The Early History of the Johann Jacob (Holbe) Holben Family

Eugene F. Holben
August 2012



Click to see larger imageOver 400 years ago, Conrad Holbe was born in 1610 in Rueckingen (?), Germany and Johannes (Hans) Holbe was born in 1625 in the same area. We found the records of 4 generations of the descendants of these 2 families in 2004 in the Evangelische Kirkengemeinde auf dem Berg (Evangelical Church of the Mountain) in Lieblos, Germany. This area is about 25 miles northeast of Frankfort am Main, now known as Gruendau.

Click to see larger imageGruendau is composed of 7 small towns and villages. They are Breinborn, Gettenbach, Hans-gruendau, Lieblos, Mittel-gruendau, Niedergruendau and Rotthenbergen. There is an Evalgelische church, or chapel in each town and 4 pastors. A central church office is in Lieblos. The main church, auf dem Berg, is in Niedergruendau. Built in 1840, it is located on the site of the original church. The town and church are on top of a round mountain with a large wooded area. Behind the church is a bird sanctuary and a walking area that contains old cemetery tombstones now unreadable.

We do not know the relationship of these two families to each other. Our ancestor, Johann Jacob (Holbe) Holben is from the Conrad line. We do not know the name of the wife of Conrad Holbe. Together they had 2 sons and a daughter. The eldest son, Hans Casper Holbe was born between1639 and 1640 and he and his wife Anna Ost had 10 chilcdren, 7 sons and 3 daughters all born in Rothenbergen. Two of the sons pertinent to our early history were Ulrich and Andreas.

Ulrich Holbe was born 14 June 1676 and he married Anna Maria Hessler 04 December 1700. They had 11 children consisting of 7 daughters and 4 sons. All of Ulrichís children were baptized in the Evangelische Kirkengemeinde auf dem Berg. The sons were Johann Conrad born 30 June 1715, Johann Jacob born 25 Dec 1717, Johannes born 08 August 1720 and Silvester born 08 August 1723.

Andreas Holbe was born 25 April 1679 in Rothenbergen and died 28 June 1718 in Niedergruendau. He married Catharina Louisa Fass 09 December 1717 in Rothenbergen. Andreas and Catharina had 6 children consisting of 4 daughters and 2 sons. The sons were Johann Christian (Jonas) born 27 September 1710 and Silvester born 15 August 1717.

Johann Conrad (s/o Ulrich) and Silvester (s/o Andreas), his cousin, emigrated to Americaí arriving in the Port of Philadelphia 05 Oct 1737 aboard the ship "Billinder Townsend", Thomas Thompson, Master from Amsterdam, Netherlands via Cowes, England. On the Passenger List, their names are recorded as Silvester Holvert and Conraet Holber. Another Passenger List lists them as Silvester Holbe and Conrath Holbe. The Oath of Allegiance listed them as Balthasar Holben and Conrat Holbe. They were part of the heavy migration of Germans from the Palatinate to eastern Pennsylvania after the area west of South Mountain was purchased from the Indians in 1732 and 1736.

Johann Jacob Holbe (s/o Ulrich) followed 21 Sept 1742 arriving in Philadelphia aboard the "Francis & Elizabeth", George North, Master, from Rotterdam, Netherlands via Deal, England. Early records stated that he came from "Odenwald" Germany which proved to be incorrect. This caused many researchers to conduct "wild goose chases" and delays of many years before Robert Holby, James Holben and I found this from the records in Lieblos, Gruendau, Germany.

