Our story


This Chapter

Starting out
Helping hands
A doctored record?
Is he is or is he ain't?
Split trails
Comparing versions
Potters in the Grenzhausen branch
Mercenaries on the move
The "entlaufene" potter
Many children, fewer opportunities

The Hessian soldiers

Temper of the times

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From Merkelbeek to Märckelbach:
A Social History with Deep Roots

Last revision: December 18, 2011
Chapter 4.  The Elusive "Soldier of Orange"  

In 1947, not long after the war, Adriaan Märckelbach was contacted by the owner of the well-known toy store Merkelbach & Co. N.V., Kalverstraat 30, Amsterdam, to share some information about his ancestry. Adriaan was not well at the time and suffered from a deep personal trauma about which I intend to write later. So it was that he never responded. However, he did later receive some handwritten notes about his family, both about his father's side and his mother's, the Feenstra side. Here follows a typewritten copy of what he received about the Märckelbach branch. Translations of Dutch words and abbreviations are found underneath it.  3

Peter von Merkelbach
(Westerwald!) 1615—1622 Schout te Rückeroth en Vielbach
gehuwd met ...dina

(Vermoedelijk) Peter Merkelbach
geb.: ca 1636
geh.: te Selters Margareta ... (Westerwald)

Johann Wilhelm Merkelbach
geb.: ca 1665 Eulner & Krugbäcker te Bogel (Taunus)
April 1730 begraven te Rupperstshofe
geh.: Maria Veronica geb. 1675

Johann Peter Merkelbach
geb.: ca 1695
geh.: ... Anna Catharina
1731 Grosz Almerode (bij Kassel)

Johann Georg Samuel Merkelbach
geb. 11.12.1727 Grosz Almerode (bij Kassel)
gest.: vermoedelijk Alkmaar
geh.: Clasina Smits

Jean George Markelbach
geb.: ±1760 te Tholen
geh.: 12.11.1788 Gerarda Cath Borghstein
overl.: 2.9.1799 Culemborg

Johannes Hendrikus Markelbach (Naam werd verschillend geschreven bv. ook Marckelbach en Merckelbach)
geb. 3-3-1791 Culemborg (Apotheker)
overl. 4.11.1836 Culemborg
geh.: 8.12.1814 Culemborg met Grietje Ruiter

Als Markelbach geboren Jan George Märckelbach
geb.: 5.2.1818 Medemblik (Apotheker)
geh.: 30.4.1846 Harderwijk met Carolina Paulina Bagman
vermoedelijk te Lochem na 1.9.1878  

als = as
apotheker = pharmacist
begraven = interred
bij = near
en = and
geb., geboren = born
gehuwd met, geh. = married to
gest. = died
met = with
Naam werd verschillend geschreven bv. ook Marckelbach en Merckelbach = Name written different ways, e.g. also Marckelbach and Merckelbach
overl. = died
schout = sheriff, bailiff
te = at, in
vermoedelijk = presumably.  

For more than half a century, we had no reason to doubt that the above information was correct or fairly so. But a few years back, in July of 2007, we learned of an emailed enquiry about Adriaan Märckelbach that had appeared on a website called Merkelbach.net. It came from a Rudolf Merkelbach, an ardent investigator into his own Merkelbach roots as well as of Mer(c)kelbach name-holders in general. In this effort he is following through on work done by his father. I responded and during the subsequent email exchanges he sent me documented evidence (from the birth register of the Dutch Reformed Church in Tholen) that the parents of the Jean George born in 1759 were Johannes Merckelback and Klasina Schmits alright, but that the registry of their marriage gives their names as Johan Heinrich Merkelbach (not Johann Georg Samuel) and Clasina Schmits. The Tholen register of births shows Johan George Rotter and Elisabeth Rotterin to be the witnesses. Rudolf Merkelbach believes that Johan George Rotter was the child's godfather and that the child's first names came from him. But this still begs the question, who was Johann Georg Samuel Merckelbach?  6

Since that time, I have received a considerable amount of documents, both from Rudolf Merkelbach and from a friend of him living in California, Margaret ("Margie") Markelbach. With those documents in hand, let's now follow the trail of available evidence.  7

The full entry in the Maastrichter register of the marriage between Johan Heinrich and Clasina, dated August 24, 1753, reads:: "Johan Heinrich Merkelbach, born in the Hesse region, Grenadier-Tambour in the Life Company of My Lord the Prince of Orange & Nassau, with Clasina Schmits born and both living here." Actually, the name Merckelbach has been inserted later and appears to be in a different handwriting (see the forming of the M and r). The word Tamboer, too, has been added afterwards. A notation in the margin shows that the marriage took place only months later, on November 18 of that year. Perhaps it is on that occasion that the words Merkelbach and tamboer were added.  8

Whatever any irregularities in that register's entry, the Dutch genealogical database Genlias, which gets its information directly from official archives, shows a couple by these names to be parents of a generous offspring. It shows, for example, that a Margaretha Barbara Markelbach died at the age of 82 in Vreeland on April 4, 1848 (ref.) and that her parents were Johannes Hendrikus Markelbach and Clazina Smitsz. Some registers list only a Johannes instead of both names. Genlias data from the registers of Rhenen and Zeist, towns only a short distance apart, record the death of Fredrik Cerjacus Marckelbach at the age of 84 on February 12, 1840 (parents: Johannes Marckelbach and Klasina Smit, ref.) and of Willemina Markelbach at age 88 on December 29, 1866 (parents: Johannes Markelbach and Clasina Smit, ref.). Records also show movement: the earlier-mentioned Jean George Markelbach, born in 1759 in Tholen, lived a good part of his life in Culemborg (ref. 1, ref. 2), a town nearby Vreeland and Zeist and where a George Merkelbach practised the art of making riding saddles (ref.). But the question still remains: who is this Johann Georg Samuel? Might he and Johann Heinrich be the same person?   9

