52 Ancestors – #2: Learning About Matthias Flaugh, Revolutionary War Ancestor

by , under 52 Ancestors, Ancestry.com, Ethnic Origins, Ethnic Research, Family History Research, German, Immigration, My Family History

Johann Matthias Flaugh (also spelled Flach) arrived in Philadelphia in 1773 as a 19-year-old immigrant from Rimhorn, Hesse, Germany. He was my fourth great grandfather, living most of his life in America in Crawford County, Pennsylvania. I started gathering information on Matthias early in my involvement in genealogical research. More recently, I have benefited from information that has been made available online.

Early in my research, while doing a search on Ancestry.com, I learned that to settle up for his passage to America, Matthias became indentured as a servant for 3 years and 3 months to John Peter of Philadelphia in October of 1773.

On the free website Find-A-Grave.com, I learned that he was buried in Peiffer Cemetery, a small burial ground in Woodcock Township, north of Meadville, Pennsylvania. When I visited there, I was able to read his sandstone headstone, inscribed with the following text, which amazingly is still readable after nearly 200 years: “In memory of Johann Matthias Flach, a soldier of the American Revolution, born in Rimhorn, Germnay, on April 8, 1752 and died on Jan 20, 1834 at the age of 81 years, 9 months, and 12 days. Merciless death, unerring arrow, you have penetrated the old veteran’s heart. His whole life long he steadfastly defended freedom, which he fought to secure under the “great” Washington.”

Since discovering my connection to Matthias, I have documented my lineal descent from him to gain membership into the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). I am a member of the Western Reserve Society, an area chapter of SAR.

During the research for my SAR application, I learned that Matthias served in what was known as the German Regiment. I did a Google search on the German Regiment and learned the basics about this component of the Continental Army.

Here is an explanation provided by Wikipedia.com:

The German Battalion or German Regiment … was an American infantry unit that served for about four and one-half years in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Authorized in May 1776 as an Extra Continental regiment, the unit was recruited from ethnic Germans from Maryland and Pennsylvania. The Continental Congress appointed Nicholas Haussegger to command the battalion, which initially organized in the strength of eight companies. While the unit assembled at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a ninth company was added. The battalion fought at Trenton in December 1776, where its soldiers called out in German for the Hessians to lay down their arms.
A week later, the German Battalion was in action at Assunpink Creek where a number of its troops were captured, including Haussegger. The next day, the unit fought at Princeton. After Haussegger defected to the British, George Washington appointed Prussian volunteer Henry Leonard d’Arendt to command the battalion. The battalion served with the 1st Virginia Brigade at Brandywine and Germantown in September and October 1777. The following June the German Battalion fought at Monmouth. Late in 1778, the unit was assigned to Edward Hand’s brigade and served in the Sullivan Expedition in the summer of 1779. The battalion transferred to the New Jersey Brigade before being dissolved in January 1781.

As a result of more Google research, I learned that that a book had been written about this military unit, and its service during the Revolutionary War. The German Regiment of Maryland and Pennsylvania in the Continental Army, 1776-1781, by Henry J. Retzer, was published by Willow Bend Books, Westminster, Pennsylvania, in a revised edition in 2000. Publicity blurbs for the book stated that the author, using a variety of federal and state records, plus personal journals and letters, compiled a history of the German Regiment from formation to dissolution. Furthermore, it listed known officers and enlisted men.

That was enough to entice me to order a copy through Amazon and the slender paperback arrived a few days later.

Matthias was listed in the Regiment’s roster. Unfortunately there was no other information about him, but I did benefit from reading about the Regiment, including its stay at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78. It gave me a better understanding of what my ancestor went through during his service in the Revolutionary War.

I find it interesting that I descend from a German immigrant from Hesse, the region of Germany that supplied 30,000 Hessian mercenaries who fought with the British forces. Some Americans trace their ancestry back to Hessians who defected from their service with the British and stayed in America. In my case, my Hessian ancestor was here before the war began.

After the war, Matthias was still involved in military organizations. A recent search of Ancestry.com yielded the card for his burial in Peiffer Cemetery, created by the Pennsylvania Department of Military Affairs. It lists his participation in the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, militia in 1784 and 1785, before he moved to Crawford County.

While in still Lancaster County, Matthias married Marie Arnold and they had four children there. The family came to Crawford County after Matthias acquired 200 acres in Woodcock Township. They then had four more children.

Details of the Flaugh family in Crawford County are found in History of Crawford County, Pennsylvania, published in 1885 by Warner, Beers & Co., Chicago. I found this volume in the Research Library of Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, years ago, and more recently I have accessed the same book in digital form online at https://archive.org. If you go to this website, enter the search term: History of Craford County, Pennsylvania. There are two volumes presented.

An especially important find came to me recently via Ancestry.com. A subscriber (identified with the user name of Windchime) added a document to her family tree describing the results of research in Germany on Matthias Flaugh undertaken on behalf of Miss Sara E Flaugh (now deceased). Ancestry.com detected a match with my research interests, and informed me about the possible connection. The document was a copy of an 11-year-old newspaper column written by a genealogist in Rimhorn, Germany, for a local newspaper. Here are excerpts:

20 Nov 1992 Odewald Weekly Paper, Thurs Jan 16 1987 pg 8
Headline: Rimhorner Fought for America’s Freedom Subject: Johann Matthias Flach left his native country in 1773; Peiffertown Cemetery last resting place.
By Ella Gieg, Rimhorn
Johann Matthias Flach came into this world on Apr 8, 1752 in Rimhorn. His parents were the baker Johann Philipp Flach and teacher’s daughter Hanna Elisabeth Merckel. To be sure, Matthias Flach never met his father, as the bakery owner died ten weeks before the birth of his son. As for the parents’ house, it became what is today the estate of the Hans Fleck family on Goldback Street in Rimhorn. This comes from the “Rimhorner Broullion,” a draft copy of a map from the year 1753 (Wertheim state archives) in which Philipp Flach’s widow is shown as owner of the plot of land. The married couple Flach had acquired the house with a farm that belonged to it on May 14 1745 at a public auction for 436 builders [an archaic form of German currency] … The widow with her three small children came through the early death of the husband Philipp Flach with difficulty and presumably she couldn’t keep her property. A daughter, Eva Maria, in 1760 married Johann Leonhard Gebbard who lived in the neighborhood, while of the second son Johann Georg there is no trace. Also not much was known of the emigrant Matthias until later times; it seemed certain that he was lost without a trace. Not until two Americans appeared in Rimhorn in 1986, with instructions from Miss Sara E. Flaugh, Meadville, Pa, and searched for the origins of their ancestors, could the related details of the whereabouts of Matthias Flach become known. Thus was his further journey through life carried out. … On the ship “Union” under Captain Andrew Bryson, the 19-yr old sailed over the great water and arrived in Philadelphia, where under the name of Johan Madas Flaugh on Sep 27, 1773, he gave his oath of loyalty to the English king in the business place of Mr. Robert Ritchie…

The remainder of the newspaper report provides information similar to what I had already learned through research in American sources.

So after many years of looking—and through finding material provided by others—I finally have a much more complete picture of the life and times of my ancestor, Johan Matthias Flaugh, including his early life in Germany.

  1. Betsy Jane (Dingman) Boundy

    Your dedication to documenting our ancestry is appreciated very much. Our elders told us in general terms of our heritage, but until you invested yourself in the search, our lineage was vague and limited. Thank-you, cousin, Wally, for providing the evidence of our decent, and stirring our interest for learning more about who and where we came from. I’m very proud, and thank you, again.
    Betsy Jane (Dingman) Boundy


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