Johannes Christian (Jonas) Holbe (s/o Andres) and the cousin of Johann Jacob (s/o Ulrich) was married in Germany to Anna Maria Stumpf and had a son Wilhelm (William) born 04 November 1741 in Rodenbergen, Duchy of Isenburgh, Germany (present day Rothenbergen, Gruendau, Germany). In 1750 the family emigrated to Philadelphia aboard the ship "Brotherhood". Either Johann Christian (Jonas) died enroute or shortly after arrival in Philadelphia leaving a widow and the 8 year old son. They must have traveled up to the Bucks County area to be with their relatives. Being unmarried at the time, Silvester (s/o Andreas) married his brotherís widow, Anna Maria Stumpf and her son Wilhelm (William) became his stepson

Note that Johann Conrad and Johann Jacob were brothers (s/o Ulrich) and Johann Christian (Jonas) and Silvester were also brothers (s/o Andreas). The 2 pair of brothers were cousins, From the original analysis of the Evangelische Kirkengemeinde auf dem Berg published in 2004 by Jim Holben, we concluded that there were 4 brothers (s/o Ulrich) who emigrated to America


When Johann Jacob Holbe arrived in Philadelphia, his written name on the Oath of Allegiance and the Passenger List, was "Johann Jacob" followed by what appeared to be "Holbein". As a result of the publication of these lists in later years, there emerged a myth that we Holbens were somehow related to Hans Holbein the Younger, the Portrait Painter in the Court of Henry VIII of England. The finding of the Holbe records in Lieblos debunks this myth.

The first use of the name "Holben" that I know of is recorded as the birth of Robert Holben 08 May 1677, in Elsworth, Cambridgeshire, England. We know that Hans Holbein the Younger, had resided in England from 1526 until 1528 and then from 1532 until his death from the plague in 1543. His wife and 4 children had remained in Basel, Switzerland during this time. In his will, he made a provision as follows: "I bequeythe for kyping of my two Chylder which be at nurse, for every month sewyne shyllynges and sex pence sterlyng". We do not know the sex of these children. If one or more were males, it is possible that the name Holben in England started here. We also know that the English often anglicized German names so that Holbein could have become Holben. The descendants of this line came into Skaneateles, New York area in 1850. Other branches of this line migrated from England directly to Iowa, Michigan and mid-western Canada in the late 1800's. Recent DNA tests of the descendants of the Holbe family and of the English Branch show a common ancestor for the 4 Holbe branches but NOT for the English branch. There is no relationship between the "English" Holben's and the descendants of the Holbe family.

The name "Ernestine Louisa Holben" shows up in records from the mid-1700í the wife of Christian Seiberling, a Private in the Northampton Co. Militia in the Revolution. She was born in 1728 in Baden, Wurrtemberg, Germany. This is an area some distance south of Gruendau. Their first child was born in 1760 in Weisenberg Township, so she must have been in Pennsylvania before that time. There has been no link found between Ernestine Louisa and the four Holbe branches.

Land records show that Conrad owned a farm in Lower Milford Township, Becks County, Pennsylvania in 1738 and sold it in 1749. Silvester had purchased a 151 acre property in Maiden Creek Township in Philadelphia County in 1740. Silvester then relocated to a 200 acre farm in Lynn Township, Bucks County in 1750 and Conrad purchased land adjacent to him at the same time. This area was a part of Bucks County until 1752 when it became a part of the new Northampton County. Lynn Township is about 12 miles west of Allentown, Pennsylvania and borders on the northwest side of Weisenberg Township where Johann Jacob purchased land in 1753. Both townships became incorporated as a part of Northampton County and then became part of Lehigh County, which was formed in 1812. This area became known as Hulwigstal and later was changed to its current name of Holben's Valley Lehigh County road LR39072 running from Route 100 westerly to Werley's Corner was known as Hulwigstal Road and later changed to its current name of Holben's Valley Road

Conradís property in Lynn Township is shown on an early tax map where his name appears as "Conrad Holber". Conrad married Anna Elizabeth Keller about 1739 in Philadelphia. They had several children before moving to Harrisonburg, VA in the Shenandoah Valley in about 1767/1768. Anna Elizabeth died shortly after and Conrad married Catherine whose last name is unknown. The family name became Hulvey with variations appearing as Hulva, Hulvah, Holloweg and Hulver.

