Johnson County Historical &

    Genealogical Society

 

The Axer/Oxer/Auxier Family

“A Journey of Courage and Conviction”

by  John Britton Wells III

 From Armsheim to Auxier

 The saga of the “Auxier” family in America began on September 24, 1742, when Michael “Axer” arrived in the Port of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on board the Ship “Robert & Alice” along with seventy-four other male “foreigners” and their families. The ship departed from Rotterdam in the Netherlands with a stop in Cowes, England, before making its way across the Atlantic to America. Although the residences of the passengers were not included in the ship’s records, subsequent research has provided the places of origin of twenty-seven of the immigrants. All were ethnic Germans who lived within a twenty-five mile radius of the town of Kaiserslautern in the present German state of Rhineland-Pfalz. At his arrival in America, Michael Axer’s oath of allegiance was witnessed by fellow passengers, Phillips Jacob Rechenfelter, Johan Jacob Metzger and Johannes Heinrich Heydt.

 According to German church registers and manumission records, Rechenfelter was a resident of the village of Kriegsfeld, Metzger was from Undenheim and Heydt was from the nearby village of Armsheim, all in the German Palatinate. Regrettably, no manumission record for Michael Axer has been found, but the Axer family did have strong ties to the villages of Kriegsfeld and Armsheim.

 

  Armsheim in winter
 

Almost immediately after his arrival in America, Michael Axer settled in the Tulpehocken township in Lancaster(now Berks) County, Pennsylvania, a predominately German-speaking community. On December 21, 1746, he married in Tulpehocken to (Anna) Maria Barbara Spiess, the daughter of Ulrich and Maria Dorothea(Tröster) Spiess of Tulpehocken township. Anna Maria Barbara Spiess was born on April 30, 1729, in Ober Lustadt, Pfalz, a small town located forty-two miles south of Armsheim. She came to America with her parents and several members of the Tröster and Hedderich families on board the “St. Andrew” on September 12, 1734.
 

The fact that Michael Axer did not marry until four years after his arrival in Pennsylvania suggests that he was a "Redemptioner," an immigrant unable to pay for his passage to America. According to German diarist Gottlieb Mittleberger who arrived from Germany in 1750, upwards of 85% of all passengers were forced to become indentured servants in order to pay the £10 fare. Most of those who ventured to America were landless farmers and laborers and Mittleberger estimated that the average personal wealth of the typical German newcomer was less than £30($42.00). The term of service was usually from three to five years and it is very likely that Michael Axer was indentured for four years to his future father-in-law Ulrich Spiess.
 

We know that Michael Axer’s full name was “John(Johann) Michael Axer” because on his wedding day, December 21, 1746, “John Michael Axer and spouse” sponsored the baptism in Tulpehocken of “John Michael” Troester(Tröster), son of Martin Troester(Tröster). Martin Tröster was the half-brother of Maria Barbara Spiess Axer. It was a German tradition that infants be given the first and middle names of their baptismal sponsors, thus “John Michael” Troester was named for “John Michael” Axer. It was also common practice for Germans to use their middle names in every day life. Therefore “John(Johann) Michael” Axer was commonly known as “Michael” Axer. On June 17, 1753, Maria Barbara Hedderich was baptized at Tulpehocken. Her sponsors were Michael and Barbara Axer. Obviously, “Maria Barbara” Hedderich was named for “Maria Barbara” Spiess Axer, but “Barbara” Axer signed the baptismal certificate using only her middle name.
 

Between 1748 and 1752, Michael and Barbara Axer presented four daughters for baptism in Tulpehocken. On June 26, 1748, their first daughter Anna Elisabethe, born on June 15, 1748, was sponsored by Maria Barbara’s sister Anna Elisabethe Spiess. On June 25, 1749, Anna Catarina, born on June 17, 1749, was sponsored by (Anna Catarina) Schuhen, the wife of Heinrich Schuhen. On February 2, 1751, Eva Margaretha, born on January 19, 1751, was sponsored by Maria Eva (Margaretha) Spiess, another sister of Maria Barbara Axer. Finally, on April 9, 1752, Maria Magdalena, born on March 8, 1752, was baptized with sponsor (Maria Magdalena) Hedderich, wife of Christopher Hedderich. Christopher Hedderich was a shipmate of Ulrich Spiess on the “St. Andrew.”
 

Initially, these baptisms were overlooked by genealogists because Michael Axer’s name was spelled “Aver” in a printed transcript. A review of the original documents revealed that the names were written in old German script and the German letter “x,” which is written similarly to the English “y” or “v,” was mistakenly transcribed as “v.” In each case the name was clearly “Axer,” not “Aver.”
 

It is not clear whether Michael Axer ever owned land in Pennsylvania. A search of Lancaster County deeds turned up only one reference. On August 6, 1750, Martin Triester(Tröster), the half-brother of Maria Barbara Spiess Axer, mortgaged 148 acres on Swatara Creek to George Tollinger of Tulpehocken adjoining Christopher Ulrich, Nicklas Simon and Michael “Axah.” Obviously, this is a reference to Michael “Axer,” but he was probably living on land owned by the Spiess family since there are no records in Lancaster or Berks counties for any property transfers for Michael Axer.
 

