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Historical Background


Most of us at some time in life ask ourselves, "Who am I? Where did I come from? How did I get here?" If you share one of these many variations of the Kinser name these pages may provide some answers.
Why they came:

To understand why these ancestors of ours would uproot themselves from home and family to travel to a wilderness land half way around the world we must know a little about the world they lived in.
First a bit of history:

The definition of Germany as a single country with clearly defined borders applies to less than 150 years of its' history. Not until 1871 when Prince Otto von Bismarck created a cohesive nation out of a crazy quilt of self-governing kingdoms, tiny duchies and various principalities did that definition apply.

Celts occupied southern Germany long before the first Germanic tribes migrated from Asia into Central Europe. Germany became the Weimar Republic only after the first World War and that required the abdication of the last Kaiser and the overthrow of the kings of Bavaria, Saxony, and Wurttenburg.

Germany first appears clearly in recorded history only after Julius Caesar tried to conquer these tribes and failed. The Romans colonized the areas south of the Danube and West of the Rhine but after the defeat of three of Augustus Caesar's best Roman legions at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 A.D. Rome made no further serious attempts to move into the Germanic territories. The peoples living within the Roman empire did adopt many Roman customs and attitudes and much evidence of the Roman occupation still exists in these areas.

The period in history from the collapse of the Roman Empire-- roughly the 5th century, until the 15th century-- is often referred to as the Middle Ages, sometimes called the Dark Ages.

Economic dislocation and the invasions and settlement of the various Germanic tribes in Western Europe changed the face of the Roman Empire by the end of the 5th century. For the next 300 years western Europe remained essentially a primitive culture.

During this period the loose confederation of tribes began to combine into kingdoms but virtually no machinery of government existed. The only universal European institution was the church, and even there a fragmentation of authority was the rule; power within the church was in the hands of local bishops. The bishop of Rome, the pope, had a certain fatherly prominence but the elaborate machinery of ecclesiastical government and the idea of a monarchical church headed by the pope was not to be established for another 500 years.

A system known as Seignorialism arose during the Middle Ages. Known in England as manorialism, this system encompassed economic, political, and social relationships between, lords or seigneurs, and their dependent peasants or serfs.

In all of medieval Western Europe seignorialism was the norm. Under this system, the great landowners exercised the power of pater familias over the people on their lands. They held economic power as landlords and they often held political jurisdiction by grant or appropriation of power from the imperial government.

While there were regional variations throughout Western Europe, with peak years from 1000 to 1350, the seigneurs of the noble class dominated the lives of the peasants. Whether bond or free the peasants were all subjects of the seigneurs.

When the lord or his representative held court, all his peasants were required to attend, to bring their complaints before him, and to be judged for the offenses that were within the lord's authority. When the lord needed his lands plowed or his crops harvested, he had the right to his peasant's labor. By the 13th century his authority and his rights to labor were well defined in most seigneuries. From each peasant he had the right to so many days' labor each week and so many extra days during plowing, harvest, and other special times. He could build gristmills, ovens, or winepresses and require his people to use them in order to increase his income.

Generally, he had the right to approve or disapprove the marriages of his people, to take a head tax from them annually, to tax their income at will, to take an inheritance tax at their deaths, and to reclaim their lands if they died without heirs.

In return, the peasants, even those of servile origins, had the right to hold their land hereditarily, and although the lord might be able to give or sell them and their posterity, he then had to give or sell their lands with them. The peasants not only had certain strips of arable land in the fields of their villages, but they also had grazing rights on the common pastures and rights to fuel and building materials in the common woods and wastelands, but usually no rights to any game or fish.

The secular state began to emerge, often nothing more than a genesis of national feeling. The struggle for supremacy between church and state became a fixture of European history.

The period of spiritual unrest ultimately ended in the Protestant Reformation. The rise of Charles the great whom the French call Charlemagne marked a turning point in the history of Western Europe. Charlemagne's political power depended on educational reforms that used methods, and aims from the Roman past. Charlemagne was crowned emperor by Pope Leo III in Rome on Christmas day in the year 800 A. D. This act implied that Charlemagne was successor to the Roman emperors and by that papal act the Holy Roman Empire was born. In name it lasted more than a thousand years until, in 1806, Francis II of Austria renounced the title under pressure from Napoleon Bonaparte.

