XII: The Wise Guys
When I first began researching my family tree,
I felt that there were some lines that would be difficult, but that the
Wises should be relatively easy because my father had passed on some
information that should have been easy to trace. However, that wasn’t
to be. The Wises have turned out to be the most difficult line of all,
and the information I got from my father didn’t turn out to be
true. My father once told me that the uncle of his grandfather, Henry
Wise, was once governor of Virginia. There was a Henry Alexander Wise
who was governor of Virginia in the 1850’s. He was the governor
who turned down the appeal of John Brown and was therefore responsible
for sending him to the gallows. He also became a general in the Confederate
Army during the Civil War and it was he who commanded the Confederate
troops in the Kanawha Valley just across the Ohio River from Gallipolis.
However, a collective effort by some Wise descendants has
finally clarified what was a confusing situation and it has finally been
proven pretty conclusively that there was no connection to the family
of Gov. Henry Alexander Wise. The reason why this connection was ever
claimed is a mystery, although I have a theory.
The Wise family moved from
York County, Pennsylvania to Belmont County, Ohio between 1810 and 1817.
My great grandfather, Henry Wise, moved from Belmont County to Gallia
County, Ohio about 1840. In 1880 there was a notorious murder case tried
in Lebanon, Pennsylvania in which five of six defendants were convicted
and hanged. This was the famous case of the Blue-Eyed Six. A group of
men took out a ten thousand dollar life insurance policy on an old man,
and then drowned him so they could collect. One of the convicted men
was named Henry Wise. By this time it had been over sixty years since
our Wise family had left eastern Pennsylvania and had probably lost contact
with relatives who still lived there. In fact there had been a Henry
Wise (my great-grandfather’s uncle)
and his family left behind in York County. However, I have done the genealogy
on the Henry Wise who was hanged and found that he is not related to
our family. I suspect, however, that the family living in Ohio in 1880
probably didn’t know this and probably tried to adopt Gov. Henry
Alexander Wise’s family in an attempt to dissociate themselves
from the condemned Henry Wise.
The Blue-Eyed Six trial had been a world
wide sensation. It was the O. J. Simpson case of its day. It was carried
in the national and international press. The cemetery where Henry Wise
was buried eventually became known as a hotspot of paranormal activity
and was renowned in the parapsychology world. Even today a play reenacting
the event is presented at a college in the nearby community of Hershey,
Pennsylvania. This could have been very intimidating for a family to
contend with in the 1880’s. Society
was often not tolerant of families tainted with scandal. Who you could
do business with and who you could socialize with, or even who you could
marry could be negatively influenced by this type of scandal.
Four brothers (Jacob, John, George and Samuel)136 and one sister (Catherine) in the Wise family moved from eastern Pennsylvania to Ohio in the early 1800’s. The oldest brother, Henry, stayed behind in York County. The claim of being related to the Henry Alexander Wise family was limited to just the descendants of John and Samuel and this belief still exists in these lines today. By the time I started to seriously research our family tree in the 1990’s there were just vague hints that there had been a serious scandal involving a relative but no real specifics. In a few instances it was given as a reason why no one had been interested in pursuing the family history.
know that our Wise line extends back to 1721 in Lustadt, Germany. Lustadt
is in the Palatinate about twenty miles or so southwest of Mannheim.
It was probably one of the twenty-three towns that Elector Philip in
Mannheim could see burning when he looked from the city’s walls
during the French invasion of 1685. From 1685 until the Wise's emigrated in 1738 this area was crossed repeatedly by foraging armies as France and various European nations fought over control of this territory. It was from this area that most of the Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in America originated. From 1721 to 1736 the baptismal records
in Lustadt list eight children born to Johann Georg and Anna Catharina Weiss.
Two of these children subsequently died in Germany. There may possibly be another child for whom there are no records.
There are anecdotal stories
obtained from two completely different sources that another son, George,
may have been born at sea during their immigration to America.
