|Michael Andreas Weidknecht||Margaretha Barbara Erich|
|Birth||1 Nov 1672, Adelshofen, Baden, Germany||Chr||10 Jan 1669|
|Marriage:||19 Oct 1697|
|Death||bet 24 Dec 1711 and 25 March 1712 New York|
|Father||Andreas Weidknecht||Father||Hans Georg Erich|
Michael Andreas Weidknecht was born on 1 November 1672, first son of Andreas Weidknecht and Catharina Weidknecht in Adelshofen, Germany.1 On 19 October 1697 he married Margaretha Barbara Erich, daughter of Hans Georg Erich.2 Margaretha was christened 10 January 1669 in nearby Auerbach.3
Adelshofen church records identify the following children for Andreas and Margaretha:4
The church records in Adelshofen give no indication of Andreas' occupation, nor do Andreas and Margaretha appear as sponsors for any christenings there. Names of sponsors at their children's christening are Casselman, Frick, Gaudner, Schlaus, and Widner.5
The Palatine Migration
The entire area of Bavaria experienced almost continual war between the years of 1684 to 1713, with French and German troops alternately controlled the area. When the area was not being invaded by the controlling army of the day, high taxes were imposed to keep the war efforts going and to enrich the ruling class.
To make life even harder, the winter of 1708/1709 was one of the worst on record. An early frost was followed by temperatures as low as -30 degrees in Berlin. The normal spring thaw came later than ususal, with many areas finding that the cold had killed vines and trees. Food was scarce, and with the late spring, the planting of the crops was delayed. (See The Winter of the Millenium)
Continual warfare, followed by bitter cold and famine, certainly made the future look bleak for a young family in the opening days of 1709. But as the ice began to thaw, exciting news spread like wildfire. A "Golden Book," with gold lettering on the front and a picture of Queen Anne of England, promised free passage to America and 40 acres of land for each family. So Andreas, Margaretha, and family, along with at least the Casselman's, became part of the great Palatine Migration of 1709-1710.
The promise of a better life in America spurred many into immediate action. Many immigrants report that they decided to leave for America the same day that they heard the news.6 However, the immigrants from Adelshofen appear to have decided much later, either because of a delay in receiving a copy of the Golden Book, or perhaps because of some hesitation or the need to wrap up their affairs in the area.
The Weidknecht's likely left Adelshofen no earlier than June to make the journey to the Rhine river, then down the river for 3-6 weeks to Rotterdam where they hoped to book passage by ship to London. As they neared Rotterdam, their small boat was quite possibly boarded by a messenger who read a notice that no more people would be allowed passage to America.7 If they ever heard such a warning, they did not heed it, quite possibly because land agents for the Carolinas were also boarding boats, passing out circulars promising 100 acres for 99 years to whomever would come to America.8
The first several groups of emigrants were sent from Rotterdam to England between April and July at the expense of the British government on troop transport ships. While the government would have liked to have stopped the emigration in late July, thousands more Palatines continued to arrive. While some were turned away, it was decided to allow those already in Rotterdam to continue on to London. The Weidknechts would have crossed to London sometime between August and October, on one of two additional ships chartered by the British, by paying their own passage, or through the charity of private organizations in Holland.9
Once in London, they were sent to various camps along the Thames river.10 Here they lived off the support provided by the government, or by doing odd jobs and day labor as they could find it in the city or surrounding areas. They lived in tents, often with insufficient food, while the government decided what to do with them. Some were sent to Ireland; a small group went to the Carolinas; a group of Catholic emigrants was returned to Rotterdam; but most remained in London, waiting.
