A Brandt Family History, 1732-2008
By Randolph D. Brandt
Samuel Brandt, a Palatine Mennonite of the early 18th Century, probably longed for three things: peace, a place he could worship as he wished, perhaps a farm.
None of those things could be guaranteed to Samuel Brandt in central Europe, but with a little luck and a lot of determination, all three just might be available to him in a place called Pennsylvania in America. So, that's where he decided to go in 1732.
It's likely that Samuel Brandt, 24, made the decision himself, but marriage mores developing among Protestants at the time suggest he also probably consulted his 20-year-old wife Rossina, and most likely gained her consent.
Then again, it might not have mattered. The treaty ending the Thirty Years' War had basically outlawed a Mennonite family in the Palatinate at the time. Only three religions were to be accepted in the German states, provinces or bishoprics -- Catholic, Lutheran or Reformed German -- depending upon the preferences of the neighborhood prince or prelate. Religious nonconformists or members of dissenting sects such as the pacifist Mennonites kept a low profile or left.
The Palatinate of southwestern Germany, then not a nation at all, had been devastated by the Thirty Years' War, ending in 1648, and again during the War of the Grand Alliance, from 1689-1697, creating tens of thousands of refugees. The damage wrought wouldn't be repaired for another century or more, and internecine conflict remained a constant threat. Millions had been killed across Germany. In the Palatinate, now the modern Pfalz region, towns and villages had been left particularly depopulated. The region's housing, farms and what little infrastructure it might have had was pretty much leveled. Brandt’s village, Bockschaft, Baden, remains a small, rural town to this day.
It had been into this relative desolation of the Palatinate that early Mennonite families migrated in the second half of the 1600s from Swiss cantons, where as outlawed religious nonconformists, their treatment had been even worse.
The Brandt (then Brand) family name appears on Palatinate Mennonite Census Lists as among the former Swiss refugees who were barely tolerated even in the Palatine region, forced to pay a substantial discriminatory head tax and subject to land-reclamation laws that left them with only tenuous rights to own farms, if they were lucky enough to acquire any land at all. Contemporary law severely restricted the number of Mennonite families allowed in the region, and police authorities kept careful lists.
Samuel’s grandfather, Christian Brand, b. 1666, had migrated to Bockschaft with his parents, Benedict Brand and mother, Catarina Steiman, from Lauperswil, Switzerland, near Bern, from which they likely were exiled as Mennonites.
Benedict’s parents, Christian Brand, b. 1585, and Barbli Mosiman, b. 1610, had been married at Lauperswil.
Samuel’s father, Hans Brand, is listed in a 1709 Mennonite census with his father, Benedict, and brothers, Michael and Samuel, at Bockschaft Farm No. 2.
Even with the new century of the 1700s, prospects wouldn't have been any brighter for the next generation of young Palatine Mennonites.
But Pennsylvania in America was a different matter. There, under the English patent granted the Quaker William Penn, religious freedom was guaranteed, a particularly strong magnet for members of those sects that also shared the Quaker belief in pacifism.
By happenstance, the new frontier lying to the West beyond Philadelphia, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, also offered some of the best potential farmland in the world, once Indian claims had been extinguished.
But how to get there? The German states, generally landlocked, offered no emigration ports, so it became the custom to transport families via the Rhine to Rotterdam. That's where Samuel and Rossina Brandt boarded the English transport ship "Samuel," for the often dangerous and always uncomfortable two-month transatlantic passage, via Cowes, England, to Philadelphia.
The "Samuel" was a frequent visitor to Philadelphia. It made several voyages bringing immigrants from the Palatinate, Germany and Switzerland to the Quaker City, then a growing collection of brick and frame buildings spread along the West Side of the Delaware River, with its welcoming wharves.
Many of the immigrants who landed in Philadelphia were Germans, not English, and the law of the colony required both a stringent record of arrivals and a signed oath of allegiance to the English crown from "foreign" newcomers.
Thus, because the Brandts landed in Philadelphia, we know as a recorded certainty that "Samuel Brand(t)" and "Rossina Brand(t)" appear on the "List of Foreigners Imported in the Ship Samuel, of London, Hugh Percy, Master, from Rotterdam, Qualified August 11, 1732." Samuel Brand(t) was required to sign the oath, and a facsimile of his signature survives.
From there, the Brandt family most likely took the Philadelphia Road (now roughly Route 30), then one of the few improved roads into the interior, to Lancaster, trading center for the Amish, Mennonite farmers, the "plain people," already assembling parcels for farms in the new land.
