Colonial Women, The Heart & Backbone of Our Nation

Catherine Sterf Reed

If there is any power in poverty, it’s the push for a better life. Catherine Sterf Reith embodied that power. Born in 1661 in Baalborn, Palatine, she married a simple Mennonite farmer George Reith, having five sons and three daughters. Without good prospects for their children, she joined the Palatine exodus, a grueling, months-long, disease-infested trip down the Rhine to Rotterdam, to England, and finally to the New York Colony. Catherine could not have known what this arduous trip would cost her—her husband and two daughters—as they died aboard the ship and were buried at sea. George never saw his dream fulfilled, but trail-blazing Catherine would make it happen. Arriving with nothing but the manpower of her children, Catherine kept the family together without the benefit of remarriage, and all of age forced to work in local tar plants to support he British army. By the time her two eldest children were married and settled, Catherine still understood the few opportunities for her remaining children, setting off once more on a dangerous 150-mile trek south where Catherine’s intrepid spirit secure land for in the Tulpehocken Settlement. They were amongst the first settlers in this area and would survive through numerous Native attacks, frigid winters and unpredictable agriculture. Catherine was rewarded with 33 grandchildren, all born free from the poverty that had marked her early life. She was buried in the Reed cemetery, named for her stalwart pioneering family.