The Naval Stores Proposal
On September 9, 1709, Robert Hunter was appointed governor of New York. By mid-October, he submitted a proposal to send 3,000 Palatines to New York to be set up to make tar and pitch for the use in making ships and other "naval stores." The plan was quickly taken up, and by December, an official plan was sent to the Queen for her approval.11
While the official approval would not be granted until January 7, 171012, Governor Hunter wasted no time putting the plan in motion. Approval had already been granted for chartering 10 ships, and between December 25 and 29, the selected Palatine were herded onto those waiting ships. The plan was for the ships to sail by January 2, down the Thames to Nore, and there wait for favorable wind and weather before sailing to America. The ships apparently left London on time, but then sat off the coast of England between Portsmouth and Plymouth for 3 months. It wasn't until April 10, 1710, that the convoy of 10 (or 11 by that time) ships apparently left for America.13
The reasons for the delay are unclear. But certainly life on board the ships was not a pleasant one. Walter Knittle writes:
Probably because of the low transportation rate, the people were closely packed in the ships. Many of them suffered from the foul odor and vermin; some below deck could neither get fresh air nor see the light of day. Under such conditions the younger children died in great numbers. The last letters before sailing, written at Portsmouth during April, reported eighty deaths in one ship and one hundred sick in another. Good healthy food was not provided and its lack no doubt added to the general unhealthy conditions.14
Either before their boarding or before the ship's departure in April, the immigrants were read a contract detailing the conditions of their passage to America. They would work at producing naval stores until the cost of their passage and continued maintenance were repaid. At that time, they were to receive 40 acres of land and would pay no rent for 7 years.15
Such were the terms of the official contract drawn up by Gov. Hunter and the government. Apparently, the Palatines never saw nor signed an official "contract." Later, their recollection of the terms was only that they were to receive 40 acres upon arriving in America.16 Even if the contract had been accurately translated and read to them, either before their loading on the ships or before their departure in April, it's doubtful that any unfavorable conditions could have appeared worse than what they had already suffered. What's likely is that the immigrants were willing to do whatever was necessary to reach America.
Arrival in New York
While a normal trans-Atlantic crossing took 2 months, the delay in leaving left the Palatines onboard just shy of 6 months. Andreas, Magaretha, and family boarded their ship, the Lyon of Keith (captained by Alexander Stevenson)17, in late December, 1709, and finally arrived in New York on June 13, 1710 (the first ship of the convoy to reach America).18
The ships arrived in port not only carrying the "poor Palatines," but also ship-fever (typhus). Sickness was so rampant on the ships that the malady became known as "Palatine fever" to the doctors of the day. Sickness was so bad that one ship's doctor reported that 330 were sick at a time (considering that each ship carried only about 330 persons, this would be nearly 100% afflicted). Governor Hunter later wrote that of the 2,814 that started the voyage, 446 had died (nearly 16% or over 40 per ship).
To prevent the spread of disease, the new immigrants were place on Nutten Island (now Governor's Island). Again they lived in tents, but this time with the added burden of disease. Within the first month in America, another 24 would die of the disease. During this period, many children were left orphans.19
Shortly after arrival, Governor Hunter began an account book to record each family and the amount owed for their subsistence. Subsequent lists would be compiled over the next two years. Andreas Weidknecht appears on the first page of the first list, owing 2 pounds, 7 shillings, and 8 pence for the support of 3 adults and 1 child (under age 10) for a total of 4 days.20
Once released from quarantine in October, about 1,800 of the immigrants moved about 90 miles up the Hudson river to the estate of Robert Livingston.21 The Weidknechts remained in New York, either because of sickness or because of employment in the surrounding area.22 They appear on the list of about 350 Palatines remaining in New York city:
Weidnecht, Andreas, age 40
Weidnecht, Margaret, age 40
Weidnecht, George Fred, age 13
Weidnecht, John George, age 11
Weidnecht, Anna Eliz., age 923
This list, as well as two subsistence list entries, are the only documented records for Anna Elizabeth. She does not appear in the Adelshofen church baptismal records, and the first two subsistence lists taken in 1710 are for a family of 4, not 5. For this reason, I believe that Anna Elizabeth was an orphan of another family, who joined the Weidknecht family between August and October of 1710. The next subsistence list in June of 1711 returns again to a family of 4, meaning that Elizabeth had died by that time, or was being supported by another family or apprenticed to a family in the New York area.24
