Last Updated
July 22, 2011




Jacob C. Wirebach (1808-1877) and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
by Terry Lee, 3rd great-grandson, May 2009

Jacob C. Wirebach was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on June 8, 1808, the son of Jacob and Margaret Wolslayer Wirebach. He was a great-grandson of Johann Nicholas and Catharina Magdalena Weyerbacher, the first Weyerbacher immigrants.

In 1835, Jacob, his wife Catherine and their three children settled on a farm on Morgan's Hill, south of Easton, PA. In 1837 he purchased about 100 acres of land from the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company at a cost of $10,000. He divided this land into building lots and sold them on long time payments at a time when mortgages as we know them were not available. Many of the men working in the shops of the Lehigh Valley Railroad were able to purchase these lots and build their own homes. Many of his children also owned homes in this area which became the Borough of South Easton and was later merged into the City of Easton.

In 1872 or 1873 and again in 1875 Jacob suffered what appear to be strokes which left him with some paralysis and mental impairment. Prior to that time, he had been known as a shrewd business man and had held responsible positions, including Chief Burgess (mayor), justice of the peace (magistrate) and member of town council of South Easton. Following these strokes, he was greatly incapacitated, both physically and mentally.

In January 1876, he was persuaded to endorse a note for $4000 for a local business, essentially guaranteeing payment. In December 1876, he was induced to endorse additional notes, totaling about $10,000, held by the First National Bank of Easton for other persons holding notes on the same local business that was essentially insolvent.

Jacob’s family was unaware of these notes until after his death in 1877. The bank sued his estate for payment of these notes. The estate argued that at the time of both endorsements by Jacob, he was
       “unsound in mind and incapable of contracting, and that the bargain was unconscionable, and had been
       obtained by undue influence and fraud.”

The first trial resulted in a verdict for the estate, the second in a verdict for the bank.

The matter went to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1881, which asked,

       “Will an action lie on the accommodation endorsement of a promissory note by a lunatic?”

The word “lunatic” had a much different use in 1881 than it does today.

In its decision, the court noted,

        “We are not persuaded that commercial or public interests require an adjudication that a lunatic
        who signs a contract as surety . . . is liable for the debt of another man.”

Thus, the judgment for the bank was reversed and a new trial was awarded.

Easton’s south side includes Wirebach Street, named after Jacob C. Wirebach.


visits since 6 October 2008