Lizzie Fohl‘s father was German.

John R. Fohl (son of Reverend John Fohl) was not from Germany; in fact, no one from his family had immigrated from Germany in 4 generations. But every last one of his ancestors were German, migrants from the Rhine River valley to the colony of Pennsylvania who settled in an arc of counties to the north and west of Philadelphia – Northampton, Berks, Adams, York, and Franklin.


Eastern Pennsylvania counties in the 1791 Reading Howell map. Adams County, where much of the family settled before moving to Franklin County, was formed out of the western portion of York County adjacent to Franklin in 1800.

There were a surprising number of pre-Revolution German immigrants to the American colonies, about 84,500 in the first 75 years of the 18th century, compared to 66,000 Scotch-Irish, 35,300 Scots, 44,100 English, and 29,000 Welsh during the same time period (all were individually dwarfed by involuntary African immigration of 278,400). Most arrived in Philadelphia before spreading out to western Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and elsewhere.

By the 18th century, immigration records had become more reliable and, thanks to the enthusiasm of the descendants of these German pioneers, they have been collected and made accessible. It is thus fairly easy to find the exact ship on which a particular German immigrant arrived. Or, it would be easy if the spellings of German names did not change so much in the first generation or two as the newcomers adapted to the majority English-speaking land. Thus, in this family, “Voll” became “Fohl” but shows up as “Wall” on the ship Speedwell when it docked at Philadelphia in 1749. Koch became Cook. Ryter or Reuter became Ritter. Daniel Beinbreght’s surname eventually settled into the painful-sounding “Bonebrake.”

At least the Gilberts had no need to re-spell, and thus the log of their arrival is relatively easy to find on the ship “Robert & Alice” which docked on September 30, 1743.


Gilberts on the ship Robert & Alice as transcribed in A Collection of Upwards of 30,000 Names of German, Swiss, Dutch, French and Other Immigrants in Pennsylvania 1727-1776 by I. Daniel Rupp. Bernhardt Gilbert is the direct ancestor in this family.

What impelled these Germans to pull up roots and head to the New World? Small numbers came in the early 1700s fleeing religious persecution and an agricultural disaster in Germany and Switzerland. But all the ancestors in this family came later, driven by a complex set of factors including over-population, oppressive feudal aristocrats, and active marketing of the attractions of the American colonies. These reasons are described in depth in Aaron Spencer Fogleman’s book Hopeful Journeys. Fogleman uses the specific example of Kraichgau, a region of 72 tiny independent German territories (average size of 14 square miles) ruled over by dozens of semi-autonomous knights. Immigrants Hans Bernhardt Gilbert and his future wife Catherine Bender were both from Kraichgau, the towns of Hoffenheim and Eschelbach respectively. Fogleman’s book provides a flavor for the discontent, protests, and minor conflicts that preceded the large exodus from these communities.

hopeful-journeysFogleman goes on to describe how the immigrants often moved together from their home town in Germany to Pennsylvania, and would try to settle together (although that didn’t always work out). The German immigrants did tend to congregate in German communities, spoke German as their day-to-day language, printed German-language newspapers and books, and married other Germans. Many of them were lured primarily by promises of abundant farmland. In areas like the Kraichgau, the practice of fathers dividing their land among all their children for inheritance meant that plots were getting very small. Pennsylvania and other colonies offered vastly larger acreage for each family.

Of the many immigrants within the Fohl family tree, the Radebaugh family rose to particular prominence in Chambersburg, Franklin County. Samuel Radebaugh garnered a biographical entry in the History of Franklin County, Pennsylvania (1887), as a successful merchant. His son John was the first owner of the Indian Queen hotel in downtown Chambersburg. Reverend John Fohl also earned an entry.

The Germans tended to be supportive of the Revolutionary War effort. Three family members served in the Pennsylvania militia during the war – David Fohl, George Gilbert, and Casper Ritter.

Generations later, Lizzie Fohl likely still had a strong connection to this Pennsylvania German heritage. Lizzie’s mother, Mollie Caldwell, may also have been half-German (Mollie’s mother Hannah came from a Canutt/Landes family, both of which appear to trace to German roots). Lizzie spent some of her childhood among the Germans of Pennsylvania. Although her parents married in Indiana in 1867, Lizzie was born in Pennsylvania 2 years later and the family was still there for the 1870 census. By 1880 the family had returned to Indiana.

Despite the prominence of the Germans among 18th-century immigrants, in this family they are represented only in the Fohl family, with the possible (probable?) exception of a Paysinger immigrant.


A mid-17th-century view of Sinsheim, a market town in Kraichgau just 1.5 miles from the Gilbert’s home in Hoffenheim.

Genealogical Notes:

Click here for a chart in PDF format showing the ancestors of John R. Fohl, Lizzie Fohl’s father. It unfortunately takes several pages to print, but it is useful for seeing how the names given above connect to the family tree.

John R. Fohl had a very entertaining set of occupations during his life. The 1870 census shows him in Pennsylvania with an occupation of “blacksmith.” In 1880 he was in Indianapolis as a “bill poster.” An 1890 city directory shows him with an occupation of “meat inspector.” In 1900 he worked for a sign company. In the 1910 census he mysteriously lists “own income” under occupation. In 1920 he lived as a widower with one of his daughters and he no longer had an occupation, but his death certificate in 1923 describes him as a “retired florist,” which perhaps was the source of his “own income.”


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