Eventually, the Weidknecht family joined the larger Palatine group, setting on the west bank of the Hudson in one of five settlements. Here they lived in tents until they could erect a crude hut, and were given a small plot of approximately 40 feet by 50 feet for planting a garden. Because of the lateness of the season, they lived that winter mainly on the following rations:
Unfortunately, the rations were often of insufficient quantity and quality to ensure a comfortable life. Those supplying food to the new settlers often under-reported the weight of the barrels containing the rations, resulting in short-changing the amount of supplies contained in each barrel.25 The Germans also complained of over-salted meat that was essentially inedible. Phillip Otterness speculates that many were profiting from the new immigrants.26 These same sentiments were expressed by the Earl of Clarendon in 1711 in a report to the Lord High Treasurer, who says:
...I thinke it is unhappy that Col. Hunter at his first arrivall fell into soe ill hands, for this Levingston has been known many years in that Province for a very ill man, he formerly victualled the forces at Albany, in which he was guilty of most notorious frauds by which he greatly improved his estate, he has a mill and a brew house upon his land, and if he can get the victualing of those Palatines who are so conveniently posted for his purpose, he will make a very good addicon to his estate; and I am perswaded that the hopes he had of such a subsistence to be allow'd by H.M. were the cheife if not the only inducements that prevail'd with him to propose to Col. Hunter to setle them upon his land, which is not in the best place for pinetrees...27
Because the immigrants were required to repay anything spent on them, and because the production of naval stores could not yet begin that year, the first winter technically placed the Palatines deeper in debt.
The majority of the German immigrants were of two religions: Lutheran and German Reformed. Even before the group left England, ministers were appointed for each group. Reverend Kochertal led the Lutheran congregation, while Reverend Johan Frederick Haeger led the Reformed church. Most likely, the Weidknecht's continued their association with the Reformed church (the church in Adelshofen was Reformed, and churches supported by the Weidknecht's later in New Jersey were also Reformed).
Walter Knittle records that bickering between the two congregations began almost immediately upon arrival.28 Without a more direct reference to his sources, it is impossible to determine the exact nature of the disputes. But I suspect that the problem was less a dispute between the Palatines than their ministers. Two factors could have caused this friction:
Reverend Haeger's records are lost, but records from Reverend Kochertal show the following Weidknecht references:30
The last recorded entry we have for Andreas comes in the subsistence lists for 24 December 1711. The following list of 25 March 1712 is for his widow, meaning that Andreas died within this 3 month period during the winter of 1711/1712.31
Even before the first winter ended, the immigrants became impatient. They had come to America with the promise of free land, where they could establish a better life for their families. Instead, they found themselves living as indentured servants, not even allowed to bake their own bread.32 When spring came, they wanted nothing more than to begin planting their crops on their promised 40 acres, but instead were forced to labor at making tar.
Becuase of their discontent, they began a campaign of silent protest, dragging their feet whenever they were required to work the trees for pitch-making. Governor Hunter commented that "there is no doing with that turbulent race of Men but by a strong hand and severe discipline, I have found all other measures ineffectual,"33 while Reverend Kocherthal commented "They will not listen to Tar making."34
This passive resistance was followed by more open acts of rebellion, at one point forcing Governor Hunter to bring in a small force of armed men to put down the rebellion. In the face of armed opposition, the Palatines quickly repented, but voiced their displeasure with their situation the following morning, stating:
They had rather lose their lives immediately than remain where they are, that they are cheated by the contract, it not being the same that was read to them in England, there they say it runs thus, that 7 years after they had had 40 acres a head given them they were to repay the Queen by hemp mast trees tarr and pitch or anything else, so that it may be no damage to any many in his family; upon these terms they will perform the contract, but to be forc'd by another contract to remain on these lands all their lives, and wor for H.M. for the ships' use, that they will never doe. What does it signify, they say, to promise them this land that they shall make pitch and tarr? They will be obedient to the Queen, but they will have the promise kept that Mr. Cast read to them in High Dutch in England and upon that land which was promised them ... They say likewise there are a great many things promised them, as clothin, household goods, working tools, which they desire to have. They say further their people dye for want of care, and proper remedys, and desire money to subsist themselves, and lastly yt. Mr. Cast told them he'd make them slaves...35
