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A Brief History of the Windemuth Family
By Mike Wintermute
Part 1: Life in Germany Prior to Emigrating to America
Part 2: The Lives of our Ancestral Women
Part 3: The Lives of our Ancestral Men
Part 1: Life in Germany Prior to Emigrating to America
Life was hard; war, extremely cold weather, starvation, pestilence and plagues were all part of daily life.
Johannes Windemuth and his wife Beata raised their family in Allendorf, Hesse-Kassel during the second half of the 17th century. Johannes was originally from the small community of Weidenhausen, four miles south of Allendorf.
Their son, Johan Christoph, his wife Mary M. and their children lived in Pfungstadt, Hesse-Darmnstadt, 120 miles, southwest of Allendorf in the early 18th century.
Margaret E. Bernhardten, wife of Johann Georg Windemuth, and her family lived in Kerzenheim, 15 miles southwest of Worms in Rhenish Baveria, before emigrating to America.
The towns were small and rural; Allendorf was the largest with perhaps 1,000 residents, while Pfungstadt, Kerzenheim and Weidenhausen each had populations of a hundred or so.
Founded in the 8th and 9th centuries, these towns were well established by the 1600s. Constructed of exposed timber, houses were substantial and comfortable. Many are still standing today. Our ancestors probably lived in relative comfort using fire places for heat.
The “Medieval Warm Period” occurred between the 9th and 14th centuries. Abundant crops led to a threefold increase in population. During the 14th century the weather turned cold and it was no longer possible to feed the large population. Many died of starvation and disease.
The cold weather, known as the “Mini Ice Age”, continued into the 19th century. The winter of 1709 was so long that farm land in central Germany remained frozen in April.
The Thirty Years War started in 1618 over religious issues. It rapidly expanded into a major free-for-all as the Roman Empire fought to regain control over northern Europe.
Armies from throughout Europe roamed central Germany in bands of 10-12 thousand. Living off the land, they used torture and cruelty to forcibly take food and livestock from the local residents.
Nearly half of the population of central Germany died, most from starvation. Towns were burned, some completely destroyed.
Even after a peace treaty ended the war in 1648, poor diet, disease and plague continued to afflict the population.
Johannes Windemuth and his wife Beata were born during this war and were teenagers when it ended. Two of their three children died as toddlers during the 1670s. Johannes was a wagon maker, member of the Guild and probably lived a middle class life.
His only surviving child, Johan Christoph was born in 1676 and orphaned at the age of 18. He later became a member of the Tailors Guild and married Mary M. in Pfungstadt in 1702. They had five children, two of whom died before by age three. Mary M. died in 1717, when their youngest son was 6 years old. Johan C. was remarried within the year to Anne E. Wambold. The family emigrated to America between 1731 and 1737.
Margaret E. Bernhardten was born in 1721 in Kerzenheim, in Rhenish Bavaria. She, along with her father John P., mother, and sister began their emigration to America in 1736. After spending a year in England, they arrived in Philadelphia in 1737 where the third daughter was born.
The life experiences of the Bernhardt family in Kerzenheim were similar to those of our Hessen ancestors during this period. Then in 1688, the Nine Years War started.
French King Louis XIV invaded Rhenish Bavaria, also known as the Lower Palatine. The King claimed the Palatinate as the rightful inheritance of his daughter-in-law, even though she had no legitimate claim. Germany and the Roman Empire allied and forced the French army to withdraw.
King Louis XIV ordered his army to destroy and burn everything as they withdrew from the Palatinate. People were given 3-days notice to evacuate before their villages were destroyed. Thousands were left destitute without homes, shelter or food and were forced to beg on the streets of Europe to survive.
The people of the Lower Palatine began a mass immigration to America in 1709. Queen Anne of England, out of compassion, provided passage, refugee camps in England and land grants in Pennsylvania for the German Palatines. The immigration continued into the 1730s as tens of thousands of Palatines, joined by Germans from other regions, emigrated to North America.
The Windemuths and Bernhardtens remained in Germany until the 1730s. Life for these families must have been acceptably comfortable or they would have emigrated sooner.
Life did improve in Germany after each of these two wars and people were able to accumulate some wealth. A few were able to sell their assets before emigrating in the 1730s.
Perhaps our ancestors were this fortunate. Except for G. Philip Windemuth who settled in Pennsylvania, the Windemuths and Bernhardtens did not receive land grants and both families purchased land in America after they arrived.
Part 2: The Lives of our Ancestral Women
Though information is sketchy, we will explore the lives of our maternal ancestors. We know that they faced cold winters, disease and pestilence. Many of their offspring died at a young age.
