This bio is a bit unusual in that, because F. W. Meerbach left so few factual records of his life, we are forced to make educated guesses based on the little evidence we have. It is very tantalizing to look at the bits and pieces.
Salisbury, Rowan County, North Carolina (1835-1836)
Born in 1814 in Germany, F. W. Meerbach apparently arrived in the United States at New York City sometime before August 1835; in an advertisement in the Carolina Watchman (Salisbury, NC), his patrons state, “We take much pleasure in bearing testimony to the good character, and professional qualifications of Mr. Meerbach. Mr. M. is a German professor of Music, but is now recently from the City of New York…” (Carolina Watchman, 13 Aug. 1835) In this series of advertisements, he states, “The Subscriber respectfully informs the public that he has, by engagement, located himself in Salisbury as a Teacher of Music. He will give instruction in the Piano, the Guitar, & in Singing.” (Carolina Watchman, 13 Aug. 1835) The advertisements cease after October 1836. (Carolina Watchman, 15 Oct. 1836) Meerbach appears for the last time in a list of people for whom letters are waiting for pickup at the Salisbury, NC post office on 1 Apr. 1837. (Carolina Watchman, 22 Apr., 1837)
Charlottesville, Virginia (1839-1844)
Though he was apparently already trained as a musician and teacher, Meerbach enrolled at the University of Virginia in sessions 16-17 (1839-1841). Oddly enough, he was enrolled in Chemistry, Anatomy & Surgery, and Medicine. Meerbach advertised that he would offer music lessons in the Charlottesville, VA area starting 1 Apr. 1841. Much of the text appears copied from the advertisements in the Carolina Watchman of 1835-1836. There are letters of recommendation attached to this advertisement, from Professors C. Bonnycastle and J. L. Cabell at the University of Virginia, as well as Wm. C. and Alexander Rives, Mann Page, John P. Hill, and Thomas W. Meriwether. (Jeffersonian Republican, 17 June 1841) These professors were professors of Mathematics and of Anatomy and Surgery, not Music.
He is also mentioned in the Genealogy of the Page family in Virginia: “It was about this time [1843-1844] that F. W. Meerbach, a famous German pianist, gave music lessons to young ladies in the neighborhood.” Apparently he taught at a school in 1843-1844 which was supported by parents in the Keswick area of Albemarle County. (Page, p.132-134) Meerbach may have been the teacher of the music lessons mentioned in the diary of Anne Kinloch Meriwether, the fifteen-year-old daughter of Thomas Warner Meriwether. (Brydon)
Sarah Ann (Rice) Pryor, in her reminiscences of her childhood living in the Albemarle area with her aunt and uncle, Dr. and Mrs. Samuel Pleasants Hargrave, gives a more detailed description of Meerbach:
“My love of music and desire to excel in it made me patient under the eccentric itinerant music teacher, the one pioneer apostle of classic music in all of Virginia… (p.47)
“The music teacher deserves more than a passing notice. He was unique. Mr. William C. Rives found him somewhere in France, and promised him a large salary if he would come to America, live near or in Charlottesville, and teach his daughter Amélie. He was the incarnation of thriftlessness; with no polish of manner, no idea of business, or order, or of the necessity of paying a debt, but he was also the incarnation of music! My uncle again and again satisfied the sheriff and released him from bonds. Finally, he would not appear in town at all by day-light, and often arrived at midnight for my lesson. … He owed money all over town which he had not the faintest intention of ever paying. … But with all this, we prized him above rubies. He was a brilliant pianist, a great genius; had studied with Liszt, early appreciated Chopin, adored Beethoven. (p.49)
“Of course he lost his scholars. At last only Amélie Rives, Jane Page, Eliza Meriwether, and myself remained. We had to make up his salary among us. (p.51)”
Richmond, Virginia (1850-1856)
In the 1850 U.S. Census, Frederick W. Meerbach (age 36) was living in Richmond, VA. The record states his profession was “musician” and his birthplace was Germany.
