It is glaringly obvious that our great country is no longer great. Studying our history and genealogy, one sees how that, although minor corruption has been part of all societal growth, our colonial ancestors were by and large fair, open-minded, community oriented people who were able to make significant progress by agreeing, compromising, and even nixing terms of issues, from those facing the family unit to those facing the Nation. Radical behaviorists were confronted, held accountable, and properly handled. Sadly, this is no longer the case. Now the inmates run the asylum, permitting entitled, racist, misogynistic bigots to lead our country, our states, our churches, our businesses, and our communities. And those who called this out and had solutions, were subsequently silenced, from Abraham Lincoln and Elijah Lovejoy to John Stephens and George Lee to JFK and MLK and most recently to Marc Angelucci and Helen Hill.
Certainly I’m not ignorant to the oppression and atrocities done to Native Americans, African Americans, and all the ethnic and religious clashes amongst Europeans. They were hideous, but strides were taken, people changed and adapted. Since then, of course, there has been the occasional errant ancestor who was on the opposite side of right. But this was the exception, and he or she was confronted and compromises offered. Freedom of religion, elimination of the monarchy, legislated emancipation, equal women’s rights, Native and African reparations had been successful—notice the past tense had. Demons were confronted, both individual and societal, and by the 20th century common healthy goals were attained regardless of the differences of individuals.
But in this day and age, much has changed. We’ve done a 180. Extreme rightists and leftists are problematic. We’ve polarized and are hiding behind social media, closing minds and hearts that were once open. We allow profiling and bullying, we allow mass shootings and human brutality, we allow extortion and corruption. We allowed January 6th! Sadly, we cheer for it. But just as we permit these abominations, we can also shift the imperative and take back what America once held high—a safe, free environment with ample opportunity for all.
How can it be certain that the ancestral past was, through all its ups and downs, on a general path of well-being. Well, here is a short list of folks who shaped early America, with the most fair, honest, and equal means available. None of these folks had to do what they did, but they saw the larger scope, the community, and dedicated themselves to bettering themselves and their neighborhood, and ultimately bettering mankind.
First are the abolitionists, white kin who stepped up against slavery, including the Updegroves, who signed abolitionist legislation in 1688, the Kolb and Rittenhouse families who assisted with abolitionist movements, Sallie Oberlander of the Women’s Antislavery Coalition as well as the Knerr, Layman, Livesay, and Neal Families and numerous others. But it was a monumental battle against the twisted colonial leaders who promoted slavery. Additionally the Swedish and Fin immigrants worked with the Natives for a peaceful century before subsequent greedy and unethical Europeans undid the initial goodwill that led to mass killings and relocations of tribes.
The following are Union Civil War Soldiers, who fought against the ravishes of the slave south. Men such as Andrew G. Hensel, Daniel Updegrove, Elijah Anderson, Michael Keefer, and Michael Layman sacrificed their health and time with their family, to secure African-American rights. Although these five men survived the war effort, many of the ancestors died during this struggle.
The US Civil War wasn’t the only military action these early settlers saw. Corporal John Thornton, Sergeants Frank Row, Michael Garman, and Jacob Servis, and fifty other ancestors stood up against the imperialistic monarch that was Great British during the American Revolution. In 1812, four Native tribes and the European men including Andrew W Hensel, Joseph Workman, and John Gipe would once against halt the British monarchy from stifling the freedom being sought As recently as WWII, African-Americans Ed Mazo, Percy Forsyth, and Robert Forsythe, would enlist to protect against the atrocities of Hitler and Mussolini.
Some of the earliest to escape persecution in Europe included these colonial pioneers of the early 1600’s. Abraham Wybrant, Nathaniel Bonnell, Joseph Phipps, Thomas Woodyer, and Jacques Cossart would make the treacherous voyage across the Atlantic and work together to build a New World, free of religious discrimination. English, Dutch, French, Swedish, German and many other ethnicities would often come together and formed cohesive, successful villages and eventually cities in the Colonies.
Impactful women such as African trailblazers Rainey Brown and Rebecca Thompson, and colonial European women including early land-owner Sarah Shoemaker, Eleanor Culin, Gertrude Nilsson, Brita Justis, Susan Whitehead, Maycke van Ness, Sarah Cabel, Margaret Paules, Brita Bonde, as well as Inn owner and community leader Margaret Gale Thornton. Some of the most forgiving and open-minded folks include the most recently emancipated ancestors, who just four generations ago, were still under slavery’s bond. They are determined and head-strong Annie Shateen, Ned Mason, Peter Thompson, and Ranie Brown, who worked with other family and neighbors to raise families and secure occupations.