Through it all, they nurtured their children and shaped their family’s persona. We can never know how much of their influence was passed down through the generations, perhaps more than we suspect.
Johannes Windemuth’s wife, Beata Ludolsin, was born in 1635 and died in 1693. Allendorf church records indicate she had three children: Anna Katherine, b. 1668, d. 1670; Susanna, b. 1673, d. 1674 and Johann Christoph, b. April 3, 1676.
Beata’s surname Ludolsin is a bit of a mystery since it is not found anywhere else. The Allendorf church records were more than 200 years old when the translation was made and it is possible the old German script was misinterpreted. The construction of the name and the transcribed spelling may provide clues to help us with this puzzle.
Since the feminine suffix, “en”, was commonly used with family names during that period, perhaps the “in” suffix should have been transcribed as an “en” making the name “Ludols”.
The name Ludols is, once again, not associated with any other known German name.
The old German script “s”, is similar to the character “f”, except for a small diagonal tic. Perhaps the tic degraded with age and the transcription of “s”, should have been “f” making the name Ludolf, a real name that dates back to 8th century German royalty.
The name Ludolf of royal origin was taken as a family name by many people during the medieval period. Based on what we know, we are much more likely to be descendants of a family that assumed the name Ludolf, than descendants from royalty.
It is reasonable to assume that Beata and Johannes lived near one another. During the 30 years war (1618 to 1648), there was a Pastor Lorenz Ludolf in the village of Reichensachsen. Pastor Ludolf is remembered for his writing about the severity of the atrocities being endured by the people of the Werra Valley. Reichensachsen is less than 4 miles from Weidenhausen, the home of Johannes.
Pastor Ludolf was of the right age to be Beata’s father or uncle. This leads me to believe that Beata may have been part of the Ludolf family living in Reichensachsen.
We don’t know when Beata and Johannes moved to Allendorf. The records of the Allendorf church first mention them in connection with the birth of Anne Katherine in 1668. It is possible that other children may have been born (and died) in a neighboring town before they arrived .
Beata was 33 when Anna Katherine was born. This seems old for the birth of a first child in the 17th century. We have found an Anna Maria Windemuth, b. 1662, d. 1727, in Wahlhausen, located 2 kilometers West of Allendorf. We can only speculate if this may be a daughter born earlier.
Maria Margarethe Kleppinger:
Johann Christoph, the son of Johannes and Beata relocated to Pfungstadt, Hesse-Darmstadt and married Maria Margarethe Kleppinger on January 4, 1702. The Kleppinger family had lived in Pfungstadt for many generations.
Maria, born about 1680, gave birth to five children; Anna Elizabeth b. 1703; Georg Philip b. 1705; Anna Maria b. 1708, d. 1711; Johann Heinrich b. 1709, d. 1710 and Johann Georg, b. May 11, 1711.
The eleven month period, from the middle of 1710 into 1711, was a tragic time for the family with the death of two of their children. Johann Georg was born just nine days before the death of his sister, Anna Maria. Maria Margarethe died in January 1718, at the age of 38, leaving her children age 14, 12 and 6. Within the year, Johann Christoph married Anna Elizabeth Wambold, also a native of Pfungstadt. Anna Elizabeth was 24 and Johann 42 when they married.
Anna and Johann had no children of their own, but she raised and nurtured his three surviving children. Anna immigrated to America in 1736 with Johann Christoph and his son, Johann Georg. She died in Pennsylvania in 1746 at the age of 52.
The Windemuths were a close family and settled near each other. Anna and Johann lived in Pennsylvania near Johann’s oldest son Georg Philip and within visiting distance of the other children. Anna Elizabeth, her husband Johannes Schnauber and Johann Georg, lived about 25 miles away, near Stillwater, New Jersey.
Margaret Elizabeth Bernhardt:
Margaret Elizabeth was born in Kerzenheim, Germany, in 1721. The town is located at the base of the Donnersberg, about 15 miles west of Worms in the region known as The Lower Palantate, Rhenish Bavarian. Margaret Elizabeth was the oldest of three sisters. The middle sister was born in Kerzenheim and the youngest was born in England during their family’s emigration to America.
Margaret Elizabeth’s mother died soon after the family arrived in America. Her father, sister and her sister’s husband Casper Scheaffer were among the first to settle in Stillwater. Several years later, she married Johann Georg Windemuth and they settled near the Bernhardts and Scheaffers in Stillwater. The Bernhardts , like the Windemuths, were a close family.
The German women of our past played an important role in developing the strength and character of their families. Perhaps the strongest testament to them comes from the lives of their children after emigration. Their children loved each other and wanted to live near by and share their lives. The Windemuth and Bernhardt children demonstrated great strength of character and rugged constitutions. They were, after all, tough enough to succeed in the wilderness of Eastern Pennsylvania and North Western New Jersey.
