“my imprisonment in bern was one year, seven months and seven days:” rev. benedictus brackbill, jr.

“On January 12th, 1709, the Government of Bern sent seven soldiers, with an usher, early in the morning to my house.  It frightened us so that my wife and I tried to hide.  I hid myself under a hay-stack.  They searched my house all through.  At last they came around to the hay and thrust their swords into it; they soon discovered me.  Then I came out, and they seized me, and asked me my name, and if I was a preacher, which I willingly acknowledged.  They then took me into my room, where two ushers gave me a smart blow on the ear; they bound my hands behind my back and took me out of my house.  My children cried and wept so pitifully that a heart of stone, as the saying is, would have been melted.  But the soldiers were very glad they had caught me.  They took me thence to the town of Bern, with two other brothers, put us in to prison, and that during the very long cold winter.  There we lay bound.  When we wanted to be warm, we had to pay dear for the wood.  After six or seven days they brought me into another prison.  There they chained me with iron chains.  The government had given 100 thalers to the men who had caught me, which same money my people had to pay out of my own private means.  After two days they brought me again to the tower, placed me in a small cell, and chained me with an iron chain.  So I lay eighteen weeks long.  Then they took me with all the other prisoners to the Spital.  There we had to work carding wool from four o’clock in the morning till eight in the evening.  They fed us on bread and water, but did not let us suffer in any other way.  That lasted thirty-five weeks.  For the last ten weeks the work was easier.  The whole time of my imprisonment in Bern was one year, seven months and seven days.  That was in the forty-fourth year of my age.”1

So wrote Swiss Anabaptist preacher Reverend Benedicht BRACKBILL, Jr. (1665 Baden District, Aargau, Switzerland21720 Strasburg, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Colonial America2; buried Strasburg Mennonite Cemetery, Strasburg, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, United States of America2) in a 1710 letter written at the request of the Dutch Anabaptist Commission of Inquiry at Amsterdam.1

My relationship to the good reverend is either 7th great-grandniece or, 10th great-granddaughter; the waters are muddied and, there’s dissension out there in genealogy-research-land as to his wives & issue.

I’m a 10th great-granddaughter if, as numerous genealogy researchers maintain, Reverend Benedicht was indeed married to Verena MEISTER3 (1675 Switzerland–1723 Strasburg, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Colonial America; buried Mennonite Church Cemetery, Lime Valley, Lancaster, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA4in addition to the more-universally-agreed-upon Bishop Hans Herr’s daughter Maria Margaretha HERR (1663 Zürich, Switzerland–1725 Pequea, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Colonial America; burial location unknown); as, that particular Maria HERR is my 7th great-grandaunt (“8th great-aunt”) in her own right.

Memorial Marker For Rev. “Benedictus” Brackbill at Strasburg Mennonite Cemetery, Strasburg, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA. [NOTE: Do not confuse such as this with genealogical “proof” of spouses / children. Ask yourself, Who erected this marker? When? Wherefrom comes their data?]5

If the reverend’s alleged marriage to Verena is erroneous, however, I shall call him Uncle instead of Grandpa.  I’m good either way:  he’s a heroic fellow and I’m proud to include him in my ancestry as uncle or granddad.

To the muddy marriage waters:  Benedicht’s marriage to Verena is said to have yielded three4,6 children, Frances/Verena (1685–1756)4, Francis Meister (1695– )4 & Magdalena (1699– )4; OR, Magdalena (1702– )6, Ulrich (1703– )6 & Barbara (1707– )6; which is possible date-wise (Verena Meister’s “about 1675” birthdate could be fudged back a few years) but sort of begs belief, as, “everybody out there” pretty much agrees that Benedicht & Maria Herr were married in 17017 — and, Benedicht & Maria Herr’s first child, Maudlin, was born in 1702  Where then did Benedicht & Verena’s three children by Verena, the youngest only a toddler upon Benedicht’s 1701 marriage to Maria, disappear to??  Wouldn’t a first family dumped or otherwise “set aside” by, a well-known Anabaptist preacher be mentioned somewhere in histories of him?  (Wouldn’t this be highly frowned upon??)

