This past week has seen me (pleasantly) hijacked by some of the ladies in the Sheffey family. I will raise my hand and admit that I have neglected them shamefully over the past year. The quietude of the holiday period was the perfect time to redress this. So I began with Peter Scheffe’s daughter, Maria Magaretha Scheffe, wife of Peter Agné. This was the couple who inherited Peter Scheffe’s mill in Herschberg (Südwestpfalz, Rhineland-Palatinate) upon his death.
The saga of the Agné family is an incredible story. It is the story of the mass migrations of people in continental Europe during the 16th and 17th Centuries. It is also the story of 18th & 19th America, particularly the story of that ideology referred to as Manifest Destiny.
Edict of Nantes
As with many European families, the Agné family had some genealogy hurdles, namely a large number of variations in the spelling of its surname: Ankney and Anquenet were two of the most popular. Thankfully, however, this is a well-documented family. This is rare as they were largely a farming family. With that said, the family’s line has been traced back to Benjamin Anquenet Ankney born in 1575 who married Elisabeth Brase Prassin. The couple is associated with Pfalzburg, Lorraine an area that has ping-ponged back and forth between France and Germany for centuries. As you can see by the names, there is a distinct French connection.
Religion would shape the family’s destiny in Europe. At some point in time, the Agné family converted from Catholicism to Calvinist Protestantism. Without giving a long history lesson, relationships between French Catholics and French Protestants (called Huguenots) were bloody right from the beginning. These weren’t just bitter feuds, this was all out warfare which subsided with the signing of the Edict of Nantes on 13 April 1598 by Henry IV of France (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Nantes ). The edict was meant to restore national unity in France. It was never an easy peace. The Edict of Nantes was revoked by Louis XIV (the grandson of Henry IV) in October 1685. The revocation of the edict drove an exodus of Huguenots to Protestant nations such as the Netherlands, England, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Protestant-held principalities and duchies in Germany (The Germany we recognize today didn’t exist until the 1860s.) Agné and Ankneys can be found in all of them.
Benjamin’s grandson, Peter Agné, was part of this exodus. He was born in Pfalzburg, Lorraine in 1650 and married Anna Ottilia Trautmann (born 6 May 1655 in Lambsborn, Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany). It’s uncertain when the couple and their family fled Pfalzburg for Anna’s homeland of Lambsborn, Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Pfalz in Germany. The best indication is the birth date for their first child, Anna Catharina Agné, which is 21 Jun 1679. It’s not a coincidence that this fell within a period when anti-Huguenot reprisals had begun to resurface. Sensing the way things were going for Protestants in his homeland, Peter must have made the considered decision to quit and removed his family to his wife’s native land.
German territories were wracked by a series of wars throughout the early 18th century. The Palatinate region was particularly hard hit. As with most wars, famine followed. These factors combined and led to what’s called the German Exodus to Britain, The Netherlands, and the American colonies from 1709. The Agné family held on until at least the middle of the 18th Century. And then, there began a series of migrations out of Germany to other Protestant lands and the American colonies.
Not all left their homeland. It’s worth noting that Peter Agné and Maria Magaretha Scheffe remained in Herschberg, as did their son Johann Adam Agné (1729 – 1779, d. in Pirmasens, Rheinland-Pfalz). The Mill the family owned and ran continued to operate for generations to come. Confirmed German Agné descendants (& family of Peter Agné and Maria Magaretha Scheffe) who move to the US:
- Great Grandson: Jacob Agne (Birth 11 Aug 1795 in Lambsborn, Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany | Death 27 Mar 1865 in Utica, New York, USA). He is recorded in New York with his wife Margaretha Salome (maiden name unknown) and sons Jacob & Carlin in 1860. I haven’t been able to definitively determine when this family group arrived in the US. Jacob was the son of Johann Adam Agné and Anna Barbara Ludi.
- Nephew: Johann Theobald DeWalt Agne / Ankney (Birth 16 Nov 1727 in Lambsborn, Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany | Death 4 Mar 1781 in Clear Spring, Washington, Maryland, United States). DeWalt Ankney (the surname spelling changed upon arrival in the US) arrived in 1746, aged 19. He settled in Pennsylvania at some point prior to his marriage to Jane Domer in 1748 in Lancaster County, PA.
Dewalt Ankney’s arrival in the American colonies falls roughly within a close time frame to Johann Adam Scheffe/Sheffey’s (Maria Magaratha Scheffe- Agné’s brother) arrival in Maryland.
For those of you who like visuals instead of text, here’s how the above are related to one another:
The Agne/Ankey’s joined a growing German population in the American colonies of New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. War, religion, and famine would appear to be the main reasons behind these migrations.
It would be fair to say that the Ankney family which settled in Pennsylvania prospered. They owned their own land which they farmed and the family grew. Believe me when I say I almost regretted researching this side of the family. It is enormous. I had allocated three days to research it. It took a week. But I am glad I persevered. Yet again, the family perfectly illustrates the pulse of history – this time on American soil.
The family did its duty, providing sons to the American Revolution. Afterward, they returned to their farms in and around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. And there I expected them to remain. After all, their Sheffey cousins remained where they were in Maryland and Virginia. After the Revolution, Pennsylvania was the breadbasket of the newly formed America. Those farmers who owned land prospered very well indeed. And here lays another mystery. The (very) extended family largely owned the land it farmed. It was part of a tight-knit German-American community. They had every reason to stay where they were…yet, they didn’t.
From about the 1860s onwards, for the next decade, Akney and Akney left Pennsylvania and headed west. The first waves settled in Ohio and later pushed on to Indiana and Illinois. Later generations in the 19th Century settled in Michigan as well as states further west and north, ultimately reaching California, Washington, and Idaho. One branch even migrated to Canada, where they remained for a few decades before returning to the northern Midwest states. Apart from the foray into Canada, the family settled in regions and towns with large German immigrant, German-American, and Scandinavian immigrant communities. This in part, is one key to the answer. However, it doesn’t really explain leaving the security and prosperity of life in Pennsylvania behind for the entirely unknown…and dangerous.
Yet they did leave that security of the known behind. And their trek coincides with that period of time covered by Manifest Destiny, that widespread early to mid 19th Century belief that America was destined by God to command and own the remainder of the American territories not already claimed by British-ruled Canada (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifest_destiny). Wave after wave of settlers from the east moved to the Midwest, which was also a popular destination with a new surge of immigrants. I’m not here to debate the ethics of Manifest Destiny and the ultimate outcome for the Native American population in these territories. I cite this as I don’t want to appear to gloss over that particular chapter of American history. As territory after territory was claimed by the US government, and as new states were formed, the Ankneys were there. In a very real and tangible way, the Ankneys, like many Midwestern American families, were a part of this expansionary history of America. They didn’t read about it in papers. They lived it.
In tracking and recording the Ankney family’s overall history, I’ve caught snatched glimpses of the pulses of history and how these pulses usually dislodge entire groups of people. It’s a dynamic that echoes to this day. I don’t really think we, as Americans, appreciate how this country was founded upon large-scale and catastrophic events which led to the disruptions of whole groups of people. These disruptions came about through the convergence of circumstances far beyond the control of the common people. That thought didn’t cross my mind until I began researching this particular family. The Ankneys – a family that has been on the move for the best part of 300+ years.
I’m smiling as I recall my new favorite phrase: family history is history in microcosm. Indeed, it is.
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