It is on record that a Johannes Merckelbach died in Alkmaar on December 17, 1795 at age 74, which makes the year of his birth 1721. The record further mentions a son, Johan Wilhelm, and three granddaughters: Klaasina, Willempie, and Johanna—names that strengthen our belief that this is indeed the Johannes we are here concerned with. But 1721? That is six years before Johann Georg Samuel's day of birth, 11-12-1727. So, they are not the same person. But then again, it is well to consider that a handwritten 1 with a large serif is easily confused with a 7. (In fact, there is a widespread custom to put a short horizontal line through the stem of a 7 so as to distinguish it clearly from a 1, a habit I myself used to adhere to.) As for their places of birth, they both hail from Hesse.  10

One thing can be cleared up right away: the discrepancy in years of birth. An entry in a military recruitment roll made in Nassau-Dietz on 3rd of October 1750 shows a Johannes Merkelbach, age 23, born in Groß Almenroth, and another entry, made in Tholen on the 4th of May 1758, lists a Joh. Merckelbach, reformed, age 30 and born in Groß Almenroth. And so, here we have it: Johannes Merkelbach, born in Groß Almenrode in the year 1727 . That still leaves us with the mystery of those different names: Johann Heinrich and Johann Georg Samuel.  11

An entry in a Groß-Almerode church register, reproduced in the book Aus den Kirchenbuchern der Kirchengemeinde Groszalmerode 1648–1753 by Robert F. Pforr, confirms the birth of a Johann Georg Samuel, born in 1727, on the 11th of December, from a marriage between a Johann Peter Merckelbach and an Anna Catherine. The book makes no mention of any Johann Heinrich Merckelbach. Clearly, there can by now be no doubt that Johann Heinrich is either the same person as Johann Georg Samuel or else that he borrowed some of J.G.S.'s identity! Genealogy, it is beginning to appear, holds many a surprise. Things are about to get quite interesting!  12

ancestry as listed above and a part of the family tree of a Johannes Wilhelmus Merkelbach, the founder of that Amsterdam firm, Merkelbach & Co N.V. For convenience, I shall distinguish between these versions as the Huizen version and of the Amsterdam version, respectively. Here is a fragment of the Amsterdam version as it appears on the website merkelbach.net:  13

Johann Wilhelm Merkelbach I (born 1665, Bogel?   † 1730 Rupertshofen)
× Maria Veronica (1676-1733).

Peter Merkelbach (baptized 12-1-1700, Groß-Almerode)
× 1731: Anna Catharina NN.

Johann Wilhelm Merkelbach II (1727-1784)
× (1) 1749: Henderina Mulder,
× (2) 1756: Alegonda Elisabeth Feron.
He was a subaltern officer in the regiment van Oranje-Nassau and moves after his second marriage from Groß-Almerode to Groningen, and later as a soap-maker to Appingedam.

Johann Wilhelm Merkelbach III (baptized 9-6-1758, Groningen; † 17-1-1833, Amsterdam)
× Henrica Roos, born 27-10-1754, Loenen.
They moved ca 1784 from Groningen to Amsterdam where he established himself as a soap-maker.

Johann Wilhelm Merkelbach IV (1786-1857)
× 1810, Amsterdam: Clasina Hilhorst (1786-1841).
He carried on his father's business as a druggist and merchant in haberdashery.

Johann Wilhelm Merkelbach V (1817?-1880)
× Anna Maria van der Sluis († 1894).
He was a soap-maker, druggist and merchant in haberdashery.

Johannes Wilhelm Merkelbach VI (1847-1898)
× Maria Antonia van Schaijk.
He was the owner of a French bazar selling, among other things, toys (projection lantern), and of a small fireworks factory.

Johannes Wilhelmus Merkelbach VII (1871-1922)
× Laddé († 1929).
He dealt in photography articles, Märkling trains, toy steam engines, and physical instruments.

Johannes Wilhelmus Merkelbach VIII, † 1962
Owner of Citax car rentals and, in 1934, the founder of Merkelbach & Co. (toys, electric trains, and physical instruments).

Genealogist Rudolf Merkelbach cautions us that the above listing may not be entirely accurate, but observes that Johann Wilhelm II, born in 1727, "was a subaltern officer in the regiment van Oranje-Nassau and moves after his second marriage, in 1756, from Groß-Almerode to Groningen." Checking the aforementioned parish register (which covers the period 1648–1753), it does not mention Johann Wilhelm Merckelbach. The plot thickens.  15

To get a clearer overview, here is a table that compares data from Kreutzwald's Ahnenforschung with information we have from the MS received by Adriaan Märckelbach (referred to as the Huizen version) and from merkelbach.net (referred to as the Amsterdam version). A fourth column presents an attempt at synthesizing the given bits of information into something coherent. (I come to the comments in par. 19.)  16

Kreutzwald version
from his Ahnenforschung
Huizen versionAmsterdam version
1. Peter
male ~1565
Schultheiß 1588-'98
Schultheiß 1598-1623
Peter von
× ...dina
Schultheiß 1615-'22
Rückeroth, Vielbach
a fair match
2. Johann Georg
male ~1605
† <1681
3. Johannes
male 1635
† ~1710
× Maria Clauer
male ~1636
× (Selters) Margareta ...
 bad match
4. Johann Wilhelm
male 1665, Bogel
† 1730, Rupertshofen
Johann Wilhelm
male ~1665, Bogel
† 1730, Ruppertshofen
× Maria Veronica ...
Eulner & Krugbäcker
Johann Wilhelm
male 1665, Bogel?
† 1730, Rupertshofen
× Maria Veronica
excellent match
5. Peter
male 1700, Gr-Almerode
† 1731, Gr-Almerode
Johann Peter
male ~1695
† 1731?
× Anna Catharina ...
male 1700, Gr-Almerode
× 1731: Anna Catharina NN
parish records:
Peter M., born ?, † ?
× Anna Catharina NN.,
† 6-9-1731 see below
6. 1. Johannes Wilhelm
Born: Bogel
2. Johann Georg Samuel
male 11-12-1727
† Alkmaar?
× Clasina Smits
1. Johann Wilhelm
male~1727 (does not fit)
† 1784
× 1749: Henderina Mulder
× 1756: Alegonda Elisabeth Feron
2. Johann Heinrich
male ~1721 (does not fit)
† 1795,Alkmaar
× Klasina Schmits
to Amsterdam branch
to: Huizen branch
NOTE: re son #2,
urgently needed
7.  from 2: Jean George
male 7-3-1759, Tholen
× Gerarda Borgstein
from 2: Jean George
male ~1760, Tholen
† 2-9-1799, Culemborg
× Gerarda Borghstein
/ Alida van Deventer