Silvester had 2 wives. His first wife was the widow of his brother Johannes Christian (Jonas). There were 3 daughters born of this marriage before this wife died. We do not know the exact dates of birth of these daughters but it was probably in the 1750's. Silvester then married Clara Derr. By this marriage they had 2 sons. The step-son, William, became known as William Holby. Silvester died in August 1779. It is not known when his first wife or Clara died or where they are buried. Their burial is most likely in or around the Ebeneezer Church in New Tripoli, Lynn Township which was closest to their farm.

William Holby, stepson of Silvester, married Susanna (last name unknown) and moved to Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1782 where they were members of the St. Michael's Evangelical Church and then the German Reformed Church. He died 07 November 1806 and is buried in the Lower Burial Ground (Hood Cemetery) in Germantown.

The Holbe Family records found in the Evalgelsche Kirkengemiende auf dem Berg are very difficult to translate. The name Johann Jacob shows up in several family branches and is subject to a great deal of speculation as to relationships. One entry is that a Johann Jacob married an Anna Catharina Mohr born in 1720 in Niedergruendau and had 2 daughters, The daughters were Elizabeth born 24 October 1740 and Anna Maria born 30 March 1741 approximately 6 months after the birth of Elizabeth. Although these dates can very reasonably be associated with our Johann Jacob, there is not enough supporting information to be sure. No mention of of a previous marriage for Johann Jaob or any children is found in any records in America. No mention is made of what happened to them. Therefore, I have recorded them in this genealogy with that caveat.

Shortly after arriving in Pennsylvania, Johann Jacob married Catharine Weiss. The Weiss family had settled in Bucks County prior to his arrival. They had 6 children, 2 daughters and 4 sons. The daughters were Anna Margaret and Anna Catharine. Anna Margaret married Jost Gorg (George) and had 6 children born in or around Lowhill Township adjacent to Weisenberg Township. Anna Margaret died sometime before 1780 and Jost Gorg then married her younger sister Anna Catharine. They had 3 children. In 1793, Jost Gorg and his family moved to Greene County, Tennessee where the family name George became substantial.

The sons of Johann Jacob were Jacob, Theobald, Lorentz, Jr. and Wendel. Of the four sons, only Theobald remained in the Lehigh County area.

The first recorded purchase of land by Johann Jacob was 50 acres in Weisenberg Township 23 September 1750. In 1768, he owned 50 acres of cleared land, 300 acres of woods, 3 horses and 3 cows for tax purposes.

Johann Jacob was an Elder in the Weisenberg Church which was a "union" (Reformed and Lutheran) church organized in 1747. The first church building was built in June 1754. The Reformed and Lutheran branches held separate services in the same building. In 1763, problems arose and the Reformed congregation seceded and formed the Lowhill Church about two miles away in Lowhill Township. The Holben family split between the two churches.

Johann Jacob died 27 August 1794 at the age of 76 and is buried in the original section of the cemetery of the Weisenberg Church. It is not known when his wife died or where she is buried. Upon Johann Jacobís death, the homestead of about 320 acres was inherited by his son Lorentz.

The 4 sons lived to old age. All served in the local militia during the Revolutionary War. The 3rd Company, 3rd Battalion (later the 6th Battalion) consisting of approximately 50 men was fromed from the Weisenberg area. Lorentz was a sergeant in the Battalion while Jacob was in the 4th Class, Theobald in the 6th Class and Wendel the 7th Class. They were called up on a rotating 2 or 3 month tour as required. On 16 January 1838, Lorentz applied for a pension. In his application he states that he was called up and "marched to Germantown, the British being in Philadelphia and were marching from place to place in the neighborhood but was not in any battle". He was called up again in 1778 and stationed in the "Whoyiming Countery in the northern part of Northampton County and then in Luzern County against the Indians". In 1780 he was mustered again and "marched behind the Blew Mountain where he was stationed along the Mahoney Creek against the savage Indians". He served another two months muster but could not remember where it was.