Many immigrants arrived "pfennigless," but others brought the equivalent of up to 40 or 50 English pounds in specie, highly prized in the cash-strapped colony. It isn't known whether the Brandts were of sufficient means to avoid the indentured servitude or purchased labor many would be forced to submit to, to help pay their passage. In any event, Samuel Brandt appears on the property rolls of Rapho Township, Lancaster County, in 1756, the earliest on record. By then, he also owned several large farms in Londonderry Township, then-Lancaster, now Dauphin County, which were occupied by his sons, John and Michael.
In addition to Michael and John, Samuel and Rossina Brandt's children included Christian, Yost, Anna, Marie, Elizabeth, Esther and Jacob. John's farm was on the right bank of the Conewago Creek, in Conewago Township, Dauphin County, a mile from the junction of Dauphin and Lancaster counties.
John and his wife Maria had five children, Christian, born in 1765; John, born in 1767; Barbara, born in 1769; Samuel, born in 1771; and Michael, born in 1774, unfortunately also the year of John's death.
Circumstances likely were tough for the family with a chief breadwinner gone. Widow, brothers and sisters hung on at the family homestead until grandfather Samuel's death in 1784.
Son John, only 7 when his father died, wound up indentured at age 17 for three years to George Rutt to learn the trade of joiner and spinning wheel maker.
The indenture, dated July 25, 1784, called upon Rutt to provide lodging, board and clothing, and required a "new suit of wearing apparel and a set of tools, one piece of each kind," upon completion of the contract.
John Brandt appears to have remained in Rutt's employ once the indenture was complete. He was one of the Rutt carpenters who built a swisser barn about a mile from Maytown for Christian Bucher in 1789 or '90. John Brandt apparently was building a relationship with Bucher's daughter, Frances, at the same time. The couple married in 1791.
A co-worker on the barn, stonemason John Taylor, also made the acquaintance of Frances' older sister, Ann, and married her a year later, eloping to Kennett Square in Chester County. The couple became the grandparents of Bayard Taylor, noted 19th-Century poet and journalist, thus the first known brush with the Brandts, albeit through an in-law relationship, to the field of writing that would become something of a family tradition in later generations.
John and Frances Brandt went housekeeping in a one-story, three-room and attic log house, built in 1785 and belonging to Christian Bucher. The log house, about one and a half miles northwest of Maytown included about 130 acres, and would become the beginnings of the "Brandt homestead" after John and Frances managed to secure a series of mortgages for the purchase of the property from the Bucher family. By 1810, the couple owned it free and clear, though not without a lot of work and sacrifice.
In her later year years, "Fanny" would relate how they would work all day in the fields, when a few potatoes and some meat thrown into a dutch oven would do for supper. The couple raised their own flax and wool, and spun and wove it into linen and cloth to make their own clothes. Bucher in-laws looked upon John Brandt as something of a social inferior, calling him, in contempt, "der halb-leinich Brandt," in reference to his "plain people" outfit of half homespun, half linen attire.
In addition to the flax and wool, John and Fanny also raised six children, Frances, born in 1792; Anna, born in 1793; Christian, born in 1795; John H., born in 1797; Joseph, born in 1800; and Elizabeth, born in 1803.
As thrift and industry led to a degree more prosperity, the couple enlarged their home, adding a shed-roofed shanty on the south side for their boys.
In something of an ironic twist, it was John Brandt, not the Buchers, who prospered over time. The Bucher family's speculation in Continental currency and boom-bust town lots in nearby Marietta apparently didn't pay off as well as John and Fanny's consistent hard work on the farm. By the 1820s, it was Christian Bucher, Fanny's father, who had to come live with "der halb-leinich Brandt" in what had now become the Brandt homestead outside Maytown. Bucher died there in 1825.
John Brandt was described as a man of medium build and a frank, outspoken disposition. In addition to operating the family farm, he held several positions of trust through his lifetime, such as administrator, executor and guardian of family interests. In later years, he was an assessor, tax collector and supervisor, keeping records, as was the practice in Lancaster County, in both German and English. He was part-owner of one of the shad fisheries along the nearby Susquehanna River, and was often seen in semi-retirement wending his way toward the river on horseback, with rod over his shoulder, his long, white beard floating in the breeze. In politics, he was a staunch Jefferson and Jackson Democrat, and both John and Fanny remained staunch members of the Mennonite Church.
