Philipp Merkle

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Philipp Merkle,[1] also known as Philip Merkle[2][3] and Philip Merkel[4] (March 20, 1811, Frainshaims, Rhineland-Palatinate[2] – May 5, 1899, New York City[3]) was a prominent German-American Freethinker and preacher in New York in the nineteenth century who was active as a Masonic leader and also co-founded two influential German-American fraternal societies, one of which became the largest such organization.

Merkle attended the University of Würzburg to study medicine, but at his father's request transferred to Heidelberg University and studied theology. He was imprisoned for political activities in connection with the 1832 uprisings, but was released on appeal and graduated as a minister, second highest in his class. Unable to find an appointment because of his record, he emigrated to the United States in 1833.[2] He became pastor of the German Lutheran Church in Newark, New Jersey,[5] then after a year started the German Universal Christian Church at 143 Chrystie Street[1][6] in New York.[7] He was the minister there until 1857, when he was appointed Special Examiner of Drugs for New York State, then City Excise Commissioner, then elected City Coroner.[2] He was active in Democratic politics, for many years a member of the General Committee of Tammany Hall,[2] and one of the leaders of the successful defence against increasing Republican influence in Little Germany in the 1856 and 1860 elections.[1]

Merkel was a Freemason leader in the German-American community. After being initiated in 1844, he founded and headed two new lodges, in 1853 and 1857, and was made an honorary member of four others.[2]

Before that, in 1847 he was the primary founder of the German Order of Harugari,[2][4] which became the largest German-American fraternal order.[8] Merkle left his position as minister to concentrate on promoting Harugari, which he saw as a continuation of German workers' radicalism.[9]

He also led the group that founded the Sons of Hermann in 1840.[10]


  1. ^ a b c Stanley Nadel, Little Germany: Ethnicity, Religion, and Class in New York City, 1845–80, University of Illinois Press, 1990, ISBN 0-252-01677-7, p. 98.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Peter Ross, A Standard History of Freemasonry in the State of New York, volume 2, New York: Lewis, 1899, pp. 452–53.
  3. ^ a b "Death List of a Day," The New York Times, May 5, 1899, p. 7 (pdf).
  4. ^ a b "The Order of Harugari: It Was Founded in New-York on German Mythology. Started for Defense – Perpetuated for Charity. Its Lodges Are Found in Nearly All the States, and Its Benefits Have Been Felt Throughout the Land – A Sketch of the Order", The New York Times, August 25, 1895, p. 16 (pdf).
  5. ^ According to Ross, and he is listed as second pastor at Old Newark Houses of Worship – St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church/First German Evangelical Lutheran Church, accessed December 15, 2009, and by A History of the City of Newark – New Jersey – Embracing Practically Two and a Half Centuries 1666–1913, vol. 2, New York: Lewis, 1913, p. 1009. However, his obituary in The New York Times says that his first appointment was in Pennsylvania.
  6. ^ Haberstroh, Richard (2000). The German Churches of Metropolitan New York: A Research Guide. New York Genealogical & Biographical Society. ISBN 9781877692062.
  7. ^ The New York Times obituary does not mention this, and instead says that he owned a drug store on Grand Street.
  8. ^ Nadel, pp. 111–12.
  9. ^ Nadel, p. 112: "Merkle saw the order as an outgrowth of the radical artisan tradition in Germany and was proud of the fact that it attracted most of its members from 'the working classes.'"
  10. ^ Albert Clark Stevens, The Cyclopædia of Fraternities, 2nd ed., New York: Treat, 1907, p. 282 and "Die Hermann's Soehne: An Order with an Honorable Record for Benevolence: Works of Charity Quietly Done: A Society Founded to Foster the German Language and Customs – A Statue to Hermann, the Teuton Warrior", The New York Times, May 19, 1895, p. 21. (pdf) both list "Dr. Philip Merkel" first, which is also the form of his name in the New York Times article on the founding of Harugari.