My indentured servant ancestors

From time to time I’ve shared some of my genealogy findings. I’ve come across interesting tidbits of family history, some good and some of questionable reputation. I’ve always known I was primarily of German descent on both sides. My latest trip down the ancestry bunny hole revealed my 7th great-grandfather and his family were part of the Second Germanna Colony that came to America in 1717. They were made up mainly of Lutherans seeking to escape from the persecution of the French. The name, Germanna, was chosen by the governor of Virginia as a combination for both the German immigrants and the British Queen Anne.

Johannes “John” Breÿhel/Broyles was born in 1679 in a German town called Baden-Württemberg. He was the son of Conrad Breÿhel who was a farmer. Johannes had no intention of being a farmer, gave up his inheritance and set out on his own to the town of Ötisheim to become a weaver. It’s there he met the lovely Ursula Ruop, daughter of the local grave digger.

But, Johannes’ adventurous spirit kicked in again and soon he and Ursula, along with their children Hans Jacob (12), Conrad (8) and Elizabeth (1), joined a group of families making the voyage to the New World. They followed on the heels of another group of German immigrants that landed in Virginia in 1715. Although spelling of names tend to change in these historical records, the Johannes and Ursula Breÿhel of Ötisheim seem to be identical to John and Urseley Broyle of the Second Germanna Colony based on when they disappeared from records in Ötisheim in 1717 and appeared in the New World. 

Artist rendering

Writings indicate these German families contracted with one Captain Tarbett for passage to Pennsylvania. Their ship, the Scott, was due to set sail July 12, 1717 but the good captain gambled away their passage money and was put in debtor’s prison, leaving the passengers stranded in London on the ship until his release later that year. With their food supply running low, many starved and about fifty people, mostly children, died. After his release from prison, Tarbett set sail for America. Conveniently, he remembered he knew a British Lieutenant Governor, Alexander Spotswood, who was offering to pay the cost of the passage if passengers were brought to Virginia instead of Pennsylvania to work the iron mines in his colony. Captain Tarbett claimed his ship, the Scott, was blown off course and “accidentally” arrived in Virginia. He delivered his passengers to Spotswood and was paid. Unfortunately, all the passengers now had involuntarily become indentured servants even though they had paid for passage to Pennsylvania.

In 1724, my 7th great-grandfather and the rest of the group evidently had had enough and tried to escape. Spotswood filed suit in court against the group stating they had not repaid their debt and many of them ended up working another year.

In 1725 they were released and many of them moved to the Robinson River Valley in Virginia, near the foot of the Blue Mountains. Back then it was the edge of the frontier. Today it’s known as Madison County, Virginia.

After proving his importation nine years ago on the ship, Scott, Johannes and his son, Jacob were granted 400 acres and 50 acres, respectively. It looks like Johannes, despite his best efforts otherwise, may have become a farmer anyway.

Coincidently (if you believe in those things), my other 7th great-grandfather and his family ended up in the same area in 1719, and is also considered part of the Second Germanna Colony. His name was Johann Michäel Willheit and was also from Germany. He petitioned for land in 1728 and was granted 289 acres in the same river valley.

It ends up that Hans Jacob Broyle married Mary Fleishman and they had a daughter, Elizabeth. Johann Michäel Willheit married Anna Hengsteler and they had a son, Tobias. Tobias Willheit married Catherine Walke and they had a son, Conrad. Somewhere in the Robinson River Valley, Elizabeth Broyle met Conrad Willheit and five generations later my mother’s mother was born.

The Fort Germanna Memorial Garden is a tribute to these early pioneers. I appreciate the perseverance of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to an unknown destination under adverse conditions, enduring the hardship of being indentured servants for almost a decade, and displaying the frontier spirit needed to survive in a new world.

10 thoughts on “My indentured servant ancestors

  1. How cool you found all this out. I’ve no interest in finding out about my ancestors. It’s to much work, but I sure enjoy reading what others have found out about their families.

    Have a fabulous day and weekend, my friend. ♥

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Learned some pieces I didn’t know! I remember hearing that the captain sailed to NY and sold off all of their possessions. I can’t imagine how you would select only the most precious memory keepsakes just to lose your freedom and tangible reminders of home! Talk about starting over… so respect their persevering backbone! Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 2 people

  3. WOW Lisa, this is all so interesting! Isn’t it fascinating you know your ancestry? It makes you feel connected to your roots. I love the marker you shared with his name on it. That’s so cool!

    I once had a blogging friend who lived in France and studied genealogy. She would periodically email me information she discovered about my ancestry through her investigation. And I was blown away by the names she sent me because she was so accurate about my great-grandparents names from Italy.

    I will sometimes watch (on YouTube) a program entitled, “Who Do You Think You Are?”, which takes people (primarily celebrities) on a journey in finding their ancestry. It’s very moving.

    Thanks so much for sharing, my friend. I’ve never been to Germany, however, it’s a country that I’ve always wanted to visit. For some reason, I’m very attracted to the city of Berlin and it’s history.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Fascinating family history, Lisa! I remember you mentioned that we have German heritage in common. 🙂 The spelling of names often got altered when immigrants came to North America, it seems. That was a nasty trick the captain played on the passengers!

    Liked by 1 person

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