Southern Female Institute, which moved from Fredericksburg, VA to Richmond in 1853 (The Daily Dispatch, 05 Aug. 1853), lists F. W. Meerbach in its Music Dept. (The Daily Dispatch, 09 Aug. 1855) I could find no mention of his name after the 1855-1856 school year, so it appears that he was employed in the Institute for only one year.
Several people who knew Meerbach stated that he was a gifted composer. It was about this period that he wrote the four pieces that are held by the Library of Congress in its Music for the Nation collection:
- “Julia grand polka,” op.3 (1849), “composed and respectfully dedicated to Mr. Thomas Bolling”;
- “Souvenir de Castle Hill”: grand valse pour le piano, op. 4 (1849), “à Mademoiselle Amelie Luise Rives”;
- “Impromptu waltz,” (1852), “To Miss Rosa Bayly, of Richmond, Va.”; and
- “Elfin polka,” (1852), “composed and dedicated to Miss Roberta Taylor of Georgia.”
Also in 1852, Meerbach published a piece called “Dedication (Widmung), song from the German of Rückert, composed by Robert Schuman, translated by B. Gildersleeve (of Richmond, Va.), and arranged by F. W. Meerbach.” (Music from the Library of Congress websites, American Memory and the Library of Congress home page, http://www.loc.gov/ .)
Boston, Massachusetts (1856-1860)
Meerbach began advertising his music teaching skills in the Boston, MA area in October 1857. “F. W. Meerbach begs leaves [sic] to state to the citizens of Boston and Roxbury that he is prepared to give instruction in Piano-Forte playing to small classes.… For further information apply to Mr. M. at his residence, Ionic Hall, Roxbury…” (Dwight’s Journal of Music, 24 Oct. 1857) Again his advertisements bear a great resemblance to those in the Carolina Watchman and the Jeffersonian Republican. This ad ran through March 1858.
Also, in Boston, F. W. Meerbach had a family; the 1860 U.S. Census lists F. W. Meerbach, teacher of music (age 47; born in Germany) living in West Roxbury, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, with Huldah P. Meerbach (age 25), and children Jane A. and Teresa M. Meerbach. Huldah’s parents were David Baker, of Dennis, MA, and his wife, Sally (Chase) Baker. However, I can find no marriage certificate for Frederick and Huldah. The two children are Jane Abby Meerbach, the eldest, born 22 Apr. 1857—thus requiring Meerbach’s presence in West Roxbury no later than August 1856—and Maria Theresa Meerbach, born 17 Jul 1859. (“Massachusetts, Births and Christenings, 1639-1915”)
On 12 Sep. 1866, Huldah P. Meerbach married Charles E. Read. (“Massachusetts, Marriages, 1695-1910″) In the 1870 U.S. Census, Charles E. and Huldah Reed are living in Norfolk, MA with their three children, Jennie A. Baker (age 13), Maria T. Baker (age 10), and Charles E. Reed (age 1). We know that Frederick is teaching music into the 1890s, so he did not die and make Huldah a widow. It is possible they were divorced before he left. But it is also possible that Frederick and Huldah were never married, especially as the children were listed with their mother’s birth name of “Baker” in the 1870 census, and that Frederick simply left the area about 1862, as seemed to be his habit throughout his life.
Nyack, Rockland County, New York (1862-?)
In March 1862, F. W. Meerbach got a job as the head of the Music Department at Rockland Female Institute in Nyack, New York. A newspaper article about a lecture given by Prof. Meerbach said, “Professor Meerbach, who has recently been installed in charge of the Musical Department at the Institute, already enjoys a well-earned fame, not only as a performer and teacher, but also as a Composer. In the musical world his name is as familiar as a household word, and some of the concerts given in our large cities have derived their success chiefly from the inspirations of his genius.” (Rockland County Journal, March 8 1862) By July 1864, he was no longer in that position. (Rockland County Journal, 6 Aug. 1864)
Baltimore, Maryland (1879?-1893?)
