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Hite

 

Johannes Heydt - Anna Magdalena

The Hite (Heydt) family came to America in 1709 from Bonfeld, Germany, a small town about 40 miles southeast of Heidelberg. It was a Lutheran community, ruled by the Gemmingens, who had purchased the rights to it in 1476 from the Bonfelds, a noble family which had held possession for two hundred years.

Johannes Heydt, the earliest known ancestor, was listed as a civil warden, and a butcher. He was probably born about 1650, as his wife, Anna Magdalena, who died in 1695, was listed as being born about 1653. She was Catholic, but apparently was buried by the local Lutheran church, with the aid of a Catholic priest from Wimpfen, a nearby town.

The Heydt home was a two-story house and barn set on about 2 1/2 acres of land on which they had a quarter acre of grapes and a sizeable garden. The rest was field and meadow.

Johannes and Anna Magdalena had eight children: Anna Maria, Maria Dorthea, Anna Catherine, Hans Joist, Johann Jeremias, Anna Barbara, Anna Rossina and a infant. Johannes married a second time to Anna Maria, the widow of Casper Schultze. They had four children: Anna Eva Catharina, Anna Maria, Anna Barbara and Johann Martinus.

Hans Joist Hite - Anna Maria Merkle

Hans Justus Heydt, known later in America as Jost Hite, was born 6 December 1685, the second of the family of eight children of Johann and Magdalena. He was eleven years of age when his stepmother came to live with them.

Jost became a linen weaver, and on 11 November 1704, married Anna Maria Merkle. She was the daughter of a prominent family of the Bonfeld-Wimpfen area. Two children of this marriage, Anna Maria and Maria Barbara, died shortly after birth. The third child, Mary, not listed in the Bonfeld church records, with a birthday of 1708 or 1709, may have been born after the family left for America.

Records of 1709 indicate that the families of Johannes Heydt and his son Jost (Hans Justus), emigrated. It appears that only four family members reached America: Jost, his wife Anna Maria, their baby daughter Mary and Jost's stepmother, Maria. Probably typhoid, severe at the time, accounted for the rest. Entire families were known to be wiped out.

Jost and Anna Maria lived in New York State three or four years, as indicated by the baptism of their next two children at Kingston; Elizabeth and Magdalena. The family then moved to Pennsylvania, near Germantown, now part of the city of Philadelphia, where they bought 150 acres on the Skippack River in 1714. Four years later, on 15 Nov 1718, they purchased 600 acres a few miles up the Perkiomen, for the price of 125 pounds. Here Jost built a grist mill just outside of present day Swenksville. Family tradition says he also bought slaves, which seems likely in view of the size of his property. It must also have been here, while near the Pastorious Colony at Germantown, a Quaker settlement, that Elizabeth met and married Paul Froman, a member of The Society of Friends.

The rest of Jost and Anna Maria's eleven children were: John, Jacob, Isaac, an infant, Abraham and Joseph.

It would seem that by now the Hite family, in possession of considerable property and comfortably situated in a new two-story house with stone walls two feet thick, would be content with their success in the new world. And perhaps they were, even though an Indian attack, repulsed by the local German farmers, occurred close by. But unknown to them, the actions of a traveling Indian trader from the New York area were shaping their future, and drawing the name of Jost Hite into the history of the development of a rich wilderness area 140 miles to the southwest, in the "Northern Neck" of Virginia.

For a number of years, John VanMeter had traveled among the Indian tribes supplying them with a variety of materials in exchange for furs. He was widely known and readily accepted by a number of tribes, living with them and moving among them with apparent ease. During the late 1720's, it is said that he attached himself to a war party of Delawares and accompanied them on an expedition to the south, up the valley of the Shenandoah River, to attack the Catawbas. He was so well impressed with the lower valley area that upon returning he and his brother Isaac obtained a grant from the Colonial Government at Williamsburg for 40,000 acres, 17 June 1730, with the condition that they settle one family per thousand acres on the land within two years.

