1800 – 1888
Relationship to Fawn: 4th great-grandmother
By Richard Gwynallen
Most of us whose families have been Americans for several generations have had families of different ethnic or national origin marrying together. Even more so the longer one’s family has been here. Yet, we may not be aware of some of these national origins.
I grew up with the understanding that our family was derived from Irish, Welsh, Scottish, and French lines, and that they all combined in North Carolina. I grew up in a definite cultural context, filled with Irish, Welsh, and Southern history and stories. In fourth grade in Japan a friend and and I were discussing our families. I said that I was Irish, Welsh, and North Carolinian. I suppose I thought being an “American” was just assumed.
When I ran across Catherine Houpe I found a German line that I knew nothing about. Nowhere in my family stories or my cultural understanding, was anything German. If asked as a child (or up until this discovery for that matter) if I had any German background I would have certainly said no. Yet, Catherine Houpe was my 3rd great-grandmother – not that far in the past considering Celtic and Southern memories. Given how important family stories are in my family, it seems likely that my grandmother would have said something about us having German ancestry. Unless, of course, she didn’t know because the family was not being described like that in the generation or two preceding her.
It brought to mind for me the more publicized stories emerging from the rising interests in DNA tests. These are the stories where someone discovers a part of their genetic make-up they never knew was there, or was dismayed to find an absence or much lower number of genetic markers from the nations that were part of their understood ethnic origins. Some are the stuff of commercials, such as the gentleman who grew up understanding his ethnic background as German, but after a DNA tests reveals no German genetic markers but a preponderance of Scottish markers puts away his lederhosen and dons a kilt. In North America stories abound of people discovering Native American genetic markers. Or the woman in the United States who grew up Irish only to find that she had significant Ashkenazi Jewish genetic markers, which started her on a search that led to the discovery her father was Jewish.
Blood [or genes] and culture. Is one more important than the other in shaping our ethnicity? What makes us who we are?
I once read an article written by a fellow who was born and raised in a Scottish Highland community in Canada. He lived as a Scottish Highlander, and even more specifically as a MacDonald. Yet, when the different clan associations started DNA projects he found out that not only did he not have MacDonald ancestry he was actually mostly English by blood. He wrote about his own thinking as to what that meant to him. It seems his family had at some time in the past emigrated to Canada and ended up living among Scottish Highlanders. Over the generations they became culturally the same as their community. Though he found out his genetic make-up was more English than Scottish he decided that what he had become culturally was more determinate.
My Bondurant family arrived here from France in the 18th century. Over the generations they intermarried with families of other cultures, but their recognition of that French origin has persisted and defined significantly how they view the family. As I began my search to learn more about my ancestry I discovered that my mother’s Bondurant line was filled with Scottish and English lines. In their case, there was a break between the generation of my mother and her siblings with her mother’s Richardson family, which resulted in little knowledge of her mother’s family to pass on to us. Consequently, we and they grew up only with an understanding of the French Bondurant heritage.
Here in the immigration of the Haupt/Houpe family we have a story in which one family assimilated into a different cultural community, ultimately the memory of their national origins being forgotten. Through generations of intermarriage they were a new people.
This essay explores both the Haupt/Houpe immigration story and this question of how identity is shaped.
The Houpe Story
The Houpe family originates in Windesheim, Bad Kreuznacher Landkreis, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany, or the Palatinate, in southwest Germany, where the family name was Haupt.
Johann Nicolaus Haupt was the son of Johann Nicolaus Haupt and Anna Elisabeth Geiß/Geiss. Johann Nicolaus (the son) was the immigrant ancestor of our Catherine Houpe. It’s believed that he made two trips to the Pennsylvania Colony. The first was after marrying his first wife, Maria Magdalena Caesar, in June 1746. Maria died not long after the marriage. The second was after a return trip to Germany, where he married Anna Schweiss from Badenheim, Germany on 28 November 1747. Returning to the homeland to secure a marriage was not uncommon among some 18th century immigrants. Our Bondurant ancestor, Jean Pierre Bondurant, returned to France for the same reason. The second trip resulted in Johann Nicolaus’ permanent settlement in Pennsylvania.
