By Susan Deeks

Note: This article is excerpted from “Whatever Happened to Peter Hasenclever’s Germans?” The Highlander, vol. 34, no. 88 (1998). The complete article can be purchased from the North Jersey Highlands Historical Society by writing to the Highlander Editor, NJHHS, P.O. Box 248, Ringwood, NJ 07456.

Who Were Hasenclever’s Germans?
Routes to Ringwood: How Did They Come?
America’s Melting Pot: Where Did They Go?
The Germans

One enduring mystery in the history of our region’s 18th-century ironworks centers on some of its earliest workers, a group that has come to be known as “Hasenclever’s Germans.” Who were these laborers brought to the New World by Peter Hasenclever between 1764 and 1767? How and why did they come? And perhaps most intriguing, where have they gone?

Hasenclever himself left a comprehensive record of his own achievements and challenges in the Colonies in "The Remarkable Case of Peter Hasenclever, Merchant," carefully cataloguing the structures, roads, and reservoirs that were constructed at each of his enterprises--the ironworks at Ringwood, Long Pond, and Charlottenburg, in New Jersey, and at Cortland, New York, as well as the pearlash and potash manufactory in his “New Petersburg” settlement in upstate New York’s Mohawk Valley. But Hasenclever is disappointingly brief on the subject of the workers whose lives he irrevocably changed.

"The Remarkable Case" contains no similar inventory telling us who his workmen were, where they came from, how many family members they brought with them, how they traveled, or how, exactly, they were distributed once they reached the New World. “I ... transported 535 persons to America from Germany, as Miners, Founders, Forgemen, Colliers, Carpenters, Masons and Labourers, with their wives and children” is one of the few clues that Hasenclever left behind.

Who Were Hasenclever’s Germans?

A set of records does remain that provides invaluable clues to the identities of many of the Hasenclever Germans: the ledgers of Father Farmer, a German-born Jesuit priest who rode a missionary circuit through the Highlands between 1765 and 1783 performing baptisms, marriages, and other religious rites. These are, of course, Catholic church records and cover only the northern New Jersey ironworks (which excludes Hasenclever’s Cortland and New Petersburg settlements), so they cannot be assumed to give a complete picture. But they do provide a solid base on which to build further research.

Although many names in Father Farmer’s records are of English or Irish origin (such as Kelly, Burns, and Patterson), most of Hasenclever’s workmen were undoubtedly German, because he took care to employ German-speaking managers during his brief tenure in New Jersey. In addition, Hasenclever spoke in "The Remarkable Case" of his need to hire “inferior clerks” simply because they spoke German: “I had absolutely a necessity [for them], since the people did not speak English, to settle accounts with Labourers, Wood-Cutters, Colliers, Carters, Carpenters, Miners, Founders and Forgemen.”

A number of researchers have taken Father Farmer’s records as a starting point and found information about German workers who can only have been recruited by Hasenclever in the early 1760s. Some of the most important work in this area has been done in Germany by the genealogist Walter Petto. In an article titled, “Early Catholic Immigrants to New Jersey Iron Mills,” published in 1991 in the magazine "The Palatine Immigrant," Petto says:

A first cursory glance at [the records] led to the discovery of a considerable number of names that were familiar to me. A closer comparison with my own genealogical collection of families ... resulted in the certitude that several of these were among those who set out for New Jersey. For all of them, records in Europe end in 1765 at the latest and begin again from 1766 on in New Jersey

Routes to Ringwood: How Did They Come?

So how and why did the “535 Germans” come to work for Hasenclever’s operations, and how did they and their apparently large families, many with small children, make their way to northern New Jersey? Part of the answer may lie in a larger development of the 1700s that has come to be known as the “Palatine immigration.” This movement began in the first decade of the 18th century and continued until the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. In that time, tens of thousands of Swiss and Germans left the Rhine River region to escape religious persecution or simply to find a better economic situation in the American Colonies.

The Palatine immigration to America is relatively well documented: A great number of ship’s lists survive, and many have been published, singly and in collections, in book form and on the Internet. No one, however, has turned up one that can be called the “Hasenclever German” list. Phyllis Smith Oyer, author of the genealogy "Oyer and Allied Families," expressed her frustration in the sentence: “If only the Hasenclever families were on ship’s lists!”

Oyer has done extensive research to try to document the arrival in America of her husband’s ancestor Frederick Oyer, whom she believes stopped in Ringwood in 1764 before traveling to Hasenclever’s New Petersburg settlement. Oyer theorizes that “[a]t first, the workmen were not considered important enough. This, though, was the best iron and steel producing area in all Europe. Therefore, when the authorities finally realized they were being stripped of their best tradesmen ...they objected to their removal. After that they were transported stealthily--no ships’ lists; no passengers’ lists.”

Many of Hasenclever’s workers--notably, Philipp Fichter and Carl Weibl, both experienced forgemen--have not yet turned up in passenger records and may well have been brought clandestinely to the Colonies. But others almost certainly traveled openly. According to passenger lists reprinted in Daniel I. Rupp's book "Thirty Thousand Names of Immigrants," a Niklas Staller is listed as arriving in Philadelphia from Rotterdam on the Brittania in September 1764. Could this be the Nicholas Stalter who appears in Father Farmer’s records? A Johann Christian Betz is also listed as arriving in Philadelphia on the Betsey on September 19, 1765. Is this the Christian Butz cited as the father of a child baptized by Father Farmer in November 1770?

Maybe, maybe not. But the case is strengthened when one notes the names of three of Betz’s fellow passengers on the ship Betsey: Johann Jacob Bircki, Johann Friederich Clemens and Lorentz Rinckle. The surnames of all three men--like that of Frederick Oyer--are strongly associated with the New Petersburg settlement.

But would Hasenclever have transported his workers to Philadelphia, the port of arrival covered by the book’s lists, rather than New York? If the Birckis, Clemonses, and Rinckles were recruited by Hasenclever--and there are strong reasons to believe they were--then he obviously would. But some or all of the earliest workers seem to have arrived in New York. The late Ernest Krauss of the North Jersey Highlands Historical Society, for example, found that Hasenclever’s manager Johann Jacob Faesch arrived in New York in June 1764, traveling via Rotterdam. He is believed to have arrived with the first group of about 200 workers.

America’s Melting Pot: Where Did They Go?

Upon arrival in northern New Jersey, some of Hasenclever’s workers ran away. The following names appear in advertisements that Hasenclever placed in New York and Pennsylvania newspapers in 1765 to 1767 for the return of runaway ironworkers: Bartholomew Baum, miner; Carl Bruderlin, miner; George Dannefelder butcher; Simon Denck, miner; John Durck, miner; Peter Geyes, miner; Jacob Hahsmidt, miner; Anthony Hoever, miner; Peter Hutschlar, miner; Joseph Langwieder, miner; Matthias Ortman or Ortindn, miner; Henry Schaeffer, miner; and Philip Schneyder, miner. Of these men, only Simon Denck is known to have returned to New Jersey.

The surnames of these runaway workers do not appear in Father Farmer’s records, suggesting that these were men with no family ties to keep them long in the Highlands. Also, many of those listed left at the end of the month—perhaps after drawing their miners’ pay? Another group of workers may have departed in late 1767, not as runaways, but due to dismissal.
On October 1, 1767, Jeston Humfray, the new ironmaster sent by the London investors to replace Hasenclever, “discharged the most expert workmen and hired ignorant people (who burnt both Coal and Iron) in their place,” Hasenclever wrote. Who these workmen were (and how much of the statement is exaggeration) we do not know.

However, a large number of workers, especially those with big families, settled in at Ringwood, Long Pond, and Charlottenburg, at least through Hasenclever’s time (1764–69), and many into the latter part of the 1770s. Johann David Fichter (son of Philipp Joseph Fichter, a highly experienced forgeman who came to America to work for Hasenclever at Ringwood and Long Pond) remained at Long Pond Ironworks until 1777 or early 1778. He then moved, apparently with his wife and many of his siblings, to Mt. Hope. By 1800, Johann David Fichter was living in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, and is listed in the census under the Americanized name “David Victor.” In 1818, David’s son Joseph Victor purchased the Mary Ann iron furnace in Fayette County, which operated until 1840.

According to the U.S. Federal Census, Conrad Waibl (the son of Charles and Susanna Weibl, who appear as parents and sponsors in Father Farmer’s records) moved his family moved to Orange County, New York, sometime between 1783 and 1790. Conrad’s son Charles later returned to live in Ringwood. In the 1850 Federal Census, Charles and his wife, Mary, are listed as living in Passaic County “near the Ryersons.”

An Anthony (Jr.), Charles, and Jacob May appear in the 1812 Ramapo (NY) Census as landowners, the former two listed as owning “lots” and the latter as owning a “house and farm.” They are most likely sons of James and Margaret (Waibl) May, who were married at Long Pond in 1773 and had seven children who were baptized at Long Pond and Ringwood. And the genealogist Walter Petto notes that the Butz family of Father Farmer’s records moved from Ringwood and Charlottenburg to Mt. Hope, then to “Goshenhoppen (now Bally), Pennsylvania, where they established an iron operation [in 1776] that was shut down due to the economic depression following the War of Independence and was sold in 1785.” Members of the Cobole/Goble family and John Eltz also worked for the Butzes’ ironworks.

Finally, branches of many of the early families have remained in the northern New Jersey Highlands: Marion/Merrions, Rhinesmiths, Seeholtzer/Sayholsters, Stroble/Strubles, and Waibl/Wybles, among others, can all be found in Passaic County telephone directories today.


One other key piece of information that Hasenclever provided about his workers can be found in the following passage from "The Remarkable Case":

The refractory disposition of the people was also a troublesome affair; they had been engaged in Germany to be found in provisions; they were not to be satisfied; the Country People put many chimeras in their heads, and made them believe that they were not obliged to stand to the contract and agreements, made with them in Germany; they pretended to have their wages raised, which I refused. They made bad work; I complained and reprimanded them; they told me, they could not make better work at such low wages; and if they did not please me, I might dismiss them. I was, therefore, obliged to submit, for it had cost a prodigious expense to transport them from Germany; and, had I dismissed them, I must have lost these disbursements, and could get no good workmen in their stead.

The workers’ demands for higher wages, to which Hasenclever realistically had little choice but to submit, undoubtedly upset his carefully wrought profit-and-loss calculations at a time that he was already under scrutiny by his investors. This may in part explain why he painted such an unflattering portrait of the workmen.

In doing so, however, he also unintentionally provided important clues to the character of the people who made the journey to work for his enterprises. That they were tough and equal to the challenge is indisputable. Philipp Fichter was 45 years old when he took his family from Germany to the relative wilderness of the northern New Jersey Highlands. Far from homeland and relatives, he and Hasenclever’s other workers built furnaces, forges, roads, dams, and homes in a very short time. They went about the business of living and dying, worshiping, marrying, and bearing (and burying) babies and other family members stricken with disease. And when conditions did not please them, they reminded Hasenclever of their worth as skilled employees without whom he had little chance of succeeding.

It is possible that a list will one day turn up revealing the names of Hasenclever’s early workers and their families. Only then will it be possible to re-create this early workforce. So far, genealogists have made as much progress as--if not progress more than--the historians in identifying Hasenclever’s early workers. The search continues for historical documents that can shed light on this early work force. In the end, though, the catalogue of Hasenclever’s Germans may be compiled by family researchers seeking their remarkable ancestors of the North Jersey Highlands region.

Susan Deeks is a member of the boards of directors of the Friends of Long Pond Ironworks, Hewitt, NJ, and the North Jersey Highlands Historical Society, Ringwood, NJ. She is currently conducting a research project to identify and catalogue workers at the Long Pond and Ringwood Ironworks from 1764 to 1882.

The Germans
Contact Sue Deeks

Copyright 2000 Susan Maier. Reprinted by permission of the author.

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