Origins: Mathias, Henry, and John AnthonyBreidenthal
The Breidenthals are an interesting family for many reasons, but certainly one of those reasons is the unsolved mystery of their origin. Most family members would reply: what mystery? They've accepted certain versions of their history at face value for at least the last 75 years, with the result that those versions are now widespread and accepted as fact purely because of their longevity. But where are the sources?
Thanks to Hugh McHarry's recent diligence in Germany, we know that Johann Nicholas Breidenthal, born in the small copper mining village of Fischbach Nahe, in Zweibruchen, married Mary Magdelena Hermann, daughter of Johann Adam Hermann of Simmersbach, in Freusberg, Germany on 20 Jan 1751. They had at least four children: Johann Peter (30 Oct 1751), Johann Mathias (19 Feb 1754), Johann Anton (13 May 1755), and Johann Benjamin (26 Mar 1756). On 25 Mar 1761, Johnann Nicholas died while attempting to save one of his fellow miners, leaving four fatherless sons under ten years of age.
The belief, of course, is that the Johann Mathias and Johann Anton recorded in those Freusberg birth records immigrated to the United States, and that Mathias was the man who died in Bedford County, PA in 1826. In terms of probabilities, that's probably as close to certainty as we'll ever get. All else seems open to debate. Mathias arrived as a Hessian solder; he was never a soldier. He was an ironmonger, a weaver, a prisoner of war, an indentured servant. He was from Freusburg; no, Darmstadt. He practically won the war for George Washington; he never set foot in North America until 1797. He was a large landowner; he was a humble weaver. His wife was Catharine; no, Martha. The dispute rages.
So what can we say with some confidence?
19 Feb 1754: Johann Mathias was probably born in Freusberg.
22 Apr 1778: Johann Mathias Breidenthal married Anna Catharina Haimbach in a suburb of Siegen called Cann.
1800 Census, Montgomery Township, Franklin County, PA: Mathias Bretindol was enumerated with 1 male over 45; 2 females 10-16, 1 female over 45.
28 Oct 1809: Mathias Bridendall witnessed the will of William Stacy in Franklin County.
1810 Census, Metal Township, Franklin County, PA: Mathias was listed with 1 male over 45 and 1 female over 45.
Mathias hasn't been located in the 1820 Census.
1822: Catharina Breidenthal was listed as a communicant at the Reformed Church in Mercersburg. But was she Catharina Haimbach Breidenthal?
1823 Tax List, Air Township, Bedford County, PA: Matthias Breidendoll, a weaver, was assessed for 18 acres and 2 cattle; the total valuation amounting to $30.18.
9 Mar 1824: Mathias Bridendoll purchased 97 acres in Air Township, Bedford County. The property adjoined [son-in-law] John Hoe.
1826 Tax List, Air Township, Bedford County, PA: Matthias Bridenthal was assessed for parcels of 18 acres and 97 acres, 1 horse, 1 cattle, for a total value of $491
2 Mar 1826: Mathias signed his will:
Will of Mathias Breidenthal
In the name of God, Amen. I Mathias Bridendoll of Air Township, Bedford County and State of Pennsylvania, being sick and weak in body, but of sound mind, memory and understanding and considering the certainty of death and the uncertainty of the time thereof, and to this end that I may have all my worldly concerns settled when it shall please God to call me hence, do therefore make and declare this my last will and testament in manner following, that is to say, first I command my soul unto the hands God my Creator, my body I commit to the earth at the discretion of my Executors hereafter mentioned.
Item, I will and desire that all my just debts as shall be by me owing at my death, together with my funeral expenses and all charges shall in the first place be fully paid out of my personal estate, which I allow to be sold as soon as convenient after my decease, and the remainder to be equally divided among my heirs. Viz. to my daughter Elizabeth intermarried with John Davis, my son Henry Bridendoll, to my daughter Christina intermarried with John Hoe and to the heirs of my daughter Ratchel, dec'd who was intermarried with William Clerk.
