Clemens Family

circa 1650 - 1745

This family name derives from the German, Dutch and Danish personal name Clemens, meaning “merciful, gentle”.

Our Clemens family begins with Jacob Clemens, born about 1650 in either Switzerland or Germany. Like many of our ancestors from Germany, Jacob was a Mennonite. Although the Mennonite religion was founded in Switzerland, many were run out of the country and arrived in Germany, especially the Palatinate, before they or their descendants moved on to the American Colonies. As a result, some ancestors can have unclear origins as either Swiss or German.

Jacob was married to a woman named Maria or Mary (maiden name unknown), born in 1658 and had three known children:

  1. Gerhart Clemens (b. 1680)
  2. John
  3. Jacob

All three migrated to the colonies. Gerhart immigrated to Montgomery County, Pennsylvania in 1709 while his brother John settled in New York and Jacob, ended up in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Gerhart was also born in either Switzerland or Germany in 1680. By the time of his marriage in August 1702 to Anneli "Anna" Heistand Reiff, he may have been living in the German Palatinate. Gerhart and Anna had four children in total, two before moving to the colonies and two after:

  1. Jacob (b. 1703)
  2. Johannes “John” (b. 1707)
  3. Abraham (b. 1710)
  4. Ann (b. 1712)

In March of 1709, Gerhart sold all his possessions to family members in preparation for the move to the American colonies. He and his family first travelled to London before sailing on to the colonies. The winter of 1708-1709 was a particularly harsh winter in the Palatinate that caused a famine and as a result, 1709 saw a mass emigration with 7,000 leaving the area for England at the invite of Queen Anne. 3,000 of those refugees were shipped to the colonies and the remaining 4,000 to Ireland. The numbers were so overwhelming that a Royal Proclamation was issued stating that any Palatines arriving after October 1709 would be refused entry into London. Fortunately, by October, Gerhart and his family had already left London and landed in New York, finally settling in Skippack, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

In 1711, Gerhart purchased 100 acres of land from Matthias Van Bebber who had received 6,000 acres of land from William Penn in what is now Montgomery County. This land was known as Bebber Township but now includes Perkiomen and Skippack Townships. In 1718, Gerhart purchased another 300 acres in what is now Lower Salford Township from David Powell. By 1735, Gerhart owned about a square mile of land, making him a large property owner and successful farmer. In later years, Gerhart would sell off portions to others, including another of our ancestors, John Valentine Kratz, who married Gerhart's daughter, Ann.

The Clemens family lived in a house built by Gerhart on the west side of Branch Creek and later, built a larger house on the east side. Gerhart also built the first grist mill in Salford Township on this creek in 1729. Although Gerhart was a farmer, he and some of his children were notable weavers as well, selling homespun goods for family and friends in the area for extra cash.

In Gerhart's later life, he lived with his son, Jacob, who in 1740 also took over the journal that Gerhart kept. It is from this journal that most of his life's story has come to be known. After selling all his land, mostly to his sons or sons-in-law, as well as others, Gerhart retired to live with Jacob. He died in 1745, his wife having died before him at an unknown date. They are both buried in Lower Salford Mennonite Cemetery in Pennsylvania where a monument has been erected in memory of Gerhart and his family. The original headstones are presumably too deteriorated to read.

The Clemens story continues with their daughter Ann and her husband, John Valentine Kratz in the Kratz Family Chapter.

© Robin Bauer 2010-2013

Sources:

Clemens Photos and Documents

Clemens Family Memorial Stone, Lower Salford Mennonite Cemetery

Lower Salford Mennonite Church and Cemetery, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania

Original deed from Matthias Van Bebber to Gerhart Clemens, May 1, 1711 for one hundred acres.