Word of this venture immediately aroused the interest of Jost Hite and he sought out the VanMeters, acquiring the rights to their grant on August 5, 1731. Not satisfied, he and Robert McKay pursued what appeared to be golden opportunity and on October 31 signed papers at Williamsburg for an additional grant of 100,000 acres, subject to the same conditions of settlement within a two-year period. Then, together with Robert Green and William Duff, they set up land company operations. Just what part McKay played in this enterprise is not entirely clear. Accounts of the settlement of the lower Shenandoah Valley invariably list Hite as the leader of this first permanent settlement west of the Blue Ridge.

Prior to this transaction Jost had disposed of his Pennsylvania property. Jacob Merkle (the name later became Markley), Anna Maria's brother, had arrived from Germany, and the Hites saw fit to release 100 acres of land to him for the legalizing token of five shillings, July 16, 1728. Although it is not indicated here, it seems to have been the custom to lease saleable land to prospective buyers for one year at a very nominal fee such as five shillings, after which actual sale was made. Hite's remaining 500 acres, with the grist mill, were sold to John Pauling for 540 pounds on January 9, 1730. Deeds exist for the various Hite transactions. What prompted these final transactions is not known, but Jost was left in possession of ready money at the opportune time to make the VanMeter purchase.

It is of some interest to note that John Pauling sold the former Hite property to Peter Pennypacker in 1747, and that it has remained in that family. The mill was operated as Pennypacker Mill for many years, finally being extensively damaged by fire in 1898. It was rebuilt the next year as the Red Fox Inn. In 1980 it burned. The original Hite house served as General Washington's headquarters during September and October, 1777, after the Battle of Germantown. It was remodeled, with additions, and is known as the Pennypacker Mansion.

The trip from Pennsylvania to Virginia in 1731 was slow. A passable road over the rough terrain had to be cleared for the wagon train as they went. The Potomac River was crossed a few miles above the mouth of the Shenandoah at Packhorse Ford (later called Mecklenberg, and finally Shepherdstown). They arrived at their destination on Opequon Creek in the fall of 1731.

Prior to the coming of Hite, the valley had been seen by very few white men. A Jesuit priest, a wandering German physician and a British colonel had reported their respective journeys there as 1632, 1669 and 1673. Then came an interesting and only partially believed report from Louis Michel, a Swiss in 1705. He wrote of finding evidence of an ancient Indian tribe at today's site of Winchester, who used huge sacrificial stone altars 60 feet across, and whose warriors stood seen feet tall by actual measurement of their remains. This latter point was to be confirmed by George Washington in excavating for Fort Loudoun in 1755. The valley was penetrated again in 1716, in pinpoint fashion, by Gov. Spottswood with his "Golden Horseshoe" group. He named the river "Euphrates," and claimed all of the land westward "to the River of the Spaniards," the Mississippi, as British territory, an as "Virginia" in particular.

From the Potomac the Shenandoah Valley, the "Valley of Virginia" as it came to be known, stretched nearly 200 miles south, forming about half of the length of a natural passageway to the great Smokey Mountains in the southwest. It served as more of a thoroughfare than as a place of residence for the Indians. The Shawnees had a small cluster of villages around the springs at present day Winchester, from which a well-beaten path led up the length of the valley. It was close beside this trail, five miles south of the Shawnee Springs, that Hite chose to settle. The Valley Turnpike follows much of the old Indian Trail, called by many the "Great Indian Highway." Sections of stone walls thought to be of the house and tavern built by Jost Hite still stand some 30 yards east of the Turnpike, beside the house built by his son, Colonel John Hite.

"Tavern" in that time meant "inn" - a place where travelers could stop overnight with some assured protection. No doubt liquor was kept in supply, but it was considered a social amenity, even by many of the clergy. Tavern keepers of the time were accorded civic courtesy and their children were sought out by educational institutions. They were widely acquainted, an essential link in the news media chain, and usually were more affluent than most. As such they merited respect and were held in high regard. The tavern served as a warm up place for everyone between long morning and afternoon church services in unheated churches. A carefully kept ledger recorded the pints and quarts consumed by saint and sinner alike; hence the origin of "Mind your P's and Q's."