There are no church records prior to 1708 that have survived, probably having been destroyed during the French invasion of 1707. The records
from 1708 until 1720 were kept in the neighboring town of Zeiskam, and
those records have been damaged and are for the most part illegible, so
essentially the records in Lustadt start in 1720. The Zeiskam records
do show one Weiss baptism that was legible, a Joh. Jacob Weiss born to
a Georg and Anna Maria Weiss in 1716. Between 1729 and 1742 the Lustadt
records show five children born to Andreas and Anna Margaretha Weiss,
and later in America after Johann Georg died in 1743, his probate records
(in 1746) have an Andres (Andrew), along with the other adult sons as
witnesses and so Andres or Andreas might have been another relative,
possibly a younger brother to Johann Georg, but there are no Andreas
Weiss's who show up on passenger lists between 1742 and 1746. There was a twenty-two year old Andrews Wise (probably Anglicized on the Captain’s list) who came to America on the Adventurer in 1732. That places his birth date at about 1710 and he could possibly be a younger brother to Georg. The birth would have been recorded in the Zeiskam records that are now illegible. However, there is no proof one way or the other.
The family emigrated from Germany in the year 1738.
[see pedigree chart] This was a particularly tragic year for Palatine immigrants. An epidemic
(possibly typhus) started in the camps around Rotterdam in the spring and
raged in the camps and on the ships heading to America all during the rest
of that year. An unexpectedly large number of German emigrants had assembled in Rotterdam and there was a last minute scramble to assemble enough ships. The Weiss family was among those that left very late in the season. The family became separated during the journey. Johan Georg, the father, is on the passenger list for the Davy. The oldest son, Christoph, is on the passenger list for the Friendship. He is the only family member mentioned. He was seventeen years old and the only male old enough to appear on the list. There were eighty-seven men, (sixteen and over), and 195 women and children. The Friendship arrived in Philadelphia on September 20. Many of the passengers were ill and the ship's captain was fined because he had allowed passengers ashore before they were examined. Seven days later the men were marched to the courthouse to take the oath of allegience. The family then had to wait for one more month before the arrival of Johan Georg on the Davy.
On October 26, 1738, Benjamin Franklin’s
newspaper, the Gazette, reported “Sunday last arrived
at Phila. the ship Davy from Holland; the captain, both mates
and 160 Palatines died on the passage, and the carpenter brought the
ship in.” There were seventy-four men and forty-seven women passengers still alive. There were no children. Only forty of the men were well enough to walk to the courthouse for the oath. The hardship experienced by the family on both ships was horrendous. The family started out from Lustadt with both parents, and six children. Only four children show up on the American records. A fifth, a son George born at sea, is not well documented in the early Pennsylvania records but he may be the George Wise who appears later in York County, Pennsylvania. He would likely have not shown up in family lore if he had not survived. So likely there were two daughters who died during the journey. There are no American records found for the mother, Catharina, either, but she would certainly have survived the voyage because of the lore that a son was born and survived the voyage. Under these circumstances it would have been virtually impossible for a newborn to survive without a mother to nurse him.
The family settled
in what is now western Montgomery County, just outside the city of Philadelphia.
The father, Georg, died about 1743. There are no American records for his
wife Catharina. There are American records for four of the children. George,
the son allegedly born at sea, has not been researched. The children with
American records were Christopher, Erhard, Carl and Elizabeth and there are current
present day descendants of all four who have done genealogical research on their
respective lines. From the late 1740’s
there are many entries for the family in the records of the New Goshenhoppen
Our ancestor is Erhard. He was married to Susannah
Huth and although there is no record of the marriage, there is a record
of the birth of their oldest child, our ancestor Philip, in 1748. Interestingly,
sister, Elizabeth, married Susannah’s brother Philip Huth. Susannah
Huth’s parents, Johannes and Maria Anna (Sähm) Huth, had emigrated
from the town of Eppingen (which is only about ten miles west of Massenbach,
where the Bickels had lived) and had arrived on the William and Sarah in
1727. They were part of a group of settlers who had been brought to America
by a well known Reformed minister, George Michael Weiss, who was not
related to our Weiss family. The William and Sarah was the first
ship bringing Palatine immigrants to America for which a passenger list
was required. The
Huths were the first of our Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors to arrive in
America and they were among the very earliest settlers in Montgomery
County and there is a report that some members of their family were killed
by Indians. Erhard and Susannah subsequently had eight children. They
lived out their lives in Upper Marlborough and Upper Hanover Townships
near the New Goshenhoppen church.
