The Families of Adam Keith

The “Old Country”, the Old Home

Where is Höchst, Germany?  Present day Höchst, and since its beginning for that matter, is located in the Odenwald forest about 38 miles south and east of Frankfurt in the southwestern part of Germany. [see map]  During the known period this Gieg family was located in the general area of Hőchst, approximately 1596 to Adam’s departure for America in late April or early May 1754, it has been part of the Hessen [a state] of Germania. Note: The German Empire or Unified Germany was not formed until January 18, 1871.

Prior to that time, Germania was composed of a multitude of city-states falling under local autonomy and administration usually ruled by a local “royal” family.  These city-states rose and fell with the fortunes of wars, treaties, political considerations and so forth; a virtual map maker’s nightmare I’m sure. About 1530, following the period of the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther, Hessen was ruled by Prince Philip of Hessen, also called Philip the Magnaninous, who had embraced Lutheranism and was a well-known and influential supporter of religious freedom within his domain. [Note: In the long run that political position did not work out well for him.]  In 1567, on his death bed, Philip divided Hessen into four areas, giving one to each of his four sons.  One of those areas was the Hessen-Darmstadt in which Hőchst is located.  This region was ruled by George I, the 4th son of Philip, from 1567 to 1596. In order following George I, was Louis V, 1596-1626, George II, 1626-1661, Louis VI, 1661-1678, Louis VII, 1678, Ernest Louis, 1678-1739, and Louis VIII, 1739-1768.

Throughout this thread of leadership, religious freedom, for the most part, was a tolerated right of the subjects of Hessen-Darmstadt and most in the Höchst area were Lutherans, including Adam and his family. [Note: Hessen-Darmstadt WAS NOT, the area of Hessen that supplied the mercenary “Hessians” used by the British in America during the Revolutionary War.] Höchst lies in the shadow of Castle Breuberg, about two miles to the northeast, and the Main [pronounced mine] River about six miles, as the crow flies and 9 miles as the crow walks, to the east.  From Wörth am Main, the village nearest Höchst, the Main River meanders through the German countryside and the cities of Aschaffenburg and Frankfurt before joining the Rhine River at Mainz.


When Adam was growing up and prior to his departure for America, Hőchst was in the County Breuberg, within the Hessen-Darmstadt.  Breuberg was ruled by the Counts of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rochefort; Maximillan Karl Albert, Count of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rochefort 1672-1712, then the same man, different title, Prince of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rochefort 1712-1718, Dominick Marquard 1718-1735, and Karl Thomas 1735-1789.


Not much detail is recorded about the life and times of the people living in the Hőchst area in the early to mid-18th century.  One can imagine the heavily forested expanse of the Odenwald forest and the gently rolling foothills leading to the Odenwald mountains, though not high crests.  Tenant farmers worked their crops in clearings of the forested land.   In the villages were the staple artisans; flour miller, smith, carpenter, mason and, likely, a money lender.  There was a school in Hőchst because we do know that from 1717 to 1761 a school master named Johann Michael Keilhau was a teacher. [Note: This is from Ella Gieg.] It is most likely Herr Keilhau’s primary duty was that of a Lutheran minister since that was a custom of the time.  What we do know for certain was of the large migration of Germans, from all parts of Germania, to America, particularly Pennsylvania, during the latter part of the 17th century and most all of the 18th century.


Enter William Penn.  As most history books will relate, William Penn basically became the owner of most of what is now the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, then called the Province of Pennsylvania, in March of 1681, as the result of a “deal” with England’s King Charles II. The name Pennsylvania came from his family name, “Penn”, and the latin word “sylvania” meaning wooded land or forest, hence “Penn’s Forest”.  William’s great idea, or so-called experiment, was to create a colony in America free from any religious sovereignty or persuasion. In short, he, or rather the transport, communication,  real estate, and political infrastructure of the time, such that it was, marvelously succeeded.  In 1681 when Penn acquired the property there were already a handful Germanic immigrants and a whole bunch of Indians already there.  By 1750, “destination Pennsylvania” for the people of Germania was a proven idea, not an easy idea to implement, but nonetheless proven.


I expect that before the death of patriarch Adam’s father Jacob, on March 10, 1752, Adam was already considering his family’s move to the “new land”.  The motivating factors for him were likely two-fold; [1] the economic “slowdown” in his native village, significantly reducing the family income, and [2] the chance to actually own outright and manage enough land to successfully feed his family, have a legacy for this children, and still work at the smithing trade he knew so well.  Reports had come back for sometime from those in Adam’s area who had made the trip about what was possible in “Americam”, and how much better life was.  The reality of those glowing communications was likely quite a bit different.  Not mentioned were the excruciating financial and physical hardships of the travel and the new surroundings, both physical and social, that non-English speaking people would face.  But, hardships or no, the report card Adam believed in did not contain an “F” which, given Adam’s current circumstances, meant the move was a “go”.  The death of Adam’s father likely allowed him the freedom to proceed with his plan.


In late April or early May of 1753 Adam and his family bid farewell and wished good luck to their oldest son Balthasar, whose nickname was Balzer. He had been chosen as the family “trailblazer”, perhaps gunea pig would be a better word, for the remaining family’s trip to America the following year.  Their 19 year-old son, who would turn 20 in August of 1753, would have been instructed to provide the details of what he found in the new land and what it would take for the trip to be successful for the rest of the family. Although the customary first step for a German immigrant would have been to contact a “salesman” for a transport company to make the preliminary trip arrangements, I suspect Balzer “played it by ear” until he reached the port of Rotterdam in the Province of Holland. [Note: The “snake oil” salesmen that worked for the various “human” shipping companies based in Rotterdam cruised the main rivers of Germania during most of the 18th century peddling the wares of their employers to any unsuspecting German male who would listen.  One can just imagine how misleading and unscrupulous these men were for they were selling a service that literally killed and/or indentured thousands upon thousands of human lives during the 18th century alone.] The route that Balzer took would have likely been identical to that taken by the remaining family exactly one year later.


The journey by Balzer to America was divided into three distinct parts; [1] from his home in Höchst to Rotterdam, then in the Province of Holland, [2] from Rotterdam to Cowes in the Isle of Wight just off of the southernmost tip of England, and [3] from Cowes to Philadelphia. [See Coming to “Americam”]