John Brandt's eldest son Christian took over the farm, marrying Elizabeth Long in 1827, and adding a two-story frame to the north side of the old log house in 1828. John Brandt, who died in 1842, left a will that specified his widow, Fanny, should have the income from the farm until her death, which occurred in 1857. Christian Brandt inherited the house and farm in 1858. The old log house was torn down in 1862 and a two-story frame house built in its place. The homestead had been in the Bucher family since 1757, and it was to remain in the Brandt family well into the 20th Century.
Christian's brother, John H. Brandt, also was a farmer in East Donegal Township, near Maytown. He married Katie Hosler and they had five children, John, Michael, David, born in 1827, Fannie and Joseph.
John H. and Katie Brandt became members of the German Baptist Church. John H. Brandt was described as a man of much character and standing in the community, upright, honorable, straightforward and honest. He died in 1853, followed by Katie in 1863.
Son David remained with the Mennonite Church, marrying Elizabeth Longenecker in Dauphin County in 1853. He, too, engaged in farming in East Donegal Township near Maytown until his retirement in 1896. David and Elizabeth had four children, Simon L., Alphus, Tillie and John L. Following Elizabeth's death in 1865, David Brandt was remarried to Mary P. Breneman in 1868. He died in 1902.
David's son, Simon L. Brandt, married Elizabeth Eshelman, and left the family's farm between Maytown and Mount Joy to move to nearby Marietta, where the couple opened up a boarding house at Walnut and Mulberry streets around 1910. Elizabeth wore the plain clothes of the Mennonites, but Simon became superintendent of the Sunday school at the Methodist Church in Marietta. In addition to taking in boarders, Simon and Lizzie Brandt operated a small novelty shop in the house, and served lunches for teachers and other day workers in Marietta. Simon also wrote for a weekly newspaper published in Lancaster County. Simon and Lizzie had nine children, Dave, Annie, Ada, John Allen, Ralph, Harvey, Leroy, Irving and Victor. Both parents died in 1927.
Simon and Lizzie Brandt's transition from the farm to life in town may have presaged the changes in store for the generations to come in the 20th Century. The close-knit and generally closed society of 18th- and 19-th Century Mennonite communities gave way to different church affiliations, occupations and living patterns, even military service. With the changes came both risks and opportunities.
Son Victor, for example, disappeared from Marietta in 1926, never to be heard from again. Ada's daughter, Marion Weaver, went on to write the story line for the hit play, "Plain and Fancy," yet another Brandt family brush with literary near-fame.
Son John Allen Brandt, b. 1879, d. 1947, hit the road, too, enlisting in the U.S. Army for service during the Spanish-American War, though he remained in training on Governor’s Island in New York and saw no combat. Later, he became a department store manager in Pottstown, Pa., and a manager for sales promotions for the Stiles & Son department stores in Bridgeton, N.J. His many career changes included managing the Majestic Theater in Bridgeton (where he suffered a fractured skull in a fall while changing the marquee), and running his own small neighborhood store off Hampton Street, with the help of his wife, Catherine. Meanwhile, he also engaged in something of a political career, becoming a Justice of the Peace for the town's Third Ward, and running once unsuccessfully in a mayoral primary in an attempt to unseat the Republican incumbent. His attempts at gaining appointment as town recorder, a kind of municipal judge, also failed to muster sufficient support on the city council.
John Allen Brandt was outbid in an attempt to purchase the local newspaper, The Bridgeton Evening News, so the journalism bent skipped a generation. But the couple's two sons, Ralph and John Delbert Brandt, built careers around journalism and sports reporting, Ralph as longtime managing editor of The Bridgeton Evening News, and J. Delbert as reporter and columnist for the Vineland Times Journal. Their cousin, Dave Brandt, became a pioneering television sportscaster for WGAL in Lancaster, Pa., and an inductee into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
J. Delbert Brandt, b. 1915, married Hannah A. Machamer, b. 1920, of Williamstown, Pa., in 1942, the couple having met a year earlier at the amusement park at Hershey, Pa. Hannah Brandt, a retired legal secretary and bookkeeper, died in 2001, her husband in 2004. Del and Hannah Brandt raised four children, first in a two-story, four-bedroom 1920s-vintage house on South Spring Road in Vineland, then in a more modern two-story house built in 1963 at 701 Dukes Road. Del Brandt, who served as the first county historian, was named one of the “People of the Century” in Cumberland County, N.J. Hannah Brandt served as an officer of the New Jersey Legal Secretaries Association for many years.
