Katherine Elizabeth Ruckle An Irish-Palatine Refugee 1690-1755

Watercolor of the Castle Matrix, by Wendy Harty March , 2021

Once there was a girl, who lived beside the Castle Matrix. She did not live in the castle but lived beneath its’ shadow.

She was born in the year 1690 in Assenheim, Paletinate, Germany. She felt that bone chilling cold of 1709 at age 19. Katherine’s father, Johannes Casper Ruckle had brought home the red pamphlet with Queen Anne of England’s picture on the front cover.

William Penn was offering 200 acres in Pennsylvania for 10 pounds and low rental. Penn also promised a vote in a democratic society. The family were excited when Casper came home waving the Passport needed from the court. It attested that he had sworn before the full court that he wished to depart for a foreign country in order to secure his future and that he led an honest birth and parentage. Further it stated that he could use the document to prove his piety, fidelity and industry and that no complaint had ever been lodged against him. It was done, no looking back and the papers were stamped the 4th day of May 1709. Casper and his wife Angelina Wyse both age 49, with three children: Sebestian, Margrath and Katherina joined the other Palatinate refugees including the Schweitzer and Mueller families. They would walk the six miles to Ludwishaven where they bought transportation down the Rhine River to Rottendam, Holland. Here awaited them empty army supply ships which Queen Anne had given permission to use to bring them to England. Not the lap of luxury to travel in these ships. 29 days later, the Ruckle family was listed among the 13000 other German refugees. Casper walked the Thames River bank, bored and unhappy. His family was housed in tents for months. Each Church of England Parish offered to take a family and help them get established. The Ruckles did not take the offer still hoping to get to Pennsylvania. The promised trip to America took only 3000 and Penn was not financially able to take them all. Casper Ruckle took the offer of Sir Thomas Southwell to settle on his estate. Here they would be given 8 acres for each man, woman and child. The leases were worded for three lives or 50 years. Casper would be supplied with tools, livestock and seed. Katherine clambered up into the wagon supplied. She was grateful to leave London. The men walked. Is in on the trek of 120 miles that took 3 weeks that she kept her eye on Christopher Switzer? Perhaps! Maybe she helped Dorothea, wife of Christopher’s brother Michael Switzer. Dorothea had given birth on April 1, 1709 just one month old their son, Antonius made the trip. It was a long and exhausting journey and 245 graves were dug along the road to Chester, the nearest port to Dublin. I imagine the people were just worn out, At Chester, the mayor loaned them his stable to sleep in for shelter and two shillings were provided for the week they stayed here for their substance. A sloop carried them to Ireland, where once more, Katherina found herself in a strange land, encamped under dreadful conditions, among a hostile Irish people. She could not understand their English or Irish language as German was all she spoke. Another 140 mile journey was endured and finally the Castle Matrix was spotted at the end of the lane, with it’s four story tower, high above the trees which would be her landmark for the next 46 years.

Castle Matrix with its distinctive turrets and winding stone staircases had been built as a fortress in 1420. In early 1600, the castle was granted to the Southwell family. Sir Thomas Southwell was a key figure bringing the refugees to Ireland. They did not live in the castle but settled on his estate at Rathkeale, near Limerick, Ireland. Castlematrix (one word) was the town. Katherine would learn the castle’s history. The Castle was owned by the 8th Earl of Desmond in 1487. He was so unpopular with his servants, one murdered him. His brother became the 9th Earl. He avenged his brother’s death by executing every servant. During the rebellions and wars the Irish seized and captured the Castle Matrix in 1641. Then Cromwell’s forces took it back in 1651. The Southwell family lived in it and it was described as 9 bedrooms, water closets, a dining and a drawing room and a library, with circular stairways. Lady Southwell had been a lady-in-waiting to the Queen and her husband, Sir Thomas had been favored with a large land grant near Castle Matrix. Interested in the linen industry he asked that mostly weavers and farmers be sent to him. His wife set up an industry for their wives. There are remains of the weaving shed and millrace outside the castle wall.

Castle Matrix, at Courtmatrix, Ireland where the Ruckles, Switzers and Millers lived beside its shadow,

Sir Thomas supplied them with timber and Christopher and Michael Switzer both built homes at Rathkeale, Ireland. They were also given muskets, called Queen Anne’s. The militia they formed were called True Blues. Both men were active in the church and in these records we find the spelling of their last name changed from Schweitzer to Switzer. Sometimes they would revert to the German spelling but eventually habit took over and they used the Angelized version.

It was in the shadow of the castle that Katherine watched Christopher Switzer build a home in 1709. Did she know she would become its mistress? At age 21, Katherine accepted Christopher Switzer’s proposal. The couple wed in 1711 and life in Ireland began. The house was very well built over 300 years ago and still standing and remodeled as a B and B, owned by a Switzer family. A google search of Christopher’s name will reveal details of this home.

Built 1709 by Christopher Switzer
Remodeled ancestral home of Christopher and Katherine Ruckel Switzer

Kitchen gardens and fruit trees were planted. They had beehives to pollinate the plants. The Palatinate farmers introduced the wheeled plough and planted potatoes and vegetables unknown in Ireland. Flax for the spinning and weaving was grown, as also wheat, oats and hemp. Plump geese fertilized the orchards and fed on the fallen apples. The Palatines slept between two down-feathered quilts. Horses were bred on the estate and said to be the ancestors of the American Morgan and Quarterhorse.

In the Switzer family of Courtmatrix, no children were born for the first fourteen years. Did Katherine miscarry? Finally four boys, followed by four girls, were born. Of the girls only Margaret (later married to Philip Embury) lived to maturity. Margaret Switzer must have been dear to her mother and brothers, Tobias and John, twins , Martin, and Peter. Katherine’s father, Casper Ruckle, lived to an impressive age of 91 years; Angelina, her mother, would predecease him by one year in 1750; thus the grandchildren were surrounded by grandparents and uncles and aunts on both sides of the Switzer and Ruckle families. Christopher and Katherine’s first daughter, named Margaret, born in 1741, died two years later. Katherine was pregnant at this time and named the next daughter, Margaret, again born in 1743. Two more daughters were born. Christine and Catherine in 1747 and 1749. Poor Katherine must have been heartbroken the year of 1755. Recorded in the register kept in St. Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick: Buried in the cemetery of the Parish Church of Ireland, Rathkeale, Country Limerick. Her husband for 44 years, Christopher Switzer died on May 29th, 1755 aged 70. Six months later, I’m assuming some sickness swept the village and little Christine only 3 and Catherine 6 along with their mother aged 65 were registered in the same Burial Register.

The Southwell estate was deemed a huge success in the history books and to think my 8th and 9th great grand parents were there, the Guiers, the Ruckles and the Switzers . May I give you an Irish blessing: May the road rise up to meet you, May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

The son’s, Peter, my 7th great grandfather and his sister, Margaret, would come to America while brother’s Tobias and Martin stayed in Ireland.

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