F. W. Meerbach first appears in the Baltimore city directories in 1880 and disappears after the 1893 volume. He may have been a teacher at the Baltimore Female College there. In 1879 he appears in the German-language newspaper of Baltimore as a juror in the city court session. (Der deutsche Correspondent, 13 June 1879)
And with that, Frederick W. Meerbach seems to disappear from the record.
[Note: Meerbach’s birth date is from the U.Va. Matriculation Books, session 17.—JLC]
- Ancestry.com, 1850-1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc.
- Baltimore, Maryland, City Directory, 1880-1893, in Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
- Brydon, Anne Page. “A Small Diary of 1845: Anne Kinloch Meriwether.” Magazine of Albemarle County History, 1975 (v.33) & 1976 (v.34). Commentary in the online version of this article by Sharon Pike. < http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~tmsirecords/diaryannekinlockmeriwether.html>
- “Classes in Piano-Forte Playing,” Dwight’s Journal of Music (Boston, MA), 24 Oct. 1857, p. 239; 27 Mar. 1858, p.414.
- “Correspondence of the Dispatch,” The daily dispatch. (Richmond [Va.]), 05 Aug. 1853, p.1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84024738/1853-08-05/ed-1/seq-1/>
- “Die Geschworene des stadtgerichts,” Der deutsche Correspondent. (Baltimore, Md.), 13 June 1879. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045081/1879-06-13/ed-1/seq-4/>
- Library of Congress (www.loc.gov) and The Library of Congress American Memory (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html)
- “A list of letters remaining in the Post Office at Salisbury, North Carolina, on the first day of April, 1837,” Carolina Watchman (Salisbury, NC), 22 Apr. 1837, p.1, in North Carolina Digital Collections, http://digital.ncdcr.gov/
- “Massachusetts, Births and Christenings, 1639-1915″, index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FHG8-CVL : accessed 10 Mar 2014), Maria Theresa Meerbach, 17 Jul 1859.
- “Massachusetts, Births, 1841-1915″, index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FXCG-2DH : accessed 10 Mar 2014), Jane Abby Meerbach, 1857.
- “Massachusetts, Marriages, 1695-1910″, index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FH39-6M6 : accessed 10 Mar 2014), Charles E. Read and Huldah P. Meerbach, 12 Sep 1866.
- “Music School,” Carolina Watchman (Salisbury, NC), 13 Aug. 1835, p.4 (Newspapers.com); and 15 Oct. 1836, p. 1, in North Carolina Digital Collections, http://digital.ncdcr.gov/
- Page, Richard Channing Moore. Genealogy of the Page family in Virginia. 2nd ed. New York, 1893.
- “Professor Meerbach.” Rockland County Journal (NY), March 8 1862, p.2 http://news.hrvh.org/cgi-bin/newshrvh?a=d&d=rocklandctyjournal18620308.2.8&
- Pryor, Sarah Agnes Rice. My day; reminiscences of a long life. New York, 1909.
- “Rockland Female Institute,” Rockland County Journal (NY), 6 Aug. 1864, p. 2. < http://news.hrvh.org/cgi-bin/newshrvh?a=d&cl=search&d=rocklandctyjournal18640806.2.17 >
- Schele de Vere, Maximilian. Students of the University of Virginia; a semi-centennial catalogue. Baltimore, MD, 1878.
- “Southern Female Institute,” The daily dispatch. (Richmond [Va.]), 9 Aug. 1855 & 15 Aug. 1855.
- “The Subscriber informs the citizens of Albemarle that he shall continue to instruct in music in Charlottesville and its vicinity,” Jeffersonian Republican (Charlottesville, VA), 17 Jun. 1841, p.4. <virginiachronicle.com/cgi-bin/virginia?a=d&d=JR18410617.1.4>
- University of Virginia Matriculation Books, 1825-1904, Accession #RG-14/4/2.041, Special Collections Dept., University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Va.