On September 15, 1749, Michael Axer was joined in America by his relative Christian Axer. He arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, along with his wife and children, on board the Ship “Edinburgh” from Rotterdam via Portsmouth, England. According to his German manumission permit dated 1749 Christian Axer was a resident of Mörsfeld, a small town located two miles north of Kriegsfeld in the Palatinate region of what is now Germany.
 

The Reformed (Protestant) Church of Kriegsfeld served both the villages of Kriegsfeld and Mörsfeld, and the marriage register included the following entry: “[1742] 24 Juli segund(segen) zu Armsheim, copulirt worden Christian Axer wittwer von dar, und mit Jfru Maria Barbara, des Johannes Heinrich Wentzen, Gerichtsverwandten zu Mörsfeld, ehelic Tochter.”
 

The marriage record is written in a local version of Old German called "Rhine Franconian" and is translated as:  “July 24 [1742] blessed at Armsheim, Christian Axer, a widower from there, was joined with Miss Maria Barbara, legitimate daughter of Johann Heinrich Wentz, councilman for Mörsfeld.”
 

The marriage record is extremely important in that it establishes the residence of Christian Axer as Armsheim, a small village located seven miles northeast of Mörsfeld. It also shows that this was his second marriage … and that he married well. Johann Heinrich Wentz was a town councilman for the village of Mörsfeld. A union with the daughter of a town councilman brought instant respect and social standing. Since his manumission permit(permission to leave Germany) in 1749 listed his residence as Mörsfeld, it appears that Christian Axer moved from Armsheim to his wife’s hometown soon after their marriage.
 

Armsheim is a beautiful village located in the Rhine Hessen section of the Palatinate. Surrounded by some of the world’s finest vineyards producing the famous “Liebfraumilch,” Armsheim is dominated by the 236 foot tower of the Evangelical Reformed Church. Built in 1431 as a Roman Catholic church, it has been used by German Protestants since 1550. It was here that several generations of the Axer family are thought to have been baptized and married.
 

During the Thirty Years War(1618-1648) the entire village of Armsheim was abandoned after repeated invasions by the opposing armies. Soon after the cessation of hostilities in 1648, the village was repopulated by Protestant settlers from the “Niederrhein”(lower Rhine) region of Germany, primarily from the vicinity of the towns of Blatzheim, Euskirchen and Mechernich. It is thought that the Axer family came to Armsheim during this period since “Axer” is not a common name in the Palatinate.
 

No one is quite sure how the name "Axer" originated, but, according to 18th Century PA German Naming Customs by Charles Kerchner, surnames were not used by most rural Germans until the end of the 16th century. The "Axer" surname was probably created by adding the suffix "er" to the German word "ax" or "axt," meaning "ax" or "hatchet." Undoubtedly, the name "Axer" or "Axter" was adopted by our family's progenitor who worked as a woodsman or carpenter in the vicinity of Blatzheim or Mechernich during the 16th century. Other records suggest that the Axer family is not originally German. According to a list published by Dr. Josef Verlag in his book Französische Familien-Niederrhein, the Axer family might have come to the Niederrhein from France or the Netherlands sometime prior to the 16th century. This allows for the possibility that the family is connected to the long defunct Auxerre family of Auxerre, France. However, no documentary evidence of such a connection has been found and the family has been German since organized church records were initiated.
 

Virtually all of the early German records for the name “Axer” come from the registers of churches located in the Niederrhein region. At least 94% of the 347 known pre-19th century German marriage and baptismal records bearing the family name are found within an 18 mile radius of the town of Blatzheim located just west of the city of Köln(Cologne). The earliest surviving mention in area church records is the baptism of Catharinam Axer, daughter of Godefridi Axer, who was christened in Köln’s Sankt Kunibert’s Church on July 1, 1629. There was a Christian Axer who married in the Evangelical Church at Rheydt in 1656 to Catharina Driescher. Another Christian Axer, son of Johann, was baptized at Binsfeld(Düren) on April 16, 1681. Georgus Henricus(George Henry) Axer was baptized in the nearby village of Müddersheim on October 11, 1707. Although the neighboring town of Blatzheim's surviving Catholic parish records date only from 1750, there are over twenty Axer entries prior to 1798. Based on these records, it is highly probable that our Axer ancestors lived within an 18 mile radius of Blatzheim prior to their resettlement in Armsheim.
 

In the 17th century the area around Blatzheim was part of the Duchy of Jülich, one of over 300 small principalities that made up the Holy Roman Empire. Ruled by a Roman Catholic sovereign, the citizens of Jülich were forced to adhere to the Catholic faith. Nevertheless, there was a persistent and devout Protestant minority in Jülich, especially in and around the towns of Blatzheim, Gymnich and Bliesheim. Although the Axers were overwhelmingly Roman Catholic - over 95% of the surviving pre-19th century marriage and baptismal records were from Roman Catholic parishes - a small number did convert to Protestantism. These Protestant Axers were persecuted severely by the Catholic majority which led to their departure from Jülich after the Thirty Years War.
 

