Master of Arts (MA)


Michael Davis


19th century America, Berks County, Oley, Pennsylvania, politics, township


American Studies | History | Political History | United States History


Oley Township, founded in 1740, in Berks County, Pennsylvania holds a special place in the commonwealth's history because of its unique religious, political, and cultural history. With hundreds of historic buildings and its Pennsylvania German heritage, the heart of the Oley Valley continues to attract colonial and Pennsylvania German historians from great distances so that they are able to analyze and research its rich heritage. Indeed, the area was designated as a National Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and much of the farmland has been preserved through land trusts and historical preservation efforts. Many of the original settler's descendants remain in Berks County and a large number of them live on or near the valley farmsteads which their ancestors built in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Unfortunately, scholars have largely overlooked Oley's antebellum and Civil War history. Throughout that period, the township (and larger county) maintained a strong allegiance to the Democratic Party. Oley, part of the "Gibraltar of the Democracy," steadfastly voted for Democratic presidential candidates throughout the nineteenth century, including Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge in 1860 and Gen. George B. McClellan in 1864. While Pennsylvania moved toward the new Republican Party, Oley and Berks County did not. Oley provides important insight into Democratic Party politics in the North during the Civil War.