Branaman Affiliated Family
Brönni – Switzerland
The Branaman family history begins in the village of Brönni, Switzerland (originally spelled “Brendi.”) [Click to view sources.] Both names mean “a place cleared of forest by fire.” “Brendimanns” are documented to have lived in numerous villages on the west side of the Aare River [Click to view map] from the year 1400 to today (2002).
Several farm houses are still located in the tiny village of Brönni [Click to view photo]. Brönni, on the west side of the Aare, is located at the edge of the valley where the terrain starts climbing steeply into the foothills that precede the Alps.
Melchoir Bronneman, the Anabaptist Exile (c. 1631-1677)
The first Branaman ancestor specifically identified by name is Melchoir Brönnemann (later spelled “Brennemann” when the family moved to Germany).
Melchoir was born in Switzerland about 1631 and exiled to the Palatinate of Germany in 1672 for Anabaptist activities. [Click for information on Anabaptists.] [Click for information on conditions in Switzerland in the Middle Ages.]
The Anabaptist movement was strong in the secluded rural mountainous region southeast of Bern for over a century. It is likely that this family had been committed to the Anabaptist faith for several generations.
Melchoir Bronnimann is documented to have lived in several locations southeast of Bern. He originally lived in the mountainous region called the Churzenberg He is also known to have lived on the north slope of the Buchholterberg and in the village located in the valley inbetween these two mountains–Oberdiessbach. These locations are all within the Steffisburg District. [Click to view photos.]
Melchoir Brönnimann was imprisoned on October 28, 1659 in the castle at Thun [Click to view photo.]
“The Brenneman History” provides the following account:
“The Mennonite Melchoir Brönnimann, from the district of Steffisburg, is held in prison in the castle at Thun. The Amtmann (bailiff) and the pastor superior have been unable to bring him to forswear his Anabaptist convictions. He only promises to attend preaching services in the state church. The government decrees that he shall be given a period of probation; if he does not give up the Anabaptists in that time the provisions of the recent law of August 9, 1659, shall be applied against him. According to these he shall be banished from the land, and if he should return unconverted he shall be beaten with rods and again driven away, while his property is to be confiscated.”
Melchoir Brönneman at age 40 was exiled from Switzerland in 1672. He moved to Griesheim in Germany with his wife and seven children between the ages of 1 and 15.
The colony at Griesheim was also the refuge for another 53 exiled Bern families. The descendants of many of these exiles immigrated to Pennsylvania and many still live in Lancaster and York counties.
According to a letter written from Griesheim by Valentin Huetwol and Johann Clemeintz to Hans Vlamingh, a prominent Mennonite in Holland–Melchoir’s “worldly possessions consisted of one horse, one trundle bed and bedding, and 43 rix-dollars.”
On November 2, 1671, Jakol Everling of Obersulzheim, a small village not far from Griesheim wrote:
“Concerning our friends from Switzerland, they are coming to us just now in great numbers, so that already 200 persons have come here, among whom are many old folks, both men and women, aged 70, 80 and even 90 years. There are also quite a few crippled and lame among them. They carried their bundles on their backs and their children in their arms; some of them were cheerful; but the tears of some rained down their cheeks, especially the penniless old people who had to wander about in their advanced age and tread the soil of alien lands. Many of them have nothing on which to sleep at night, for which reason I, with the help of others, have already been active for two weeks to find lodging and relief for their need. We daily await others….”
The Anabaptists (generally referred to as “Mennonites” today) introduced several social concepts that local authorities of that time considered revolutionary and dangerous to the social order:
- They recognized the peasants as being thinking, feeling human beings. A part of the mission of the lay ministry was to teach the peasants to read. The Anabaptists taught that all men were capable of reading and understanding God’s word.
- They placed God’s word above both state and religious laws. An individual’s conscious must be his guide. The Anabaptists taught that the individual must refuse military service for an unjust cause. They spoke out strongly against the Swiss government’s practice of selling mercenary units to all European countries. In fact, the elite military units on BOTH SIDES of European wars in the 16th to 18th centuries were Swiss.
The Anabaptist basic social attitudes–that were so revolutionary in the 16th and 17th centuries–are now fully accepted by the western world.
As “outlaws,” the Bernese Anabaptists were forced to hold religious services in secret. The wooded areas around Oberdiessbach were common meeting places. The woods were also used as hiding places. [View photo of Oberdiessbach woods.] A permanent policy agency of Anabaptist-hunters persisted into the 18th century in the canton of Bern.
There were, however, several instances where the Anabaptists did step over into the “lunatic fringe” area. These excesses are referred to by current Mennonites as “black sheep” on “the wrong path”:
- One group encouraged “babbling and playing with toys” to become literally “as little children.”
- Anabaptists took control in Münster militarily in 1535 and savagely persecuted nonbelievers.