After Charlemagne the West Franks left the empire to become the nucleus of France. The East Franks followed one of Charlemagne's grandsons, Ludwig, the German. The Emperor was left with what was called the middle kingdom between the warring East and West Franks leaving the Holy Roman Emperor largely a fiction for most of these ten centuries.

In fact this idea of the Holy Roman empire created more problems than it solved as far as creating a monarchy. The Kaisers had no capital, no real source of revenue, and were politically impotent. Real power during most of these thousand years rested with the counts, dukes, electors, margraves, princes, bishops, and kings of the various German states.

As Voltaire later pointed out, this German Reich was "neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire."
   Added to these troubles were the religious divisions that came after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenburg.    This beginning for the Reformation broke Germany into hundreds of tiny Protestant and Catholic states triggering a century of conflicts. Conflicts that eventually resulted in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). During this war virtually every German town was sacked at least once. Seven million people died, one third of the population.

In the early 1700's when our ancestors began their emigration from Europe to the American colonies they were still suffering from the aftermath of these divisions. There was neither a "Germany" nor an "Italy" on the early eighteenth century maps. Some three-hundred-odd principalities made up a confederation of Germanic states that constituted the Holy Roman Empire. The power of the empire, generally dominated by the Hapsburgs, was already on the wane.

Europe of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries held little hope for the dreams and aspirations of its' commoner citizens. Entry into the trades was guarded jealously by the guilds. Membership in a guild was passed from father to son or occasionally to another close relative. Jobs for wages were poorly paid and relatively scarce. Most of the nobles paid no taxes while extracting the maximum possible from the peasants.

The abuses of the Roman Catholic Church under the influence of the militant Jesuits were no less a burden to the Protestants of much of Europe. The resurgence of the Roman Catholic church led to harsh religious persecution of the Presbyterians and other Protestants. Changes were underway, however, that later in the century, would result in Revolution in America and France.

These changes had not yet come when our Kinser ancestors came to their time of decision (1720 to 1740). The voices of the young Voltaire and others were just beginning to be heard.

Living under these conditions many peasants were in a persuadable mood when offered the 'land of milk and honey' by pamphlets and recruiters sent out to find the people needed to populate the empty lands of the colonies.

The King of England made a huge grant of land to William Penn to pay debts owed to Penn's father. Penn established the Pennsylvania colony in the royal grant but soon realized that land alone had little value without people to inhabit it, cut the timber, plant crops, and most important of all, to buy the empty acres.

Penn published pamphlets, circulated throughout Europe, soliciting people to move to Pennsylvania and sent recruiters actively enlisting immigrants. Penn's colony was unique in several respects. He offered equality to all comers regardless of rank. Greatly influenced by his contact with the Quakers Penn wrote into the opening paragraphs of the colony's Constitution a promise of religious freedom and restated the promise just as strongly in the closing paragraphs. Pennsylvania was the only American colony that offered complete religious freedom from the very beginning.

Pennsylvania offered much to the German Lutherans and they accepted Penn's invitation in such numbers that laws were passed making it illegal to emigrate. Many of Penn's recruiters were imprisoned but none of these measures stopped the flow.

English citizens, concerned by the large numbers of German immigrants, feared these immigrants might rebel against the King of England and declare Pennsylvania a German colony and laws were passed requiring every immigrant to swear an oath of allegiance to the King of England.

Our Kinser ancestors joined this flow in the early 1700's. Once the decision was made the journey was not easy. Every passenger had to have a passport or letter of permission to leave the country, signed and witnessed by local officials. Also needed was a letter from the local pastor commending the person as a member in good standing to a church in the colonies. Many ignored these requirements and managed to slip away anyway.

Again, travel was a problem. Many European roads were only muddy tracks. Most pilgrims headed to the Rhine River, traveling downstream for weeks aboard river packets. Every town along the river stopped the boats to allow customs officials to exact tolls. Twenty-eight stops on the average journey.