During the war Protestant and Catholic armies crisscrossed Jülich wreaking unbelievable destruction and misery. Entire towns and districts were depopulated and untold numbers of innocent civilians were slaughtered in the name of religion. The Peace of Westphalia, signed on October 24, 1648, ended the devastation, but the legacy of the war was incalculable. It has been estimated that 40% of the rural German residents lost their lives during that terrible time. Although the peace treaty did allow for increased religious toleration, the local princes continued to determine the religion of their subjects. There was nothing left for the Protestant Axer family members to do but move away to safer Protestant areas. The little town of Armsheim became a safe haven for our Axer ancestors.

Regrettably, Armsheim’s records have been destroyed twice by invading armies. After French soldiers burned some of the local records in 1789, the early church registers dating from 1688 were moved to the State Archives at Darmstadt for safekeeping. According to Karl Flohr, president of the Armsheim Partnership Committee, the remaining records were “vernichtet” (destroyed) by American bombers during a 1944 air raid. Therefore, most of the records of the Axer family’s residence in Armsheim are gone forever. Fortunately, the church register of the nearby town of Oppenheim preserves the marriage record of Anna Catherina Axer and Georg Käse on January 9, 1691. "Georg Axer … zu Armsheim … ihrem bruder" (George Axer … of Armsheim … her brother) served as Catherina's sponsor. A resident of Armsheim in 1691,Georg Axer appears to be the earliest documented ancestor of our Axer/Auxier family.It is thought that Christian Axer was closely related to Michael Axer, probably a brother, for at least five reasons. First, less than a fortnight after Christian Axer’s arrival in Philadelphia, Michael Axer traveled to that city where he became a naturalized citizen on September 30, 1749. Philadelphia is eighty miles from Tulpehocken and it seems more than a coincidence that Michael chose that particular time to become a citizen. Secondly, Christian Axer and his family settled in Tulpehocken township immediately thereafter, probably joining Michael’s family. Christian’s daughter Elisabeth was baptized at Stouchburg in Tulpehocken on May 3, 1751. Thirdly, both Christian Axer and Michael Axer named their first born sons “George” Axer. If they followed traditional German naming practices, the sons were named in honor of the father of Michael and Christian. The "Georg" Axer of Armsheim mentioned in the 1691 marriage record could have been their father. Fourthly, Christian named his first American born son “Michael Axer,” apparently in honor of his kinsman. Lastly, Michael and Christian Axer were the only two immigrants by the name of “Axer” to come to America through the port of Philadelphia. The combination of these facts is compelling evidence of a close relationship between Christian and Michael Axer.
 

By the mid-1750’s Lancaster County, Pennsylvania had filled to overflowing with new German immigrants. Virtually every household was jammed with newly arrived relatives with nowhere else to stay. Since they probably had no property of their own, Michael and Barbara Axer undoubtedly lived with either Barbara’s father Ulrich Spiess or her half-brother Martin Troester (Tröster). It is also logical to assume that Christian Axer lived with one of these families. These landless Tulpehocken residents soon began moving away looking for their own land. Many Tulpehocken Germans headed for the South Fork(Branch) of the Potomac River in what is now Hampshire County, West Virginia.
 

Sometime after Michael and Barbara Axer sponsored the baptism of Maria Barbara Hedderich on June 17, 1753, both Michael Axer and Christian Axer left Tulpehocken. In 1754 Tulpehocken became part of the new county of Berks, but neither Michael nor Christian is enumerated in the tax lists for that year in Tulpehocken or Bethel townships. However, Ulrich Spice(Spiess) and Martin Trester(Tröster) are included. By 1758, Christian Axer settled in Lancaster Borough, Lancaster County, where he died in 1767. According to the register of the First Reformed Congregation of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Christian Axer was “buried September 5, 1767, age 58 years.”
 

Michael Axer and his family followed hundreds of their Tulpehocken neighbors to the South Fork(Branch) region of Hampshire County, (West) Virginia. According to the merchant accounts of Christian Lauer “of Tulpehocken Creek,” Jacob Simon, Christian Schmidt, Peter Dorn, George Adam Bush and George See(Zeh) left for the South Fork prior to 1755. Land records indicate that Nicholas Simon and Martin Triester(Tröster), the half-brother of Michael Axer’s wife, also moved to South Fork(Branch) at a later date.
 

Michael “Oxer”(Axer) is first mentioned in Virginia records on December 3, 1757, as a purchaser of items from the estate of Christian Dousher of South Fork. The sale was held “at Michael Stump’s, on South Fork in Hampshire County.” Michael Stump was also originally from Tulpehocken. He married Catherine Neff in Tulpehocken on September 10, 1739.
 

The “Oxer” spelling is a logical American-English translation of the German “Axer.” Both are pronounced by adding the pronunciation of the English word “ox” to the suffix “-er.” Even in German dominated Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the “Oxer” spelling was used by one of Christian Axer’s sons as early as 1762. During their service in the Revolutionary War, Christian's sons Michael, Christopher and George used the "Oxer" spelling. It appears that the families of both Christian and Michael Axer had limited command of the English language and suffered from attempts by Americans to spell their name phonetically.
 

Just after Michael “Oxer” and his family arrived in Virginia, the French and Indian War erupted on the frontier. Beginning in 1754, marauding bands of pro-French Indians repeatedly attacked white settlements throughout the mountains of southwestern Virginia for the next nine years. Many of the newly arrived settlers from Pennsylvania decided to remain on South Fork(Branch) until the trouble subsided. English Lord Fairfax complained that these landless Germans were nothing more than “squatters,” illegally living on unclaimed land. Nevertheless, it was not until peace was restored in 1763 that most of them ventured away from the South Fork(Branch).
 

