An Irish Palatine Johann Christopher Schweitzer 1685-1755

Winter acrylic by Wendy Harty 2005

I have never liked being cold! I have been stranded in three blizzards and several times the temperatures have been recorded in the -40’s, but never have I experienced the cold snap when temperatures plummeted across Europe and stayed below freezing for months. When dawn broke on the feast of Epiphany January 6, 1709 the European continent would not warm up for three months. Everything turned to ice! The sea froze, and trees exploded when the sap froze inside them. The native oaks and ash in the mighty forests succumbed and birds on the wing fell out of the sky. The grape vines tended by Christopher withered and died. There was no way for Christopher, my 8th great grandfather to make a living after this as it would be years before new grape vines would be mature enough to make fruit for the wine.

Johann Christopher Schwertzer was 23 years old. He shivered uncontrollably seated beside a roaring fire by his father’s hearth. Encased in his bearskin and hungry, even an axe couldn’t break the frozen bread. Out in the barn, his older brother, Michael, had found the milk cow, also frozen to death. The two brothers had been born at Assenheim, Germany, four years apart, 1681 and 1685.

The Palatinate of Germany was one of the states of the old Holy Roman Empire, situated along the Rhine River. Louis XIV of France built lavish castles coming from funds levied on the farmers. The burden on the Schweitzer family was severe. Wars had had been fought for years. Foraging armies had reduced the food supply and they were on the verge of starvation. The final crushing blow was the severe winter of 1709.

A dismal future waited for them when Queen Anne of England sent agents distributing pamphlets. In an effort to populate the America Colonies, she promised passage to America. Christopher and his brother Michael were amongst a mass exodus of over 13,000 individuals leaving Germany in search of a better life.

England was overwhelmed. They had to stop and turn back some, but the brothers arrived and were put in a tent city, outside London called Blackhearth in a Palatine refugee camp. Over 300 years ago, this great grandfather of mine was listed there as a husbandman (herdsman) and vinedresser. The brothers did not make it to America, the English didn’t have enough resources. Luckily, Sir Thomas Southwell of Castle Matrix, near Rathekeal, Ireland used his personal wealth and sponsored the first of ten families. He rented to each 200 acres for 50 years. In 1709 Christopher built an ancestral home, still standing and restored today by family, on the lane to the Castle Matrix. Christopher would marry my 8th greatgrandmother, Katherine Elizabeth Ruckle in 1711 in Limerick, Ireland. In the next 23 years they had nine children: one of them they named Peter Switzer who get to America in a future blog.

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