|Conrad Weiser Statue|
Conrad Weiser was born November 2, 1696, in the German principality of Wurttemberg. After his mother’s death, his father, Johann Conrad Weiser, migrated to America in 1710 with his children and settled on the New York frontier. At the age of 15, Conrad went to live with their Mohawk neighbors at the Indian Castle at the mouth of the Schoharie River in order to learn the language of the Iroquois so he could serve as a go-between for the German community. Under the guidance of the Mohawk chief, Quagnant, Weiser acquired a keen knowledge of the Iroquois language, religion, and social customs and was soon in almost constant demand as an interpreter and negotiator.
Weiser married Anna Eva Fegg on November 22, 1720 and in 1729 moved his family to the Tulpehocken Valley in present-day Berks and Lebanon counties in Pennsylvania, where many Germans from New York were migrating. After they settled on 200 acres near Womelsdorf, Weiser soon became a close friend of Shikellamy, a powerful chief of the Oneidas who had been sent to the area by the Iroquois to rule over the Delaware and Shawnee nations. Shikellamy became a frequent guest at the Weiser home and insisted he serve as interpreter for all negotiations with the provincial officials.
When war first broke out along the frontier, Weiser was chosen to be the commander of the local militia. Pennsylvania soon formed a provincial militia and built a line of outposts, and in 1756 Weiser was commissioned as lieutenant colonel in command of the 1st Battalion, Pennsylvania Regiment, which was responsible for manning the line between the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers. He held this post until he retired 1758. That same year General John Forbes’s expedition to Fort Du Quesne forced the French to abandon and burn this great stronghold. Weiser was instrumental in negotiating the 1758 Treaty of Easton, which ended the great majority of Indian raids in eastern Pennsylvania.
|Conrad Weiser Homestead|
Weiser’s influence was so great that after his death relations between the colonists and the Indians rapidly began to decline. The most fitting tribute to this remarkable man was given by an Iroquois leader speaking to a group of colonists: “We are at a great loss and sit in darkness … as since his death we cannot so well understand one another.” How different might the relations between the new United States and the Native Americans have been if he had lived long enough to serve through the Revolution!
Unfortunately, no known portaits of Weiser survive. However, you can visit the Conrad Weiser Homestead at Womelsdorf, managed by the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission, which interprets his life and preserves the restored structures and graveyard. The park contains statues of Weiser and Shikellamy as a memorial to Weiser’s great friendship with the Indians.
What is your favorite era in history to read about, and who is your favorite real-life hero of that era?
~~~J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won Foreword Magazine’s 2014 INDYFAB Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, releases in Spring 2017. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year.