It is my will that my real estate shall be sold by my Executors whenever it shall be thought most conducive to the interests of my heirs and divided equally amongst them, and that my Executors shall put out the money coming to my daughter Ratchel's children to interest and attend to it until they come of age, dividing it equally among my three grandsons Mathias Clerk, James Clerk and Samuel Clerk. And if any of my three grandchildren should die before they arrive to the age of twenty one years, the survivors or survivor shall reserve it.
I gave to William Clerk the sum of two hundred dollars, which I allow him to have the use of without interest until my youngest grandson Samuel Clerk arrives at the age of twenty one years, at which time it is my will that he pay the said two hundred dollars to my three grandsons above mentioned, and in case any of them should die, to the survivors, share and share alike.
It is my will that my Executors pay to Nancy Bechanger the sum of forty dollars out of my personal estate over and above the wages I may be in debt to her at my decease for the care and attention she has bestowed on me in my sickness.
I do hereby nominate, constitute and appoint my son Henry Bridendoll, my son-in-law John Hoe, and John Fletcher the Executors of this my last will and testament revoking and disannulling all and every will by me heretofore made. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and affixed my seal the second day of March one thousand eight hundred and twenty six.
Signed in presence of
John W. Bohm
Apr 1826: Mathias died and was buried in Union Cemetery. See portrait.
1829 Tax List, Air Township, Bedford County, PA: The "Breidenthall heirs" were taxed for 115 acres valued at $460.
Known Children of Mathias Breidenthal: As named in will. Our John Anthony had moved to Ohio in 1824, but so had Elizabeth and John David, who were named in the will.
Henry Breidenthal (4 Oct 1784, Germany - 8 Nov 1868, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; m. Mary Elizabeth Dodson)
Elizabeth Breidenthal (1786 - 4 Apr 1845; m. John Davis)
Elizabeth and John moved to Washington County, MD c. 1800, then to Stark County, OH c. 1815.
John Davis died on 4 Oct 1843. Both are buried in the David Family Cemetery in Summit [formerly Stark] County, OH.
Christina Breidenthal (m. John Hoe)
1830 Census, Bedford County, PA (Air Township): The John Hoe household consisted of 1 male 20-30, 1 50-60; 1 female 10-15, 1 20-30.
Rachel Breidenthal (m. William Clark)
Often Thought to be Children of Mathias Breidenthal:
John Anthony Breidenthal (c. 1780 - 1865, Moniteau Co, MO; m. Elizabeth Hoevel)
Henry Peter Breidenthal(21 Dec 1781, Germany - 5 Aug 1867, Westmoreland County, PA; m. Charlotte Klein)
18 Oct 1850 Census, Derry Township, Westmoreland County, PA: Farmer Henry Bridendole 69, born Germany, with property worth $6,000; Charlott 66, born Germany; Henry 32, born PA; Charlott 25; Elizabeth 22; laborer Codalone Crumburg 22, born Germany.
11 Jul 1860 Census, Derry Township, Westmoreland County, PA: Farmer Henry Bridandol 79, born Germany, with real and personal property valued at $19,000 and $1,500; Sharlet 75, born Germany; farmer Henry 42, born PA; Nicholas 39; Scharlot 34; Henry 11.
In the 1880 Census, Henry's son Nicholas claimed that both his parents had been born in Wurtemburg, Germany.
Phillip James Breidenthal (1783, Germany - 1863, Senecaville, Guernsey County, OH; m. Anna Reed)
Unfortunately, we can't presume any or all of the last three were Mathias' sons based solely on surname and geographical proximity, because there was another Bridenthal in Franklin and Bedford Counties who was siring sons: Anthony Breidenthal. We only have Anthony recorded in three censuses and perhaps two tax lists - no deeds or wills or marriages.
A John Anthony was reportedly listed on the Tax Rolls in 1796 and 1799 in Mercersburg, Franklin County. It's not likely to have been the young John Anthony, who was no older than and probably several years younger than 19 in 1796.
1800 Census, Montgomery Township, Franklin County, PA: Anthony Bretondol was enumerated with 1 male under 10, 1 10-16, 1 26-44; 1 female under 10, 1 26-45. Mathias was also residing in Montgomery Township. Anthony was born between 1755 and 1774. Mathias' brother Johann Anton would have turned 45 on 13 May 1800.
