Friday, February 26, 2016

Harshbarger line: Bernard Kepner 1673-1765, Long-lived immigrant

I sure wish I had the constitution and stamina of this man!  He must have been remarkable, to have survived his roots in war torn Baden.  It is quite possible that he lost family members in the Thirty Years War, although his immediate family's struggles would have been with the post-war recovery efforts.  Much of Baden was devastated by the war(s), although I haven't yet found anything specific to Sulzfeld, the town or village where he was born. 

His birth or christening date is given as January 30, 1673.  His parents were Johannes Bernhardt Kepner and Barbara.  His father was 50 years old when Bernard was born, and died when Bernard was just 7.  He likely had older brothers and sisters to take care of him, and we don't know when his mother died or remarried.  His sponsors were the nobleman Johann Bernhard Goler, Michael Hainlin, a citizen of Sulzfeld, and Ursula Volkmann, shepherdess.  (I am wondering what the significance of these identifications are.  Because the name of the child was Johann Bernhard, perhaps Mr. Goler was obliged to attend.  Michael Hainlin and Ursula Volkmann give more cause for wonder.  Who were they?  Was there a family relationship to either sponsor?  Was Ursula perhaps a sister to the unknown Barbara? 

On November 22, 1698, also in Sulzfeld, Bernard married Anna Barbara Schlagaman, who had been born December 28, 1672 to Johannes Bernhardt Kepner and Barbara.  The couple had at least seven children together, two of whom died young.  In about 1715, Bernard and possibly his family came to Pennsylvania.  This was fairly early in the German emigration, and hints that there was a strong motive, whether religious or economic, to come to the new land.  We don't know what he was doing for the next few years, but somehow he managed to not only provide for his family, but also to save enough money to buy land.  He purchased 100 acres of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia from Claus Braun on April 29, 1721, and he and his wife lived there for 24 years. They sold the land in 1745, when Bernard was 72 years old.  He likely had no family at home and perhaps it was getting to be too much for him to keep up the "old home place."  (By this time, on July 29,1740, Bernard had complied with recently passed laws that required him to be "naturalized", showing that he owed his allegiance to the British monarchs.)

Wherever he went after the sale of his farm, it wasn't far, as he is noted as a communicant (if I am reading the German correctly) at St Michael's Congregation in Philadelphia in 1758, when he was also noted as being 85 years of age.  This church is on Germantown Avenue, just a short distance from the land Bernard had owned.  He lived until October of 1765 (nearing his 93rd birthday), and is buried in the old cemetery at Saint Michael and Zion Lutheran Church.  The church is currently in the process of repairing their historic cemetery, and it is possible that during this process, his actual tombstone may be located, although it is also possible that it is gone forever. 

In my opinion, Bernard was brave and hardworking, proven by the fact that he survived the difficult early years in a strange land.  We know that he had strong religious convictions (which brings us back to wondering whether he left his homeland to escape the religious wars that were ongoing) and we know that he helped build Pennsylvania, simply by being there and living his life.  It would be wonderful to know more about him, both in Baden and in America, but this much is more than enough to make him a memorable ancestor. 

The line of descent is:

Bernard Kepner-Anna Barbara Schlagmann
Benedict Kepner-Maria Salome Weicker
Bernard Kepler-Maria Elizabeth Lindemuth
Andrew Kepler-Anna Maria Kramer
Mary Kepler-George Harshbarger
Lewis Harshbarger-Catherine Mentzer
Emanuel Harshbarger-Clara Harter
Grover Harshbarger-Goldie Withers
Cleveland Harshbarger-Mary Margaret Beeks
Their descendants

Further research:  I've learned that there are articles in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly of September 1973 and the Pennsylvania Genealogy Magazine Volume 20.  I'll be looking for these articles, hoping to find more about this family!