buying more than 1100 acres of land from Thomas, the Honorable Lord Fairfax. He made a purchase on each of the five consecutive days. After the death of Peter, Peter Jr. inherited the home-place, with mother Mary continuing to live there until her death.
At the Page County Public Library in Luray, Virginia, there is a drawing depicting the land holdings of Peter and Mary Ruffner. It shows that at one time or another, their land extended up both sides of the Hawksbill Creek for more than eight miles. Harry Strickler made the drawing in 1927 by plotting the various Ruffner holdings as described in deeds and other records.
Today, on a small portion of the Hawksbill Patent land, there is a home believed to be built on the original stone foundation of Peter and Mary’s home-place structure. This present house is known as the Ruffner/McNeely House, and its current construction date is cited as 1840. This construction in 1840 enlarged the size of the house.
An eighth generation Ruffner descendant and his wife now own the home and surrounding property. As a graphic reminder of the past, the waters from the spring still cascade down the nearby hillside.
Shown here, Ruffner descendants are made welcome at the Ruffner house during the RFA reunion in Luray—June 2009.
The original structure was remodeled circa 1825, during the time Peter Ruffner, Jr.’s son and daughter-in-law, Jonas and Anna (Mauck) Ruffner, owned and resided at the home place. After Jonas’ death in 1839, the home was sold, and once again remodeled with the addition of a new section. The house has seen other renovations since that time.
Peter and Mary’s Children
According to David Ruffner, a reliable primary witness to the status of the original family, there were eight children born to Peter and Mary Ruffner, all born at Big Spring, the Hawksbill pioneer home. They were:
Joseph, born 1740 — Benjamin, born 1742 — Catharine, born 1744 — Peter, Jr., born 1746 — Reuben, born 1748 — Tobias, born 1752 — Elizabeth, born 1755 — Emanuel, born 1757
The Legacy of Peter and Mary
Their legacy is their family of children and the later descendants, the prosperous work ethic they practiced and passed along, and the home they built together. Our Ruffner family roots run deep into the fertile soil alongside the Hawksbill Creek—the lands of the Hawksbill Patent.
This land along the Hawksbill is where the first Ruffner children of our American family had their beginnings. We are here because of this union between Peter and Mary.