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Kercher Family History


By John W. Kercher, Sr.

Written 1957-1958


Copyright © 2005

John W. Kercher, III

All Rights Reserved

Used here with permission.


Note: This is a slightly edited version which was done to improve readability.

Editing done by: John W. Kercher III, grandson of the author.

12 Dec 2005


            My descendants will be interested to know that the first thing I had to learn when I started to country school known as District No. 6 in Elkhart Township of Elkhart County in Indiana in 1892, was to speak English.  This in spite of the fact that my three-times great grandfather, Johan Philip Kercher, landed in Philadelphia as a German immigrant on September 24, 1742 on the good ship Robert and Alice; that my twice-great grandfather was a Revolutionary War soldier and is buried in the cemetery of the Zion Lutheran Church in Manheim, Pennsylvania.  My maternal great-great grandfather, George Buzzard, was also a Revolutionary War soldier from the state of Pennsylvania and, so far as I know, I have no ancestors who were not in America before the Declaration of Independence.  All of these ancestors were of German origin except perhaps a small infusion of Swiss and Dutch.  In spite of a hundred and fifty years and six generations, my family still spoke German and Pennsylvania Dutch and I had to learn English in school.


            My three-times great grandfather, Johan Philip who landed in Philadelphia, made the three day journey from Philadelphia to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the same trip the Baron Stiegel made eight years later and to the same part of Lancaster County.  What occupation Johan Philip Kercher followed is something to which we have no information. 


             I do not know at what age Johan Philip came to America, whether he was married and had children at the time.  I have no information about what part of Germany he came from or what his German background may have been.  It is evident that he was a Lutheran, as were apparently all the Kerchers who came to America at about the same time.  Many of these early Kerchers are buried in Lutheran cemeteries in Berks and Lancaster Counties.


            There is a record of Martin Kercher who came to America earlier than Johan Kercher and bought a tract of land in Berks County, Pennsylvania.  It is possible that he was a brother of Johan Kercher.  A part of the tract which he bought from the Proprietors (apparently the sons of William Penn) is still in the possession of his descendants.  It is located a few miles east of Kuntztown, Pennsylvania.  There is an old stone house and an old stone barn on the property which are still in use.  The mark on the house shows that it was erected in 1795.


            There are records of eight Kerchers who landed in Philadelphia in the eighteen year period from 1733 to 1757.  They were no doubt related.

             Johan Philip’s widow, Franica (?) Kercher, was buried at Trinity Lutheran Church, January 12, 1788 - from Manheim and aged 68 years.  She was born in 1720 and probably in Germany.  She owned a lot in Manheim, which her son Frederick bought, paying double to his older brother Jacob, who was in Europe.

          Frederick Kercher, who was my twice-great grandfather, was a soldier in the Continental Army.  Of Frederick, we know a bit more than we know of his father.  He was born February 6, 1754.  From that I infer that his father, Johan Kercher, must have been a comparatively young man when he arrived in Philadelphia in 1742.  Frederick died February 24, 1798.  This is recorded on his tombstone in the Zion Lutheran Church at Manheim.  He lived in Warwick Township and was a farmer.  His will disposed of a fair amount of property for his time and in a manner characteristic of the times.  He served in the Continental Army.  From the record "Under Captain Ab Forrey, Middle District, Rapho Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 3rd Battalion, Col. Alexander Lowery, August 16, 1777".  (See Pennsylvania Archives, 5 Series, Vol. VII, page 194).  His wife was Justina Kercher, nee Justina __________.


            Justina was younger than Frederick, born August 17, 1766.  She died February 19, 1843, which was forty-five years after Frederick died.  Little is known about her other than the provision made for her in Fredericks's will.


            Frederick and Justina had a number of children, all mentioned in the will.  The oldest was John, who received the largest portion of his father's estate.  John was my great-grandfather.  He was under twenty-one when his father died and a guardian was appointed for him.


            John Kercher was born (probably) about 1785, which would have made him twelve or thirteen when his father died in 1798.  He was married on September 6, 1808.  Of him, not much is definitely known.  He died at an early age when my grandfather, William Kercher, was only eleven years old.  Since my grandfather, William Kercher, was born on December 31, 1813, this would make the date of John Kercher's death about 1825.


          About this John Kercher I know little other than such stories as I heard as a young boy.  My grandfather never willingly spoke of him.  When he was pressed, so my aunts told me, he turned off the questions with the reply, "Er wawr-nix waiirt".  From the family stories, I gather that after he came of age and received his inheritance, he lived a gay life, drank heavily and wasted his property.  At about the age of forty, according to the stories, he committed suicide and was buried in the middle of the road at a crossroad.  I have no confirmation of the tradition although it is in accordance with the customs.  I do know that my grandfather, at the age of eleven and being the oldest child in the family, became the sole support of his mother and two younger sisters. 