Arriving at Amsterdam or Rotterdam the travelers then had to find a ship for the voyage across the Atlantic. Passage was not cheap and many immigrants sold themselves into bondage for five to seven years to pay the cost of passage. These passengers usually entered into a contract with the captain or ship owner and on arrival their contract was sold or auctioned to the highest bidder.

Many ships were overloaded and in unseaworthy condition. The food was poor and frequently lacking. Captains often carried supplies for a two or three month voyage but uncooperative winds might extend the voyage to four or even six months.

Conditions were crowded, sleeping four or five people to the bed, on bunk beds two and three levels high. Sanitary conditions were primitive. Any disease carried aboard found excellent conditions to flourish. Burial at sea was a daily ritual on many ships.

Possibly as many as one third of the thousands of Palatines (German-Swiss) who started out to the New World succumbed to diseases, hardship, and exposure during their ocean voyage and were buried at sea. Those who survived were hardy stock indeed.

When they arrived these early immigrants found Philadelphia a cosmopolitan city of about ten thousand souls. A few miles outside the city the land turned to wilderness. Those who survived the rigors of the sea journey faced what was called the 'seasoning time.' Fully another third did not survive the first year.

They had left a structured environment with neighbors close at hand to settle in a wilderness. The nearest neighbor might be several miles away. Fields for crops had to be torn out of the land with ax, mattock and plow. Many died, but those who did survive were truly tempered. They were independent, self-reliant and had tasted the heady flavor of freedom.

Immigrants of the 1700s were called Palatines whether or not they were came from the Palatine states. They were among those called 'Deutch' or German who later became known as the Pennsylvania 'Deutch' pronounced 'Dutch'. Also some were French Huguenots, ownership of the area known as the Saare being often in dispute between Germany and France.

Volume II of a series of Heraldic Guidebooks by the Swiss Heraldic Society notes a coat of arms for Kinzer in the city of Schaffhausen. Schaffhausen is located in a small bulge on the northern border of Switzerland projecting into Germany near Lake Constance.

This coat of arms image is of an old stained glass window, visible in one of the rooms in the Kuenzer family villa in Freiberg, Germany, This photo was taken by Duane Kuenzer during the family reunion in Freiburg in the mid-1990’s. The villa was a theater/art gallery/law office at the time.

Kintzer and Keinser are variations of the name Küntzer as misspelled by the immigration officials at the port. Many variations in spelling of family names came when an immigrant ancestor gave his name to the authorities at the port of entry. The immigrant, speaking only German, gave his name. The official recording the name wrote it down as he heard it, neither being able to speak the other's language and thus recognize an error. Thus many immigrants left the port with new, or differently spelled names.

One of our Kinser ancestors had his names spelled three different ways in the same document. The earliest German spelling seems to have been Küntzer or Kuentzer, being written as Kintzer, Kinzer and Kinser on immigration documents in Philadelphia. Six Küntzers or Kintzers are listed among many German immigrants into the American Colonies between 1720 and 1750.

One source records a Jacob Kinzer leaving Nuremberg with a colony of Lutherans about 1730. Nicholas Kintzer was just under fifteen years of age at the time he arrived in Philadelphia on August 30, 1730, aboard the ship 'Thistle.' This Nicholas Kintzer married a Julian Schneider. His family and descendants lived in the Tulpehocken, Pennsylvania as late as the early 1900s.

Another Jacob Kintzer arrived in Philadelphia aboard the ship, 'St. Andrew's Galley,' from Rotterdam about September 24, 1737. A Johan Jacob Kintzer is listed as a passenger on the ship, 'Samuel,' that sailed from Rotterdam. He qualified for citizenship on August 30, 1737, at the age of 28.

Johan Jakob Küntzer and Johan Nicholas Küntzer probably brothers, were aboard the 'Davey' that arrived in Philadelphia, from Amsterdam, on October 26, 1738.
Our ancestor, this Johan Jakob Küntzer, was one of the few who was able to write his own name on the ship's lists. Probably traveling with him was his wife, Anna Maria Seubert or Seibert. Three Seibert men were also on the ship, Bernard Seibert, Johan Wended Seibert, and Johan Jakob Seubert, perhaps Anna Maria's brothers. According to German records a party of people from the Wolfersweiler area sailed together on the Davy.