Site locations for the several families, surveying, corner staking and cabin building all had to be done at once. The Hite sons-in-law were permitted to make their own selection of 750 acres each. From the Hite location the Chrismans settled two miles south, the Bowmans about seven, and the Fromans some five miles southwest. Robert McKay, Jr. chose a site at the forks of the river where he set up a saw mill. His father settled about five miles up the south fork of the river. By agreement, a line running from the Shawnee springs to the forks of the river divided the land. McKay was to settle the land east of the line, while Hites' land lay to the west. Hite, as might be expected, set up a grist mill on Opequon Creek a short distance from his house.

The Indians were peaceful at first, but trouble began almost at once with officials at Willimasburg. The Colonial Government, knowing nothing of the territory started making grants to others involving the Hite-McKay land. Jost made at least one trip to Willimasburg in the summer of 1732 to take care of the matter.

But greater trouble, soon to be upon them, stemmed from the fact that King Charles II of England in the middle 1600's had rewarded a prominent Scottish family with a grant of the "Northern Neck" of Virginia. Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax, Baron of Cameron in Scotland, arrived at Williamsburg in May 1735 to investigate his inheritance, only to find that the Colonial Government had issued settlement grants on his property to Hite and McKay. Finding that settlers had moved onto the land in sufficient numbers to satisfy the conditional grants, and an extension of one year to December of 1735 had been allowed on the larger one, he paid two visits to the home of Jost Hite on the Opequon in 1736 and 1737. These produced no favorable results for him, so he settled himself on a 10,000 acre tract about five miles east of Hite, and proceeded to have his land surveyed. George Washington, aged 16, was one of the surveyors, and a favorite of Lord Fairfax. As such, it was inevitable that he come into contact with the Hite families. His diary records one occasion when he spent the night at the home of Captain John Hite.

There had been no western boundary established for the Fairfax land, and Virginia was considered to extend as far as the Mississippi River. King George II rectified this by a decision on April 16, 1738, establishing a straight line 76 miles long from the head of the Rapidan River to the head of the north fork of the Potomac as the western boundary. This was surveyed in 1746 and became known as the "Fairfax Line". Hite and his associates filed suit in 1749, starting litigation which extended until 1786, and became a classic textbook study in law schools. It was settled in favor of Hite some years after both he and Lord Fairfax were dead.

From the beginning the difficulty of travel made the size of Spottsylvania County much too large for convenience. In 1734, Jost and his fellow settlers petitioned for formation of a new county, to be called Orange. The county was formed, with Jost as one of the magistrates. In the same meeting, James Wood (from Winchester, England) was made surveyor, and he soon set about laying out a town site at the Shawnee Springs. So Frederick Town, later to be called Winchester, was founded. It became the county seat when Frederick County was formed in 1738.

When son John Hite and Sara Eltinge were married in 1737, Jost and Anna Maria turned the house and tavern over to them and moved to a site about a mile east of the Bowmans on land that had been set aside for Isaac, a location later known as "Long Meadows." This is the title chosen by Minnie Hite Moody for her historical novel concerning the family, published in 1941.

Anna Maria died in 1739 and in the fall of 1741, Jost married Maria Magdalena, widow of Christian Nuschwanger. As was often the case, a remarriage of by both parties involved use of a specific agreement drawn up to list not only the material possessions brought into the marriage by each, but their distribution back to the heirs of the two original families after death. When she died is not known. Jost died in 1761 at the age of 75. Family tradition holds that he and Anna Maria (Merkle) were buried at the Opequon church. Grave stones were convenient building blocks during the Revolution as well as the Civil War, both of which raged up and down the valley, so no marker remains.

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2002

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by Lee Case
Last updated on Sunday, November 10, 2002