The German migration to Western North Carolina
by Rob Neufeld
PICTURE CAPTION: An immigrant family comes down the Philadelphia Wagon Road in the mid-18th century, as had the George Schuck family done, and as this Scots-Irish family is doing in an 1872 “Harper’s Weekly” illustration, titled, “The Emigrants Noonday Halt.”
It was a terrible thing. Victims of violence and poverty fled over borders and across a sea to a country (England) that had advertised to them, and then spent months in refugee camps.
Sent to America, many of the refugees arrived undocumented.
These were the Germans from the Palatine and Rhine River regions who, in the early 1700s, suffered from a French military invasion, bad weather, disease, and ruinous debt.
The survival rate for the immigrants was low. When a contingent finally found footing in the Chester area, west of Philadelphia, “Newlanders” (German-Americans seeking countrymen) and land speculators called for continued migration.
One of the later-comers was Johannes Schuck, a Lutheran carpenter from Niederbronn, now part of a historic park in Alsace-Lorraine. You can go there for a spa vacation.
Once a Roman healing resort, the area had become a French and German war zone, its occasional prosperity and diversity smashed by overlords putting down local rebels. A revolutionary war had been going on there, with no ocean separating opposing sides.
You can still visit the massive castle of Conrad de Lichtenberg, 13th century Bishop of Strasbourg, who died fighting revolutionaries in Freiburg in 1299.
These places—Niederbronn, Strasbourg, Freiburg—were all located along the upper Rhine River on its passage from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea.
Wine was the big industry, so Johannes would have known a market that reached out to the world. He also would have known the castle, and the metaphorical horsemen of the Apocalypse hanging back waiting to strike.
“Game of Thrones” gets its legitimacy from such hot centers of power.
Imagine a rich man in a mineral bath getting bad news. There had been some of those in Alsace-Lorraine.
Or imagine a happy craftsperson in a little hamlet, wondering if the crackdown was going to hit his place; and, in any case, desperate because of a collapsed economy.
In 1731, Johannes said it was time to get out. He was in his mid-thirties and decently well-off, as were many of the leaders of the 1730s exodus.
He had been a toddler in the mountains west of Mannheim when Louis XIV’s war against the region had sent many families east and had ended in a stalemate that had divided Alsace from Lorraine.
He’d been 14 when, in 1709, Louis XIV’s army had returned, occupying the region’s urban centers. Shiploads of poor families had rushed to boats, indentured themselves, and left the killing ground, worsened by a record cold winter.
The British distributed copies of “The Golden Book,” with Queen Anne’s picture on the cover and “the title page in letters of gold…to encourage the Palatines to come to England, in order to be sent to the Carolinas,” Daniel Rupp wrote in an 1876 history of the migration.
With his wife, Elizabeth, and their children—Dorothea, Christina, and Catherina, ages 11, nine and eight; son George, age six; and infant daughter Rosina—Johannes traveled down the Rhine and Maas Rivers to Rotterdam, where they boarded a sloop captained by Constable Tymperton.
Tymperton, sailing to Dover, England and then Philadelphia, went mad in the Atlantic, according to some accounts, and succumbed to a mutiny.
“Sunday last arrived here Capt. Tymberton, in 17 weeks from Rotterdam, the ship Pink John and William…with 220 Palatines, 44 died in the passage,” the “Philadelphia Gazette” reported on Oct. 19, 1732.
“About 3 weeks ago,” the article continued, “the passengers, dissatisfied with the length of the voyage, were so imprudent as to make a mutiny.” They landed at Cape May and “those concerned with taking the boat are committed to prison.”
Johannes was not among the mutineers. He and his family were probably just trying to survive in their closet-sized floor space below deck as rations and drinking water dwindled to crumbs and cups.
Five months later, the “Gazette” noted that 15 heads of household on the ship had not paid for their passage. Johannes was not among this group, either.
He was among those who eventually settled 60 miles north of Philadelphia in Williams Township, a German enclave since 1725. He received 80 acres of rocky land in territory that William Penn had wanted from the Lenape.