By 1771, Michael “Oxer” and his family had moved into southwestern Virginia and were included in the 1771 tax list for Botetourt County. On October 2, 1771, Michael and his oldest son George “Oxer” were listed as “on [the] Clinch [River].” According to an act passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1748, tithables included "all male persons of the age of sixteen and upwards." At the time Botetourt County encompassed all of southwestern Virginia including the present counties of Washington, Russell and Scott. In 1773, Michael and George Oxer were included in the tax list for “that part of Fincastle County Settled on The Waters of the Clinch River.” Actually, Michael and George Oxer didn’t move, but the county lines did. Fincastle County was formed from Botetourt in 1772.
 

According to Washington County, Virginia land records, Michael Oxer settled “in the Forks of Copper Creek, branch of the Clynch[sic] River” in 1773 while the area was still a part of Fincastle County. This area became Washington County in 1776. Oxer's 218 acre tract, surveyed on April 8, 1774, was located on the west side of Little Copper Creek in the part of Washington County that became Russell County in 1786. In 1790, his son Abraham described the property as "the same land the said Michael Oxer, deceased, lived on during his life time."
 

During the 1770’s southwestern Virginia represented the extreme western limit of European settlement. It was a rough, unforgiving wilderness where the threat of Indian attack was ever present. A series of defensive blockhouses were built along the frontier and every able-bodied settler was expected to serve in local militia units. In 1774, Michael Oxer and his son George joined Captain William Russell’s company of Fincastle County Militia. Unlike many other militia units, Russell’s company saw considerable action. Fighting against the Indians at the Battle of Point Pleasant on October 10, 1774, Russell’s company also participated “in the command of General Andrew Lewis against Chief Cornstalk and his Shawnee warriors.” Michael Oxer was compensated during his service for providing the militia with 365 pounds of beef and tallow. While a soldier, George “Axer” was listed as a customer at McCorkle’s Store in what is now Pulaski County, Virginia.
 

The coming of the American Revolution in 1776 increased the Indian threat as the British recruited large numbers of Native Americans to attack the frontier settlements. Michael Oxer enlisted in April 1777 as a private in Captain John Snoddy’s company of Virginia Militia for service against bands of Indians that “again returned to Clinch and Powell’s Valley and commenced plundering and murdering in the settlements in that region.” The Revolutionary War pension application for Edward Darten(Dorton) of Snoddy’s company described the company’s service. “Our Company marched to the mouth of the North Fork of the Holstein[Holston River] and took a western direction for Powell’s Valley on the frontiers. Here we remained scouting till August 1777, when we were attacked by a band of Indians. At daybreak, after a severe skirmish and winning fight we were forced to retreat. The brother of this applicant was killed and scalped by the Indians. Also a man by the name of Michael Auxier, another by the name of Liton, and one William Priest were killed and several wounded.” Darten’s(Dorton's) pension application was filed in Floyd County, Kentucky, on December 12, 1833, which explains the “Auxier” spelling of the name. Edward Darten(Dorton), the son of William Darten(Dorton), was the next door neighbor of Michael Oxer(Auxier) in Virginia. Rev. Samuel Hanna served as a witness to his character in his pension application. Rev. Hanna was the husband of Fanny Auxier, the daughter of Samuel Oxer(Auxier) and granddaughter of Michael Oxer.
 

A slightly different account of the Indian fight is preserved in the Revolutionary War pension application of Isaac Crabtree. Filed in Overton County, Tennessee, on September 27, 1832, Crabtree claimed in his application that the fight took place in 1778 at the Glade Hollow Fort in what is now Russell County, Virginia. Glade Hollow Fort was built in 1774 by Captain William Russell and was located on Big Cedar Creek just west of the town of Lebanon. “The Indians were laying in ambush in two sink holes, and on each side of the Trace ….” After a fierce battle during which bullets flew “like hailstones from a thunderstorm,” the company retreated. During the withdrawal “Burton Litton and William Priest” were killed. Although no mention is made of the deaths of Auxier(Oxer) or Darten in Crabtree’s account, there is no doubt that Edward Darten and Isaac Crabtree were describing the same incident.

Confirmation of the death of Michael Oxer is recorded in the Washington County, Virginia Court Orders. On March 22, 1780, it was ordered that “John Walker Executor of Michael Oxer Deceased be summoned to next Court to shew cause why he wont Administer on the Said Decedents Estate.”
 

Michael Oxer’s wife, (Maria) Barbara Spiess Axer/Oxer, survived her husband by at least six years. On August 23, 1783, she signed documents to apprentice her underage son Abraham “Oxar” to John Eakis for a term of five years to become a blacksmith. She signed the permit as “Barbary Oxar.”
 

According to available Pennsylvania and Virginia records and family histories written by Agnes Auxier and John B. Auxier, Michael and Barbara Axer/Oxer/Auxier had at least twelve children. At least the first four daughters were born in Lancaster(now Berks) County, Pennsylvania. George was born either in Pennsylvania or Hampshire County, Virginia. The rest of the children were born in Virginia.
 