1810 Census, Fort Frederick Township, Washington County, MD: Anthony Bridendol was listed with 2 males under 10, 1 16-26, 1 over 45; 2 females 10-15, 1 over 45.
1820 Census, Air Township, Bedford County, PA: Anthony Bridindoll's household consisted of 1 male over 45; 1 female over 45; 1 person engaged in manufacture.
None of the censuses preclude Anthony being Johann Anton, the brother of Mathias. They document at least 4 sons, three of whom were born before 1800; and there's reason, given his age, to believe that he might also have had older sons. What happened to them? I'm not claiming here that John Anthony, Phillip James, or Henry Peter Breidenthal were, in fact, the sons of Anthony Breidenthal; I'm simply suggesting that Anthony's presence injects uncertainty, since none of the three were named in Mathias' will, a will that specifically named his heirs.
This is one mystery that probably isn't solvable by DNA, since Anthony and Mathias Breidenthal were almost certainly closely related.
In addition to the question of paternal lines, we don't really know how the Breidenthals immigrated to America. They've left two very distinctive yet similar stories of their emigration from Germany. Both are told below. The story on John Anthony, transcribed from two different sources, was the tradition passed down to his descendants by David Bridenthal, his son. The story on Henry Breidenthal was told by Mary Breidenthal, daughter of William Findley Breidenthal and granddaughter of John Henry Breidenthal.
John Anthony Breidenthal:
1) John Anthony "was born in Germany, and when about eight years of age he and a younger brother were playing on an emigrant ship when it set sail. They were found on board, but as they were only two little Dutch boys, it was thought best not to turn back. On reaching Baltimore, Md., they were sold to a restaurant keeper, but a few years later John A., coming to the conclusion that he did not want to open oyster shells any longer, ran away to Pennsylvania, and was afterward joined by his brother, who became a wealthy iron manufacturer. John A. Bridenthal, as he grew up, evinced a strong liking for his books, and became an intelligent man. He was a weaver by trade. John Henry Breidenthal did enter the iron business.
2) [John Anthony] as a boy and a still younger brother came from Germany as involuntary stowaways on a deep-sea sailing vessel. They were involuntary stowaways because they were playing on the vessel and were not discovered until sails were set and the vessel was well at sea. The ship's master refused to turn back, "just for two little Dutch boys". Upon docking at Baltimore, Maryland they were sold to a restaurant keeper.
Before many years John Bridenthal told his brother, "I've opened all the oyster shells I want to open. I'm leaving. When I get somewhere I'll let you know where I am."
John ran off from his master and settled in Pennsylvania where his younger brother afterwards joined him.
John Henry Breidenthal, born 1784, known son of Mathias Breidenthal:
I'll tell you about a little German boy. Although but twelve years of age he was serving an apprenticeship as a weaver. His master used him cruelly, beating him and forcing him to work until he nearly dropped dead from weariness. During the long hours of labor and while his spirit smarted under the hardships imposed by his master, he planned to run away and take passage across the Atlantic Ocean to the new land of America, where he was told, everyone was free and wealth abounded, awaiting the taking by all who had the will to work.
Somehow the lad made his escape and eventually landed in America. That boy was Henry Breidenthal. He was my grandfather. He was born in Darmstadt, Germany. Unfortunately, I know nothing about his parents, therefore, my knowledge of my family history on my father's side does not extend beyond grandfather.
Of his early adventures I know little except that he fought in the War of 1812. His expectations of liberty and riches in America were pretty well realized because he was his own master and when he died he left each of his five sons a farm.
He not only acquired a considerable fortune in the land of his adoption but he was held in such high regard by his fellow citizens that they elected him to Congress . . . Grandfather Breidenthal married Margaret Dodson.
These two accounts obviously have similarities and differences. They both involve boys who were unhappily indentured and/or apprenticed and who ran away. Henry was apprenticed to a weaver; the adult John Anthony was a weaver. Henry was born in Darmstadt,; the descendants of John Anthony believed him to have been born in Darmstadt. John Henry could have been characterized as a "wealthy iron manufacturer" in his later years. On the other hand, John Anthony was age eight in his story; that would have been between 1784 and 1791. John Henry, on the other hand, stated in his naturalization papers that he'd arrived in the United States in 1798 - and there was no mention of a brother in the story.