Erhard died in 1777. This was exactly one month before the Revolutionary Army under its commander, General George Washington met defeat at the Battle of Brandywine Creek about thirty miles south of where the Wises lived. Initially the Revolutionary Army retreated to the area around the New Goshenhoppen Church in the exact area where the Wises lived. The church was temporarily converted into a hospital where the wounded from the battle were treated. For years farmers in the area reported turning up the remains of discarded limbs thought to be the remains of amputations carried out here. Because Philadelphia was now in danger of falling to the British, the treasury of the Constitutional Congress was also moved here and reportedly hidden under the floorboards of the church. The Revolutionary Army eventually retreated to Valley Forge which is about twelve miles southeast of the Wise farm. How the family was affected by this isn’t known, but they certainly lived in the area which would have been prime foraging territory for the army at Valley Forge during the famous winter of 1777-78.
Our ancestor Philip would have been about twenty-nine years old at this time. Although there is no surviving family lore about this there are surviving pay records in the Pennsylvania Archives that are suggestive that some of the extended Wise family, including Philip, may have served in the Continental Army. However, there were other Weiss and Wise families living in the immediate area around Philadelphia and the pay records leave no indication of the family connections of these men.
Philip, the eldest
son, had married Anna Maria Margaretha Schmidt (subsequently known as Mary
Smith) in 1776. Mary’s
parents, Johann Henrich and Eliza (Bossart) Schmidt had emigrated in
1733 on the ship Hope from
the town of Ittlingen, just seven miles north of Eppingen where the Huths
When he died, Erhard left about two-hundred acres
of land and this was obtained by Philip by buying out the equity of his
seven siblings and providing his mother, Susannah, with her dower, which
was determined at sixteen pounds ten shillings per year.
The Weiss and Schmidt families
were apparently very close, and there subsequently were marriages between
three Weiss siblings and three Schmidt siblings. Philip’s brother,
Jacob married Mary’s sister,
Elizabeth. Mary’s brother, Jacob, married Philip’s sister,
Elizabeth. (It must have been confusing at family gatherings.)
of 1784, Philip and Mary sold this land. In 1785 they purchased land
in Upper Oxford Township in western Chester County. New Goshenhoppen
baptismal records list two sons, Henry and Jacob, and one daughter, Catharine,
born before the move. Our ancestor, John, was probably born in Chester County.
(The birth date was written on his tombstone in Ohio). There is no other
record of his birth and there are no German Reformed churches in the vicinity
of Upper Oxford Township. The nearest German Reformed church would have been
Zion Reformed in New Providence, Pennsylvania, about fifteen miles away in Lancaster
County, and those records do not contain any reference to this family. The early German Reformed Church in America struggled to obtain and retain clergy, and often they worked in cooperation with the like minded Calvinist Presbyterians. Oxford Presbyterian Church was nearby to where they lived in Chester County and later in Ohio the family had become Presbyterian. We could then surmise that they probably attended this church in Chester County. Unfortunately the church records there for the years 1775-1839 were destroyed by fire. The absence of this
record is one of the factors that has made settling the question of the connection
to the Henry Alexander Wise family difficult to solve.
In 1792 there is a baptismal record for another
son, George, in the records of Strehli Reformed Church in Chanceford
Township in York County. It is not known if the family was living there
or just visiting, although the family is listed in the Chanceford Township,
York County 1790 census. Philip did not buy any land in York County until
1798 and the land in Chester County wasn’t sold until 1802. There
was a George Wise living in Chanceford Township during this period. He is listed as one of the founders of Strehli's Church in 1785. He died in 1803 and left a will in which the beneficiaries were his wife, Christiana, and some grandchildren. This is almost certainly the George who was born at sea during the immigration in 1738. He would have been sixty-five years old at the time of his death. The only other individual named George in the extended Wise family at this time, was Erhard's son, George, who was born in 1768, and he would have been too young to have had multiple grandchildren by 1803.