          The will of Frederick Kercher, 1754-1798,  is evidence that John received a good inheritance and that in some way he managed to dissipate it.  Since my grandfather was the oldest child, I assume that John was married about 1812.  His wife was _______________.  They had three children, my grandfather and two younger sisters.  Perhaps my grandfather was right in refusing to divulge much information about his father.  I have no joy in recording what I know about him, although he bore the name of his grandfather and had received the fruits of the labor of his father and grandfather, and I bear the same name he did.


            My grandfather, William Kercher, was born in Rapho Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on December 31, 1813.  Evidently the family was left penniless at the death of his father circa 1825.  William became the support of his family at the immature age of eleven.  What work he did, I do not know.  Later he became a miller and he often showed his grandchildren the bruises on his hands which he said came from dressing millstones.  Somehow the family must have survived the trying years during which the children were growing up without any visible means of support.  Perhaps they were helped by their grandmother, Justina, who did not die until 1843, by which time grandfather was thirty years old and had already moved to Ohio where the next period, albeit a short one, occurred.


          William Kercher married Elizabeth Moyer in 1841 when he was twenty-seven years old.  I have no information whether this was before or after he went to Ohio.  I am inclined to think that it was after he went to Ohio inasmuch as the Moyer homestead was near Mifflin in Ashland County, Ohio, which is where William kercher bought his first Ohio farm.  He sold this farm and bought another about five miles east of Ashland, Ohio along with what is now Route #_____.  This farm is today known as the Studebaker farm because on it was located the original Studebaker blacksmith shop where the Studebaker Brothers began to make wagons.  This shop they rented from William Kercher.


            William Kercher died in 1900 and is buried in Violet Cemetery, three miles south of Goshen.


            My father, Abraham Kercher, was born on the Ashland County Ohio farm.  There were at the time three older children in the family.  There were four children younger than my father, all born in Indiana.


            In the summer of 1851, William Kercher sold the Ashland, Ohio farm and moved to Indiana.  His good friends, the Studebaker Brothers, moved to Indiana at the same time.  They traveled together and made the trip in wagons and with ox teams.  The trip, it is said, took three weeks.  I remember as a boy seeing the old tar bucket handing in grandfather's wagon shed, which he used on this trip.    If grandfather had only kept a journal, what a book that would be for the perusal of those who come after him and who can make the trip which took him three weeks in about three hours.  And the earlier trip from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  What a trip that must have been!  There is not the least scrap of information about that.

          In Indiana, William Kercher bought a farm in Elkhart County, about three miles west of Waterford in Elkhart Township.  He cleared the land, built the house and barn and here he lived for the rest of his life.  The barn is still standing, but the house has been torn down to make way for what some present-day farmers think is more modern.  I now know that the old buildings, their arrangement and style were based on memories Grandfather brought with him from Pennsylvania.


            The house was set back from the road approximately two hundred feet with a wide yard to the road and planted with pine trees.  The house had a recessed porch, a comfortable living room, a parlor toward the front of the house, a downstairs bedroom behind the living room, a kitchen and several upstairs bedrooms -- I assume one for the boys and one for the girls.  Behind the house was a garden and at the garden gate, an old Dutch oven, not used in my time but in which no doubt many a loaf of bread was baked.  Behind the garden and surrounding two sides of it was the family orchard.


            Between the house and the barn, which also sat back about two hundred feet from the road, was a large yard and at the back of this yard, the wagon shed and corn crib -- an interesting place for boys to explore.  The old ox yoke and tar bucket hung in the gable of this wagon shed.  The barn itself was a two-story bank-barn such as one can still see on almost every farm in Lancaster County.  Between the large barn yard and the road lay the truck patch, about half an acre.  It served as something of a second garden, although its principal crop was potatoes.  A lane from the road came in between this truck patch and the large house yard.  Here William Kercher spent the last fifty years of  his life.  He made it a beautiful place which lingers in the memories of his grandsons who saw it before vandals destroyed what he created.


          Here his family grew to maturity; here his grandchildren spent many interesting days; here grandmother died; and here he himself passed on to the realms of his three generations of American forbearers, in the year 1900 when I was fourteen years old.


            When William Kercher made the trek from Ashland, Ohio to Elkhart, County Indiana with the Studebaker Brothers, they went on past Elkhart County to South Bend in St. Joseph County, where they planned to again set up a shop to manufacture wagons.  They tried to persuade William to come with them to South Bend and throw in with them - he had more money than they did.  This my grandfather did not do.  He wanted a farm in Elkhart County.  Even after the Civil War and war contracts made the Studebaker Brothers wealthy and when no Indiana farm was properly equipped without a Studebaker wagon, the remained good friends and frequently made the twenty-five mile trip for visits.


            Grandfather was a stern and silent man.  He read a German newspaper and a German Bible.  The saga of his eight-six years from Pennsylvania to Indiana is something of which there are but flimsy records, and my generation must reconstruct if from the history of the times.  Northeastern Indiana was the last section of Indiana from which the Indians were ejected.  Land was cheap and this was the attraction which brought settlers from the more mature parts of Ohio, as it had earlier brought them from Pennsylvania.   My maternal as well as my paternal grandfather followed this pattern.


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