The local connection
Johannes was happy enough to live in Williams Township for the rest of his life; but for his son, George, and his son-in-law, Wilhelm Volprecht, there were greener pastures on the Catawba River in North Carolina, where the Lord Granville lands were being advertised and sold.
In 1765, the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania to the Blue Ridge Mountains was widened to accommodate horse-drawn wagons. George and his Schuck family—including his 20-year-old son, Jacob—acquired one of Lancaster County’s famous Conestoga wagons, family historians deduce, and ended up on Lyle’s Creek, near present-day Conover.
“George probably never spoke English.” Wilma Hicks Simpson writes in “Greater Than the Mountains Was He,” her 2013 book about Jacob Shook. “Jacob probably became more or less fluent in that language.”
Jacob changed his name from Schuck to Shook; and Wilhelm Volprecht became William Fulbright.
In the early 1770s, Jacob married Isabella Weitzel; and they’d had their first child, Betsy, when Gen. Griffith Rutherford enlisted Jacob and Jacob’s six-years-younger brother, Andrew, to fight Scots Tories in Cross Creek, near Fayetteville.
After a month of service, the brothers returned home; but three months later, they answered Rutherford’s call again, joining him to destroy Cherokee villages from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Murphy.
During this campaign, Jacob would camp two weeks in what is now Clyde, a place to which he’d return around 1786 to become one of the pioneers of the community there.
It is this local connection that we will pick up in subsequent columns, as we witness Jacob’s path to Haywood County, rise to prosperity, and conversion to Methodism, as well as relive his experience in the Revolutionary War.
Traveling the wagon road with 18th century Shooks
PICTURE CAPTION: After settling in what is now Clyde, Jacob Shook built this house around 1810. A subsequent owner, Levi Smathers, enlarged and altered it. In 2003, Joseph Shook Hall, a direct descendent of Jacob Shook, purchased the house and had it renovated, and it now serves as a museum. Visit www.shookmuseum.org. Photo by Skye Marthaler, 2004, Wikipedia Commons.
Jacob Schuck was 14 when his grandpa, Johannes Schuck, “mindful of (his) mortality,” wrote his last will and testament.
Johannes bequeathed nearly everything to his wife, Anna Maria, who, with him and five children, had survived a starvation, mutiny, and disease-wracked journey from the German Rhineland to Pennsylvania in 1732.
When Anna died, he instructed, his estate should be divided between four of their children, including Jacob’s dad, George.
His daughter, Catherine, would also receive, immediately upon his death, five pounds (nearly enough to rent a house for a year, according to contemporary ads); and his daughter Rosina would get a total of one shilling.
Catherine had been the first family member to leave home and go to Carolina—as a teen, settling along the Catawba River with her teen husband, Henry Jacob Eigner.
And Rosina? The reasons for her disinheritance are unknown. She’d been an infant on the ship from Europe. At age 14, according to genealogists, she married Frantz Nerbass, whose surname translates as gourmand. That’s as much as we have.
Sit by me
We can imagine Jacob attending to his grandad. The old man commanded a lot of respect. George and his brother-in-law, Wilhelm Volprecht, would not leave him to settle along the Catawba until after his death.
Grandpa John would have beckoned Jacob, eldest son of his eldest son, to sit by him and hear about the family legacy.
“Angst macht der Wolf größer”—fear makes the wolf bigger—Johannes might have said, quoting a proverb.
Jacob, who was bilingual, would have heard his grandfather, speaking only German, praise the beauty of his homeland, its vineyards, and its diversity of people. Huguenot refugees had fled there from Louis XIV’s persecution.
Jacob would also have heard Johannes lament the way imperial powers had exploited religious tensions to gain territory.
It’s an old story. Jacob would see it repeated in his adult life as British, French, and colonists inflamed Indians, Tories, and Patriots to gain military advantages.
Around 1769, the Schucks headed down the Great Wagon Road in a Conestoga wagon.
It was a two-month trip down a road that had been widened and made relatively safe since it had been the Great Indian Warpath along the east side of the Appalachian Mountains.
Don’t think that it was like the Beverly Hillbillies on the move, though the Schuck’s wagon was probably as loaded up as the Clampett’s jalopy.