There is another son, Samuel,
born in 1797. Here again there is no baptismal or birth record and the birth
date is found written on his tombstone, and is also corroborated by census
records. There is another possible son, Joseph, born after this. This would
have been after the 1800 census was taken. (Mary would have been forty-two
years old in 1800.) There is a Joseph Wise, married to an Elizabeth Moore,
who appears in Belmont County, Ohio in the 1830’s
and who in the 1840’s is living in the tiny town of West Wheeling,
the same town where John Wise is living. Their daughter, Ann, died in 1845
at age 21 and she is buried in the same cemetery plot as John Wise and his
It was about the time the family moved to York County
in the 1790’s
that the name was Anglicized to Wise. Philip purchased land in Fawn Township,
York County in 1798. On the 1800 census he is listed as a Fawn Township
resident and there are only 23 names separating him and the entry for
George McMullen. This would indicate that they lived very near to each
other. We know that our ancestor, John Wise, married George McMullen’s
daughter, Jane, about 1805 and I think this is the strongest evidence
we have that John was Philip’s son.
Mayme Robinson, in her entry in The Centennial History
of Belmont County written in 1900 states that John Wise came to Belmont
County in 1808 and then returned to bring his family in 1810. On the 1810 census
John and Jane are listed in Harford County, Maryland. They already have three
daughters and a son. The very next entry in the census is George McMullen. The
original McMullen farm land in York County was right on the Mason Dixon Line,
with Harford County being on the Maryland side. There is no record of either
family being landowners in Harford County. The census day for the 1810 census
was August 6, so it appears they were living there on that date. However, on
December 4, they were in Belmont County, Ohio, where they purchased 160 acres
of farm land.
Between 1810 and 1817, Philip’s sons, John,
Jacob, George and Samuel, as well as his daughter Catherine, now married
to John Philip Poole, all moved on to Ohio, leaving only Henry behind in
York County. The George McMullen family was also in Belmont County by 1817
and Philip and Mary also moved there in the same time period. Samuel married
Anna Nesbit there in 1817, but in the 1830’s he moved on to Delaware
County, Ohio, just north of Columbus. This is also where the sister,
Catherine, ended up. John, Jacob and George spent the rest of their lives
in Belmont County.
The 1790 and 1800 York County census records support
the case for John and Samuel being born into this family. The 1790 census
lists one male over age sixteen (Philip), three males under age sixteen
(Henry, Jacob and John) and two females (Philip’s wife, Mary, and
daughter, Catherine). The 1800 York County census lists one male over forty-five
(Philip), three males 16-25 (Jacob, Henry and ?), one male 10-15 (John)
and two males under ten (George and Samuel). There was one female over forty-five
(Mary), and one female 16-25 (Catherine). The extra male between ages
16 and 25 is problematical, but an extra male could have been a visiting
relative or farm worker.
There are two pieces of information that could
conclusively solve the problem. One would be DNA testing involving a male
descendant of Samuel and/or John vs. a male descendant of George, Jacob or Henry. The
other piece of information would be the probate records for Philip or Mary.
Philip died in Belmont County, Ohio in 1829. These records are not in the
probate office in the Belmont County Courthouse. However, it is very possible
they may yet be found. A few years ago a volunteer project called “Dusting
off Memories” was started with the purpose being the cleaning,
sorting and displaying of Belmont County records that had lain neglected
and unfiled for decades. There are apparently some probate records among
those being restored. Their web site shows photographs of some of the
ledgers being restored. You can read the titles on some of the ledgers
such as “Inheritance Tax Record & Journal,” “Settlement
Accounts, Executors, Administrators” and “Journal—Probate
Court” These ledgers were not in the probate court in the courthouse
when I researched there in 2004. Maybe we could still get lucky.