Following the Münster massacre, Memmo Simons, a former priest from Holland, became the principal influence in the Anabaptist movement. Pacifism became a central tenet; the belief that Christ’s second coming was imminent was dropped. After 1550 Anabaptists are referred to as “mennisten” or “mennonites.”
There are no records to indicate that the Bernese Anabaptists participated in any “black sheep” activities. All evidence is that our ancestors were sincere individuals dedicated to living peaceably with their fellowmen and improving social conditions.
Social conditions in 1600 Switzerland were very poor. Much of the democracy achieved in Switzerland during the 13th to 16th centuries was lost in the 17th century.
The Reformation itself contributed to the erosion of democracy. In the protestant states the power of the church had been by law transferred to the government. And in the Catholic states, the government and church worked in unison. In both protestant and Catholic states, the government was controlled by a few aristocratic families.
In addition, Switzerland suffered an acute depression following the Thirty Years’ War in 1648. During the war, many wealthy fugitives had settled in neutral Switzerland, boosting the economy. When the war ended, the fugitives returned home–with their money.
The Swiss economy collapsed; the peasants were heavily taxed; poverty and discontent were widespread.
Several peasant uprisings took place in the 1650’s. In 1653, 5000 peasants–both Catholic and protestant–formed a “League of the People.” The peasantry of Lucerne, Bern, Soleure, and Basle elected a leadership and faced the Diet (“League of the Lords”) as a unified group.
The “League of the People” was brutally suppressed. The leaders and several other prisoners were tormented, mutilated, and put to death.
Subjugation of the Swiss peasantry continued for over 150 years–into the 19th century.
Bern was one of the most oppressive cantons in Switzerland. The aristocracy was firmly in charge and very sensitive to criticism; the canton treasurer was executed in 1640 for attacking prevalent abuses.
The Mennonite persecution in the late 1600’s was, then, part of a larger effort by the Bernese artistocratic government to suppress the peasantry.
Links to Pennsylvania Information
Christian Brenneman (I) (1685-1759)
Christian Brenneman, son of Melchoir Brennemann, the Swiss Anabaptist exile, immigrated to American about 1709. He was 24 years old and unmarried. He is believed to have come to American with Melchoir Brenneman, age 44. Researcher believe that Melchoir (II) is an older brother but he could be an uncle or cousin. It is, however, clear that they were closely related.
The voyage was, no doubt, very difficult, taking up to six months. The actual ocean voyage was from 7-12 weeks, depending on the wind and how often the captain got lost. In addition to the ocean voyage, there were long–and expensive–delays at European harbors:
- The Rhine boats passed 36 custom houses, requiring inspections “when it suits the convenience of the customs-house officials.” This leg of the trip took 4-6 weeks.
- Passengers would be detained another 5-6 weeks in a Holland port (either Rotterdam or Amsterdam.)
- It took 2-4 weeks to sail to England where the passengers waited again.
On board, there were food and water shortages, lice, unsanitary conditions and death. If a spouse or parent died during the voyage, the next-of-kin had to pay the fare.
After 1730, most of the German immigrants came as “redemptioners.” This was the same principle as “indentured servants” except there was no pre-arranged agreement. When the boat landed, if the passenger couldn’t pay his fare, his services were auctioned off, usually from 3-5 years. Children owing fare, however, had to serve to age 21.
Due to the expenses related to the unexpected delays at European ports, many German immigrants spent all their savings en route.
A family trade of the Brennemans was weaving. It is known that Melchoir (II) was a weaver as well as two of Christian’s sons.
In recruiting settlers for Germantown, William Penn’s agent for the Frankfort Company, Francis Daniel Pastorius, sought immigrants with useful skills–weaving, farming, carpentry, tanning. Linen weaving was an important industry in Germantown. The superior quality of Germantown textiles was commented upon by travelers to the area from the town’s inception throughout the 18th century.
The first legal records that mention the Brennemans are deeds to purchase land.
Christian Brenneman, our ancestor, and Hans George Trullinger purchased 60 acres on Oct. 12, 1717, between the French Creek and the Skulykill River.
Melchoir Brenneman (II) purchased 500 acres in the Conestoga settlement in Lancaster County on Nov. 30, 1717. This property was surrounded by other Swiss Mennonite settlements. The adjacent land was owned by Hans George Trullinger. Another neighbor weas Hans Herr, the local pastor and farmer.
Christian Brenneman married Susanna about 1720. Her last name is believed to have been Levering. Two Leverings–Gerhard and Wigart–were among the second group of German immigrants (probably from Griesheim–the Brenneman’s hometown.) They were naturalized as British citizens along with Pastorius and 31 other heads-of-household.
The prominent German Mennonite who befriended the Swiss Mennonites in 1671 was named Jakol “Everling.”
On November 14, 1729, Christian and Susanna moved to Towamencin Township, purchasing 178.5 acres. As the first settler on this land, Christian had to clear the land of forest before converting it to farm land.