The Schucks were on an adventure, a long camping trip; and they had money, as did Alexander Boyd who, in 1760, offered five pounds reward for the return of “a Pocket-Book, covered with black Leather, with Thirty-two Pounds, or thereabouts, in paper Money.”
He’d lost it at the Sign of the Hat, an inn east of Lancaster, Pa.—that is, right at the start of his journey. By the 1760s, the wagon road was populated with inns and taverns, much like the Buncombe Turnpike in the early 1800s here; and much like it, it was prone to thieves.
Danger from Indian warriors was not absent in the mid-1700s. Benjamin Franklin, for instance, was active in trying to both pacify and fight Iroquois.
In 1753, he offered to educate Indians in English colleges, but the Indians replied that they’d already tried that and their youths returned “absolutely good for nothing, being neither acquainted with the true methods of killing deer, catching beavers, or surprising an enemy.” The Indians then offered to take some of the colonists’ children into their schools.
In his autobiography, Franklin commented, after describing how various tribe members had gotten drunk at a treaty meeting, that “if it be the Design of Providence to extirpate these Savages in order to make room for Cultivators of the Earth, it seems not improbable that Rum may be the appointed means.”
Rum was plentifully available along the road. Andrew Reed, a merchant at the Delaware River ferry, advertised “good Barbados, St. Christopher’s, and Philadelphia Rum.”
He also offered “cocoa, chocolate, and oil flints, muscavado sugar in barrels, dripping pans of several sizes (good for cooking birds and baking cakes); choice good Jesuit’s bark (a malaria remedy), pork, gammons pack’d in barrels, middling and ship-bread, mackrell, melasses, New-England chairs, and very good gunpowder in half-barrels.”
Pocket-sized jaw harps were popular roadside sales items, and supplemented fiddles, banjos, and campfire entertainments. “Wagoners were often natural storytellers, and some emerged as minstrels of the Wagon Road,” Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr write in their book, “Wayfaring Strangers.”
A popular pioneer song, “The Wagoner’s Lad,” emerged from the experience. It’s a musical dialogue between a girl en route and a wagoner who laments, “Your parents don’t like me because I am poor.”
The cultures of Germans, Scots, English, French, Irish, African-American, Indian, and others mixed on the trip, as families relaxed, got news, and looked after their children and livestock. Woodland dangers worried hunting parties; and rowdies along the way tested religious families.
Jacob was 20 at the time of his family’s migration to present-day Catawba County (until 1842, Lincoln; from 1777 to 1782, Burke; and, from 1753 until that time, Rowan).
He met and married Isabella Weitzel either in Pennsylvania or in North Carolina, where they got a license in 1770, as a new law proscribed. They may have fallen in love on the road!
At that time, the Old St. Paul’s Lutheran Church served as the local center of government because the county seat, Salisbury, was 60 miles to the east. The community’s elders translated documents into English for the Rowan court; and “mediated disputes and organized community efforts such as barn raisings and cooperative harvests,” Wilma Hicks Simpson writes in “Greater Than the Mountains Was He,”
The acculturation of the Germans into American society happened within a generation.
Jacob’s dad, George, changed the spelling of his name to Shook; and, though Jacob married a German, their children’s marriages show how the Shooks got shaken together with Haywood County families sorted by their new faith, Methodism, more than by nationality.
John, the first child, married Polly Deal, whose father changed his name from Diehl. Then Abraham married Elizabeth Burford, descendant of an Englishman who had come to Virginia around 1640. Other spouses were named Hicks, Hyde, Evans, Goodwin, and Cooper.
The fourth son, David, married Sarah Haynes, whose parents are not now known, but were probably of English or Welsh ancestry. David and Sarah named two of their children Temperance and Wesley, indicating a Methodist embrace.
When the Shooks arrived in Rowan County, the Regulator Movement was in full force. It was largely about government corruption and unfair taxes that favored the east over the west—higher taxes for whiskey than for wine, for instance.
The Rowan County sheriff was instructed to inflict harsh sentences on tax evaders, and, Samuel Ervin, Jr. wrote in his 1917 “Colonial History of Rowan County,” “the situation became so perplexing that in 1770 there was no sheriff in Rowan” for fear of legal as well as violent reaction.