Let's take things line by line and compare the table's entries with information from other documents I have now on hand.  18

• Line 1.  Tableau VIIIe attached to the MS by Max Dechamps shows a Peter Merckelbach who was in 1607 a Pächter (E. tenant farmer) of Count von Salm in Alfter. In 1615, he was Landschutheiß* in the Wiedisher as well as Amtsverwalter (E. deputy). He was married to Dina NN. Google maps shows that Herschbach, Rückeroth and Vielbach are only a few kilometers distant from one another. In other words, the data in Line 1 appear mutually consistent and reliable.
• Line 2.  A document by Wilmar Merckelbach shows that a son of Peter Merckelbach was Johann Georg who was a tenant farmer living in Neuwied. He died before 1681. So far, so good.
• Line 3.  According to Wilmar Merckelbach's chart, Johann Georg had a son named Johannes Henricus who was married to Maria Clauer. As for Peter, born in 1636 and married to Margareta, the same chart shows that Johann Georg had a brother named Peter who was married to a Margaretha. He also had a nephew named Peter who lived in Selters.
• Line 4.  The three versions agree on a Johann Wilhelm, born in 1965 in Bogel. Wilmar Merckelbach's chart lists a Johann Wilhelm, son of Line 2's Johann Georg, who would be about the same age, but of whom it is said not that he was born in Bogel, but that he went there. It is quite conceivable that this Johann Wilhelm was born in Bogel in that year, but his father would then have been around 60 years old. If that is so, Line 3 becomes for our purpose irrelevant.
• Line 5.  Neither birth nor baptism of a Peter Merckelbach has been registered by the parish of Großalmerode over the period 1648–1783. The records do show that on Elisabeth Anna Merckelbach, wife of Peter, a potter, died on September 6, 1731. She was 31 years old and came from the county of Neuwied. Robert Pforr wrote me an email in which he stated that Peter did not die in 1731; that was the year his spouse died.
• Line 6.  The Großalmerode parish also has on record the birth, on December 11, 1727, of Johann George Samuel, a son of Peter Merckelbach. It is further on record that Peter remarried in 1732 and that he had children from both marriages. The child's godfather is Oberproviant Commissarius Johann Melchior Iffert in Cassel—who at the baptism was represented by another person—hence it appears that Peter, although a potter by trade, was somehow connected with the military. Supplying pots for storing food, perhaps? As for Johann Wilhelm Merckelbach, that name is not in Großamerode's parish register.
• Line 7.  From this line on, the male ancestors of Adriaan Märckelbach are well documented.  19

Time to delve a bit deeper into those Groß Almerode church's records of births, marriages, and deaths. They cover the period 1648–1753, which suits us just fine. To be sure, I am assuming there was only one parish there, in other words that there were no other such records in that village. Here are the relevant data:  20

Peter Merckelbach, born in 1698, potter in Großalmerode, married twice:
    1. 1719 Anna Catharina, born 13-1-1700 in the county of Neuwied, died 6-9-1731 in Großalmerode.
    2. 25-8-1732 in Großalmerode, Anna Elisabeth Herklotz, born 19-3-1708 in Breitenbach beym Hoof, died 26-2-1780 in Großalmerode, interred 8-9-1731 in Großalmerode. She used to live in Coblenz.

Children from the first marriage:
    1. Anna Maria, probably born 1718 in Coblenz, confirmed in 1732 in Großalmerode.
    2. Philipp Peter, probably born 10-9.1723 in Coblenz, died 3-6-1732 in Großalmerode, interred 6-6-1732 in Großalmerode. Father: master potter Peter Merkelbach, from elsewhere.
    3. Johann Georg Samuel, born 11-12-1727 in Großalmerode, baptized 14-12-1727 in Großalmerode. Godfather: Herr Johann Melchior Iffert, chief commissioner for provisions in Cassel, represented by Johannes Rüppel. Father: Peter Marckelbach, potter.

Children from the second marriage:
    1. Martha Elisabeth, born 27-10-1733 in Großalmerode, baptized 28-10-1733 in Großalmerode. Godmother: maternal grandmother. Father: Master Peter Marckelbach, a potter from elsewhere.
    1. Anna Elisabeth, born 29-3-1735 in Großalmerode, baptized 30-3-1735 in Großalmerode. Godmother: the mother's sister. Confirmed 1748 in Großalmerode. Father Peter Marckelbach, an "entlaufener" (E. missing, escaped, runaway) potter.

(For some additional information, see
here.)  21

On the face of it, sometime between 1723 and 1727, Peter Merckelbach simply moved from Coblenz (or from near Coblenz, as Bogel is) to Groß Almerode. But why then those repeated comments that he was a stranger? One gets the impression that after his apparent move to Groß Almerode he isn't there much of the time. From the snippets of information we have about that other soldier, Johann Wilhelm, said to be born in Bogel in the year 1727, and spending time in Groß Almerode, one is led to believe that he had a close family relationship with Peter. Might he have been a half brother of Johann Georg Samuel? Speculation. Might Peter make his earthenware in one place and sells it around Groß Almerode? Speculation. Might he be on the run from something? Speculation, yes, but other Merkelbachs were hiding too! A Christiaan Merckelbach from Grenzhausen, of about the same age as Peter, has been hiding in a brother's house. A brother of Christiaan was on the run as well. All this at a time that Hessians were pressed into military units that were rented out to warring parties (for the proceeds to be used to build up the Hessian economy). We need to look into that a little further and have in mind doing so in a chapter tentatively titled Hell in Hesse. But pending that let me offer as an insightful read this appended New York Times article dated 1880.  22