He arrived in Philadelphia on the ship Edinburgh, where he signed the declaration of oath on 30 September 1754, together with his cousin, Joann Samuel Haupt, his sister, Maria Catharina Haupt, and his younger brother, Johannes Haupt.
Some record the ship he arrived on as the Loyal Judith, but the below signatures seem to indicate it was the Edinburgh.And the Edinburgh is included on the plaque at the cemetery where the immigrant ancestors are buried.
Between 1683 and 1776, around 120,000 German-speaking immigrants (“Auswanderungs”) arrived in the American Colonies, with about 100,000 of those arriving between 1708 – 1760. Between 1727 and 1776, a total of 324 ships arrived at Philadelphia carrying some 65,000 German passengers.
The Palatinate (“Der Pfalz” in German) was an area of very significant emigration during this time. This exodus from southwest Germany was known as “Massenauswanderung der Pfälzer”. The chief port of entry for German immigrants was Philadelphia. From Philadelphia they spread into the countryside in search of land. So, our ancestors were part of a large wave of German immigration coming through Philadelphia.
The Palatinate includes the lands west of the middle part of the Rhine river (Rheinland-Pfalz). In the 1600s, it also included much of northwestern Bavaria, Schwabia, and Baden-Wurttemburg. The de facto capital of the Palatinate at that time was Heidelberg.
Why did they leave?
The 30 Years War of 1619 to 1648 resulted in serious impacts upon the people of the Palatinate. Caught between the warring French and German armies their land and economy was devastated.
The 30 Years War ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, stimulated in part by the less-than-peaceful sacking of Prague by Queen Cristina of Sweden to kill two birds with one stone – acquisition of the historical and artistic treasures of Prague, and demonstrating to the German states the necessity for peace. People started doing what all people do after a disaster. They began rebuilding. Farms returned to producing. people built new houses.. Under The Palatinate elector Karl Ludwig, some religious tolerance existed allowing Catholics and a range of Protestant groupings, including the Mennonites to co-exist.
But that period of peace was short-lived. In 1674 – 1675 war between France and Holland brought destruction again to the Palatinate. Poverty, sickness, and starvation finally drove them to begin leaving in the first wave of emigration in 1683. At this time, religious strife renewed with Lutherans and Reformed (essentially Calvinist) churches were in conflict, a conflict that became violent. The flood of emigration kept going for 80 years as war continued to interrupt any peace these people might have enjoyed.
Throughout the Nine Years War (1688–97) and the War of Spanish Succession (1701–14), recurrent invasions by the French Army devastated southwest Germany. Except for four years of relative peace there was almost continuous war between 1684 and 1713. The depredations of the French Army and the destruction of numerous cities created economic hardship for the inhabitants of the region.
The social hierarchy of German society exacerbated the economic problems. Social status was determined by the size of farmland and amount of personal property. People with little or no property, particularly in the form of farmland, found themselves at the bottom of the class structure. These were frequently the sons and daughters of farmers who were not entitled to inherit the farm. The number of people in such a predicament increased after the destruction of the Thirty Years War, and never fully abated, being reinforced by the series of wars over the 80 years following. Such individuals had to work as day laborers or seasonal workers, or as house servants. Many created home businesses, such as engaging in weaving.
The hard economic conditions were made even worse by a rash of harsh winters and poor harvests that created famine in Germany and much of northwest Europe. The particularly severe winter of 1709 seemed to spur another wave of emigration.
Throughout the nearly 100 years of the “Massenauswanderung der Pfälzer” the most common reasons cited for departure in the surviving emigrants’ petitions for departure registered in the Palatinate were “impoverishment and lack of economic prospects”.
Some found refuge in the Netherlands. Others of the “Völkwanderung” migrated to England, Eastern Europe, South Africa, and Australia. Still others, in large numbers, headed to America. They packed up, floated down the Rhine to Rotterdam in the thousands, and embarked for England, ultimately taking ships to America. England could not absorb the numbers and the promises of free land in North America drew them across the ocean.
