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Balthasar Oberdorf (1698-AFT 1760) & Margdalena (ABT 1700-AFT 1755)
Balthasar Oberdorf, called Baltz, was the son of Balthasar Oberdorf I and Margaretha. He was born in about 1698, probably in Kembach, Germany.
The small villages of Kembach, Dietenhan, and Lindelbach are located very close together (at about 49˚north latitude and 9˚longitude). Elevation is from 905 to 970 feet above sea level. The famous black forest is to the west, the Danube river to the south, the city of Stuttgart slightly southeast. The area is within the Baden-Wurttemberg province of Germany. (Map courtesy of Wikipedia.)
Baden-Württemberg — which today combines the historical states of Baden, Hohenzollern and Württemberg — is in the southwestern part of the country; three of its major cities straddle the banks of the Danube River. Among Germany’s sixteen states, it is the third largest in both area and population. The state capital is Stuttgart.
In 1593 the protestant Earldom of Wertheim had no male heir; as a result, possession of the land fell under the rule of the Counts of Lowenstein. Their subjects (including Balthasar, his wife and children) were held in serfdom; they had to pay taxes and levies to the landlords. Most of the people worked the land and the forests. Others labored in sandstone quarries; most houses were built of the pale, rose stones mined in those quarries.
People were not allowed to move freely from one village to another without the Counts’ permission. To leave the county one needed to apply for release from bondage and had to pay a manumission fee. There are several letters of application for manumission from various Oberdorfs. Nearly all of these letters outline their poverty, their inability to pay the levies, and the high interest charged by money lenders.
Balthasar marries and raises a family
Baltz Oberdorf was married on 15 Feb 1718 to Margdalena Oberdorf from Dietenhan, Germany, daughter of Jacob Oberdorf and his first wife Anna Barbara. Margdalena was born in about 1700 in Germany. It is assumed that, with the same last name, Balthasar and Margdalena were at least cousins. The other possibility is that only her married name is given in the genealogical record.
Balthasar and Margdalena lived in Dietenhan where all of their nine children were born. The first six children were baptized in the church at Dertingen (baptism generally occurred within two days of birth). The seventh child was baptized in Kembach after the church there was built in 1732. In 1735 Dietenhan received its own chapel and the last two children were baptized there.
Their children were:
- Eva Maria b. 18 Aug 1717 in Dietenham, Germany
- Anna Margaretha b. 15 Jul 1721 in Dietenham, Germany
- Hans Balthasar b. 14 Feb 1723/24 in Dietenham, Germany
- Johann Georg b. 4 Mar 1726/27 in Dietenham, Germany
- Dorthea b. 16 May 1729 in Dietenham, Germany
- Anna Dorthea b. 27 Jun 1730 in Dietenham, Germany
- Valentin b. 1735 in Dietenham, Germany 2
- Anna Barbara b. Jul 1738 in Dietenham, Germany
Leaving with a tarnished reputation?
No letter of application was found from Balthasar Oberdorf who "moved away with his wife in 1752 as a squanderer leaving four children behind and emigrating to America in 1753.” This might indicate that he left leaving a somewhat tarnished reputation. On closer examination, though, it is evident that the four children were all over 20 years old and, according to the report, working in service positions. Based on documents found, it is assumed that three children — Anna Dorothea, Valentin, and Anna Barbara — accompanied Baltz and Margdalena to America in 1753. There is a faint possibility that one or two of the older children followed to America at a later date. Balthasar was 55 years old when he made this momentous decision to leave his homeland with his wife and three of his younger children.
The way to America
The Kembach creek, near all of the villages, runs towards the Main River where the emigrants boarded a river boat for the first leg of their journey down the Main River which flows generally westward from Bamberg, Wurzburg and Frankfort. At Mainz, it joins the Rhine river which leads towards Holland. This trip was a distance of more than 300 miles, as the crow flies, so therefore considerably longer by boat. In Rotterdam or Amsterdam, of course, they transferred to ocean-going vessels.
The Balthasar Oberdorf family took this trip and left Rotterdam, arriving at the Port of Philadelphia on 24 September 1754 on the ship Neptune along with other Wertheimers. Their son, Valentin, age 18, signed the Oath of Allegiance with his mark.
THE OATH OF ALLEGIANCE
I, ---, do solemnly & sincerely promise & declare that I will be true & faithful to King George the Second & do sincerely & truly Profess, Testifie, & Declare that I do from my heart abhor, detest, & renounce as impious & heretical that wicked Doctrine & Position that Princes Excommunicated or deprived by the Pope or any Authority of the See of Rome may be deposed or murthered by their Subjects or any other whatsoever. And I do declare that no Foreign Prince Person Prelate State or Potentate hath or ought to have any Power Jurisdiction Superiority Preeminency or Authority Ecclesiastical or Spiritual within the Realm of Great Britain or Dominions thereunto belonging.
Passage was expensive and arduous
The cost of passage from Rotterdam fluctuated from five to ten pounds Sterling, a great sum in those days. Children were half-price, although few under the age of seven survived the voyages. The trip down the Rhine River from the Palatinate to Rotterdam sometimes lasted for several weeks, much of the time being spent in complying with the regulations of the various German principalities.
They were normally delayed in Rotterdam for several weeks more, and again at one of the English ports (usually Liverpool) where the ships stopped to pick up English immigrant passengers.
Crossing the Atlantic from England to Philadelphia took eight to sixteen weeks. Ships usually left in early summer to take advantage of calmer seas and balmy weather over the North Atlantic. As many as 150 to 400 passengers were stuffed into the hold spaces. There was never enough food. Starvation and death were common. "Ship fever" (typhus), dysentery, smallpox, and scurvy ravaged the passengers. Many vessels were lost at sea in storms.
Once in America, the ordeal wasn’t over
Arriving in 1754, it is not known what Balthasar and his wife did at first, but they may have remained in the Philadelphia area, perhaps as indentured servants until the cost of the passage was paid off.
By 1760, six years later, their son Valentin got married in York County, Pennsylvania (Map courtesy of Wikipedia), so there is an assumption that the entire family settled in the same area at around the same time. This was an area where many immigrants went — the county had been created on August 19, 1749, just eleven years before Baltz arrived there with his family.
Pennsylvania had been explored and parts of it, mostly in the east, had been settled in the early 1600s. Quakers and Mennonites came to Pennsylvania as early as 1683; they founded the city of Germantown. Balthasar and his family were most likely Lutheran, however.
Balthasar died in Pennsylvania, probably in York County and after 1760, not that long after his arrival. Margdalena also probably died in York County, but the date is also unknown.
Much of this information comes from Dorothy Cunningham. After researching the German ancestry of the Overturf family. She wrote about it in The Overturf Family, published in 1988 and revised in 1995.
This page written and researched by Susan Overturf Ingraham, a descendant of Balthasar and Margaretha. Page last updated January 31, 2016.