This chapter was originally written over three years ago. Among the many documents we have received since then are genealogical charts made by members of the Mer(c)kelbach family, one by Rudolf M., another by Wilmar M., and yet another one by Friedrich Wilhelm M. The ones by Wilmar and Friedrich Wilhelm concern what we conveniently name the Grenzhausen branch. Wilmar's can be seen here; the one by Friedrich Wilhelm is so large, we split it up in three pieces: left, center and right. We find the Christiaan (1696–1744) we mentioned and his brother Hans Heinrich (1698–1763;) on the center part. If we go to the left side, we find listed there three sons of Christiaan. Rudolf Merkelbach informed me that there was a fourth son as well, the youngest, whose name might have been Christiaan and was born around 1731 and died around 1800. On November 15th of 1755, the University of Groningen admitted a Christiaan Merkelbach as a theology student; he hailed from Bogelius Cattus, the University's Latin for Catzenelnbogen. At some point in time this Christiaan had become financially indebted to the subaltern Johann Wilhelm, also from Bogel. Might the two be brothers?  23

Looking over the charts by Wilmar and Friedrich Wilhelm, we see places named Vielbach, Neuwied, Dierdorf, Marienhausen, Bogel, Grenzhausen, Alsbach-Grenzhausen, Girshoven, Höhr, Ransbach, Oberdiebach, Selters, Groß Almerade, Cassel. In the absence of a modern road system, travel was difficult in the 17th century. A note that a Johann Wilhelm took off from Neuwied to Bogel somehow suggests a major undertaking. Why not look at a map and see what we might learn from that? Google Maps comes in handy:  24

View Larger Map
A: Grenzhausen. B: Bogel. C: Groß Almerode.

The blue line on this map follows roads existing today. Today's travelling distance from Grenszhausen to Bogel is about 40 km, that from Bogel to Groß Almerode about 275 km, or three hours by car. But here we are looking at people moving about in the 18th century. Poor roads, no automobiles. Say that Peter Merckelbach travelled by horse-drawn cart loaded with pottery, it would take him something like a week to get from Bogel to Groß Almerode.  26

The people on Lines 3 through 6 of par. 17 were potters as were most people populating what we, for convenience, call the Grenzhausen branch. There are many German words for potter: Eulner, Eiler, Aulner, Ulner, Hafner, Krugsbäcker, Aulner, Ulner, Eulner, Euler, Hafner, Krugbäcker, Töpfer. A master potter is an Eulnermeister. One who sells pottery, or one who is a merchant or dealer more generally, is a Händler. Just to satisfy our interest in higher learning, the word Eulner derives from Aul, a word introduced to Southwest Germany through the Romans. A center of Hessian pottery in earlier times was Steinau (think of Stein, prosit!). Potters also worked in nearby towns and villages—as far back as in 1331 in Bellings, in 1349 in Hohenzell, and in 1391 in Marjoß. Potters' Aulöfen or kilns were fire hazards and, therefore, situated near each town's surrounding walls. In them the potters fired the hand moulded jugs, pots, bowls, plates, inkwells, children's toys, butter-barrels, tiles for stores, wall tiles, floor tiles, bricks (brick-lane), covering stones, and so forth.  27

Hessian mercenaries were a mixed lot, among them young men, many in their late teens and early twenties, who had no other way of making a living. They were second third and fourth sons with no hope of inheriting any land or money from their fathers. They would be lucky to serve as an apprentice and learn a trade…if their father could afford the fees. Or they might find themselves reluctantly supported by the older siblings, at their beck and call. Then there were farmhands going hungry. Others were simply pressed into service by unscrupulous, heavy-handed recruiters. Those, plus a hefty dose of the scum of the earth. Throughout most of the 18th century, Hessian regiments were rented out to foreign rulers thereby providing Hessen with much needed revenue to build up its economy. (Many Hessians fought on the British side during the 1775–1783 American War of Independence.) Pay was next to nothing; life was harsh. More on that subject in this chapter's appendix. Those Dutch battalions might have offered an escape from unpleasant circumstances, both for Johann Willem and for our "Soldier of Orange." I imagine that the pay for volunteers in foreign service was better than the pay for those conscripted by a Hessian ruler. But certain about their motives we are not.  29

In those days, soldiering in the Union of the Seven Provinces had nothing to do with patriotism.* The republic maintained a standing army during peace time, which was exceptional for the time, but there was no conscription. The army employed many mercenaries; in fact, foreign rulers even supplied entire regiments. After 1750, one would sign up for a specified period, usually six years, during which there would never be a transfer to another regiment. When his time was up, a soldier could sign up again.  30

drummer Hollandsche Guardes 1750
Left: Sapper-drummer Inf. Rgt. Hollandsche Gardes, 1750.  
Below: Grenadier Inf. Rgt. 4e Bat. Oranje-Nassau 3.  31B
drummer 4Bat Oranje Nassau 1753.jpg

The military was under tight discipline and soldiers were required to always wear their uniform. They were frequently moved from one garrison to another to ensure there would be no deep bonding with the citizenry, but a soldier did not necessarily reside in his garrison. Because commanders received payments for complete companies, which they tended to run as their private businesses, incomplete companies were profitable. Military families had their own communities. A move with spouses, children, and household goods was usually done by flat-bottom boats, otherwise by foot. When a soldier was engaged in armed conflict, his family would remain in his garrison although young wives might stay with their own families.  32

There exist a detailed record of where the various military regiments were garrisoned and so it becomes a faitly simple exercise to relate the places where Johann Heinrich's children were born to the garrisons where he was quartered:  33

PeriodGarrisonChildDate of birth
1752-"59LeeuwardenFredericus Cerianus14-3-1755
1759-"60TholenJean George7-3-1759
1760-"62partly Namur, partly GroningenJohann Wilhelm~1761
1763-"65NijmegenJoannabapt. 22-6-1763
1763-"65NijmegenMargaretha Barbarabapt. 20-11-1765
1770-"72BredaJohannes Bernardus9-7-1770
1770-"72BredaBarbara Joanna5-1-1772
1772-"76ArnhemHermina [Willemina]1776

