Peter Switzer to America

“Shepherd My Lambs” watercolor by Wendy Harty March 2021

Christopher Switzer, my 8th great grandfather, at age 23 fled the war torn country of Germany after surviving the cold winter there of 1709. Queen Anne intended for the refugees to go to the American Colonies. Circumstances led Christopher Switzer to settle in Courtmatrix, Ireland. Here he married Katherine Elizabeth Ruckle and raised a large family. His oldest daughter, Margaret married Philip Embury who started the first Methodist Church in New York. When the group he led was granted 8000 acres the group moved to Camden Valley, New York.

It was here to Camden they invited Margaret’s brother Peter Switzer, my 7th great grandfather, married to the daughter of Philip Guier, the Methodist preacher in Ireland. Her name was Anna Marie. Peter and Anna Marie had five children; the first four were born in Ireland; the oldest Elizabeth born in 1754 was my 6th great grandmother. Peter Switzer was listed as a freeholder in April 1755 and 1759 at Ballingrave, County Limerick, Ireland with a family of seven. At the age of 44 Peter brought his family across the Atlantic Ocean. With the family were Elizabeth’s other siblings making the trip to America were Agnes, Christopher and Margaret. It was in the year 1773, these my seventh great grandparents made the voyage. Elizabeth the oldest daughter was a young woman of 19. The family moved into a part of the barn of Philip and Aunt Margaret’s farm. They also brought an orphan girl, named Catherine Lowe, who agreed to work for her passage until age 25. This was a common practice. This was just before the Revolutionary War broke out. Most of the Palatine Irish in New York took the British side. Seventy years earlier when Queen Anne and the British gave them refuge from wars and starvation, they retained a sense of gratitude. I would call it loyalty. These people would be called Loyalists or Tories.

Philip Embury was building a new house when he dropped over mowing in a field either from heat exhaustion or a heart attack, at age 45. His wife, my Aunt Margaret, moved into the partly finished new house, renting the farm to her brother, Peter Switzer, my seventh great grandfather. Peter sent the servant girl to help his sister Margaret with the chores and children. On April 29, 1776, Peter was induced to sign a bond of allegiance to the Continental Congress. Peter was chosen to be one of three men left behind to oversee the farming and protect the women and children, while the other Valley men made their plans for departure to fight for the British. I believe he was chosen as his farm was in a strategic location, he’d only been in the country a short time and his family was still young. Peter in 1792 was one of the official men for the Ashgrove Congregation Methodist Church. In 1809, Peter and Anna Marie Switzer’s daughter Mary Empey, came to Camden Valley, New York to bring them to Ernestown township in Ontario, Canada, where they lived out the rest of their lives. Most of their children were there, Elizabeth and husband, and others in the large family. It must have been a joyful reunion!

The Peter Switzer farm in Camden Valley, New York state. Philip arrived late in 1772 and a letter of Philip Embury to James Duane dated Jan 11, 1773 is a petition for land rental for Peter Switzer, stating that he just come.

This will become the story how my 6th great grandmother, Elizabeth Switzer, lived through the Revolutionary War of 1775-1783 but first I need to add another character to the plot, Garrett Miller.

Here in Camden Valley, Peter’s family would reside amongst the other Irish Palatines on leased farm land. Another daughter, named Catherine would be born in 1776. The Revolutionary War started on April 19, 1775 and wouldn’t end for seven more years. In the two years before the war started, Peter Switzer, did well. Peter was farming and clearing 200 acres. Another man, named Garrett Miller, made his way to the Valley and instead of renting land he purchased 188 acres and found romance. Garrett Miller would marry Peter’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth, and the couple would become my 6th great grandparents. And they lived happily ever after, right? No, I can’t recount to my readers a happy fairy tale. Elizabeth became an instant step-mother. Garrett Miller was already part of the family. Back in Ireland, he had married Elizabeth’s cousin, Catherine Switzer, daughter of Michael, who fled Germany with his brother, Christopher. Catherine had married Garrett Miller and on the birth of their fourth child, she died at age 24. Poor Garrett. The 50 year rents of Sir Thomas Southwell were ending. With the expanding families growing, there was no room. Garrett, born in 1738, a young father, aged 34, with his two brothers, also came to America. He left his four young children with relatives in Ireland.

I must finish this portion of the story with Aunt Margaret. Margaret Switzer Embury, widow of Philip Embury, knew troubles of a loyalist. When Philip died she was left with two small children and 188 acres of land farmed by her brother, Peter. Her second husband, John Lawrence married her in 1775. John Lawrence had a 100 acre leased farm. At the outbreak of the war, they were forced off the land and left to the St. Lawrence where they struggled for life in the Canadian woods. Once again Margaret was one of the first Switzer’s to lead the family to a completely different country.

Margaret did not forget her family history. Margaret Switzer Embury Lawrence suffered and lost for thanking the British. She was loyal and courageously braved the dangers and the wilds where they found a new British dominion in a land which only 15 years before had been ruled by the French, in Quebec, Canada.

Here is my metaphor for the farming and religious life they represented. Protestant seeds from Germany, cultivated as Methodism under John Wesley in Ireland, raised up and transplanted to Canada. The Methodists came to Canada and would become the United Church. The Methodist Church, the Congregational Union and 70% of the Presbyterian Church entered into a union in 1925, and called the United Church.

When you pass a United Church, think of my Aunt Margaret and her part in this history.

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