The troops go from village to village, ordering them to surrender their arms (which they do). Governor Hunter says of the Palatines:
It's hardly credible that men who reap so great a benefit as they doe by these people not only by the consumption of their provisions, but by the increase of strength should yet be so malicious to possess them with notions so injurious to themselves and prejudicial to H.M. interest, but yet it's so, and I believe almost the only cause of their present discontents. The land they live on is generally good, producing so great a crop, that those farmers and men of skill in husbandry, who are honest enough to wish success to these people's labours, wonder how they could be wrought upon to complain of it...36
Following the open rebellion, the Palatines seemed to cheerfully submit to their fate. But as they discontent returned, they resumed withholding their labor. Commented one immigrant over the campfire at night:
We came to America to establish our families--to secure lands for our children, on which they will be able to support themselves after we die. But that we cannot do here.37
The naval stores project was a complete failure. The discontent of the Palatines came from a misunderstanding of terms, along with poor provisions and a general lack of freedom. In addition, those entrusted in directing the work were totally ignorant and unskilled in producing tar. While later letters placed the blame mostly on the Palatines who were an "unskilful and unruly multitude,38 there was general disagreement between Governor Hunter and those directing the work as to how it was to be done. Representatives in England soon tired of the project, refusing to send money or even respond to requests for support.
Due to lack of funds to keep the project going, and already deep in debt, Governor Hunter began allowing the Palatines to work where they could to support themselves. On September 6, 1712, Governor Hunter officially abandoned the project, leaving most families to fend for themselves with the winter of 1712 approaching.39 The Palatines were informed that they must subsist themselves. They were allowed to go anywhere in New York or New Jersey, but had to get a ticket of leave and register their destination with the Governor so they could be called back at any time.40
Schoharie--The Promised Land
While the ships holding the Palatines lay anchored off the coast of Britain, a ship arrived from America carrying what were reputed to be the kings of the Iroquois nation. Their purpose was to convince the English to build forts along the Hudson to protect them from the French. During their visits, they reportedly promised to give the land of Schoharie in upper New York for "christian settlement."41
When Governor Hunter first arrived in New York, one of his first tasks was to locate land where the group could settle, land that had sufficient pine trees for producing pitch and tar. One of the areas they investigated at the time was the Schoharie. Deeming the land too far from civilization, threatened by the French, and lacking sufficient trees, he decided instead to settle on Livingston Manor.42
As their discontent between 1710 to 1712 grew, the Palatines consistently talked of the land at Schoharie that they deemed to have been promised them. Instead of the small gardens they tended in the rocky soil along the Hudson river, they dreamed of the rich farmland they had been promised. Why should they spend their time laboring to gather pitch, when their promised land lay just a few miles to the north?
As the naval stores project fell apart, a group set out immediately to settle the lands in the Schoharie. A delegation was sent to purchase lands from the indians. Philip Otterness writes:
The Germans later claimed that the Mohawks granted their request, "saying they had formarly given that said land to Queen Anne for them to possess, and that no body should hinder them of it, and they would assist them as farr as they were able."43
From a legal standpoint, the indians had little right to sell the land, having sold it at least three other times to various groups. And because they did not follow the provential law of the time, the English would not recognize their right to the lands either.44 Lacking clear title to their lands would prove to be a problem, but for the moment the group was pleased to finally settle on their promised lands.
By October of 1712, about 150 families left the settlements along the Hudson to go to Schoharie. Because of the lateness of the season, most spent the winter in Albany and Schenectady, with a group of about 50 families forging ahead to the Shoharie. Those in Albany and Schenectady lived off the generosity of the families living in the area, while those who went to Schoharie relied on the kindness of the indians.45 That winter was bad for both groups, but especially for those in Schoharie. One account records:
Upon the first settlement of this land the miserys thos poor and allmost famish'd Creatures underwent were incredible, and had it not been for the Charity of the Indians who shew'd them where to gather some eatable roots and herbs, must inevitably have perish'd every soul of them.46
With Margaret being a widow by this time, the Weidknecht's presumably passed the winter in either Albany or Schenectady.