On August 1, 1771 Governor William Tryon wrote Lord Hillsborough, Secretary of State for the Colonies, following a victory over rebels at Alamance and the execution of Regulator leaders, that he was willing to pardon other participants if they’d surrender their arms and take the oath of allegiance.
On June 4, Tryon learned that the western counties, including Rowan, were still “meditating Hostilities,” and commanded his army to “March through those parts, and Compel the inhabitants to take the oath (and) Suppress any insurrection among them.” There were more hangings.
Though the Regulators sought reform rather than revolution, they sometimes called themselves the “Sons of Liberty,” echoed later by the name, “Liberty Men,” that American revolutionaries gave themselves. Also, Jacob would have had to negotiate the subversive undertow that pervaded a populace submitting to a false show of loyalty.
The odyssey of Jacob Shook, Clyde pioneer
His starting point had been Williams Township, Pennsylvania, the Lutheran enclave his grandfather, Johannes Schuck, had found after having fled Alsace-Lorraine with his family in 1732.
In 1767, Johannes died, and Jacob’s dad, George, age 45, and uncle, Wilhelm Volprecht, 49, pulled up stakes and made the next big exodus, down the Great Wagon Road to greener pastures in Carolina.
Jacob married Isabella Weitzel in 1770, some sources say—perhaps having shared expectations on the journey—and the American Dream looked as promising as the Cape May shore had looked to Johannes in 1732 when he’d led his family off the pink, “John and William,” after 17 weeks at sea, a mutiny, a quarantine and a customs check.
Jacob’s dad, George, had been six years old on the journey. Did Jacob, growing up, witness his dad and grandfather differ on how and even if to tell the saga?
For Johannes, it had been a survival story. One of the strange things that had happened on board, according to Rick Bushong’s web-posted history, “Murder Lurks on the Pink ‘John and William,’” was that Joseph Hubley, a writer condemned by the Catholic Church as a heretic, had probably been murdered by a French assassin whom Hubley had hired as a valet.
For George, the “John and William” experience may have been too grim to tell, for as the ship had taken five extra weeks to come ashore, clean water had run out and many children had died and been thrown overboard.
A pink is a small, flat boat, about the size of a restaurant, with a cargo area below deck. They were generally not used for trans-Atlantic trips, but aging ones came to serve the immigrant and slave markets.
Hearing these stories and seeing his father’s trauma may have given Jacob his first experience of being spared from horror by distance.
Jacob’s new big horror was the royal government’s war against Regulators—militias resisting governmental oppression in western North Carolina. Most of it was taking place many miles east of the Shooks, who’d settled on Lyle’s Creek, a western branch of the Catawba River.
Today, Shook Road, shouldering Lyle’s Creek, crosses the bucolic Rock Barn Country Club and Spa. Recently, the club went from being semi-private to private. “We did sell memberships before,” Det Williams, the club’s interim general manager told Cory Spiers of the “Hickory Record,” in May, “but the value of exclusivity wasn’t there.”
In 1771, all of what is now Catawba County, had contained only 200 families, according to Charles Preslar’s 1954 “History of Catawba County.”
While the Shooks were doing such things as communally raising barns, with posts and beams and local stone, in the German fashion, the royal governor was cracking down on suspected rebels; and the rebels were fighting back.
After the May 1771 Battle at Alamance Creek, a Regulator defeat, the royal government offered rebels pardons under oaths of loyalty, “a situation,” Bob Jones wrote in “Jacob Shook and the War of Independence,” “that could lead to their hanging if ever again caught in arms against the Government.”
On August 8, 1774, the Rowan County Committee of Safety responded with a declaration of independence nine months before the famous Mecklenburg Declaration.
The Rowan resolutions opposed taxes levied by Great Britain, affirmed solidarity with New England, instituted a boycott of British goods, encouraged local manufacturing, and opposed slavery.
The women of Rowan formed their own association ad resolved that “they will not receive the addresses of any young gentlemen…except the brave volunteers who served in the expedition to South Carolina, and assisted in subduing the Scovalite Insurgents.”
The Scovalites were Scots whom the Crown granted land in the Cross Creek area of South Carolina, and who maintained loyalty to the royal government.