Furthermore, there are the “faithful people of God” of most colonists were, but these forebearers brought together a diverse neighborhood of immigrants, for survival, community, love, and caring. Lutheran, Mennonite, Presbyterian, and other ministers including Conrad Bucher, George Bager, Lucas Raus, Georg Bachmann, Martin Kolb, Alexander Mack, James Anderson, Nicolas Rittenhouse, William Rettinghaus, and Hans Herr lead inclusive congregations throughout the Colonies. These forward thinkers shared a common belief in equality for all and accepted those from other sects and spread help, love and peace throughout their communities.
Lastly, there are the following ancestors, who helped people of all kinds—men, women, German, English, Quaker, Lutheran, young, old, Loyalists, Revolutionists—putting aside their biases and judgements and working together for the benefit of the community. Such leaders as Scottish-American entrepreneur Alexander Thompson, Sunbury Chief Burgess Henry Bucher, Jersey Surveyor Samuel Green, and mentioned previously Lucas Raus, a Hungarian-born Doctor, minister, and coroner. Other pioneers included John Houlston, a William Penn Welcome Claimant; Thomas Wynne, a physician for William Penn; Isaac Whitehead, a Colonial Military Captain, judge and coroner; and Peter Braun, a ‘Hessian’ Loyalist Soldier & eventual hauler for President Washington after the Revolution.
In addition, there are numerous Notable Places, named for antecedents whose families selflessly gave their time and effort to better the world. Places in Lancaster and what is now Dauphin and Lebanon county, contain five towns named by ancestors: Waterford now Marietta and Anderson Ferry that were settled by James Anderson, Schoeneck from the George Schoeneck family, Bachmanville, and Enders. Additionally in the area are the Isaac LeFevre House, Christian Lehman Homestead, and the Herr Homestead, the latter of which holds the oldest surviving dwelling in Lancaster. Nearby the villages of Heilmandale and Bordnersville were settled by Adam Heilman and Balzer Bordner, and the St. Johns Quittaphilla and Tabor Reformed churches were founded by Conrad Bucher. Finally, there is Koons Park, the Henry Meiser Homestead, the Romberger-Stoever House, Wirth’s Salem Lutheran Church and Fort Zeller, erected by Heinrich Zeller and friends.
In Berks and Schuylkill, there is the town of Sheridan settled by Alexander Thompson, Kistler Creek named after the John Kistler family, as well as the Jacob Hottenstein Mansion and the Stub-Gruber House, overseen by Martin Stupp and Heinrich Gruber. The Christ Lutheran Church was founded by the Brossman family and the St. Johns Reeds Church, developed by Michael and Casper Reed, round out the county.
To the north-west, in Northumberland and what would become Union and Snyder Counties, there are numerous many place names such as Zerbe Township, Keefer’s Station, Reed’s Station, Deibler’s Gap & Dam, Kelly Crossroads and Township, and Herrold’s Island and Run, named for the Servis, Keefer, Reed, Deibler, Kelly and Herrold families. To the south in York and Adams County, the village Jacobus named for Jacob Geiselman, and three churches founded by kin: St. Lukes Stahleys Church (Lucas Raus), St. Johns Blymire Church (Peter Bleymeier), and Old St. Michael Conewago Church (George Bager).
Philadelphia and its environs host a plethora of family place names, including Wynnewood & other communities in area named for Thomas Wynne, Pennypacker Mills from the Henry Pennebecker family, Shoemakertown now Elkins Park settled by Sarah & son George Shoemaker, and Rittenhouse Square and Boon’s Island, each named, respectively, for William Rettinghaus and Anders Bonde. Historic homesteads in the area comprise the Deilman Kolb Homestead, the Thomas Livezey House (also Livesey Street & Livezey Lane), the Morton Homestead, and the Liberty Lot, built by Thomas Wynne, mentioned above, the very first brick house built in the Colonies. There are two surviving Inns that were run by ancestors, the Gable House overseen by Killian Gaugler and Philip Gable, and the Half Moon Inn owned by Joseph and Margaret Thornton.
East and north across the Delaware in Jersey, lies Flemington and The Fleming House, settled by Samuel Fleming, and three homesteads, The Edward Andrews House in Egg Harbor, the Nathaniel Bonnell House, the oldest surviving home in the town of Elizabeth, and the Melius-Bentley House, located in what is now Mt. Ross, New York.
So the point of this is not to show how notable these ancestors were—they were far from perfect and made mistakes along the way—but it’s to show what investment and hard work went into bridging racial, gender and religious differences to create a safe, free environment and ample opportunity for all. Living Americans can learn from their mistakes—and OUR mistakes—avoiding them and progressing even further. It also stands to show that it happened before, it can happen again. But the change starts with within each of us and our families, into our communities and to the elected officials—opening our minds and hearts to our neighbors and creating a better, safer world.