By March of 1713, the remaining 100 families made the journey to the Schoharie:
In the same year in March, did the remainder of the people (tho' treated by the Governor as Pharao treated the Israelites) proceed on their Journey, and by God's Assistance, travell'd in fourtnight with sledges thro' the snow which there Cover'd the ground above 3 foot deep, Cold and hunger, Joyn'd their friends and Countrymen in the promis'd land of Schorie. 47
The settlers arrived in the valley without tools48 or firearms.49 They made crude tools from wood and branches, and soon learned to rely on each other--one borrowing a horse, another a cow, another a plow, and another a harness.50 In this way, they were able to plow the land and plant their first crops. But that first year was not an easy one. The indians taught them to eat wild potatoes and strawberries, and they received some shipments of supplies through the generosity of the Dutch church in New York. When food became scarce, they would make the 35-40 mile journey to Schenectady where they might get a bushel or two of flour on credit.51
Through hard work and time, the settlers began to flourish. The harvest of 1714 was great enough to almost meet their needs.52 By 1715, Governor Hunter reports that the group "subsist pretty comfortably for new beginners having been blest with very plentiful Crops."53 It's interesting how this group of "troublemakers" who could hardly be made to work at tar making had endured such hardships and to be prospering so well after a few short years on their own. Conrad Weiser, one of the leaders of the group records "Here the people lived for a few years without preacher, without government, generally in peace. Each one did what he thought was right."54
In 1717, Ulrich Simmendinger visited the area and compiled a list of Palatines that remained in the area. Margretha Weidknechtin appears in that list as a widow with two children living on "the Rarendantz"55 or the settlement of Kniskerndorf56, the northernmost of the Schoharie settlements.
Breakup of the Schoharie Settlements
The peace reported by Conrad Weiser was not to last. Disputes over the legal ownership of the land periodically arose. The German's response was one of disgust and sometimes violence, as they drove off all who pretended ownership of their lands. Within a few years, Governor Hunter granted legal title to the Schoharie lands to a group of investors, later to be known as the Seven Partners. The Seven Partners encouraged the settlers to sign on with them to obtain legal title to their lands, but the Palatines felt that the improvements they had made were not being properly valued.57
By 1717, Governor Hunter told them to either purchase their lands from the Seven Partners, or leave. They were commanded not to plow or plant until they had done so. When the promised surveyors never came, the Germans continued in their disobedience to Governor Hunter and plowed anyway.58 Dissatisfied, the group sent a delegation to England to plead their cause, the only result being that the new Governor of New York was ordered to find suitable, alternate lands for them to settle on.
Between 1718 and 1723, most of the 170 families and 580 individuals living in Schoharie moved to settlements in other areas, Pennsylvania, the Mohawk River (Stone Arabia), or southern New York and New Jersey.
The next documented reference we have for the Weidknechts comes on 16 August 1718 when Margretha married Niclas Hammeler. Both Maraget and her son Johannes were then living in New Jersey, in the Sourland Mountains region next to the Raritan valley at Neshanic (southwest of present-day Somerville New Jersey). Her son, Johannes, settled in this same area, while her oldest son, Pliechard (Blickert) settled near Morristown, New Jersey.
The German immigrants had come to America looking to "establish our families--to secure lands for our children, on which they will be able to support themselves after we die." Many of the first generation never did secure those lands, but they did make it possible for their children to have a different life. The Weidknecht family had lived for at least 250 years in the same small town in Germany. In a single generation, the family moved half-way across the world, endured harsh winters, famine, and other hardships, all in search of a better life. And while Andreas never lived to see this for his family, his sons and later descendants were to benefit from the efforts he made to secure them a better future.
For several years after arriving in America, the German immigrants celebrated immigration day in June, the day they landed in New York in America after what was for many a year-long journey from their homelands in the Palatine region of Germany.59 This year, in honor of my ancestor's arrival in America, I plan on celebrating immigration day and remembering the hardships they endured to make a better life for their families.