Part 3: The Lives of our Ancestral Men
Our oldest known ancestor, Johannes Windemuth, lived in Allendorf on the Werra River. Though his exact date of birth is unknown, it is believed to have been about 1624. He died on December 27, 1694.
Born during the Thirty-Years War, 1618-1648, Johannes and his family survived while nearly two-thirds of the population of Germany died. Some were battle field fatalities but most perished as the result of starvation caused when foraging armies pilfered and destroyed crops and farm animals. The landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel, where Allendorf is located, was trampled by roaming armies from Sweden, Spain and elsewhere. With the exception of two stone buildings, the town of Allendorf was completely destroyed by Croatian soldiers in 1637.
Heinz Conti-Windemuth, a German genealogist, wrote that the oldest reference to the Windemuth name was in a feudal tenure letter (probably a lease or promissory note) from the Germerode Monastery for property near Frankers-hausen. Heinz also mentioned that the oldest known locations where Windemuths lived were in towns on the Meissner, near Allendorf and Weidenhausen.
Men of the early Windemuth families performed a variety of jobs. A few were shepherds, some labored in the local coal, salt and mineral mines, others were teamsters that hauled freight. Heinz indicates that several were farmers and property managers for the feudal families, others were professional soldiers in the Hessen-Kassel army and two were mayors of small towns.
Johannes was reported to have been a wagon maker. Since the Bad-Sooden Allendorf area was home to a very large Teamster Guild, wagon making was probably a very profitable trade. Even so, the family faced the continuing prospect of starvation and disease caused by the war and the extremely cold winters of that time. Two of his daughters died as toddlers.
Under the feudal system, residents of the landgraviate had to pay substantial taxes. During the Thirty-Years War, the population of the area dropped by more than half, but the taxes for the area remained the same. This meant that the taxes every individual had to pay more than doubled. Wagon makers with good incomes would have certainly carried a heavy tax burden. The landgrave took the tax money, provided few services and virtually nothing in the way of defense against the invading armies.
Johannes’ wife Beata died in September of 1693 at the age of 58. Johannes married a second wife, Elisabeth Wager, in May of 1694, just a few months before his death in December of that year. Johan Christoph, the youngest child, is the only known survivor of that family.
Johan Christoph married Maria Margarethe Kleppinger in Pfungstadt during January of 1702. We have no record of how or when he came to Pfungstadt which is more that 100 miles from Allendorf, a very long journey at that time. Perhaps he came with help from his extended family, his God parents, or perhaps he ventured there on his own.
Pfungstadt is near Darmstadt where reportedly there was a large Tailors Guild. Johan Christoph was a tailor and perhaps went to Darmstadt to serve his apprenticeship.
Johan Christoph and his family lived during the era of the “mini-ice-age”. Growing seasons were short, limiting food production. The resulting poor diets often lead to starvation, disease and death. Two of their five children died as infants or toddlers within an eleven month period and his wife Maria Margarethe died at the age of 38.
Johan Christoph married his second wife, Anna Elizabeth Wambold, within a year. He was 42 years old and she was 24. His three surviving children at the time of this marriage were Anna Elizabeth (14), Georg Philip aged (12), and Johann Georg (6) .
In spite of the continuing long and cold winters the family gradually saw better times and a period of relative peace as the children grew to be adults.
Anna Elizabeth married Johannes Schnauber in 1722. Georg Philip emigrated to America in 1732 followed by Johan Christoph, his wife Anna and Johann Georg in 1736. Anna Elizabeth, and her husband Johannes Schnauber (later changed to Snover), a master miller, emigrated in 1737. Johannes Snover was likely the source of milling expertise that resulted in the construction of several mills in and around Stillwater, New Jersey.
After arriving in America, Johann Georg Windemuth married Margaret Elizabeth Bernhardt. We have little information about the Bernhardt family before they emigrated to the New Jersey area. We do know that Margaret and her father, Johan Peter Bernhardt were born in Kirzenheim, Germany located in Rhenish Bavaria, the Lower Palatinate. This area of Germany suffered greatly during the Thirty-Years War and again in the late 17th century when the armies of King Louis IV, virtually destroyed every town.
Johan Peter Bernhardt and his son-in-law Casper Sheaffer were the first of our relatives to settle in Stillwater, New Jersey. Eventually, Johan Peter’s daughters with their husbands (including Johann Georg Windemuth), all joined their father in Stillwater.
About the author: Michael A. Wintermute’s international travels over the past 35 years has afforded him the opportunity to visit and explore Pfungstadt and Allendorf, the German towns from which our ancestors emigrated.
Mike can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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