Weiser Family History
The Weisers in Germany
It was a hot sunny day, and the fields were full waiting for the upcoming harvest. They were happy for the cool breeze that was coming through the small forest to northeast of their farmhouse. Philipp was securing the last of their belongings to their wagon. They had carefully gathered all things they thought they would need to survive in North American.
Philipp had even acquired 100 white linen shirts. All were settled in and ready to go. They had said goodbye to their sturdy long house, their barn and fields. Their neighbors had come out to bid them farewell. He had avidly tried to talk Philipp into allowing his two oldest children to stay behind. They were good companions with his children and he feared that they would become lonely up there on the hill without them. Especially since the next nearest farmhouse was a good hours walk away. They could hear the sheep in the distance and for a short moment Philipp felt the guilty feeling come up again. He was well known for his sheep in the area.
He had worked hard since he came to Bornheim around 15 years ago. He had built up a large heard of sheep, which he kept on his not to humble estate high up on the hill above Bornheim in the Canton of Alzey. His relationship with his Lord was good, mostly for the good work he did administering the Lords Forest.
Unfortunately it had become impossible to stay. Since the French had been driven out of the land during the "Liberation Wars" in 1813, the improvements promised by the German princes and dukes were being repealed piece by piece. Philipp had survived the meager harvest in 1818 and the rat plague of 1822 /23. Due to the improved agricultural knowledge and better education in general, such hardships were sure to become less frequent. What bothered him more, as it did several in the region, was the political climate.
Philipp grew up with the French revolution. He was barely 7 as it came into full swing and lived for about 15 years under French rule and fought in the Grand French Army under Napoleon. He had come to believe in the principles of the Revolution and wanted to see freedom and equal advantages of republican institutions come to his country. He had hoped after Napoleon's defeat that the German Princes would uphold their promises make democratic reforms.
This did not occur, although the land where he lived had already been liberalized by the French, and the Grand Duke of Hessen, who had received the lands during the negotiations at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, had promised not to undo any of these changes. The Grand Duke was, as were most of the other German princes, just waiting until the hold on their thrones became secure again. Once securely back in control, they conveniently forgot any promises for more democracy and began to repeal any concessions they had already made. Just 15 miles north of Bornheim, the Prussians had set up a police headquarters in the fortress of Mainz, who were to seek out and put down any "subversive" activities. The Grand Duke had already started to censure the press again. Just 3 years ago he dissolved the provincial assembly and divided the province into several circuits, whose administrators were apointed by the Duke himself. An outrage! Now the Duke wanted to conscript his son Nicholas! Philipp himself had served under Napoleon und seen the horrors of war. There was no way he was going to let his son sacrifice his life for a lying and repressive ruler.
No it was time to leave.
He looked at his family, his wife, mother-in-law and his 7 children. He gave the signal and Horses began to move down the road and into the woods. The stopped one more time to look back at their farm and proceeded to move down the hill to Bornheim and then To Alzey and beyond until they reached America.
In the year 1838, Johann Philipp Weiser gathered his family and, like so many other Germans families during that time, left their fatherland and came to the New World. As his descendant, I have always been interested in learning more about him, his family and his life before he came to America. During my stay in Germany, which started in the summer of 1993, I have attempted to uncover the legacy of this family as they lived in Germany, and I have indeed been able to learn quite a bit of the story. There is still much more to be found, but here is what I have found so far:
Johann Philipp Weiser (hereafter referred to as Philipp) was a forester, farmer and sheepherder in what is now Southwest Germany at the beginning of the 19th century. On May 12, 1782, he was born to Johann Jacob Weiser and Anna Barbara Emt (or Emden) in the town of Erbes-Büdesheim in the canton of Alzey. His mother Barbara, 21 at the time, came from Erbes-Büdesheim; his father, though, was from Oberwiesen about 4.5 miles to the southwest, where he was born on April 1, 1760 to Johann Michael and Anne Barbara Weiser.
I found no records of Johann Michael being born in Oberwiesen, although the church records go back much further than 1760, so I assume that the Weisers moved to Oberwiesen sometime before 1748, when their 1st son was born, or at least the first record of a Weiser in Oberwiesen. Johann Michael and Anna Barbara had 6 sons and 1 daughter in Oberwiesen.
Oberwiesen is a very small town in a valley surrounded by tall hills covered with trees. The biggest town closest to it is Kirchheimbolanden. It has even today only just over 500 inhabitants. Until recently two families with the name Weiser lived in the town (Willi Weiser and Philipp Weiser). As my father and I visited the village after Christmas last year, we by chance ran into the widow of Willi Weiser. She told us, that the house she was living in had belonged to the Weisers since about the late 1700s. It is a big one-story white house almost in the center of town on the main street with a big courtyard and a big barn. I have not been able to trace our family to the Weisers living in Oberwiesen now, but considering the size of the town and the lack of any other Weisers in the area, I would say the chances are very good that were are remotely related.
Johann Jacob Weiser, the youngest son of Johann Michael Weiser probably lived in Oberwiesen all of his life. Birth, marriage and death records were found there, plus the birth records of his 6 other children (other than Johann Philipp, who was born in Erbes-Büdesheim). He had 4 sons and 3 daughters, the youngest being born in July 1798. Jacob and his wife Barbara seemed to be a little to impatient about having children and were penalized by the church, who could not overlook that their marriage was just 3 months before the birth of their first son Johann Philipp Weiser, which they made a note of in his birth record.