Something that may strike us from glancing at the names of our soldier's children is that they look like an odd assortment when compared to the traditional ways of parents naming their children. Look, for comparison, at the names found in the genealogies drawn up by Friedrich Wilhelm Merkelbach and by Wilmar Merckelbach, e.g. here. Or the names of the descendants of, apparently, his close relative Johann Wilhelm, who was a corporal in the Dutch Infanterie Regiment 671b: look here, one Johann Wilhelm after another for nine generations running. But Johann Heinrich's first child is named Fredericus Cerianus. Cerianus! Ever heard of such name? In a few instances we have documentation that reveal withnesses to the babtism and in all three of cases the given names of the child are names of witnesses at the ceremony. Given the kind of life Johann Heinrich and Klazina Schmitz lived, not altogether ununderstandable.  35

A military roll of the Regiment Oranje-Nassau 1 shows that Johann Merkelbach first signed up in Nassau-Dietz in October 1750. A reorganization in 1752 reformed his unit into the first battalion of Oranje-Nassau 2. At that time, the prince of Nassau-Dietz and Orange served the Dutch Republic as stadtholder-general. Looking over the above table it appears that Johannes Merkelbach served out four six-year stints. (No mention yet of the Heinrich part of his given names.) He lived out his final days with his son Johann Wilhelm on the Nieuwesloot in Alkmaar. This son, he, as well as two of his granddaughters died there in quick succession in 1795/96, presumably of some infectious disease.  36

The military did take care of its veterans and the crippled, but medical conditions were bad, yet still better than what farm workers were used to because help was always available. A surgeon was often a common soldier who had showed himself handy with tools. The number of sick was usually quite large, even in peacetime. More soldiers croaked than were killed in action. And as for action, prisoners of war were fairly free to move around; and those who demonstrated themselves courageous in action were rewarded. Because financial rewards were a burden to the state's treasury, Napoleon replaced them later with military decorations.  37

Extensive records notwithstanding, it can be very hard to find information about a given soldier. Among the obstacles to obtaining satisfactory information: variations in spelling (e.g. Joosten = Houston); deletions of some given names (not more than two were recorded); false registrations; widows who registered with the name of a deceased husband; soldiers who did not know their place of birth, etc. Quite aside of the going-ons in Hessen, it is still not at all implausible to identify Johannes Heinrich Merckelbach with Johann Georg Samuel Merckelbach.*  38

Given all the branching occurring in family trees, it is obvious that the search for family roots should be top-down, from the present back in time. Going into this direction, we do have, as already mentioned, reliable data that support the Märckelbach lineage only back to Johann Heinrich, the tambour. Further, if we accept that this Johann Heinrich is the same as Johann Georg Samuel, we have taken another step into the past, to the "entlaufene" potter. But then things become quite uncertain and all we can say with reasonable confidence that there is a connection between Kreutzwald's trunk and our branch of the family tree even if we don't (yet) know where it is exactly they link up. Add to this the opinion that there probably is a solid connection between the sections named Roots and Trunk, we ought be fairly confident that we can trace the Märckelbach ancestry back to the very first person calling himself Merckelbach. In fact, we can go back even further if we turn our attention to Grete Palant, see Roots of Grete Palant in the section Roots. And, if we can confidently follow the taproot described by Ger de Vries (here) much, much further into the past, deep down into the tenth century.  40

A word ought to be said about Kreutzwald's contribution to the family tree. The publisher of the Kreutzwald site, Peter Kreutzwald, informed me that the tree actually had been constructed by a Max Dechamps, who died in 1985. Some internal inconsistencies have been found and I have made some, seemingly, appropriate corrections. It also contains some errors originating from the uncorrected book by Pforr.  41

The book by Rudolf Merkelbach details a number of branches especially of interest to him personally and which go back to a Gregorius (Goris) Mer(c)kelbach, born around 1645, a person not found in Kreutzwald. That gap between the genealogy found in that book and that on Kreutzwald's site has been narrowed after Rudolf Merkelbach published his book, which was in 1995. Let's hope more information just keeps coming our way.  42

Concluding this chapter, there also remains a burning question that a good social history of a family must try to find an answer to: How is it that over generations a family can give rise to, on the one hand, people of such standing as the Johannes Georgius Merckelbach (t. who helped conclude the peace treaty of Münster and Alexandre Markelbach, a painter of reknown, with on the other hand, a Johannes Heinrich Merckelbach (c.1.) who became a lowly mercenary in the Dutch army but, yet, from whom came, within a mere two generations, a succession of solid upper middle-class citizens?  43

It looks that we are already hitting upon an answer. My 2 cents worth: Too many children, too few opportunities. With a populace increasingly converting from Roman Catholic to Protestant, no convents and monasteries to take up the slack. That aside from pestilence and the ravages of war.  44

Principal literature of which original copies consulted:
    Max Dechamps, Der Ursprung des Geschlechtes Merckelbach (Manuscript, 1967) Tableaux
    Charles W. Ingrao, The Hessian Mercenary State (Cambridge University Press, 1987)
    Peter Kreutzwald, Ahnenforschung Kreutzwald: Stammbaum des Leonard (von) Merckelbach (Backup Nov. 19, 2011)
    Wilmar Merckelbach, no title (unpublished)
    Friedrich Wilhelm Merkelbach, Familie Merkelbach (unpublished, 1925)
    Robert F. Pforr, Aus den Kirchenbuchern der Kirchengemeinde Groszalmerode 1648-1753 (Republished by Holger Zierdt for the Gesellschaft für Familienkunde in Kurhessen und Waldeck e.V., 1998; Google preview)
    Dutch Regiments, Garnizoensplaatsen
    Dutch Regiments, Oranje-Nassau 1 (website)
    Dutch Regiments, Oranje-Nassau 2 (website)
Backups of external webpages  23

New York Times, December 22, 1880
Appendix: The Hessian soldiers
Character of the troops hired by King George
How the men were recruited, collected together and driven off like cattle
Cruel measures to prevent desertion
The rank and file.