The ships records report the captain, both mates, and one hundred and sixty passengers as dying during the crossing. The ship with 94 surviving passengers was brought to port by the ships carpenter, the highest ranking crew member still living.

Records from LSD Libraries show all of these Kinsers including the Johan Nicholas who arrived aboard the 'Thistle' and the Seiberts came from Wolfersweiler or Hirstein, small villages located a few miles North of St. Wendel. These various Kinser immigrants appear to be related.

Since the passenger lists did not include the names of women and children under sixteen we have no way of knowing how many had wives and children traveling with them on their arrival in this country. In some cases German records have more information and a search there may reveal more about who traveled with each. We do know that one Kinser arrived with his sixteen year old son.

Most of these immigrants settled initially in Lancaster and Berks Counties of Pennsylvania, later migrating west into Ohio and Indiana and South into Virginia.

In 1834 a Harry Kinzer built an Inn on the Philadelphia-Lancaster turnpike, now Pennsylvania Highway 30. He later laid out a town and sold lots, becoming an early real estate developer and establishing the town of Kinzers, Pennsylvania. . A Kinzer Mennonite Church is located in the township of Kinzers. The Philadelphia-Lancaster Turnpike was one of the first road projects in Pennsylvania planned and financed by the State.

In 1792 A Jacob Kinser was assessed taxes on 130 Acres of land in the Greenwood Township in Pennsylvania and in 1794 on a Distillery. His will provides for the transfer of two distilleries to his children.

In December of 1789 one Jacob Kinser granted to William King 100 acres on the "waters of the New River," in Montgomery County, Virginia. In "The Peopling of Virginia," by Dean, a Lt. Kinser is listed as the Commissioner of the Peace among the officers of the court for Wythe County when the county was organized from Montgomery County on May 25, 1790. Wythe County became home to many Kinsers. In "The Virginia Germans" the Kinsers are listed among the new names immigrating into the New River country around Montgomery, Pulaski, and Giles.

he Kinsers were active in the Lutheran church and, according to one source, as they moved south the Lutheran congregations, on Thom's Creek, Sinking Creek, and at Price's, in Virginia added new members. In 1798 Jacob and George Kinser and Peter, Joseph, Christopher, and Michael Wampler signed a document as Deacons and Elders under which four small Lutheran Congregations, St. John's, St. Paul's, Kimberling, and St. Mark's, in the Wytheville, Virginia area, combined to call a minister. Under this covenant if three of the churches agreed on hiring a minister then the other would agree to accept him. The same applied for firing a minister. If the fourth congregation refused to accept the minister that congregation would be denied his ministry and the minister would be free to seek out another congregation to make a fourth. The minister was to preach at each church on a rotating basis. Apparently every adult male member of each church signed the document thus confirming his agreement to the terms of the covenant.

The church records show that several devout Catholics applied for membership and were accepted with the provision that, if a Catholic church was built in the area, they would be released from their obligations to the Lutheran congregation to unite with the Catholic church.

George, Jacob and Walter Kinser appear as purchasers of items in the estate sale of a George Fawney on February 9, 1802 in Wythe County, Virginia.
After a few years these Lutheran pioneers moved on from Southwest Virginia into East Tennessee. Among the early Lutheran pioneers in East Tennessee are listed George Crumley in Sullivan County, John Harmon and Jacob Harman in Washington County, Peter, George, Walter, and John Kinser and Henry Mauck in Monroe County. All these names are branches on the Kinser family tree.

The Kinsers immigrated into Greene Co., Tennessee about 1800 or shortly thereafter. George, Jacob, and Walter Kinser are all listed as Virginia Taxpayers in Montgomery County, Virginia between 1782 and 1787. These three Kinsers are listed as purchasers of items at Peter Kinser's estate sale in the small community of Liberality, Tennessee in 1813.

Jacob Kinser, Jr. and Sr. appear, along with Peter Kinser, in the 1809 Greene County, Tennessee Tax records all residing on Licking Creek. John Kinser is added to this small group of Kinsers in 1811 and George in 1813. Greene County, Tennessee deed indexes record transfers for Jacob, John and Peter Kinser in 1813. Adam Kinser appears in 1826.

reene County was formed in 1783 and Monroe and McMinn Counties from Greene in 1819. A deed dated March 29, 1849, transfers 114 acres of land in Monroe County, Tennessee from John Kinser Sr. to John Kinser Jr. for the sum of $500. One of the witnesses is Jacob Kinser.