Farming in 18th century Palatinate Germany
Fortunately, it is not necessary to go to Germany to see what a typical farm in the Palatinate might have looked like. The Frontier Museum in Staunton, Virginia has one. The farm dates to the late 17th Century and came from the Palatinate region. The photographs below are of the German Farm exhibit at the Frontier Museum.
The construction of typical German farm dwellings varied, but the following were common characteristics.
The floor plan combined the family’s living quarters and the living quarters of the animals. The families rooms were at one end of the building and usually included: one or more sleeping rooms (kammer) and one or more sitting rooms (stube) depending on the size of the dwelling. An open kitchen dining area (flett) was in front of the “living” rooms and ran the width of the building. A cooking hearth was at the center of the “flett”. Unlike other European cooking hearths, the German cooking hearth was raised, allowing the cook to work at the hearth without bending low and capable of storing firewood underneath it. Smoke escaped through the roof without benefit of a chimney, drying the hay which was stored in the loft above.
At the front of the building were the animals stalls and the “Deele” (or Diele). It was formed by the space between animal stalls on either side. This was the largest area in the building and was entered from the outside by large doors.
The deele was used for threshing grain, breaking flax, gathering the harvest, and other labors
The Germany farm house would have felt very different to our modern sensibilities. It would have smelled of a mix scents, animal and human certainly, but also tobacco drying in the rafters, meats curing in the rafters, hay, smoke, and cooking.
The farmed land was divided into narrow, undivided strips. The system rendered parts of the holding less accessible. A natural consequence was disputes when cattle from one farm would enter and eat from the unharvested crops of another farm.
Most farmers were not owners of their own land. The land belonged to wealthy land owners, and the cultivator of the land held the tenancy of the land at the pleasure of the landowner. The farmer may have been more prosperous and had terms much like tenant farmers of today. Or, the farmer may have essentially been a serf, with no or few personal freedoms. For instance, he could not marry without consent of his lord, he could not leave the land on his own will, and he could not but or sell land.
Those who were put in charge of land and a working farm, including any serfs on the land if it was a larger holding were able to pass it on as heritable property, but without the right to sell it, and with the understanding that the successor would ensure the same care and yield as the previous user did. The farmland could be divided among all heirs or be given to the oldest or youngest son while other brothers and sisters received monetary compensations. If a farmer had no heir, the manorial lord took back the property and gave it to another farmer.
Essentially, it was a feudal order with most of the population being peasants.
Still, before the Thirty Years’ war the peasants had a fairly comfortable life for peasants. They had substantial material possessions, and excess produce and livestock to survive lean years. The Palatinate was well traveled because of the waterways traversing the land. Reports by travelers built the reputation of farmers in the Palatinate for being excellent farmers and highly industrious.
Peasant life in Germany seems to have affected the character of the German farmer in Pennsylvania. In German Agriculture in Colonial Pennsylvania, John G. Gagliardo writes: “Centuries of peasant tradition in Germany encouraged an attitude of thrift, which one contemporary observer regarded as approaching the point of avarice, and the Germans depended upon members of the family for all types of work.”
While men tended to work in the field, the women worked in the dairy and at spinning and weaving. However, come harvest time the women joined the men in the fields.
Though field work was seldom hired out, the presence of house servants were a sign of a farmstead’s increasing prosperity. House servants were frequently indentured servants, or “redemptioners”, as the Germans called them.
The First Generation Born in the American Colonies
Johann Nicolaus Haupt and Anna Schweiss had a son named Sebastian. He and his wife Catherine (Morrison was probably her surname), would leave Pennsylvania, migrating down the Great Wagon Road in the mid – late 1770s to a part of Iredell County, North Carolina that would become Rowan County. Two of their sons, Valentine and Anthony, migrated into southwest Virginia. Valentine would continue on into Tennessee while Anthony would move to Indiana. They would maintain the “Houpt” spelling.
The Family in North Carolina
Sebastian and Catherine’s other sons, Jacob Haupt and John Morrison Haupt, would remain in Iredell County on the family’s tract of land. They would change the spelling of their name to “Houpe.”
