Johann Henrich Riedesel (1772)

Johann Henrich (probably not “Heinrich” at birth) Riedesel was born in the town of Berleburg on June 14, 1772. He was a great-grandson of the master builder Mannus Riedesel. His father, Johann Georg, had married Elisabeth Belz of Berleburg. This may have been a step up socially, but the Riedesels of his line in the hamlet of Melbach may also have maintained a closer connection to the ruling Sayn-Wittgensteins than their Riedesel kin in other villages. I only know of two children of this marriage, with both sons emigrating to Philadelphia.

German records show him as young man going to Rondorf (near Wuppertal) in 1791 then going to Holland in 1792. The next documented mention is of his marriage to Henriette Gäkler on February 18, 1817 in Berleburg. She was from the village of Schwarzenau which was long a home to religious sectarians. Their daughter Philippine’s birth in 1818 is recorded in Berleburg.

The archives in Berleburg contain a document confirming his permission to emigrate along with his brother, wife and daughter. The next we hear of Johann Heinrich and his brother is as passengers on the brig Osgood out of Amsterdam that landed in Philadelphia on September 20, 1819. With Johann Heinrich was a wife Louise and a child. Whether this was Philippine or another child born to the second wife, we don’t know. We can presume that Henriette had died.

Records of what is now Philadelphia’s Salem German Reformed Church but was then the United High German Evangelical Calvinist Reformed Church–and its member roles included a number of Wittgenstein names. Its records show the baptism of a Johannes Riedesel, son of “Dokt. Johann Hein. Riedesel” and his wife, Marie Louise. The child was born January 3, 1820, and was baptized on March 16, 1820. In the Calvinist tradition, those who filled the ministerial role of teaching were called “doctor” (per the 1541 Ecclesiastical Ordinances of Geneva). I have no doubt that this doctor was one and the same as our Johann Heinrich. He wasn’t mending broken arms or giving high school physicals.

“Marie Louise” died in 1844 and was buried in the Salem Cemetery. What became of Johann Heinrich, we don’t know.

I am 95% certain that the boy Johannes born in 1820 was the John B. Riedesel who was Missing in Action after the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. The latter left progeny, with the Riedesel name surviving in Philadelphia until 1963.


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