The Kinser families seem to have been concentrated at first in one community, Liberality, in Greene County. The area is now part of Monroe County. Three small streams flowing through several Kinser farms combined into a small creek was called Kinser Creek. These farms also bordered on Dancing Creek, so called because the Cherokee Indians held ceremonial dances on a flat topped hill near the creek. There is also a Kinser Creek in Wythe County, Virginia.

(16) born February 24, 1793, in Virginia, was married February 27, 1810, to Sussannah Mesimer, born Dec. 10, 1792, in Pennsylvania. John died July 12, 1873. John and Sussanah are the East Tennessee ancestors of our branch of the Kinser family. Records of John's parents have not been found and there are differing opinions as to their identity.

This Sussanah Mesimer was supposed to be a link for the Kinser family to a large estate in New York. According to the newspaper stories of the time, nine million dollars was to be divided among three hundred citizens of Greene county who were descendants and therefore heirs of two nieces of the King of England. These nieces were given a grant of land by the King prior to the Revolutionary War. The grant supposedly included land which now is some of the most valuable real estate in the world, including the Woolworth building and the New York City Post Office. Several family members spent a great deal of time researching the relationship during the 1930s but nothing ever came of it. Erskine Kinser(7300) was said to have much of the paper work in his possession. When asked about it one time in later years he remembered having done some research years before but the records were all packed away and he didn't know where they were.

A cedar chest that belonged to Sussannah Mesimer Kinser(17)is still in the family. The owner remembers it setting in the upstairs hall of the Kinser family home near Madisonville, Tennessee and being told it belonged to John Solomon Kinser's great-grandmother.

John Kinser, Sr. (16)and Sussanah had twelve children, Mary, Peter, Henry, Sussanah, John Jr., George, Lydia, Easter, Jacob, Sarah Ann, Catharine, and Francis Marion.
The Kinsers and other devout Lutherans established a church called St. Mary's near Madisonville, Tennessee. In 1879 John Kinser, Jr. (618) donated an acre of land for a site to build the building, now known as St. Mary's Methodist Church. This church maintained a German speaking pastor into the late 1800s. The original church was built from logs but has now been replaced with a concrete block building. John and Sussanah and several other Kinsers are buried in the cemetery adjacent to the church.

       According to the 1850 census records John Kinser, Jr.(618), the fifth son of John and Sussannah Kinser were born in South Carolina. One researcher believes this is an error where a census taker simply placed ditto marks under the previous entry which listed a South Carolina birthplace thus confusing researchers forever after. John Kinser, Jr. was quite prolific having sixteen children by two wives. As a matter of interest, when John and several other Kinsers were listed in the 1850 Tennessee Census the name was spelled Kinsor. Various court documents spell the name Kinsar.

Francis Marion Kinser(8), son of John Kinser, Sr. was born Dec. 10, 1836, in Monroe County, Tennessee. Francis Marion Kinser was named for General Francis Marion, a Revolutionary war general who gave the British army a merry chase through the swamps and lowlands of South Carolina. F. M. Kinser married Sarah Jane Wampler, March 25, 1857. He died on April 28, 1914.

Francis Marion and Sarah Jane had nine children, John Solomon, Mary, Jefferson Davis, William Henry, Sarah L. Caroline, Francis Jacob, Delia, and Ella Jane.

Francis' will makes special provision for his daughter, Cora T. Fain if she agrees to care for he and his wife in their old age.

olumes I, II, and III of the History of Monroe County, Tennessee, by Georgia Cox Sands contains considerable information on the East Tennessee Kinsers.

Kinsers have fought in other wars as well. A Marine base on Okinawa is named for Sergeant Elbert Kinser from Monroe County in East Tennessee. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for his bravery during the battle for the island during World War II. The Citation states that he was awarded the Medal because he threw himself on a grenade thrown into the bunker where he and several other soldiers were billeted, saving the lives of his comrades at the cost of his own. There are also two Kinser's named on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D. C.

 © R. C. Kinser   www.kinser.org