Christian was naturalized in Philadelphia on June 21, 1743 along with all Mennonites.
Christian Brenneman (I) Will and Children
Christian’s will was prepared on Nov. 8, 1757, in which he stated that he wished none of his children to continue on the farm. He granted a lease to his sons Chrisitian (II) and William to hold the farm only until his executors sold it. All the proceeds were to be divided among the seven children of whom some were under 21 years of age. The will also stated that Henry and William had been advanced some money for the purchase of weaver’s beams.
Christian died in the spring of 1759. The farm was sold by his executors on May 28, 1759, to Adam Gotwalts.
Christian and Susann’s seven children were:
- Henry, born 1725
- Christian (II), born 1728
- William, born 1730
- Catharine, born 1733
- Benjamin, born 1737
- Samuel, born 1738
- Jacob, born 1742.
Christian Brenneman (II) (1728-1764)
Christian (II), age 29, married Catharine Mercly, age 29, on July 3, 1757. Catharine was the daughter of Jacob Mercly (or Merkelin) and Barbara Dotterer. Barbara, the daughter of George Philip and Veronica Dotterer, is of German descent.
They were married at Augustus Evangelical Lutheran Church in Trappe, Pennsylvania. This is the first evidence we have that this line of the Brenneman family may have left the Mennonite faith.
Christian (II), along with his brothers William and Samuel, moved to Tredyffrin Township in Chester County in December 1761. The land was purchased in Christian’s name in 1763. The property lay along Conestoga Road and bordered the lands of Captain Isaac Wayne–the father of General “Mad” Anthony Wayne and Hannah Wayne, who is also an ancestor of one Brenneman line.
Christian (II) died at age 36 in March 1764. His wife appears to also be decreased at that time since the three children are known to be reared by Christian’s two brothers–William and Samuel–and the wife’s brother–Philip Mercly. All owned farms in York County.
The three young children and their guardians in 1764:
- Christian (III), 6 years old, reared by William Brenneman.
- Catharine, 4 years old, lived with Philip Mercly.
- Samuel, 1 year old, with Samuel Brenneman.
Christian Brenneman (III) – Patriot (1758-1842)
Christian (III) was 18-years-old and living with Uncle William, age 46, in York when independence was declared in 1776. He and all four uncles served in Pennsylvania Regiments.
Three uncles–William, Benjamin, Samuel–served in the same Pennsylvania York County Militia company under Captain Michael Lechner.
A fourth uncle, Jacob, served in Chester County units.
Christian volunteered for several stints of active duty in Pennsylvania Militia units. Service of nine months or more in the Revolutionary War entitled veterans to pension benefits.
Christian (III) gives the following account of his militia service in a sworn application for pension as a Revolutionary soldier, executed Sept. 6, 1832 in Jackson County, Indiana:
“While residing in Codorus Township, about 7 miles from York in York County, Pa., I volunteered July 1, 1776, served a short while in Capt. George Deal’s company, Col.. Smith’s regiment, then in Capt. John McDonald’s company, Col. Swope’s Pennsylvania Regiment of the Flying Camp, assisted in building Fort Lee, was in the battle of Trenton, and was discharged Jan. 5, 1777.
“I enlisted in the fall of 1777, served two months in Capt. William White’s company, Col. Rankin’s Pennsylvania Regiment. I enlisted sometime in August (year not definitely shown–probably 1781) served four months in Capt. William Dodd’s company under Major William Bailey, guarding British prisoners at Camp Security who were taken when Burgoyne surrendered….”
The Battle of Trenton is the most interesting of Christian’s engagements. This refers to Washington’s Delaware crossing on Christmas Day 1776 as depicted in Emanuel Leutze’s famous painting above.
This was the final battle before the armies retired for the winter. Although the Continentals had acquitted themselves well in 1776, most of the battles had been lost. The Trenton victory was very much needed psychologically, especially a victory over the supposedly invulnerable Hessian mercenaries.
The actual assault was carried out with several Continental Main Army brigades (about 6,000 men). An artillery company directly supported each brigade. The task of sealing the town off to prevent re-enforcements or escape went to the state militia (which included Christian Brenneman) supported by a single Continental brigade.
Brenneman Faith in 1776
Since Mennonites were pacifists, the participation of Christian and his four uncles in the American Revolution indicates that all of Christian (I)’s family had left the Mennonite faith by 1776.
Religion, however, still played an important part in the Brenneman lives, and one of William’s sons became a Dunkard minister. The Dunkard sect was closely related to the German Mennonites. The name “Dunkard” is derived from the sect’s belief in baptism by immersion.
Historians have noted that two-thirds of the Mennonites had left the faith by 1730. Many more broke away during the War of Independence.
After the American Revolution, many of the Brenneman family, including Christian Brenneman (III) joined the Westward movement. [Click to read about the Indiana Branamans.]