According to “Janet and Robert Wolfe Genealogy,” “Records suggest that Benedict Brackbill, a Taufer (Anabaptist) of Trachselwald, was married to Verena Meister.  Archival records at stadtarchiv in Bern, Switzerland state that a Verena Meister, born about 1675, was the daughter of Ulrich Meister, perhaps [<- I would say, no doubt] the same person as Benedict Brackbill’s wife.”3  The Wolfe’s go on to note that, “Some have incorrectly named Maria Herr as the spouse of Benedict Brackbill, born 1665.3 [It should be noted here that the Wolfe’s also name Maria Herr as wife of Brackbill; they simply name both women as his wives.]  Verena Meister and Benedict Brechtbühl had children Magdalena, Ulrich, and Barbara.  Benedict Brechtbühl, of Trachselwald, Bern, Switzerland, came to America in 1717.”3

However:  the immigration record I have reads, “Primary Immigrant Brackbill, Benedicht;” “Arrival Year 1717; Arrival Place Pennsylvania; Family Members Wife Maria; Child Ulrich.”8

Wife, Maria, not wife, Verena. [Some get around this by saying Verena was aka Maria.]

The preceding, in conjunction with the following passage from the 1931 “Mennonites of Lancaster Conference,” by Martin G. Weaver3, leans me toward the conclusion that (this particular) Rev. Benedicht Brackbill is my “Uncle,” i.e., Verena must have married a different Benedict Brackbill:

“With Bishop Burkholder and Preacher Brenneman came another minister Benedict Brackbill whose wife was Maria Herr a daughter of Hans Herr.  They with one son Ulrich Brackbill and two daughters arrived at Philadelphia August 24 1717 after having been on the ocean twelve weeks.”3

So, for now?  I say if “the” Mennonite preacher Benedicht Brackbill married both Verena Meister and Maria Herr, prove it to me.  If he married Verena Meister and not Maria Herr at all, prove it to me.

Stay tuned.  (Good thing I love mysteries.)

1 “Historical Papers and Addresses of the Lancaster County Historical Society,” Volumes 4-7, Lancaster County Historical Society (Pa.), 1899; pages 41 & 42, at https://books.google.com/books?id=qBYVAAAAYAAJ&pg=RA2-PA41#v=onepage&q&f=false , accessed Mar., 2018.
2 Geni.com, the “Master Profile for Reverend Benedictus Brackbill,” at https://www.geni.com/people/Verena-Brackbill/6000000001788631887?through=6000000002317067670 at https://www.geni.com/people/Reverend-Benedictus-Brackbill/6000000002317067670?through=6000000001788631887#/tab/source , accessed Mar., 2018.
“Janet and Robert WOLFE Genealogy,” “Notes for Benedict Brechtbühl and Verena Meister,” at http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bobwolfe/gen/mn/m11541x20007.htm , accessed Mar., 2018. [I  l-i-k-e  the Wolfes’ site for the detailed source documentation they provide; it has turned me onto some “good stuff,” notwithstanding my not agreeing with all of the Wolfes’ conclusions.]
4 Geni.com, “Verena Brackbill,” at https://www.geni.com/people/Verena-Brackbill/6000000001788631887?through=6000000002317067670, accessed Mar., 2018.
5 FindAGrave.com, memorial number 80526383, for “Rev Benedictus M. ‘Benedict’ Brackbill,” at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/80526383 , accessed Mar., 20188.
6 “Janet and Robert WOLFE Genealogy,” “Verena Meister,” at http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bobwolfe/gen/person/g20007.htm , accessed Mar., 2018.
Genealogical record of Reverend Hans Herr and his direct lineal descendants : From his Birth A.D. 1639 to the present time containing the names, etc. of 13223 persons,
by Theodore W. Herr; publication date 1908, Lancaster, Pa.  Downloadable in numerous formats at Archive.org:  see https://archive.org/details/cu31924029842204 ; accessed Mar., 2018.
8 “U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s,” “Benedicht Brackbill,” Ancestry.com, at https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=7486&h=3035169&ssrc=pt&tid=79831532&pid=180191339064&usePUB=true , accessed Mar., 2018. “Original data: Filby, P. William, ed. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s. Farmington Hills, MI, USA: Gale Research, 2012.”