DRESDEN, Nov. 20.—The soldiers whom the Landgrave of Hesse Cassel and the other German Princes had let out to England for the suppression of the American rebellion were brought together, in great measure, by the recruiting system. Some alterations had, it is true, been introduced into this system in Cassel by the adoption of a new plan similar to that of Prussia. The country was cut up into districts, each of which was to furnish a given number of recruits to a certain regiment. But this measure does not seem sensibly to have diminished the activity of the old-fashioned recruiting officers or to have improved the spirit of the Army; nor does it appear to have existed in most of the States.  47

Parties or single officers were sent all over Germany to coax or force men into the service. Persons who were not born subjects of the Prince were preferred, on the ground that natives could always be called in, in case of need, and it was published in the Army regulations that officers would especially recommend themselves by their zeal in enlisting foreigners. Spend-thrifts, loose livers, drunkards, arguers, restless people, and such as made political trouble, if not more than 60 years old and of fair health and stature, were forced into the ranks. The present of a tall, strapping fellow was an acceptable gift from one Prince to another, and in every regiment were many deserters from the service of neighboring States. Together with this mixed rabble served the honest peasant lads of Germany, forced from their plows. It may be noted as a general rule in respect to the regiments sent to America that these first furnished by any given Prince would contain a larger proportion of his own subjects, and a better set of men generally, than these subsequently levied.  48

Johann Gottfried Seume, who afterwards attained some prominence as a writer, was a victim of the recruiting system, and has given an account of his adventures. Seume was a theological student at Leipzig, and having conceived religious doubts which he knew would be offensive to his friends, left that city on foot for Paris, with a sword at his side, a few shirts, and a few volumes of the classics in his knapsack, and about 9 thalers in his pocket. His journey, however, was destined to take a different direction. "The third night I spent at Bach," writes he, "and here the Landgrave of Cassel, the great broker of men of the time, undertook, through his recruiting officers and in spite of my protestations, the care of my future quarters on the road to Ziegenhayn, to Cassel and thence into the New World. I was brought, under arrest, to Ziegenhayn, where I found many companions in misfortune from all parts of the country. There we waited, to be sent to America in the Spring, after Faucitt should have inspected us. I gave myself up to my fate, and tried to make the best of it, bad as it was. "We staid a long time at Ziegenhayn before the necessary number of recruits was brought together from the plow, the highways, and the recruiting stations.  49

The story of these times is well known. No one was safe from the grip of the seller of souls. Persuasion, cunning, deception, force—all served. No one asked what means were used to the damnable end. Strangers of all kinds were arrested, imprisoned, sent off. They tore up my academic matriculation papers, as the only instrument by which I could prove my identity. At last I fretted no more. One can live anywhere. You can stand what so many do. The idea of crossing the ocean was inviting enough to a young fellow, and there were things worth seeing on the other side. So I reflected. "While we were at Ziegenhayn old Gen. Gore employed me in writing, and treated me very kindly. Here was an indescribable lot of human beings brought together, good and bad, and others that were both by turns. My comrades were a runaway son of the Muses, from Jena; a bankrupt tradesman, from Vienna; a fringe-maker, from Hanover; a discharged secretary in the Post Office, from Gotha; a monk, from Würzburg; an upper steward, from Meiningen; a Prussian Sergeant of Hussars; a cashiered Hessian Major, from the fortress itself, and others of like stamp. One can imagine that there was entertainment enough, and a mere sketch of the life of these gentry would make amusing and instructive reading. "A plot was gotten up among this rabble. Seume was offered the command of the conspirators, but, by the advice of an old Sergeant, declined the dangerous honor. The mutineers were to rise in the night, surprise the guard and take their weapons, hew down such as opposed them, spike the cannon, lock up the officers at head-quarters, and march 1,500 strong across the frontier, which was but a few miles away. The plot was disclosed. The ringleaders were arrested, Seume among them. He was soon re-leased, however, for too many men were implicated to allow the punishment of all concerned. "The trial went on," he says; "two were condemned to the gallows, as I should certainly have been had not the old Prussian Sergeant-Major saved me. The remainder had to run the gantlet a great many times, from 36 down to 12. It was a terrible butchery. The candidates for the gallows were pardoned after suffering the fear of death under that instrument, but had to run the gantlet 30 times, and were sent to Cassel to be kept in irons at the mercy of the Prince. "For an indefinite time" and "at mercy" were then equivalent expressions, and meant "forever without release". At least the mercy of the Prince was an affair that no one wanted to have anything to do with. More than 30 were terribly treated in this way; and many, of whom I was one, were let off only because too many of the accomplices would have had to be punished. Some came out of prison when we marched away, for reasons which were easy to understand; for a fellow that's in irons at Cassel is not paid for by the British."  50

With troops collected as these were, desertion was necessarily common. The military service was dreaded, and in the smaller States a run of a few miles would take the deserter beyond the frontiers. The people sympathized with him and would gladly help him, if not restrained by terrible punishments. These, however, were not wanting. In Würtemberg, when the alarm was given the parish must instantly rise and occupy roads, paths, and bridges for 24 hours, or until the fugitive was caught. Should he escape, the place must furnish a substitute as tall as the deserter, and the sons of the principal man of the village were first liable. This order was to be read every month from the pulpit. Whoever helped a deserter lost his civil rights and was imprisoned with hard labor and flogged in prison.  51

The laws of Hesse-Cassel appear to have been a little less savage. Peasants arresting a deserter received a ducat, but if the fugitive passed through a village without being arrested the village was liable to pay for him. Every soldier going more than a mile from his garrison was to be furnished with a pass, and all persons meeting him at a greater distance from home were required to demand it.  52

A characteristic incident occurred in 1738. A Prussian recruiting officer and a Prussian soldier's wife induced a Bayreuth soldier to desert for the purpose of re-enlisting in the Prussian Army. The woman was hanged; the officer was obliged to be present at her execution, and was then locked up in a fortress. The deserter seems to have escaped with his life, being a valuable merchantable commodity. Having enlisted his recruit, perhaps under a foreign jurisdiction, the officer was obliged to get him to his garrison.  53

