Climbing My Family Tree, Part Six

Immigrants Matthäus Hoffsäß & Margaretha Wüst Hoffsäß

I have long known the oral tradition of my great-grandfather’s coming to America from somewhere in Germany in the 1800s, but I was some surprised to discover I have German roots on my mother’s side of the family as well.

This is the first time I highlight a family ancestor, who I am certain is my direct relative, but I am uncertain as to the path to get from me to him. More on that later…

Matthäus Hoffsäß (my five times great-grandfather) was born in Göbrichen, Baden, Germany, on the northern slopes of the Black Forest, on September 14, 1724.

His father was a town constable. Matthäus, the youngest of six children, became a weaver. With Germany facing a population surge following the conclusion of the Thirty Years’ War, there was little chance of him inheriting any property, especially with so many siblings in line before him. The competition to find profitable work must have been intense.

Matthäus married Margaretha Wüstin in early spring, 1748. I am told the little church where their families gathered to witness their nuptials still stands today. The couple had their first two children in Germany.

Enter into the picture General Samuel Waldo, and his son, Samuel Waldo Jr. The Waldos were merchants from Massachusetts, and more importantly (for this story) they were land speculators. The Waldos successfully secured the Waldo Patent (originally known as the Muscongus Patent), a document issued by the English Crown, granting title to 36 square miles of land between Penobscot Bay and Muscongus Bay, on the coast of present day Maine.

Samuel Waldo Jr. visited Germany and recruited many German-speaking families and individuals to settle and work the land. As early as 1739 Samuel Jr. broadcast German language circulars throughout the German Rhineland, with a promise of land and prosperity to all who should cross the seas.

I can imagine Matthäus coming home, flyer in hand, telling Margaretha this was their chance, telling her to pack up the household and the children, convincing her they should leave their homeland for America.

The incentive to emigrate from Germany to America was high, and so was the cost. Germans had to pay taxes and fees in exchange for government permission to emigrate. I have found a record that would indicate Matthäus left Germany with five Florin in cash. His passage would have cost around 200 Florin. It is likely General Waldo paid the passenger fees, leaving Matthäus indebted to work for the General.

The Hoffsäß family gathered with the other immigrant families in Manheim and Mulheim (both in Germany), where they faced delay and discouragement. They were eventually transported to Rotterdam, Holland, but again were delayed.

Their ship, the St. Andrew, finally sailed from Holland, in June, 1752, arriving in Cowes, Isle of Wight, England, before crossing the Atlantic. Apparently, several passengers died while in Cowes. The surviving passengers arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and then were taken up the New England coast, arriving in Broad Bay (Waldoboro), Maine, on October 20, 1752, just in time for a long, cold New England winter.

Upon disembarking, the new immigrants were greeted by Governor William Shirley and several Assemblymen. After this initial grand welcome, it was all downhill…

Instead of finding a village surrounded by open fields, as promised in the circular, the Germans gazed upon densly forested wilderness. They did not know how to hunt or fish. The weaving loom Matthäus brought with him likely did him little good that first winter.

Waldo promised the immigrants six month’s support upon arrival in the New World, yet they were left largely without any help or provisions. Some of the new immigrants crowded in with the immigrants who had come before them, many more were packed into a large shed by a cannery, which was described as “unfit for human habitation.” Seventeen died from exposure and starvation during the winter of 1752-1753.

In the spring of 1753, the enduring immigrants petitioned Governor Shirley for help, but no help was offered. The settlement fell victim to Indian raids and some of the settlers were killed. Some settlers left the settlement, and for the next two years, little progress was made. Samuel Waldo’s promise of “100 acres of land adjoining the salt-water,” was never realized.

But the Hoffsäß family did survive. They first settled on the west side of the Medomac River. They ran into trouble over their land title, and ended up having to pay for their property twice. There was not enough acreage to support their large family, and eventually they came to live in a stone house on the other side of the bay and a few miles inland, in Warren, Maine.

The Hoffsäß family took on an American spelling of their name and became the Hoffses family. Matthäus and Margaretha went on to have a dozen children. In fact, they had so many children, and their children had so many children, that it makes the family lineage almost impossible to trace, especially in a time when government vital records were not kept the way we keep them today. Add to that the confusion of the multiple versions of spelling of both first and last names, and it makes internet research extremely challenging.

I am very confident the link does exist, and Matthäus and Margaretha are my direct ancestors, because they are the only German immigrants in the region to have the name, which is not common, even in Germany.

Many of my relatives are buried in the Old German Protestant Cemetery, on Bremen Road, in Waldoboro, Maine. A pair of large stone pillars frame the entrance to the burial ground, each supporting an elaborate wirework which spans over the single lane road. Bold white capital letters spell out the cemetery’s name. There is undoubtedly considerable ethnic pride in the German heritage of the community.

I wonder why it is permissible, in our current political climate, to show pride in German ancestry, while it is discouraged with certain other ancestral cultures. I should wonder if we would afford the same level of respect to immigrants from other parts of the world. Would we admire (or even tolerate) an Old Mexican Catholic Cemetery, or an Old Iranian Muslim Cemetery?

Why is it acceptable to boast of Grandma Leoni’s puttanesca spaghetti recipe, but not okay to honor Grandma Maria Carmen’s tamale recipe? Why do we honor some immigrants while we disparage others?

How can it be acceptable that my ancestors came to this great nation, but the same privilege is not extended to other groups?

Matthaus and Margaretha immigrated to America for the promise of economic gain—to chase the American dream. They imagined a better future for themselves and for their children. When they didn’t get what they were promised, they never gave up. They not only survived, they thrived in unbelievably harsh conditions, and despite being taken advantage of at every turn. They became the solid foundation of what State of Mainers proudly refer to as “Yankee Spirit,” the kind of hard work and unwavering can-do attitude that built America and made her what she is today.

A special shout-out and a huge thank you to Sue Haines, who emailed me a number of important documents on the Hoffses family history! Thank you, Sue!


My Family Tree:

     1. Marx Hoffsäß Sr. (born Abt. 1530)


  1. Marx Hoffsäß Jr.


  1. Jacob Hoffsäß


  1. Anstedt Hoffsäß


  1. Ulrich Hoffsäß


  1. Johann Wilhelm Hoffsäß


  1. Matthaus Hoffsäß & Margaretha Wüstin Hoffsäß


  1. ?UNKNOWN?


  1. John T. Hoffses & Harriet G. Spear


  1. Ausburn F. Hoffses


  1. Flora Luella Hoffses King


  1. Charles Ausburn King


  1. Patricia Louise King deMeurers


  1. Me (Alan deMeurers)


Running count of my direct immigrants from Europe to North America = 16


Reference Links: (Page 81-86, Page 399)


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