Elizabeth

born 1748

George

born about 1754

Michael

born 1761-1764

Catherine

born 1749

Simon

born 1755-1757

Abraham

born 1770-1772

Margaret

born 1751

Nancy

born about 1757

Jane

born ???

Magdalena

born 1752

Samuel

born 1757-1759

Sallie

born ???


More Cousins - The Lonsheim/Armsheim Connection

Lonsheim is a very small village located just two miles south of Armsheim in the Rhine Hessen region of the German Palatinate. It is important to the Axer/Auxier family because "Anna Barbara Axer," the daughter of "Johann Michael Axer," was born there about 1705, another "Michael "Aker" or "Axer" was living there in 1729 and a “Johann Michael Axer” was born there in 1745.
 

According to the register of Evangelical church at Flonheim, Anna Barbara Axer "zu Lonsheim," daughter of Johann Michael Axer, married to Johann Nicolaus Säger on June 22, 1722. Later records show that Anna Barbara was born about 1705, thus placing her father's birthdate prior to 1684.
 

Another Michael Aker/Axer married in 1729 in the nearby village of Flomborn to Anna Elisabetha Pfannebecker, but listed his residence as Lonsheim. Based on the marriage date, he was probably born about 1708.
 

Since the family name is so rare in the Rhine Hessen, there can be little doubt that Anna Barbara and both of the men named Michael Axer were closely related to Johann Michael Axer and Christian Axer of Armsheim.
 

Yet another Johann Michael Axer, who went by “Michael Axer,” married on May 19, 1767, in the Reformed Church in the nearby town of Alzey to Elisabeth Flock from the village of Kaub. The marriage record states that this Michael was also a resident of Lonsheim, born about 1745, and a “spengler und braumeister”(tinsmith and brewmaster) by profession. Michael’s first wife died and he remarried in Alzey on January 31, 1775, to Anne Elisabeth Knell of Alzey.
 

Johann "Michael" and Anne Elisabeth Knell Axer were the parents of Johann Christian Axer who was born at Alzey on January 16, 1777. Michael Axer died at Alzey on March 8, 1785.
 

Johann Christian Axer, who went by “Christian Axer,” moved to the town of Kaiserlautern, some 20 miles south of Alzey where he married Marguerithe Louise Korn on September 13, 1810. The marriage record is written in French because the area was occupied by French troops at the time.
 

Apparently, part of the family remained in Lonsheim. On September 13, 1801, a committee from Lonsheim was appointed to determine the boundary line between the town and the neighboring villages of Armsheim and Flonheim. "Michael Axer" was one of five "steinsetzers"(boundary stone setters).
 

Since the village of Lonsheim is located only two miles from Armsheim and the names “Michael” and “Christian” Axer are identical to the names of our direct ancestors, there can be little doubt that this Axer family was also closely related to the Axer family of Armsheim. The villages were so closely connected that during the 18th century the Reformed Church at Armsheim served both villages. However, because the Armsheim church records were destroyed during World War II there is little hope that the exact relationship will ever be determined.
 

The probability that the Axer families of Armsheim and Lonsheim were closely related is strengthened by the fact that these two towns appear to be the only places in the Rhine Hessen where the name appeared during the 18th century. Since “our” Michael Axer was born before 1722 and “our” Christian Axer was born about 1709, it is very likely that Anna Barbara Axer, Michael Aker/Axer and both men by the name of Johann Michael Axer of Lonsheim were our collateral ancestors and that their common ancestor settled in Armsheim or Lonsheim shortly after the Thirty Years War.
 

Approximately sixteen miles to the east of Armsheim and Lonsheim is the Rhine River valley town of Oppenheim. On January 9, 1691, Georg Käse(Kaese) of Oppenheim married to Anna Catherina Axer “zu Armsheim”(of Armsheim). She was sponsored by “Georg Axer … ihr bruder”(her brother). Recall that both Michael and Christian Axer , our ancestors, named their oldest sons “George.” It seems probable that "Georg" Axer was the father of Michael and Christian Axer.
 

It is interesting to note that Georg Käse(Kaese) was probably the progenitor of the American “Keesee” family that also settled in southwestern Virginia and eastern Kentucky. George's direct descendant, also named George "Keesee," was a neighbor to the sons of Johann "Michael" Axer (Oxer) on Copper Creek in Russell County, Virginia, in 1782.

 

The “Auxier” Name

According to every available record both Michael and Christian Axer’s names were always spelled either “Axer” or “Oxer.” Both German and Pennsylvania records for Christian Axer use the “Axer” spelling exclusively. Michael Axer also used the “Axer” spelling until he moved to Virginia around 1754. After 1757 he used the “Oxer” spelling until his death in 1777-1778. In spite of the different spellings, the pronunciation of the name remained the same. Both the German “Axer” and the American “Oxer” are pronounced identically by adding the English word “ox” to the suffix “-er.”
 

After the deaths of Christian in 1767 and Michael in 1777-1778, their children began to adopt different spelling variations. Christian’s son George used the “Oxer” spelling as early as 1763. Christian’s son Christopher used the “Axer” spelling until the Revolutionary War, but most of his service records utilized the “Oxer” spelling. However, by the beginning of the 19th century several of Christian’s grandchildren began spelling the name “Auxer.” This version was pronounced identically to “Oxer” and “Axer.”
 

