This image of Conrad Weiser is from a vintage cigar box and portrays Weiser along with his home in Reading, an old Pennsylvania crest, a scene with Indians and the coat of arms of the Duchy of Württemberg in Germany where he was born and raised.
From living in Germany to living with Mohawk Indians in America in 1712…that was only one adventure in the life of Conrad Weiser. In a previous posting, I briefly mentioned that Weiser was the maternal grandfather of the first Speaker of the House, Frederick Muhlenberg. Now I will relate the story of how his grandfather arrived in America and some additional details which are quite interesting.
In 1709 Conrad was 13 and still lived in Württemberg , Germany, when fever claimed the life of his mother, Anna Magdalena. Her death was one of many at that time. The land and people of southwestern Germany were ravaged by French invasions related to the War of Spanish Succession (1701–1714) … and recurrent invasions led to confiscation of food and the destruction of numerous cities…especially within the Palatinate. This created hardships of all kinds, but it was exacerbated by the Little Ice Age resulting in harsh winters and poor harvests that created famine in Germany and much of northwest Europe.
Conrad Weiser’s father and children were among thousands of refugees who left German lands that year. The migrants came principally from regions comprising the modern German states of Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, and northern areas of Baden-Württemberg. All of these people traveled up the Rhine River and then to England, which had offered some support for Protestant refugees. There were so many that the English had to make a camp for them outside London’s city walls for the winter.
The following year in 1710, the English arranged for transport in ten ships of the nearly 3,000 Germans to the New York colony. The Queen supported migration of the immigrants to help settle the New York colony. The plan was that they would work off their passage in a form of indenture in camps devoted to producing ships’ stores, such as tar and other materials. Later they would be allowed to trade their work for land. Most of the Germans were first located in what were called the East and West Camps on the Hudson River, near Livingston Manor. It was not until 13 years later in 1723 that some 100 heads of families received land grants in the central Mohawk Valley.
Conrad Weiser’s father somehow managed to get his family to the Schoharie Valley earlier than 1723. In 1712, when Conrad was 16, his father agreed to a chief’s proposal for the youth to live with the Mohawks in the upper Schoharie Valley. During his stay with the Indians in the winter and spring of 1712-1713, Weiser learned much about the Mohawk language and the customs of the Iroquois, while enduring hardships of cold, hunger, and homesickness. Conrad Weiser returned to his own people towards the end of July 1713.
At the age of 24, Weiser married Anna Eve Feck and 3 years later, in 1723, the couple followed the Susquehanna River south out of New York. They settled their young family on a farm in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania near present-day Reading. The couple had fourteen children, of which only seven reached adulthood.
In 1731 Conrad, accompanied his friend Chief Shikellimy, overseer of the Six Nations…which included many major tribes and sub tribes…and travelled to Philadelphia to work on treaty negotiations with Governor Gordon. In 1732 he was officially recognized as Interpreter of Pennsylvania and Head of the Indian Bureau and remained so until his death. The Pennsylvania Archives state that Weiser’s Indian name was “Tarachawagon” which means “he who holds the reins”.
In 1736, Shikellamy, Weiser and the Pennsylvanians negotiated a treaty in Philadelphia and later next year a land purchase around the northern Delaware River, which helped induce the Iroquois to continue to side with the British versus the French. It is very likely that this treaty saved the British colonies from defeat during the French and Indian Wars.
Twenty three years later, during the 1755 Indian outbreaks along the frontier, Conrad Weiser was appointed Colonel of a regiment of volunteers from Berks County, PA. A number of forts were constructed under his direction, with the aid of Benjamin Franklin, along the frontiers of Lancaster and Berks counties. During the “French and Indian War”, he commanded the Second Battalion of the Pennsylvania Regiment.
Conrad was also a business man and acquired quite a bit of property in the Pennsylvania area. At the time of his death, Conrad’s estate included some 900 acres of land in Heidelberg Township, Berks County; some Blue Mountain lands; and a lot in the town of Reading. In 1751 he erected a large stone home, which was also the first store in Reading. After the original building burned down in 1907, a new facsimile was built and is now a museum to honor this unassuming national hero. At the age of 63, he died at his home on July 11, 1760.
Today you can visit the Conrad Weiser Homestead, a Pennsylvania state historic site in Womelsdorf, Berks County, Pennsylvania.
Additional commemorations of Conrad Weiser
- Conrad Weiser Area School District in western Berks County serves the townships of South Heidelberg Township, Heidelberg Township, North Heidelberg Township, and Marion Township, and the boroughs of Wernersville, Robesonia, and Womelsdorf.
- The Weiser State Forest occupies 17,961 acres
- US 422 becomes Conrad Weiser Parkway as it crosses into Marion Township in Berks County
- Camp Conrad Weiser is a 500-acre YMCA overnight camp in Berks County
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