Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Thomas Jefferson & A Palatine Farmer

Thomas Jefferson idealized people such as my maternal great, great, great, great, great (5) grandfather as the epitome of true Republicanism as the term was used in Colonial times.germany

Born the same year as John Adams, Johannes Messerschmidt (aka John Messersmith) turned 24 the year Thomas Jefferson was born. Seven years earlier, he had stepped off the ship Nancy at Philadelphia with his father Andreas after a voyage across the Atlantic from Rotterdam, preceded I assume by a trip down the Rhine from ancestral Ofterdingen in the Southwest corner (Baden-Wurttemberg) of what is now Germany.

At age 16, Johannes was part of the migration of Protestants from the Palatine area of Germany, enabled by the then German-born King of England, George II and the promise of America and intimations of free land initiated by, Queen Anne, his father, George I’s second cousin and predecessor.

My ancestor’s immigration was part of what grew the population (white and black) of Colonial America from about 250,000 in 1700 (about the population today of my home city and county of Durham, North Carolina) to over a million by 1750.

In 1769, Joannes left south-central Pennsylvania for Virginia, just as Thomas Jefferson began practicing law following his education at William & Mary. Even though Virginia's population at the time was just shy of that of the Durham metro area today (500,000,) I doubt the two ever actually met in person.

Five years later, as a member of the Virginia Militia, Johannes was guarding the frontier and lost friends at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774, just as Jefferson was penning A Summary View of the Rights of British America, a precursor to the Bill of Rights.

The Battle of Point Pleasant took place less than a year before revolutionary skirmishes at Lexington and Concord and just as Jefferson was appointed as a replacement to the Continental Congress.

Point Pleasant is credited with creating the peace with Native American tribes along the Ohio River like the Shawnee, Mingo and Delaware. This was pivotal to the Revolutionary War because it allowed the Continental Army to singularly focus on defeating the British without fear of being squeezed by a western front alliance between Native Americans and the Red Coats.

Thomas Jefferson went on to author of The Declaration of Independence (a kind of case statement for the Revolution and a mission statement for the soon-to-be United States of America) and eventually to be President.

Johannes lived peacefully after the revolution on land granted for his service about 174 miles south and west from Jefferson’s beloved Monticello and 200 miles west and north from where I live. It was along a creek feeding the South Fork of the Holston River where today it is hemmed by the southern tip of the Jefferson National Forest and the northern tip of the Cherokee National Forest.

Johannes Messerschmidt was just the type of yeoman farmer that Jefferson idealized and apparently my family had a knack for selecting good fly-fishing areas, long before another side homesteaded along the Henrys Fork of the Snake River a little more than 100 years later.

Coincidentally Johannes’ land at the time of his death and burial was in a county named for George Wythe, the country’s first professor of law who instilled in Thomas Jefferson, while he was at William & Mary, that “all men are created equal.” Wythe also co-signed The Declaration of Independence.

Both Jefferson’s and Wyeth’s views would have resonated with Johannes. Although Lutheran he had arrived at a time when German Mennonites and Amish were also seeking religious freedom here and Moravians moved south to found Salem, NC, now part of Winston-Salem just before Johannes moved to Virginia.

It is also probable that while his father had funds to pay for their crossing, as an impressionable 16 year old, Johannes would have witnessed other passengers being held aboard ship for up to three weeks until purchased and released or indentured as servants to pay for their voyage, adults 3-5 years, youth 10-15 years as well as Africans being sold as slaves.

Yes, I have no doubt that “all men are created equal” had meaning for Johannes as would “freedom of religion.”

While his son Barnabas didn’t remain in Virginia, the connection with Jefferson continued. Barnabas headed out West to Missouri as part of then President Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase . Barnabas named the son from whom I descend, Rufus. Can you guess his grandson’s name? My great-great grandfather’s name is appropriately, Thomas.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post... My name is Matt Messersmith - making us distant relatives. I'm a decendent of Rufus Messersmith's younger brother William. It was interesting reading more about the life of Johannes.

Anonymous said...

I'm Milton Joe Messersmith a decendent of Godfrey Messersmith. I discovered in my great grandmother Angeline Henness Messersmith obituary that my great grandfather Thomas Jefferson Messersmith and my grand father Benjamin Marion Messersmith helped build the first fish hatchery in Nebraska. I enjoy your ramblings

Thanks Joe