Michael Axer’s children also chose their own spelling variations. Michael’s son George continued to use the “Oxer” spelling until his death in 1809 and his son James used either “Oxer” or “Oxier” thereafter. Abraham “Oxer” spelled his name “Oxar” in 1783, but in 1793 he used the “Oxer” spelling. In 1799 he used “Oxer,” but in the 1800 and 1810 censuses he used “Auxer.” Simon “Oxer” used the “Oxer” or “Oxar” spelling until the 1820 census when he was listed as “Oxier.” Michael “Oxer,” Jr. initially used the “Oxer” spelling, but in 1791 spelled his name “Auxer.” In 1794 he used “Oxer,” but in a 1795 deed he used “Auxer” while his wife used “Oxer.” In 1800 he used “Oxchier.”
 

It appears that the family of Michael’s son Samuel “Oxer” was the first to use the “Auxier” spelling. Although Samuel used “Oxer,” “Oxter,” “Axer” and “Auxer” during his lifetime, it was immediately after his death that the “Auxier” spelling first appeared. Robert Brown and others inventoried the estate of Samuel “Oxer” in Fleming County, KY, on August 8, 1799, and used the “Auxier” spelling, although Samuel himself never used that spelling. The next instance of the use of the “Auxier” spelling was the commission of Michael “Auxier,” Jr. as an officer in the Kentucky Militia in 1803.
 

For several generations, most members of the family seemed confused about the proper spelling of the name. In the 1810 Kentucky census both “Auxer” and “Auxier” were used. In the 1820 census the “Oxier” and “Auxer” spellings were used exclusively. In 1840 the census takers used only the “Oxer” version. In 1843, Enoch and Nathaniel used “Auxer” in their signatures. In an 1853 deposition, Samuel used the “Auxer” spelling. Nathaniel noted the confusion as a witness to his mother’s Revolutionary War widow’s pension in 1843 noting that “some now call the name Auxier.”
 

Obviously, some of the variations stem from a lack of formal education. Many early family members had limited command of the English language and depended on governmental officials and others to spell their names. For example, in a deed dated 1795, Samuel’s last name was spelled “Oxer”, but Samuel signed the document with the initials “S.A..” The spelling variations seem to be attempts to spell the name phonetically. However, it is clear that the original German name was “Axer,” not “Auxier.” The “Auxier” spelling was never used by Christian Axer or Michael Axer. It was never used by any of Christian Axer’s descendants. It was never used by Michael’s son George. It was never used by Michael’s son Samuel during his lifetime. It was never used by Michael’s son Simon. In 1820, the Lawrence County (KY) clerk used the "Auxier" spelling in a deed from Charles Humphreys to Simon, but Simon signed by making his mark. "Auxier" was not used by Michael’s son Michael, Jr. until after 1802. It was not until the 1850’s that the “Auxier” spelling became accepted by the vast majority of the Big Sandy branch of the family.
 

Additionally, the “Auxier” spelling is unique to some of the descendants of Michael Axer. The name does not exist anywhere in Europe. A search of the Register of French Births from 1891 to 1990 revealed no births for anyone by the name of “Auxier,” “Oxer,” "Axier," “Auxer” or “Oxier.” A search of the French National Telephone Directory revealed no listings for anyone by those names. The index to the French Genealogical Society confirms that there is no French name by the spelling of “Auxier.”
 

However, there is a French “Auxerre” family. In the year 2001 there were approximately 278 persons living in France by that name. There have been a total of 252 births recorded between 1891 and 1990 for persons by the name of “Auxerre.” However, the “Auxerre” name is limited geographically to the southern part of France far from the city of Auxerre. No one by the name of “Auxerre” has lived in the vicinity of the city of Auxerre since the 11th century. The “Auxerre” family was part of French nobility and disappeared from the area almost one thousand years ago.
 

The American pronunciation of the "Auxier" name provides additional confirmation of the family's Germanic origins. The French city of "Auxerre" is pronounced "O-sâr´." A Frenchman would pronounce "Auxier" as "O-se-a´." Most members of the American Auxier family pronounce their name as "Ok´-shûr," which is much closer to the German pronunciation of "Axer," or "Ok´-sûr." The “Auxier” spelling seems to have originated in Kentucky about 1800 and was not universally accepted until the 1850’s. Its usage is confined to the descendants of some of the sons of Michael and Barbara Axer(Oxer). Nowhere else is the “Auxier” name found. Prior to 1800 most family members spelled the family name variously as "Axer," "Oxer," or "Auxer," all of which were pronounced as "Ok´-sûr," the same as the German pronunciation.

 

The Journey to America

As the year 1742 dawned in the Rhine Hessen the prevailing economic and social conditions made life a living hell especially for the landless protestant inhabitants. First, between 1688 and 1697 the region was decimated by an invading French army that had orders that the Rhine Hessen "should be made a desert." Upwards of 50,000 French soldiers sacked and burned scores of villages during what was romantically dubbed the War of the Grand Alliance. It is likely that the father of Michael and Christian Axer, possibly named Georg Axer, served the local lord's army in some capacity. Many local men were used to haul arms and supplies. The bloody warfare permeated every corner of the Rhine Hessen prompting the Elector Palatine to write "everywhere in the fields were found corpses of wretched people frozen to death."
 