This would, of course, afford opportunities for desertion, and Kapp quotes from a book printed in Berlin as late as 1805 the precautions to be taken against this danger. The under officer who is escorting a recruit must wear sword and pistol. He must make the recruit walk in front of him, and warn him that a single false step may cost him his life. He must avoid large towns and places where the recruit has previously served as much as possible. It is also desirable to avoid the place where the recruit was born. They must spend the night at inns where the landlord is known to be well-disposed to recruiting officers, and sure to side with them and not with their victim. The recruit and the officer must both undress, and their clothes be given to the landlord for safe-keeping. Inns where recruits are to spend the night must have a separate room for the purpose, if possible up stairs, and with iron-barred windows. A light must be kept burning all night, and the under officer must give up his weapons to the landlord, for fear the recruit should get them away from him and use them against him in the night. In the morning he must get them to the loading, and priming, dress himself, and be ready for his journey before the clothes of the recruit are brought to him. The recruit must enter a house or a room first, he must come out last, At meals he must sit behind the table, next to the wall. If he shows signs of being troublesome, the straps and buttons must be cut off his breeches and he must held them up with his hands. A good dog trained to the business was found to be very useful to an under officer in such circumstances. If an under officer is unfortunately obliged to kill or wound a recruit he must bring a paper from the local magistrate. But no document will excuse the escape of a recruit, an accident which the Prussian military imagination refuses to consider over necessary.  54

The men collected to serve in America we're of various qualities from a military point of view. They were all received and examined by English Commissioners at the seaports, before shipment, and while some of the regiments were pronounced excellent, others were said to be partly made up of old men and boys, unfit to endure the hardships of a campaign. Some soldiers wore rejected for these causes, especially in the latter years of the war, when good men were harder to get in many of the States. It is not easy with the documents before me to judge what chance a private had of promotion from the ranks. Seume writes that he himself had hopes in that direction, which were shattered by the ending of the war, as in time of peace no one who was not noble could aspire to be anything more than a Sergeant-Major, Kapp speaks of the officers as belonging mostly to the lower nobility.  55

The list of Hessian officers (Hesse-Cassel) in 1779, as given by Eelking, does not bear out these statements. It appears that at that time the majority of the officers were not noble, nobility being judged by the presence or absence of the mystic particle von. Especially was this the case in the ranks below that of Major, where the officers of common birth outnumbered the nobles nearly two to one. Of the Majors, 8 were noble, 11 not noble. Of Generals, Colonels, and Lieutenant-Colonels, 28 were noble and 9 not noble. It would seem from these figures that the commoner must have found a sticking point in his advancement at the rank of Major. It is, however, probable that superior officers of merit were often ennobled. Of Quartermasters, Adjutants, Commissaries, doctors, chaplains, &c, none were nobles except the Quartermaster-General and one Adjutant. Again, in some regiments the proportion of noble officers was much larger than in others. The relation between officers and soldiers was, of course, thoroughly despotic, but tempered at times by good-nature toward particular soldiers. Thus Seume, who was educated, and a favorite, was on terms of intimacy with some of the officers of his regiment.  56

We come at last to the character of the officers. Their education was generally confined to a limited amount of writing and a little barbarous French. They understood neither the cause for which the Americans were fighting, nor the language in which the statesmen of both contending parties argued their different claims. But had they understood far more than they did, their sympathies would still have been on the side of royal prerogative against popular freedom. This was not necessary to make them go where they were ordered, nor would it have prevented many of them from heartily wishing themselves at home again, after a campaign or two in America.  57

The Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel took a personal interest in his troops when on foreign service. He corresponded with the officers and meted out praise and blame. He refused promotion to these who had been captured at Trenton until they had effaced that disgrace by subsequent good conduct. As for the rank and file, in spite of the gross injustice with which they had been treated, there are many signs that these involuntary volunteers were not such bad fellows after all.  58

The Germans have their fair share of these virtues which every nation is fond of claiming as its peculiar birthright— honesty, courage, kindliness. The motley mass had been shaped and welded by a rigorous, if often cruel, discipline. These were no freelances, but modern soldiers. They could not wipe out to American eyes the shame of their mercenary calling. But the shame fairly belonged to their Princes and not to themselves. In the field or in captivity, they often deserved, and sometimes obtained, the respect of their opponents. Many of them became, in the end, citizens of the Republic they were sent to destroy.  59

It is not many years since survivors of our own Revolutionary Army were still living among us. They were duly honored by the people, and as their ranks became thinned by time, were in great request for Fourth of July celebrations and patriotic banquets. A story was then current that in a certain village on the eve of the Fourth the committee found themselves without a revolutionary veteran. The local soldier had died, or been enticed away to the more splendid festivities of a neighboring town. What was to be done? Someone at last suggested that an old man had appeared that day at the inn. He looked old enough to be a veteran. There was no harm in asking. A sub-committee waited on the stranger and announced its errand. Oh, yes! He had fought in the Revolution. The old man was given a prominent place next day in the procession, and a high seat at the banquet. His health was drank, and he rose to respond. "Ladies and gentlemen," said the old man, "I fought in the Revolution. Unfortunately, I fought on the wrong side. I am one of the Hessians." A murmur went through the patriotic assembly. An imaginative lady thought she smelt sulphur. The committee were aghast, "But," continued the veteran, "we were beaten, and I'm glad of it. I settled here in America, and have been a good citizen these 50 years. God save the United States!" He sat down amid thunders of applause, and the inhabitants of that village were unanimous that they had never had so successful a Revolutionary veteran.

Temper of the times  61

Some of the events that occurred during the lifetime of Johann Heinrich Merckelbach:  61A

1721. On November 2, Peter I is proclaimed Emperor of All the Russians.  61B

1721. Johann Sebastian Bach composes the Brandenburg Concertos.  61C

1727. Lt. Col. Francisco de Melo Palheta smuggles coffee seeds to Brazil in a bouquet and thereby starting a coffee empire.  61D

1727. Last execution for witchcraft in Scotland.  61E

1753. Sweden adopts the Gregorian calendar on March 2. Even the British had done so half a year earlier.  61F

1753. The British Parliament extends citizenship to Jews.  61G

1753. Publication of Species Plantarum by Linnaeus on May 1. This date is adopted by the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature as the formal start date of the scientific classification of plants.  61H