At the time of Philipp's birth Germany was known as the Holy Roman Empire, German Nation. This was not a state like we know them today. It was a very loose confederation of principalities and other practically sovereign rulers. The strongest rulers were known as Electors (Ger. Kurfürsten), who had the privilege of electing the Holy Roman Kaiser or Emperor. Oberwiesen lay within the boundaries or in the vicinity of the Kurpfalz or the Electorate of Palatinate which had become united with German duchy of Bavaria in 1777 when the last Bavarian Duke passed away.
France though had contested the region for centuries claiming that the natural eastern border of France was the Rhine River. Several failed campaigns by the French had ravished the area and brought about much destruction. Because of this destruction many inhabitants emigrated, especially to Pennsylvania. Then, just seven years after Philipp had been born, the French revolution broke out casting a menacing shadow over the region because three years later, as Philipp was ten, the armies of Europe marched into his homeland to wage war against the new French Republic. The French emerged victorious, and occupied the land west of the Rhine once again; this time bringing their newly established institutions and philosophy of democracy to the region. Most important for the inhabitants of the region, Serfdom and Feudalism were abolished. Unfortunately after the French officially made this region a part of France in 1801, it would suffer under the yoke of French administrators and its young men were forced to fight under Napoleon's various campaign all over Europe, reaching as far as Russia. I have found nothing about Philipp's life from this time, but because he was almost twenty in 1801, I assume he and his brothers spent at least some of the next six years fighting in the French Army.
Also at this time his future wife, Maria Magdelena Grümber, was born (September 24, 1802) in Weinhem just west of Alzey. Interesting is that her mother was not married at the time of her birth and no mention of the father can be found in the birth records. Moreover, Maria's mother, Elisabetha Margaretha Lahr retained her maiden name up to her death, signifying that she never married. At the time of Maria's birth her mother was 25 years old. The name Grümber actually does not appear until Maria's marriage to Philipp and I have found no explanation for this appearance.
Philipp and Maria Magdelene were married in 1819 in Weinheim. Sometime between their marriage and the birth of their third son Johann (John) in 1828 they had moved to their farm near Bornheim. By this time the Napoleon had been defeated and exiled to a small Island in the Atlantic. The land conquered by the French in Germany was then divided up between the remaining principalities. Prussia, who had put up a lot of troops to defeat Napoleon claimed much land in Western Germany taking land away from some of the smaller principalities. As compensation the land where Philipp was living was given to the Grand Duchy of Hessen and was eventually renamed Rheinhessen. The town where his parents lived though remained in the Pfalz or the Palatinate, whose ruler now resided in Bavaria and the Pfalz was only considered one of the Bavarian districts. Basically speaking he and his family were now living in two different countries.
Another important change that came about after the defeat of Napoleon was that in order to motivate the German folk to fight against Napoleon, the German princes had promise their subjects a constitution and basic rights such as freedom and equality. At first they honored their promises. In 1820, the Grand Duke Ludwig II gave his subjects a constitution and a parliament. The Duke also promised to not reverse any of the achievements that came the area now called Rheinhessen under the French. It was not long though until the dukes, kings and other nobility felt their thrones secure enough that they no longer needed the support of their subjects and promptly forgot their promises to bring more liberty to their lands. What liberal reforms had been made were slowly but surely revoked and a secret Prussian police force was headquartered in Mainz to seek out and underpin any hint of rebellion or insurrection. Censures were reinstated and fledgling newspapers critical to the regimes were coerced into changing their tune or removed from circulation.
In Rheinhessen the provincial government, which represented the province in the capital of Hessen-Darmstadt was dissolved and replaced by circuit governments, which could exercise the will of the Grand Duke over his subjects. This sparked a huge outcry from the inhabitants of Rheinhessen, who had never really considered themselves a part of Hessen.
Philipp Weiser, his wife and children experienced these events on their farm just above Bornheim. They lived on a high hill surrounded by fields and within walking distance of a nice little forest and vineyards. They had a long house, a stall, barn and a little shed; they also owned several fields mostly used for crops and one large meadow presumably where they kept their sheep. They had one neighbor, who lived directly next door, the Kramers. According to the Information collected by Dorothy J. Ellis in The Weiser Family Forest the house was "long, thick walled, standing high, very old was still in good condition." They kept and sold many sheep. In addition to this Philipp was also a caretaker of a large hunting estate and his children Nicolas and Margaret were good friends with the children of the owner of this estate enjoying the good education that these children had. If they were neighbors with this family, as it has been stated in some letters, then this family would have been the Kramers. Proof of this, though, has not yet been found. Furthermore, I have no evidence that the head of this family was a baron as has also been mentioned. When I traveled back to the spot last year none of the buildings were left, only fields.
There is no real documentation as to why Philipp and his family left Germany to go to the United States. The letters collected by Dorothy Ellis provide the most insight. Here it is stated that the Weisers came to the states so that their oldest son Nicolas would not have to serve in the Grand Duke'sa rmy. Another letter she quotes states that Philipp had become unhappy with the "monarchial spirit of the German (or Hessian, the Author) government" and decided to immegrate to America in order to "enjoy the freedom and equal advantages of republican institutions." Considering the history of the region both are quite real reasons. The fact that the entire German Confederation (What is now Germany and Austria) erupted into open revolution against the German nobility in 1848 trying to bring about republican changes in a unified Germany shows how present in the minds of the German subjects the ideals of liberty and freedom were at that time.
In any case on August 20, 1838 Philipp and his family received permission to leave for the United States, which he did. He took his wife, all of his seven children and even his mother-in-law. His own parents living in Oberwiesen did not make the trip with him. Both his father and mother were 78/79 at the time. His father died one year later. His mother lived until 1844.