It is estimated that nearly one half million residents of the Rhine Valley fled their homes before the advancing French army. Due to the complete devastation the economy took decades to recover, and it received another disastrous blow starting in 1690. The region suffered a series of bitterly cold winters culminating in the "great winter of 1708" when freezing temperatures destroyed over 90% of the vineyards and fruit trees. Attempts at replanting were thwarted by another spate of abnormally cold winters from 1738 through 1749 that completely curtailed the region's lucrative wine making industry.
 

As if these conditions weren't enough, the protestant residents of the Rhine Hessen also suffered renewed religious persecution. The Axer family settled in the Rhine Hessen sometime after 1648, escaping the iron hand of Roman Catholic rule in the Niederrhein. The Rhine Hessen, on the other hand, was governed by Philip William, a protestant elector, who encouraged the conversion of all Catholic churches to the Reformed faith. However, Philip William died in 1690 and was succeeded by his Roman Catholic son William who carried out a self-proclaimed mission to return the region to the Roman Catholic Church. In many parts of the Rhine Hessen, those who remained loyal to the Reformed denomination were the victims of harassment and discrimination.
 

Finally, these circumstances forced Johann Michael Axer to leave the land of his birth. During the summer of 1742, Michael Axer, Johannes Heinrich Heydt and Fridrich Müller left their homes in Armsheim together to seek their fortunes in America. It is likely that Conrad Poof (Puff) from nearby Lonsheim was also part of the group. No doubt, they followed the Wiesbach River on foot some ten miles downstream through the villages of  Wallertheim, Gau-Bickelheim and Sprendlingen to the town of Gensingen where the Wiesbach empties into the Nahe River. From there it was just seven miles to the Rhine River port town of Bingen.
 

In 1742 Bingen was a small town located at the confluence of the Rhine and Nahe Rivers. Founded by the Romans, it was fortified as early as 11 B.C. because of its strategic value. Since the 13th century the town has been dominated by the massive Burg Klopp (Klopp Castle). Although destroyed during the Thirty Years War, the castle ruins still overshadowed the town as the little group prepared to embark on a Rhine River barge for the arduous journey down the Rhine to the Dutch seaport of Rotterdam.
 

Fred T. May in his genealogical study of the May family, The Shoemaker's Children, gives us an excellent account of the difficult trip down the Rhine:
 

[The] barge left the dock at Bingen on the swift current of the Rhine and the captain skillfully maneuvered away from the shallow water near the left bank of the river to enter the main traffic channel. They quickly swept past the small island where, before its destruction in 1689, the legendary "Maüseturm" (Mice Tower) had stood for centuries. Across the river they could see the ruins of the twin towers of the Thirteenth Century Ehrenfels Castle…. Later that day they passed by the treacherous vortex where the Rhine narrows at the Loreley rock. [Michael Axer was] seeing, perhaps for the first time, many historic castles along the Rhine. Despite the beauty of [the] first day on the river, they(the passengers) had to feel an emptiness in their hearts when the sun set over the steep Hunsrück mountains that dominate the west bank of the river. As darkness set in, [they] knew they were leaving ---and never would return to---the homeland of their "Ahnen."

Travel on the Rhine was the only practical way to get to the "Nord See" (North Sea). There was no established road system for transporting heavy loads through the various principalities dotting the countryside along the way to the large Dutch seaports. River travel, however, wasn't inexpensive. As many as forty toll-stations were located along the Rhine where fees were extracted from travelers and captains before their barges were allowed to pass certain stretches of the river.
 

Yoder speaks of many delays along the way that intentionally forced travelers to stay overnight and shell out their money. For every person over fourteen years of age, the basic fare for a trip to Rotterdam cost eight and a half florins. The official exchange rate during the period was six florins for one British pound (6 fl. = £1). A man who had an estate worth five hundred florins, about £80, was considered to be prosperous…. Records of the period show many families claimed to possess less than 200 florins when they petitioned for manu-mission.
 

Traveling at the average rate of flow of the river, it would take about 103 hours to float from Bingen to Rotterdam. However, depending on the number of stops to transfer passengers and cargo, the weather, and the avarice of local authorities, the journey of about 290 miles along the winding Rhine from the mouth of the Nahe could take three or four weeks. By the time they reached Rotterdam, travelers became very weary of the daily routine on the river. Yet, the difficult and dangerous voyage had yet to begin. 


Michael Axer and the others reached Rotterdam sometime in July, just in time to board the Ship "Robert & Alice" for the trip to America. Although the Rhine passage was arduous, the torturous crossing of the Atlantic must have been one of the most difficult experiences Michael Axer ever faced to that point in his life. Probably the best and most vivid account of the trip to America was preserved by a Swiss immigrant, Gottlieb Mittleberger, who made the crossing in 1750:
 

Both in Rotterdam and in Amsterdam the people are packed densely, like herrings so to say, in the large sea-vessels. One person receives a place of scarcely 2 feet width and 6 feet length in the bedstead, while many a ship carries four to six hundred souls; not to mention the innumerable implements, tools, provisions, water-barrels and other things which likewise occupy such space.
 