1753. On October 31, feeling that Virginia's interests were threatened by newly built French forts, Virginia Lieutenant-Governor Robert Dinwiddie sent an eight-man expedition under George Washington to warn the French to withdraw. Washington, then only 21 years old, made the journey in midwinter of 1753-1754. The French refusal to comply set the stage for the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the North American chapter of a worldwide conflict known in Europe as the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). This conflict involved all of the major European powers of the period: Prussia, Hanover, and England (including its colonies in North America, the Honourable East India Company, and Ireland) were pitted against Austria, France (including its North American colony of New France and the French East India Company), the Russian Empire, Sweden, and Saxony. Portugal and Spain were later drawn into the conflict on opposite sides, and a force from the neutral Netherlands was attacked in India. We won't get into the many battles fought, but the war ended France's position as a major colonial power in the Americas and its position as the leading power in Europe until the time of the French Revolution.  61I

1755. On April 15, A Dictionary of the English Language is published by Samuel Johnson. The work had taken him nine years.  61J

1755. Lisbon is destroyed by a massive earthquake and tsunami, killing some 60,000 to 90,000 people.  61K

1757. On January 5, Robert-François Damiens makes an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Louis XV of France. As the King was entering his carriage, Damiens rushed forward and stabbed him with a knife, inflicting only a slight wound. He made no attempt to escape, and was apprehended at once. He was tortured in an unsuccessful attempt to make him divulge his accomplices, then sentenced to be drawn and quartered by horses at the Place de Grève. Before the execution he said, "the day will be hard". For starters, he was tortured with red-hot pincers; his hand, holding the knife used in the attempted assassination, was burned using sulphur, molten wax, lead, and boiling oil. Horses were then harnessed to his arms and legs for his dismemberment. Damien's limbs and ligaments did not separate easily; after some hours, representatives of the Parlement ordered the executioner and his aides to cut Damiens' joints. Damiens was then dismembered, to the applause of the crowd. His torso, apparently still living, was then burnt at the stake.  61M

1759. Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments is published as is Voltaire's Candide.  61N

1759. Guinness Brewery founded in St. James's Gate, Dublin, Ireland.  61O

1761. September 19: Slave trade to and within Portugal mainland is forbidden. In Dutch Guyana, a "state" formed by escaped slaves signs a treaty with the local governor. Dutch planters relied heavily on African slaves to cultivate the coffee, cocoa, sugar cane, and cotton plantations along the rivers. Treatment of the slaves was notoriously bad, and many slaves escaped the plantations. These runaways, collectively known in English as the Maroons, established several independent tribes. The Maroons would often raid the plantations to recruit new members, acquire women, weapons, food and supplies. These attacks were often deadly for the planters and their families, and after several unsuccessful campaigns against the Maroons, the European authorities signed several peace treaties with them in the 19th century, granting the Maroons sovereign status and trade rights.  61P

1761. The tune to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is published in France.  61Q

1770. August 22: James Cook claims the eastern coast of New Holland (Australia) for Great Britain.  61R

1770. Joseph Priestley, British chemist, recommends the use of a rubber to remove pencil marks.  61S

1771. Plague in Moscow: 57,000 dead.  61T

1774. The British pass the Quebec Act thereby setting out rules of governance for the colony of Quebec in British North America.  61U

1774. German cobbler Johann Birkenstock creates the first Birkenstock sandals.  61V

1778. On November 26, Captain James Cook becomes the first European to land on Maui.  61W

1778. The term thoroughbred was first used in the United States in an advertisement in Kentucky to describe a New Jersey stallion called Pilgarlick.  61X

1788. February 1: Isaac Briggs and William Longstreet patent the steamboat.  61Y

1788. On July 24, Governor General Lord Dorchester proclaimed the division of the Canadas into five districts: Gaspe, Lunenburg, Meckleburg, Nassau and Hesse.  61Z

1789. The French Revolution (1789-1799) begins on July 14 when Parisioners storm the Bastille and free seven prisoners. In rural areas, peasants attack noble manors. On August 26, the last article of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was adopted. The Declaration is one of the fundamental documents of the French Revolution, defining a set of individual rights and collective rights of all of the estates as one. Influenced by the doctrine of natural rights, these rights are universal. They are supposed to be valid in all times and places, pertaining to human nature itself.  61AA

1791. January 25: The British Parliament passes the Constitutional Act of 1791, splitting the old province of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada.  61AB

1791. As off March 2, long-distance communication speeds up with the unveiling of a semaphore machine in Paris.  61AC

1791. September 30: Première of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's singspiel Die Zauberflöte in the Freihaustheater in Vienna.  61AD

1795-1806. The Batavian Republic (Bataafse Republiek in Dutch) designated the Netherlands as a republic modelled after the French Republic. It was proclaimed on January 19, 1795, a day after stadtholder William V of Orange fled to England, and a liberty tree was planted in front of the City Hall in Amsterdam on March 4. The invading French revolutionary army found sufficient allies in Holland. Eight years before, thanks to the military intervention of the King of Prussia, the stadtholder's brother-in-law, the Orange faction had won the upper hand in a small yet significant civil war. Many of the revolutionaries who then fled to France now returned, eager to realize their ideals.  61AE


Schultheiß translates as sheriff or mayor, but contrary to this modern dictionary translation, the word sounds to me more like debt collector, in the service of a feudal lord tasked with collecting the fees from the lord's vassals and/or people working on the lord's estate or manor. As for the word sheriff, or rather the sheriff's function, after the Norman invasion of England in 1066, the sheriff became the agent of the king and among his new duties was tax collection. In 1215, a despotic king was forced to sign the Magna Carta that codified rights of the English nobles. It also documented the role of sheriff who remained the leading law enforcement officer of a county. Quoting from my source, "It was an honor to be appointed sheriff, but it was costly. If the people of the county did not pay the full amount of their taxes and fines, the sheriff was required to make up the difference out of his own pocket. He also had to provide lavish entertainment for judges and visiting dignitaries at his own expense."  *   fn1

The information in this and the immediately following paragraphs comes from here.  *   fn2

Purely as a note of possible additional interest: A legislative and administrative memorandum No. 60, dated July 23, 1848, announces the naturalization of a Johann Heinrich (Jean-Henri) Merckelbagh, adjudant non-commissioned officer of the Reserve Division, as a citizen of the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg. And another such memorandum, Second part of No. 49, dated October 19, 1867 tells us that Johann-Heinrich Merckelbagh, first lieutenant in the corps of Luxembourger "Jäger," was appointed as a quartermaster.  *   fn3

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