where there’s a will: unearthing my swiss mennonite heritage

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks, 2018; week 9 prompt:  Where There’s a Will.
Where There’s a Will:  Genealogy research piques my interest in history like nothing else:  it provides me the will to literally pore through the most otherwise “boring” material.

Bishop Hans HERR.  (Image, public domain.)

My present fascination?  The Swiss.  Specifically, the 16th-century period when Anabaptists were “rooted out” of Europe.

Where I previously thought I descended from just one Mennonite line — that of my 8th-Great-Gramp Bishop Hans HERR (either 16511, or, 1639,2 Switzerland–17253 Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Colony, America; buried Willow Street Mennonite Church Cemetery, Willow Street, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, United States of America4) — closer study reveals that I have in my ancestry a good number of interconnected Mennonite families.

I’ve only just begun to untangle all the connections, but the following helped me along greatly:

In an article in the October, 19195, National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Professor Oscar Kuhns wrote:

“From time to time single families and individuals had…sought refuge in the Palatinate, where Anabaptist communities had existed since 1527. In 1671, the first considerable emigration took place, when a party of seven hundred persons left their native land, and settled on the banks of the Rhine.5

“The movement…resulted in the settlement of Lancaster County [Pennsylvania],… … Of all [the Anabaptists’] doctrines, that of refusing to bear arms was the most obnoxious to the state, which depended on its citizens in times of aggression. It must be confessed that the Swiss Anabaptists were the most intractable of people. Exiled again and again, they persisted in returning to their native land.

“In 1711, however, the Mennonites of Berne were offered free transportation down the Rhine, permission to sell their property and to take their families with them, on condition, however, that they pledge themselves never to return to Switzerland. Their friends in Holland urged them to do this[*], and especially through the efforts of the Dutch ambassador in Switzerland, the exportation was finally carried out. About this time began the settlement of Lancaster County by Swiss Anabaptists, and undoubtedly many of the above were among them. …”
* [“The relations between the Anabaptists of Holland and Switzerland had always been close. The former had subscribed large sums of money to alleviate the sufferings of the exiled Swiss in the Palatinate, and a society had been formed for the purpose of affording systematic assistance to all their suffering fellow-believers.”]

In the archives of Amsterdam, we find a letter of thanks to Holland written by Martin Kundig, Hans Herr, Christian Herr, Martin Oberholtzer, Martin Meili and Jacob Muller. This letter was dated June 27, 1710, and states that they were about to start for the New World. October 23 of the same year, we find a patent for ten thousand acres of land on the Pequa Creek, Conostogue [sic; Conestoga, Pennsylvania] (later a part of Lancaster County, which was not organized till 1729) made out in the names of Hans Herr and Martin Kundig, who acted as agents for their countrymen. … Kundig and Herr seem to have been the leaders of this emigration.”5

Note, top of Quarterly page: ” ‘Without genealogy the study of history is lifeless.’ — John Fiske.” I couldn’t agree more… 🙂

Researching intensely for a couple of weeks, doing my best to accurately connect dots as I made a quick genealogy sketch of people connected to “my” Hans Herr, I then read Kuhn’s piece in the Quarterly again, the names in the 1710 letter now going ping ping ping in my head as I recognized one after another.

