My daughter-in-law Melissa Murphy Oliver has a 9th great-grandfather who was the first Amish bishop in America: Jacob “Jakob” Hertzler (1703-1786). An Amish bishop “is the head of the individual church district, and is responsible for administering discipline, ordaining new ministry, baptizing, and marrying new members.”
The last name of Hertzler is commonly associated with being German. However, the geographic area where Jacob was born (Baden-Württemberg) spoke a Swiss-German dialect. And, Baden-Württemberg is located near the boundaries of Switzerland, Germany, and France. Modern sources state Jacob Hertzler was born in Switzerland of Swiss parents. Jacob’s parents were probably Amish in that the history of the Amish church began in Switzerland. The beginning of the Amish church was a result of a schism within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists in 1693 led by Jakob Ammann whose followers became known as Amish.
Jacob married twice. The name of his first wife is unknown. After her death, he married Catherine Knegy/Ruegy (1713-1773) with whom he had three children. Jacob and his family moved from Switzerland to the Palatinate (a province in northeast France), sometimes referred to as the Rhineland Palatinate. You will note on the map that this area is not that far from his hometown of Baden-Württemberg.
After being in France for only a few years, the Hertzlers decided to leave France for America due to religious persecution. In 1749, the family booked passage on the ship “St. Andrew,” leaving from Rotterdam, Holland, stopping in Plymouth, England, and arriving at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 9 September 1749. The six-week trip would take place in a small wooden ship. The voyage would not have been easy or pleasant. A passenger on a similar ship in 1750 described the voyage as follows:
“During the voyage there is on board these ships terrible misery, stench, fumes, horror, vomiting,
many kinds of sickness, fever, dysentery, headache, heat,
constipation, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth rot, and the like, all of which come
from old and sharply-salted food and meat, also from very bad and foul water,
so that many die miserably.”
|1750s sailing ship - Google images|
Amazingly, Jacob and his family survived the trip; and, upon arrival in Philadelphia, they headed to Northkill Creek, northwest of Philadelphia. As early as 1740, the Amish had established a settlement in the Northkill Watershed area in eastern Pennsylvania. Having been ordained in Switzerland, Hertzler became this Amish community’s first pastor and bishop.
In 1750 Jacob purchased over 182 acres from Richard and Thomas Penn about 10 miles northeast of Northkill Creek. Over the years he purchased additional land, eventually having a tract of land of 404 acres and 4 perches (one perche = 5.5 yards). He cleared the timbered land, farmed, and named it Contentment. Today this property is located in Upper Berne Township in Berks County.
In 1757, an Indian massacre took place at Northkill Creek, and the town was abandoned. Many of the residents migrated to Lancaster, Mifflin, Somerset, and Union Counties, Pennsylvania. However, the Hertzlers, Jacob and Catherine stayed on their farm and eventually divided the land among their children.
An interesting side note about Jacob has to do with the “oath of allegiance.” When Jacob arrived in Philadelphia on September 9, 1749, he took the oath of allegiance (presumably to support the King of England, which was common at that time before the Revolution). An oath of allegiance is an oath where one acknowledges a duty of allegiance and swears loyalty to a monarch or a country. However, in 1778, he refused to take an oath of allegiance. Here is the text from Berks County court decision about his refusal to take the oath:
“Receive into your Custody the within Named who was brought before us to take and subscribe the oath or affirmation of allegiance and he did refuse and still refuse to take the same and safely keep for the space of three months from the day of the date hereof given under our hands and seals sixth day of July 1778. /s/ Charles Shoemaker, Justice
Jacob was fined 18 schillings and 4 pence. I have not been able to find out whether that oath was for Pennsylvania or for the “United Colonies.” Keep in mind, the United States of America did not officially exist until 21 June 1788.
|Sample 1770 Oath of Allegiance - Google image|
|Sample 1777 Oath of Allegiance - Google image|
Jacob and Catherine Hertzler are both buried in the Amish Congregation Burying Ground adjacent to what was his homestead. Though there are very old tombstones in the small cemetery, there are none for either Jacob or Catherine.
About seven miles east of the former Northkill Creek community, there are memorial markers/memorial to both the community and Jacob Hertzler. In fact, his original home, still stands today and is occupied. The marker by the homestead labels the spot as “Contentment.”
It is hoped that Jacob and his family, by emigrating to this country, did, indeed, find contentment.
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