On account of contrary winds it takes the ships sometimes 2, 3, and 4 weeks to make the trip from Holland to . . . England. But when the wind is good, they get there in 8 days or even sooner. Everything is examined there and the custom-duties paid, whence it comes that the ships ride there 8, 10 or 14 days and even longer at anchor, till they have taken in their full cargoes. During that time every one is compelled to spend his last remaining money and to consume his little stock of provisions which had been reserved for the sea; so that most passengers, finding themselves on the ocean where they would be in greater need of them, must greatly suffer from hunger and want. Many suffer want already on the water between Holland and Old England.
 

When the ships have for the last time weighed their anchors near the city of Kaupp [Cowes] in Old England, the real misery begins with the long voyage. For from there the ships, unless they have good wind, must often sail 8, 9, 10 to 12 weeks before they reach Philadelphia. But even with the best wind the voyage lasts 7 weeks.
 

But during the voyage there is on board these ships terrible misery, stench, fumes, horror, vomiting, many kinds of sea-sickness, fever, dysentery, headache, heat, constipation, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth rot, and the like, all of which come from old and sharply salted food and meat, also from very bad and foul water, so that many die miserably.
 

Add to this want of provisions, hunger, thirst, frost, heat, dampness, anxiety, want, afflictions and lamentations, together with other trouble, as . . . the lice abound so frightfully, especially on sick people, that they can be scraped off the body. The misery reaches the climax when a gale rages for 2 or 3 nights and days, so that every one believes that the ship will go to the bottom with all human beings on board. In such a visitation the people cry and pray most piteously.
 

Children from 1 to 7 years rarely survive the voyage. I witnessed . . . misery in no less than 32 children in our ship, all of whom were thrown into the sea. The parents grieve all the more since their children find no resting-place in the earth, but are devoured by the monsters of the sea.
 

That most of the people get sick is not surprising, because, in addition to all other trials and hardships, warm food is served only three times a week, the rations being very poor and very little. Such meals can hardly be eaten, on account of being so unclean. The water which is served out of the ships is often very black, thick and full of worms, so that one cannot drink it without loathing, even with the greatest thirst. Toward the end we were compelled to eat the ship's biscuit which had been spoiled long ago; though in a whole biscuit there was scarcely a piece the size of a dollar that had not been full of red worms and spiders' nests. . . .
 

At length, when, after a long and tedious voyage, the ships come in sight of land, so that the promontories can be seen, which the people were so eager and anxious to see, all creep from below on deck to see the land from afar, and they weep for joy, and pray and sing, thanking and praising God. The sight of the land makes the people on board the ship, especially the sick and the half dead, alive again, so that their hearts leap within them; they shout and rejoice, and are content to bear their misery in patience, in the hope that they may soon reach the land in safety. But alas!
 

When the ships have landed at Philadelphia after their long voyage, no one is permitted to leave them except those who pay for their passage or can give good security; the others, who cannot pay, must remain on board the ships till they are purchased, and are released from the ships by their purchasers. The sick always fare the worst, for the healthy are naturally preferred and purchased first; and so the sick and wretched must often remain on board in front of the city for 2 or 3 weeks, and frequently die, whereas many a one, if he could pay his debt and were permitted to leave the ship immediately, might recover and remain alive.
 

The sale of human beings in the market on board the ship is carried out thus: Every day Englishmen, Dutchmen and High-German people come from the city of Philadelphia and other places, in part from a great distance, say 20, 30, or 40 hours away, and go on board the newly arrived ship that has brought and offers for sale passengers from Europe, and select among the healthy persons such as they deem suitable for their business, and bargain with them how long they will serve for their passage money, which most of them are still in debt for. When they have come to an agreement, it happens that adult persons bind themselves in writing to serve 3, 4, 5 or 6 years for the amount due by them, according to their age and strength. But very young people, from 10 to 15 years, must serve till they are 21 years old.

 

Many parents must sell and trade away their children like so many head of cattle; for if their children take the debt upon themselves, the parents can leave the ship free and unrestrained; but as the parents often do not know where and to what people their children are going, it often happens that such parents and children, after leaving the ship, do not see each other again for many years, perhaps no more in all their lives. . . .  It often happens that whole families, husband, wife and children, are separated by being sold to different purchasers, especially when they have not paid any part of their passage money.
 

When a husband or wife has died a sea, when the ship has made more than half of her trip, the survivor must pay or serve not only for himself or herself but also for the deceased.
 

When both parents have died over half-way at sea, their children, especially when they are young and have nothing to pawn or pay, must stand for their own and their parents' passage, and serve till they are 21 years old. When one has served his or her term, he or she is entitled to a new suit of clothes at parting; and if it has been so stipulated, a man gets in addition a horse, a woman, a cow. When a serf has an opportunity to marry in this country, he or she must pay for each year which he or she would have yet to serve, 5 or 6 pounds.

Mittleberger's account helps us understand the terrific hardships endured by Michael Axer. Sacrificing his family ties, country, language and culture, this brave pioneer forsook everything dear to him in order to establish a secure future for himself and those who came after. We his descendants must honor him by so ordering our lives so as to be a credit to our American progenitor Johann Michael Axer who became known as "Michael Auxier" by his progeny.

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