Martin KÜNDIG: aka KENDIG, it turned out (born about 1648 Switzerland–died 1725 Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Colony, America), is my 9th great-uncleson of my 9th great-grandfather John Jakob KENDIG, I (1620 Switzerland–1694 Switzerland) — and, husband of my 9th great-aunt Elizabeth (HERR) KENDIG (abt 1644 “of” Switzerland–abt 1674 Germany);

Hans HERR (1639 Switzerland–1725 Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Colony, America), of course, my 8th great-grandfather;

Christian HERR (1680 Switzerland–1749 Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Colony, America), my 7th great-granddaddy;

Martin OBERHOLTZER: I am still looking for direct connections there — I just haven’t found them yet;

Martin MEILI, I: aka MEYLIN (1665 Switzerland–1749 Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Colony, America), is the father-in-law of my 7th great-aunt Anna (HERR) MEYLIN (1711 Lancaster, Pennsylvania Colony, America–1787 Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA), daughter of my aforementioned 7th great-grandpapa Christian HERR; and,…

Jacob MÜLLER: I am pReTtTtY sure although not yet pOsItIvE that, he is Jakob MÜLLER (1663 Switzerland–1739 Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Colony, America) the father-in-law of my 1st cousin 8x removed Abraham HERR (1700 Switzerland–1785 Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Colonial America).

As I said, I’ve only just begun to unearth all my Swiss Mennonite ties, but I’m delighted with what I’ve thus far learned.  All these ancestors who stood up for religious freedom… Because this, boys & girls, is why we keep church & state separated in the U.S. of A.:  to thumb our nose at God, N-O — RATHER, to ENSURE that ALL citizens may WORSHIP AS they CHOOSE: no state-mandated churches.

Amen.  God bless.
1 “Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Mennonite Vital Records, 1750-2014,” “Hans Herr,” Ancestry.com, at both https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=60592&h=862303&ssrc=pt&tid=79831532&pid=34405383251&usePUB=true , &, https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=60592&h=862301&ssrc=pt&tid=79831532&pid=34405383251&usePUB=true , accessed Mar., 2018.
2 “Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1708-1985,” “Rev Hans Herr,” Ancestry.com, at https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=2451&h=2021866676&ssrc=pt&tid=79831532&pid=34405383251&usePUB=true , accessed Mar., 2018.
3 “North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000,” Ancestry.com, specifically, Genealogical record of Reverend Hans Herr and his direct lineal descendants : From his Birth A.D. 1639 to the present time containing the names, etc. of 13223 persons, by Theodore W. Herr, published 1908, at https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/61157/46155_b289964-00016?pid=1494511&backurl=https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv%3D1%26dbid%3D61157%26h%3D1494511%26ssrc%3Dpt%26tid%3D79831532%26pid%3D34405383251%26usePUB%3Dtrue&ssrc=pt&treeid=79831532&personid=34405383251&hintid=&usePUB=true&usePUBJs=true , accessed Mar., 2018.
4 FindAGrave.com, “Rev Hans Herr Jr,” memorial number 6812531, at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/6812531/hans-herr , accessed Mar., 2018.8.
5 “Switzerland Plays A Part In The Founding Of The American Nation,” Professor Oscar Kuhns, Middletown, Connecticut, in the October, 1919, “National Genealogical Society Quarterly,” Volume VIII, Number 3; pages 33-34.  Online at https://books.google.com/books?id=BgjTAAAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA35&lpg=RA1-PA35&dq=%22SWITZERLAND+PLAYS+A+PART+IN+THE+FOUNDING+OF+THE+AMERICAN+NATION%22+By+Prof.+Oscar+Kuhns,+Middletown&source=bl&ots=_mphAVAPFU&sig=KblpK34vjggL_KQbG7qgpkK0ZrA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjd_YOjr-_ZAhUV92MKHQIqDrQQ6AEILDAA#v=onepage&q=%22SWITZERLAND%20PLAYS%20A%20PART%20IN%20THE%20FOUNDING%20OF%20THE%20AMERICAN%20NATION%22%20By%20Prof.%20Oscar%20Kuhns%2C%20Middletown&f=false , accessed Mar., 2018.