Several of their children carried on the Brandt tradition for writing and journalism that started with Simon L. Brandt in Lancaster County, and found echoes earlier through family ties to Bayard Taylor and Marion Weaver.
Son Mark, or Mickey, b. 1947, a retired teacher from the Vineland, N.J., public schools, also has been an occasional writer for the Atlantic City Press and a regular contributor to the Cumberland News. Daughter Deborah Brandt, b. 1951, a former journalist, is an English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of several books. Son Randolph D. Brandt, or Randy, b. 1953, has been a newspaper editor in five states, including serving as editor of The Journal Times in Racine, Wis., before his retirement in 2007. Daughter W. Jane Brandt, b. 1954, a retired school librarian and aide in Vineland, N.J., produced newsletters and publicity releases for her school, in addition to researching and documenting applications for historic building recognition.
Randy left home at 16 to move to Millville, where he lived “above the store” while working at Chiola’s Pharmacy at High and Mulberry streets.
He also worked for a time as a title searcher for Chelsea Title and Guarantee Co. in Atlantic City, before signing on as a news reporter with the Vineland Times Journal. He later worked at The Press of Atlantic City as a reporter, bureau chief, copy editor and columnist. In 1985, he walked 400 miles around New Jersey, producing a two-month series of columns that won the state’s first-place award for features, among his many state, regional and nation awards for reporting and writing.
Randy married Judith M. Gallina, a Vineland high school teacher, in 1972, and they had a daughter, Mary Alice Brandt, born in 1974. The couple divorced in 1985, and Randy married Bonnie J. Hollis in 1989.
After surviving cancer, Randy went on to become an associate editor, managing editor and editor at newspapers in Vineland, N.J.; Merced, Calif.; Norwich, Conn.; Marion, Ind.; Kent, Wash.; and Racine, Wis.
Along the way, he earned a bachelor of arts degree and a master’s degree from Thomas A. Edison State College in New Jersey, and completed management and leadership programs through The American Press Institute and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He also was inducted into Phi Alpha Theta in recognition of conspicuous scholarship in history.
Daughter Mary, a graduate of Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, toured the country and abroad as a singer and actress, before settling in New York City, where she appeared in off-Broadway productions and in several television shows and movies. She also worked as a catering butler in Manhattan, often at the United Nations and Rockefeller Center.
Randy’s second wife, Bonnie J. Hollis, had two children from her previous marriage to James R. Hollis: Timothy, who lived in Santa Fe until his early death in 2007, and Taryn, a personal chef in Dallas, married to Daniel Shapiro, a stockbroker and trader. Taryn and Danny had three children, Rachel, Nicholas and Benjamin.
Randy retired on disability in 2007, after 35 years in journalism.
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Centennial, Chapter 6, "The Wagon and the Elephant," James A. Michener, Random House Inc., New York. 1974
Deutschland 1683 1983 United States of America, An Illustrated Record, Alfred Lau, Univers-Verlag, Bielefeld. 1983
The German-Americans, La Vern J. Rippley, G.K. Hall & Co., Boston. 1976
A History of the Wife, Marilyn Yalom, HarperCollins Publishers, New York. 2001
Pennsylvania German Pioneers, A Publication of the Original Lists of Arrivals In The Port of Philadelphia From 1727 to 1808, Vol. II, William John Hinke, Phd., editor. Pennsylvania German Society, Norristown. 1934
Philadelphia, A 300-Year History, Russell F. Weigley, editor. W.W. Norton & Co., New York. 1982
Names of Foreigners Who Took The Oath of Allegiance To The Province and State of Pennsylvania 1727-1775 With Foreign Arrivals, 1876-1808. William Henry Egle, M.D., editor. Edwin K. Meyers, State Printer, Harrisburg. 1892
Wilderness at Dawn, The Settling of the North American Continent, Ted Morgan, Simon & Schuster, New York. 1993
Mennonites in Europe, Vol. 1, John Horsch, Mennonite Publishing House, Scottsdale, Pa., 1950
Letter, Dave Brandt, Lancaster, Pa. June 8, 1977
Brandt Family History, typescript recollections from Joseph Brandt, circa 1917
Interview with J. Delbert Brandt, Vineland, N.J., April 29, 2001
Samuel Home Page, members.aol/groffh/samuel.htm
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“Bockschaft and Streichenberg,” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 10 February 2008. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B619.html.