General Griffith Rutherford called for troops to fight the Cross Creek Tories; and Jacob and his younger brother, Andrew, answered the call.
When a large part of Rutherford’s army went to stop the Scovalite soldiers from reinforcing the King’s army in Wilmington, the Shooks stayed in Cross Creek to keep guard over that hotbed. Jacob was once again at a distance when the Patriots devastated the Loyalists at Moore’s Creek, 20 miles inland from Wilmington.
Rutherford’s men had gotten there first and had removed the planks from the bridge and greased the runners, so that when the Scovalites crossed, which they felt they must do, they were easy targets in an ambush.
With their faces painted blue, the kilted warriors, dressed in the colors of their clans, raised broadswords as they fell into the six-foot deep water and bagpipes wailed.
War against Cherokee
Jacob’s next call came a few months later.
On April 9, 1776, the N.C. Provincial Congress funded two battalions and three companies of Light Horse, to be led by General Rutherford, to put down the Cherokee, who had begun a series of attacks on North Carolina homes as far east as Rowan County.
Each enlistee would immediately receive a bounty of £3, 40 shillings—about what contracted workers got for one month of hard labor. John Kaighn, a Pennsylvania merchant, was, by comparison, offering £3 to anyone who’d produce 15,000 cocoons on a mulberry tree.
The Congress also resolved “that a penalty of £5 be inflicted on any person who shall knowingly secrete, harbour, succour or entertain, for the space of 24 hours, any deserter from the service,” with half the fee going to the informer.
Rutherford wrote Colonel William Christian, a fellow commander in Virginia, that he was ready to march and “by the assistance of Divine Providence, crush that treacherous, barbarious [qv] Nation of Savages, with their white abbetors, who lost to all sense of Humanity, honor and principle, mean to extinguish every spark of freedom in these United States.”
The Shooks marched slowly with a huge army, 1,400 pack horses, and a requisite number of pack horse drivers, across the French Broad at present-day Biltmore Estate; through present-day Pack Square, where they saw the graves of Shawnees killed by Cherokees in 1735; and single-file along mountain trails until they reached a two-week camping spot in present-day Clyde.
That was a somewhat idyllic respite. The corn was high; and fish and game were plentiful.
It preceded the one experience in which Jacob was not lucky enough to be at a distance. We do not know in what ways he was involved in burning crops and homes, killing Cherokees, and capturing prisoners. We do not know what experiences he shared with his brother, and what qualms they expressed.
We do know that they returned home in October, and that, according to John Chappo in his article “Shock and Awe” for “Saber and Scroll,” many of Rutherford’s men “would eventually succumb to disease and exhaustion following the expedition.”
In May, 1781, Jacob served again in the militia, and was stationed at Davidson’s Fort (now Old Fort). After the war, In 1783, he and two others went to court and “presented a charge against a man from Lyle’s Creek. They accused the man of supporting the king during the war,” Wilma Hicks Simpson writes in “Greater Than the Mountains Was He.”
Old divisions were still fresh. One family genealogist has noted that Jacob had had an anger problem.
Then, Jacob moved his family to Clyde, the beautiful haven salvaged from his nightmare. Several years later, swept up by the Great Awakening, he converted to Methodism, and provided a chapel in the attic of his house, where Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury is said to have preached.
When did Jacob’s moment of grace come about?
Reverend T.F. Glenn in his “History of Methodism” wrote that, one day, “under conviction of sin,” Jacob went to work in his cornfield, praying and weeping when his “burden of guilt was lifted and his soul was flooded with joy. He shouted and praised the Lord…He dropped the lines, left his plow, lost his hat, and shouted all over the field.”
What was he putting behind him and what did he see ahead?
The attic chapel built by Jacob Shook c.1800, was photographed by Henry Neufeld in 2009, soon after the Shook-Smathers house (now a museum) had been put on the National Register of Historic Places.
Rob Neufeld writes the weekly “Visiting Our Past” column for the Citizen-Times. He is the author of books on history and literature, and manages the WNC book and heritage website, “The Read on WNC.” Follow him on Twitter @WNC_chronicler; email him at RNeufeld@charter.net.
Great article! Left me wanting more!