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Following German tradition, the forenames used by this family were their middle names. Johann Heinrich was called Henrich, but mostly Hendrick (Hendrick reflecting the strong Dutch presence in the greater New York City area). Ann(a) Elizabeth(a) was called Elizabeth and their daughter Ann(a) Margaretha was called Margaret. I'll refer to Johann Heinrich as Hendrick in this article. Although the family's last name eventually became Gesner, the name in the early to mid 18th century was written in varying ways, but mostly forms of Gessiner and Gessinger. I've chosen Gessinger for this article because it was used more often in this form during Hendrick's lifetime - Gossinger, Gessinger, Kissinger. The "g" was gradually left out.
     The Gessingers came from the Palatinate of the Rhine. In his marriage record at Kallstadt, Hendrick is called a carpenter from Trarbach and the son of "Mattheus."1 His wife Anna Elizabetha was the daughter of Johann Heinrich Schmidt, described as a "landlord" and "citizen administrator." The name "Ritter St. Georg" is also given for Schmidt as a location, but I've found nothing to confirm such a place anywhere near Kallstadt.
     War and weather were taking their toll on the laboring class in the Palatinate in the very early years of the 18th century, leading to a mass migration in 1709. England was offering them free land in their colonies in hopes of further developing them economically, but without any particular plan to honor the offer. The couple joined the many emigrants from the Rhine region of Germany in a journey first to London, then New York City. Based partly on the experience of the Kokerthal party that traveled before the major wave, it took about two months to get from the Palatine to London. Some made rafts of logs to float down the Rhine. They're said to have been in Rotterdam from two to six weeks waiting to get on a boat to London. If two months was an average and they got to London very early in May, the Gessingers left the Palatinate sometime in the Winter of 1709. It's unlikely they left when Elizabeth was about to give birth, suggesting they left in February.
     There's a lot of confusion in published and internet-uploaded material about the Palatines in London and New York City. The first mention of the Gessingers is on a list made on 6 May 1709.2 This list is usually dated to 3 May. Based on correspondence in a British archive, a list of Palatines in London with names, ages and occupations was requested on the 5th. Several ministers made this list and reported on the conditions of the immigrants on the 12th.3 Some people have confused this with when they sailed to New York.
     The Gessingers were among the first to arrive in London, just before the list was made. "Henry Gessienger" was a Lutheran carpenter aged 28, with a wife and 4 month-old daughter. Given that, they were likely among the relatively lucky ones who were taken in by people in St. Katherine's by the Tower parish. This was one of London's poorest neighborhoods, but it could have been worse for them. More immigrants came than expected, and it was a big dilemma about what to do with them. Some wanted the Protestants to stay in the British Isles (many if not all of the Catholics were sent back to Germany) and be sent to sparsely populated areas. Ireland was a popular choice since it would bolster the Protestant presence there. In the meantime they kept coming, and most lived a makeshift life in tents in rural parts of Camberwell and Blackheath just outside London and south of the Thames. Having already spent whatever money they had, if they had any, and in poor health from the long trip, they became wards of the government. I don't know of anything that says where the Gessingers lived after they were married. If they lived in Trarbach, they boated down the Moselle River to the Rhine. From Kallstadt it was a direct route down the Rhine to the Dutch port at Rotterdam, then across the North Sea to London. The boats were all packed and many died on the way.
     The scheme to keep the Palatines in Great Britain failed. In December 1709 they boarded boats and, supposedly, there they stayed until April 1710 - probably not an improvement in living for anyone. Anthon Temple Gesner, in his history of the family, claims the family sailed on the ship Lyon,4 and the claim has become a presumed fact among family historians. Actually, there aren't any surviving passenger lists for this 1710 immigration. Lists have been recreated with some guesswork based on the Subsistence lists of 1710, discussed further below. Gesner likely said this because it was the first ship to come over, probably arriving within several days before 13 June 1710, when the Palatines were first referred to in New York. The family sailed later than that, probably in July or August of 1710. He also says the couple had their daughter Margaret in London, which is also incorrect. She was 4 months old when they arrived there.