Jacob, son of Johann Jacob, purchased 160 acres of land in Lynn Township and married Catharina Moresin. They had 2 daughters, Magdalena and Susanna and 5 sons, Daniel, Peter, Christian, John, and Jacob, Jr. In 1804, Jacob, Sr. deeded his farm in Lynn Township equally to his sons Christian and Jacob, Jr. and the rest of the family moved to Mahanoy Valley in Northumberland County in central Pennsylvania. Jacob, Sr. died in 1820. Son John married Susannah (last name unknown) and raised 13 children. In 1831, John sold his land in Mahanoy Valley and joined settlers in Armstrong County in western Pennsylvania. This line of Holben's remain in and around Armstrong, Jefferson and Clarion Counties to this day.

Jacob, Jr., son of Jacob, Sr., married Catharine Fenstermacher. Shortly after the marriage, Jacob, Jr. decided to join his father and siblings in Northumberland County. Jacob, Jr. relinquished his rights to his share of his fatherís estate. Christian became the owner of the homestead.

Christian, son of Jacob, Sr., married Ann Catharine Hoffman and had 7 children, 4 boys and 3 girls. Shortly after the last child was born in 1822, Christian sold the land he had inherited from his father and moved to Fayette Township, Seneca County, New York. The girls all remained in New York whereas, 1 son moved to Medina County, Ohio and another son moved with his father. Christian, to Seneca Township, Lenawee County, Michigan where they are buried.

Lorentz married Eva Catherine Kramlich. He was a member of the Weisenberg Church and died 23 June 1842 at the age of 82. It is assumed that he is buried in the old cemetery of the Weisenberg Church since he was a life time member. It is fairly certain that they had at least 7 sons and possibly 3 daughters. Both the 1790 and the 1800 Census' show 10 children at home. Their daughter, Sarah, was born 26 July 1797. Two adjacent gravestones in the old cemetery refer to "sisters" Marie Magdalena HOLBIGen, born 13 May 1787 and Elizabeth HOLBIGen, born 07 May 1795. Marie Magdalena died at the age of 13 years, 6 months, 1 week and Elizabeth at the age of 1 year, 4 months, 12 days. It is evident that early death was quite common but if children survived to teen age, they lived to old age. The sons were John, Christian, Peter, Frederick, Lorentz, Jr., Jacob, George, and Solomon. Of these living children, Christian moved to Medina County, Ohio, while Lorentz, Jr. and Frederick moved to Stark County, Ohio. Peter, Jacob and Solomon remained in Weisenberg Township, Lehigh County, PA.

Theobald married Sara Gerber and had no living children. He was a farmer, a blacksmith and a member of the Weisenberg Church. Sara died 13 April 1837 at the age of 88 years and Theobald died 20 December 1837 at the age of 90 years, 4 months, 4 days. They are both buried in the old cemetery at the Weisenberg Church. The last name on the headstones is "Hollwing".

Wendel married Maria Magdalena Gerber and had 4 daughters and 1 son. Wendel farmed 140 acres in Weisenberg Township but then moved to Canton Township, Stark County, Ohio where he appears as a landowner in 1813. His family surname became Holwick. Wendel's family remained in the Canton, Ohio area.

Some of the Stark County, Ohio descendents moved to northern Indiana and southern Michigan in the mid-1830's and then into mid-Illinois as the land opened up. They were a part of the large body of Germans who moved farther west into Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas as land became available. Some of these large concentrations remain in existence today.

The 1700's and 1800's in eastern America were characterized by families continually on the move. Their destination was governed by the availability of new land and/or availability of work. Other than remaining in the Lehigh Valley, they moved to the more populated Philadelphia area, into western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, north to the flat lands of upper New York State or to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. As the Indians were pushed out of Western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio in the 1770 to 1800 period, the settlers flocked in. In northern New York State, the construction of the Erie Canal from 1817 to 1825 provided work and the land in Seneca County and Onondaga County was cheap. A heavy migration of Eastern Pennsylvania Germans moved into the area. Upon completion of the canal and it's feeders, many of the settlers moved into southern Michigan, northern Ohio and northern Indiana as those lands opened up. So we see successive generations of the four original Holbe's showing up in these areas.