Collection Spotlight: The John Wallace Minnich diaries

I was reshelving some boxes in the Eastern Mennonite University Archives when I noticed a small, nondescript box with a label that simply read, “John W. Minnich Diaries”. Inside I found three diminutive diaries, one for 1870, 1871, and 1872 and some photocopies of genealogical information, including the marriage certificate of J. Wallace Minnich and Elizabeth Coffman, who were wed on February 22, 1872. On the eve of their 150th wedding anniversary, I thought it would be nice to highlight this collection and explore the customs, culture, and daily rhythms of life in Rockingham County, Virginia. 

John W. Minnich was born March 30, 1839 and died August 4, 1917. His obituary recounts that during his life he was a “post master and merchant at Dale Enterprise”.1 He was not raised or baptized into the Mennonite church, but many of his close friends and associates were Mennonite and his first wife, Elizabeth Coffman, was the daughter of Bishop Samuel Coffman and Frances Weaver. Through this marriage he was brother-in-law to John S. Coffman and Lewis J. Heatwole.  His second wife was Lucinda Gaines.

Minnich helped to establish the post office at Dale Enterprise, and Minnich’s friend C.H. Brunk was the first postmaster.2 Through his diary entries we can see the work he put into establishing his store and the post office in the beginning of 1872.

His daily notes recount the weather, his personal and business accounts, travels around the county, and activities of daily life. He was a faithful journalist from January until the end of March, when I imagine that both his work and home life became too busy to retain the habit. 

Wednesday, January 10, 1872

“After breakfast I went to Harrisonburg to inquire how to proceed in order to establish a post office at “Dale Enterprise”. Saw P.M [Postmaster] Sullivan + contractor Wm A. Gay, and made the necessary arrangements with Mr. Gay, returned home about noon wrote out a petition and rode out for signers at night I had about 30.”

Thursday, January 11, 1872

“…went out to finish up my petition. I rode till noon and had 42 petitioners…I went to Harrisonburg and presented my petition to the P.M. + he endorsed it + sent it on to Hon J. T. Harris.”

Tuesday, February 6, 1872

“…I went with C. H. Brunk to town to arrange + send off his bond as Post Master, Dale Enterprise.”

Tuesday, February 13, 1872

“Foggy and misty this morning. I do not feel very well this morning the vaccine on my arm seems to be taking effect, and feel dull, with slight pains all through my system.”

Wednesday, February 14, 1872

“….I have not felt very well to day, but feel better than I did yesterday. My arm where I was vaccinated is slightly swollen and smartly inflamed.”

[Though he never states it, I believe this was the smallpox vaccine.]

Thursday, February 15, 1872

“After supper I rode down to Rev. Samuel Coffman’s, about 9 O.C. I went to old folks room and asked their consent the marriage of their daughter Elizabeth + myself to which they agreed. I spent the remainder of the evening with Miss Lizzie.” 

Wednesday, February 21, 1872

“After breakfast I cleaned out my stall, washed and dressed etc. About 10 O’Clock Mr. A. A. Hess arrived with his buggy, we took his horse out and put my “Jinnie” mare in and drove to Harrisonburg. Put my mare up at Paul’s Stable paid 25 cts. Bought at Swisher’s 1 fine shirt $2.75. [–] 1 lb brown sugar 12 cts. Vanentines [sic] 4 cents sent one to Miss Sarah Good, Broadway Va Postage stamps 12 cents Paid Dr. Williams, Gordon + Williams for medical services $4.00. Paid County Clerk for marriage license $1.50. On my return home I called at Toll Gate + received $14.00.”

Thursday, February 22, 1872

“Forenoon I shaved, washed, dressed etc. Afternoon about 2 O.C. I hitched “Jinnie” in the buggy + C.H. Brunk + myself drove down to Rev. Samuel Coffman’s. At 3 O.C. Miss Lizzie Coffman and I were married by Rev. Price. Attendants Jacob Coffman + Miss Bettie Brunk and Abram D. Weaver and Miss Annie Coffman–persons present except the family John Coffmans wife, Grandmother Weaver, C.H. Brunk, Mr. William Moyers and Miss Peggy [Arvers]. Paid Rev. Price $2.00. Dinner at 4 O.C. a few young folks came in after dark and amused themselves in play etc. Early this morning cloudy, cleared off about 8 O.C. and remained very bright and pleasant all except a little wind.” 

J.W. Minnich and Elizabeth Coffman’s wedding was mentioned in Barbara Coffman’s biography of her grandfather, John S. Coffman. In it, she imagines a conversation between John and his wife Bettie as they left the event:

“Well, that’s the second wedding in the family,” John said as he and Bettie were riding home from Father Coffman’s home that February evening. It was Lizzie’s wedding they had attended. There had been consternation at first when she insisted on marrying Wallace Minnich, a former quartermaster in the southern army, but everyone hoped for the best.

“Do you ‘spose they can really be happy together, not believing quite alike?” Bettie wondered.

“Oh, I reckon so,” drawled John. “They love each other, but it can’t be quite the same. We can pray that he’ll see things differently after a while. At least he’s not taking her away from the church.”

“He’s right gentlemanly, too,” added Bettie, “and a good talker. I like to listen to him.”

“You’re not trying to make me jealous, are you?” teased John.

“Land sakes, no,” replied Bettie with fervor, “There ain’t nobody half as good as my man.”

“But he’s a good businessman, And I reckon he’ll be able to provide for his family better than I can.”3

Monday, April 22, 1872

“Last night Lizzie and I slept in the store room. C.H. Brunk came down early this morning and brought breakfast for himself and me. We opened store this morning and commenced selling goods. Our first bill we sold to Jacob Coffman, Father and Mother [Coffman] came over and bought a bill of Queensware and other goods for Lizzie. Lizzie moved after dinner. She scoured the kitchen before dinner. Father hauled her furniture over.”

J.W. Minnich continued his work running the store and post office at Dale Enterprise for 45 years until his death in 1917. His wife Elizabeth had died twelve years prior,4 and their youngest son, Charles, died unexpectedly of tuberculosis the year after her.5 Minnich’s daughter, Lillian, ran the Dale Enterprise store and post office during his illness and after his death until her untimely passing in 1919.6 His middle son, Wade H. Minnich, also became a postal clerk. 

If you would like to learn more about this collection or the many other nineteenth-century diaries we have in our archives, come visit EMU’s Special Collections the next time you are in Harrisonburg. 


1. “Obituaries–Minnich.” Gospel Herald, September 20, 1917, 470.
2. John Walter Wayland. 1996. A history of Rockingham County Virginia. Harrisonburg, Va: C.J. Carrier Co., p. 208.
3. Barbara F Coffman. 1964. His name was John; the life story of an early Mennonite leader. Scottdale, Pa: Herald Press, p. 77.
4. “Obituaries–Minnich.” Gospel Herald, March 23, 1905, 95.
5. “Biedler Minnich’s Unexpected Death,” Daily News Record (Harrisonburg, VA), Nov. 3, 1906.
6. “MISS LILLIAN F MINNICH SUCCUMBS TO TUBERCULOSIS,” Daily News Record (Harrisonburg, VA), May 22, 1919.