And there are the strikingly odd elements . . .
In John Anthony's story, why were the boys "playing" on an immigrant ship far from their inland home? Had the family made their way there for the purposes of emigrating? It was typical that such would-be emigrants, after passing through the profusion of tolls in a divided Germany, would arrive at their destination broke. Had they followed the common practice of indenturing the boys so they could sail to America? Had they instructed them to stow away? And how can you not feel the movement once a sailing ship has left the dock? Had they simply drifted out with the tide? Even then, wouldn't the difference have been discerned by the two boys? Why did the story neglect to mention that John had found his father/uncle/brother against great odds? If age eight on the passage, he wouldn't have been more than twelve when he escaped from his Baltimore master. And how could he have discovered a love of learning as a German speaking orphan while shucking oysters and/or learning weaving?
In John Henry's story, why would Henry have been apprenticed to another weaver? His father was a weaver. How on earth did young Henry actually get to the United States - a quest dismissed in only one sentence? How did he find his father? It would seem that both boys had to know where their father was. Why did Henry's granddaughter know nothing of her great grandfather, who resided in Bedford County with son Henry?
So where does that leave us? Mathias, John Anthony, and Henry Breidenthal were all born in Germany. All three were weavers. All adhered to the "reformed" tradition in religion. Their descendants believed them to have been born in Darmstadt. Both Henry and John Anthony told similar tales of unhappy apprenticeship/indenture. All three lived in the same geographical area at the same time - as did the mysterious Anthony.
There are theories that can be forced to fit the known facts and numerous anomalies, but they would be based upon imagination, not truth. And the truth so far is that descendants have researched extensively both here and in Germany for documents supporting any of the stories or claims, but to no avail. There are no records of Breidenthals in Darmstadt, no records of Mathias serving in the Hessian Army during the American Revolution, no record of him at Cornwall's Iron Furnace where arms were manufactured by 304 Hessian prisoners of war for Washington's artillery, no record of a bounty grant for service during the revolution. Records in Germany show him being married to Catherine Haimbach on 22 Apr 1778 near Siegen sixteen months after the Battle of Trenton.
Theories are beneficial guides to research; but you only find what you look for. If you believe in the "von" Breidenthal's, with all the privileges the "von" implie, rather than an extended family of struggling, canny, risk-taking weavers, you'll never search for - and find - the latter. And the drama of the weavers' lives might have been far more compelling.
For what it's worth, I view the Breidenthals as typical German Calvinists: literate, hardworking, and practical. There was only so much scope for them in a divided Germany, but when they arrived in the United States, they hit the ground running. I think Henry Breidenthal did become the "wealthy iron manufacturer" of John Anthony's story, but I also think a first cousin may have morphed into a brother in later retellings. And I'm really, really hoping those Hessian records appear.
If you have additional information on the early Breidenthals, please contact me at email@example.com. Believe me, I won't mind revising this section.
Any information is only as reliable as its source. Evaluate the following sources accordingly.
 The name is actually Fischbach an der Nahe, or Fischbach on the Near, "fischbach" referring to the once plentiful river salmon. The village has a website with photos at http://www.fischbach-an-der-nahe.de. Another site is www.besucherbergwerk-fischbach.de. The latter even has a virtual tour of the mine. Your Google tool bar should allow you to translate from German to broken, but understandable, English.
 Hugh McHarry, from the original church records in Freusburg, Ger.
 Hugh McHarry
 Franklin County, PA 1800 Census, p. 288/871
 Hugh McHarry
 Book 2, p. 228
 Westmoreland County, PA 1860 Census, p. 110
 Franklin County, PA 1800 Census, p. 880
 Washington County, PA 1810 Census, p. 512
 Genealogical Publishing Company, History of Washington County, Arkansas, p. 918-919
 Thomas Rothrock in Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 17, p. 73-78
 Snowberger, Recollections of Bygone Days in the Cove, Vol. 5, p. 85-86
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