     Hunter, then governor of the New York Province, personally supported the immigrants who were, or claimed to be, too poor to support themselves in the first several years after the came. He created subsistence lists of all the people who were indebted to him and sent them to England to be reimbursed. The lists for 1710 and 1712 are published, and give a kind of census to show the basic makeup of each household. Johann was called Henrich Gesinger.5 His household in 1710 had 3 adults, including children over 10 (obviously Margaret was put in the wrong category), and in 1712, 2 adults and 1 child under 10. He was "Johan Henrich Gossinger," age 31, in a 1710 record of people "remaining in New York [City]."6 I haven't found an explantion for why this list was made or a specific date for it, but it was likely made in the Fall after all the ships had arrived. "Anna Eliz," 27, and "Anna Margt," 2, were with him. Hendrick and Margaret's ages infer a different birth year when the 1709 and 1710 lists are compared. Hendrick 1678/79 or 1681/82 and Margaret January 1709 or sometime before later 1708. The specificity of Margaret being 4 months old in June 1709 makes that list seem more reliable. For that reason, I put Hendrick's birth in 1681/82 rather than 1678/79.
     Queen Anne's idea that the Palatines would get free land in the colonies proved to be very difficult to pull off in reality. Like in London, there was no place at first for the Palatines to. They were sent to Nutten's (now Governor's) Island and put up in hastily made huts. After a lot of effort and some false starts, most settled in places in the mid-Hudson Valley and what is now Schoharie County. Recorded as a yoeman, Hendrick Gessiner took the Oath of "Abjurgation" (allegiance) on 10 January 1715/16 as a resident of Westchester County, New York.7 The term yoeman usually mean someone who owns and farms on a homestead. In Westchester County, the land was owned by "Lords of the Manor," and someone like Hendrick would have been a tenant, presumably with a farm of some sort. I haven't found evidence of when the Gessinger's left New York City and can only assume that they get there early enough to have been living in a hut among the rest of the Germans on the island.
     The Gesner genealogy by Anthon Gesner suggests the family may have been living in "Yonkers Fall." Hendrick and Elizabeth witnessed a baptism for someone of that place.8 As a more formal church "document," they are called "Johann Henrich Gessinger" and "Anna Elisabeth." They witnessed a baptism in Hackensack the next year.9 This very likely referred to what is now downtown Yonkers, New York. The Philipse family had a manor house there and a saw mill on a falls in the Nepperhan (now Saw Mill) River. I haven't found any reference to the Philipse family hiring Palatines, but they must have had some as tenants, at least. Hendrick may have been employed by the Philipses to work at their mill. Henrdick is referred to as a miller of Westchester County when he bought a house and grist mill on the Hackensack River in Tappan in 1725.10 At the time, Tappan was a large township in Orange County, New York. The family may not have moved to Tappan right away, since their daughter Margaret married a man living in Yonkers, and it's extremely unlikely that happened by 1725. The Gessingers would have been familiar with the northern New Jersey area already, since they went to Hackensack to witness a baptism in 1717.
     The Gessinger's house and mill were on "Stone" or "Stony" Point along the north side of the Hackensack River in what is now Old Tappan, New Jersey. When the border between New York and New Jersey was finalized it split the township. The heart of the village is in what is now Rockland County, New York, and Old Tappan and other later communities within the original township are in Bergen County, New Jersey. The site is where Westwood Avenue crosses the river. The mill continued, but was developed gradually into a chair factory. The commercial use of the site stopped after a fire in 1904.      The family was always associated with Lutheran Church in New York City, since it was the only such parish in the Lower Hudson Valley in Hendrick's lifetime. “Henry Kissinger” gave a £1 to the church in 1727 and another contribution in 1729.11 The minister of the church traveled a circuit that included some of the local Dutch Reformed churches to perform baptisms and marriages. Hackensack was one of those places, and John Henry, Jr., of Tappan had a Lutheran marriage there.
     Hendrick wrote a will on 30 October 1745.12 I've transcribed it below from the volume in which it was recorded, with some spelling and punctuation changes.