Here is the point of this essay. Why did we never know there was a German family line? If Catherine’s family name was Morrison, the German family had already intermarried with a Scottish family. Many of the family followed suit marrying Scottish, Ulster Scots, and Irish spouses.
Sebastian and Catherine’s son Jacob (our ancestor) married Eleanor Reid Watt. Their son Valentine also married a Watts.
Our own Catherine Houpe, daughter of Jacob and Eleanor, married Robert Boyd.
Jacob and Eleanor’s son, Abner, married Dovie Catherine Adams.
Jacob and Eleanor’s other son, Franklin, married Della Nicholson.
Sebastian and Catherine’s son, John Morrison, married Sarah Gallaher.
John Morrison and Sarah’s son, James Franklin Wright Houpe married Margaret Stevenson.
The list could go on, but I’m sure the reader gets the point. The family was marrying into Ulster Scots, Scottish, and Irish families. There were German farms and communities in the western Piedmont to which the Houpe family could have remained attached. If a connection to one of those German settlements existed it must have fallen aside in the first couple of generations as the graves of Houpe descendants start appearing in Presbyterian burying grounds.
In Pennsylvania, the Haupt/Houpt family was buried in, and, presumably, participated in Lutheran churches.
The first generation in the American Colonies began intermarrying with Scottish families, but in Pennsylvania they remained connected to the German community.
In North Carolina, the family predominately married Scottish and Irish spouses in the well known Ulster Scots and Irish settlements in Iredell County, and are buried in Presbyterian church cemeteries.
In North Carolina the German immigrant family seems to have made the transition to living in a distinctly Scottish and Irish community. By the time we get to Catherine Houpe and Robert Boyd’s daughter, Nancy Angeline Boyd, my 2nd great grandmother, Nancy was only about 12.5% German. Most likely her descendants simply did not think of themselves as German. The Houpe name would have been known. Did they know it was German? “Hope” is a name found in Scotland as well. Did they assume a Scottish background for the name? All speculation, but it’s possible that by the time Nancy Angeline Boyd married John Murdock in 1867 and began their family, which included my great-grandmother, Minnie Murdock, the memory of a German ancestry had faded. Otherwise, it would have passed on to my grandmother, whose family stories filled my early teen years.
Does this discovery of a German family line matter?
On the one hand, yes, it broadened and deepened our knowledge of the various tributaries that came together to form our family. As to how I think about myself culturally, not so much.
Our genes dictate certain things about us. Even with the progressive muddying of our genetic waters as our people move about and intermarry, a gene will determine the color of our eyes, as an example. We inherit much genetically. However, ethnicity is not a trait derived from a single gene. Rather, ethnicity is mostly our perception of a collection of traits, and our lived experience, including our understanding of our inherited culture.
Kim Tallbear from the University of Alberta and author of Native American DNA, puts it this way: “We [Native nations] construct belonging and citizenship in ways that do not consider these genetic ancestry tests. So it’s not just a matter of what you claim, but it’s a matter of who claims you.”
Tallbear’s point about belonging stood out for me. Belonging to a particular people or community means some attachment to the life of that people through shared beliefs, cultural practices, and actions regarding the needs of that people.
Referring to rising interest in DNA tests revealing unknown Native American genetic connections, the anthropologist, Charles Menzies, from the University of British Columbia put in practical terms: “At the very least, it’s nice that people find that kind of ancient genetic history interesting and positive, but now we need to put our money where the mouths are.” In other words, meaningful ethnicity comes from belonging and the actions that put you in connection with a living cultural or ethnic community.
It was a fascinating and fresh find on the family tree, and it enriched my understanding of the paths of my family’s wanderings, but I don’t think lederhosen are in my future. It does, however, make me wonder what else lies deep down there in the roots of our family tree.
The History of the German Immigration to America; The Brobst Chronicles
German Agriculture in Colonial Pennsylvania; John G. Gagliardo
Frontier Culture Museum, Staunton, Virginia
Rhineland-Palatinate – Encyclopædia Britannica
Sorry, that DNA test doesn’t make you Indigenous, CBC Radio, includes Kim Tallbear and Charles Menzies