Thursday, February 26, 2015

Harshbarger line: Johann Peter Behney 1715-1784

Johann Peter Behney or Bene would be another German immigrant in the Harshbarger line, except for one thing.  He lived just on the other side of the border, in what was then Alsace but is now France.  It appears that the Bene family may not have been there for more than a generation, but with all the upheaval surrounding the Thirty Years War it is hard to pinpoint the family's origin.   

Peter was born April 11, 1715 in Gundershoffen, Alsace, the son of Melchior Bene and Anna Barbara Mallo.  He had at least two brothers and there may well have been other siblings. However, as far as is known the brothers did not come to America.  Internet sources say that 99% of the people in this country who carry the name of Behney have Peter as their ancestor.  Gundershoffen was a small town (current population is about 3900) at the time that Peter lived there, and it is likely that the family farmed and possibly had a small business within the confines of the town also.  We don't know when Peter married Anna Barbara, but when they came to Philadelphia on the Phoenix in 1750 there were six children, so the marriage possibly would have taken place between 1735-1742.  It is likely that the Bene/Behney family came to America for better economic prospects, so the name of the ship is somewhat prophetic.

When they arrived in America, Peter would have taken the oath of allegiance to the King before he was allowed to permanently leave the ship.  He and his family (wife Anna Barbara and children Maria Elisabetha, Eva, Anna Barbara, Johann Jacob, Anna Margaretha, Hans Melchior) went to Heidelberg Township, in what was then Lancaster County but is now Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.  Three more children were born to the couple here, being Christina Elizabeth, Maria Magdalena and George Peter.  There is a span of years between 1752 and 1759 when no known children were born to the couple, so it is possible that there were one or more additional births during that time span and the infants did not survive.

In 1773, Peter Behny is listed in Heidelberg Township, Lancaster County for what was called the sixteenth eighteen penny tax.  He is noted as having 30 acres of land, 1 horse, 1 cattle, no servants, and was taxed 3.6; presumably shillings and pence.  We don't find his name on the 1753 tax lists, so perhaps they had not yet arrived in the township.  At any rate, it is not a surprise to see that he owned only 30 acres, 23 years after the family arrived here.  The area that they settled was the frontier, and there were frequent Indian raids that forced families to leave their homes, leaving much, including crops that would have sustained them through the winter, behind them.  It was not an easy life, but the family worked hard.  At Peter's death in 1784, he left 100 acres of land and a "plantation" (the land he lived on and farmed).  It is said that he once owned 1000 acres of land, but I haven't seen the documents to prove that.  It is also said that he never stopped wearing Continental apparel, which might have made him a strange sight when Heidelberg was a frontier township and many men dressed in the country American style.

Peter lived through the American revolution and saw at least one of his sons serve in the Revolutionary War.  It is amazing to think what he lived through, from living in a small town in France, to arriving in Philadelphia in a strange world, to protecting his family from Indians, to seeing a new country born before his eyes.   I hope he was a good story-teller, for he would have had much to tell his family.

The line of descent is:

Johann Peter Behney-Anna Barbara
Anna Eva Behney-Johann Jacob Fehler
Christina Elizabeth Fehler-Johannes (John) Harshbarger
George Harshbarger-Mary Kepler
Lewis Harshbarger-Catherine Mentzer
Emmanuel Harshbarger-Clara Harter
Grover Harshbarger-Goldie Withers
Cleveland Harshbarger-Mary Margaret Beeks
Their descendents

Warning:  I am still trying to prove that George Harshbarger was the son of John Harshbarger and Christina Fehler.