In the name of God amen, this thirtieth day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundre and forty five, I Henderick Gessener of Tappan in Orqnge County, being sick and weak in body but of perfect mind and memory thanks be given unto God, therefore calling unto mind the mortality of my body and knowing it is appointed for all men once to die, do make and ordain this my last will and testament, that is to say principally and first of all I give and recommend my soul into the hands of God that gave it and for my body I recommend it to the earth to be buried in Christian like and decent manner at the discretion of my executor, nothing doubting but at the general resurrection I shall receive the same again by the mighty power of God, and as touching such worldly estate wherewith it hath pleased God to bless me in this life I give devise and dispose of the same in following manner and form.

Imprimis, it is my will and do order that in the first place that all my just debts and funeral charges be fully paid and satisfied by my executors hereafter named and to enable them thereunto, it is my will and do order them to sell as much of my moveable estate as will satisfy the same

Item, I give and beqeath unto my dearly beloved wife Elizabeth all my estate both real and personal for and during her natural life, but in case my said wife should be willing that my real estate should be sold after my decease then in such a case my son John Gessener shall have one hundred and fifty pounds of the money where my said personal estate was sold for which in such a case I give unto him his heirs and assigns forever, the rest and residue to reamin in my wife Elizabeth's hands for her maintenance during her natural life

Item, then after the death of my said wife Elizabeth I give and beqeath unto my well beloved son John Gessener and to his heirs and assigns forever all my real estate if then any be and personal of what kind, nature, soever it be, one negro woman only excepted which I give and beqeath unto my daughter Grietje, the wife of Jacob Valentine, and to her heirs and assigns forever, and whereas I have will and bequeathed all my estate both real and personal unto my said son John Gessener, my negro woman Phebe only excepted notwithstanding, it is my will and do order my said son John or his heirs to pay unto my daughter Grietje, the wife of Jacob Valentine, or to his hiers the sum of one hundred pounds current money of New York, which I give and beqeath to her and to her heirs forever to be paid to her or her heirs after the death of my wife Elizabeth and after the death of her husband Jacob Valentine, and further whereas I at this present time have several book accounts against said Jacob Valentine which I discharge from paying the same to my heirs or executors or any demanding the same and I likewise constitute, make and ordain my loving wife Elizabeth Gessener and my trusty friends Isaac Blauvelt and Johannes Ferdon my only and sole executors of this my last will and testament and do hereby utterly disallow, revoke and disanull all and every other and former testament, wills, legacies and executors by me in any way before this time, willed and bequeathed, ratifying and confirming this and no other to be my last will and testament. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my said and seal the day and year above written

Henderick his F mark Gessener

Signed, sealed, published, pronounced and declared by the said Henderick Gessener as his last will and testament in the presence of us the subscribers

Johannes Waldron
Gerret Echercen
Jacobus Vleirboom his mark

Elizabeth was sworn as executor and the will proved on 16 June 1748 in New York City. Rights to the Tappan property passed to John, Jr., and Margaret, probably after their mother died. John bought Margaret's share, according to John's son Nicholas Gesner, and John probably sold it soon after.

children of Johann Heinrich Gessinger and Anna Elizabetha Schmidt:

Anna Margaretha b. abt January 1709, Palatinate of the Rhine
John Henry b. 25 May 1724

1. The Palatine Families of New York, A Study of the German Immigrants who Arrived in Colonial New York in 1710 vol. 2 (1985), 281.
2. New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, vol. 40 (New York:New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, 1909), 49, 53, "a list of all the poor Germans lately come over from the Patatinate into this kingdom taken in St. Catharine's the sixth May, 1709."
3. Ecclesiastical Records, State of New York, vol. 3 (Albany:1902), 1733-38. "Henry Gessienger," a Lutheran, his wife and a daughter 4 months old are listed under the occupation heading "carpenters."
4. Anthon Temple Gesner, The Gesner Family of New York and Nova Scotia (Middletown, CT:1912).
5. This is a British record, which is abstracted and transcribed in various places. The original of the latter appears to be in Walter Knittle, Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Immigration (Philadephia:1937), 282.
6. E. B. O'Callaghan, Documentary History of the State of New York, vol. 3 (Albany:1850), 563.
7. The New York Historical Society Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 20 (New York:New York Historical Society, 1919), 39.
8. "Some Early Records of the Lutheran Church, New York," in Year book of the Holland Society of New-York, 1903 (New York:The Holland Society of New York, 1903), 62, a child of Reinhard and Anna Haus in 1716.
9. Ibid, 63.
10. Orange Co., NY, deed, B:264.
11. citation needed.
12. Orange Co., NY, Surrogate's Court, probate volume 16:310

all text and photographs © 1998-2021 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted