Friday, January 7, 2011

Down in Old Germantown

Snow again.  Well, what can we expect in January?  I'm watching it snow and wishing that those boots I ordered from L. L. Bean would come in because I really need them.  Stuck in the house with no boots:  this is a good time for telling stories. 

Anyone who knows my true heart knows that I'm addicted to genealogy which involves so many things that I love:  research, constructing charts and tables from information I find, history, old photos, dusty books in libraries, shadowy court houses, and stories to tell.  But every story seems to have a gap that needs to be filled up with some obtuse piece of information from a document that was recently discovered in a moldering box in the basement of a court house in a remote county three states away.  Genealogists are optimists; the record is there, somewhere.  I just haven't looked in the right place yet.

Fifteen years ago I knew the names of my dad's parents, his birth date, where they had lived, and that my grandmother had died when my father was a baby.  After sifting through a considerable amount of history, I documented some good stories about my Huguenot ancestor who came to America before it was a country.  Believe it or not, Red Ballengee, who grew up on Sourwood Mountain near Hix, West Virginia, was connected to the Germantown settlement in colonial Philadelphia.

Germantown was established in 1683 at the direction of William Penn, who had creative ideas about how the town should be laid out.  Instead of having a "commercial" district with merchants and businesses in the center of the town and farms surrounding the settlement, each resident had a plot of land in town that could be farmed.  Penn promoted religious tolerance which was a fresh idea at the time, even in territory that was populated by settlers who wanted to start anew because of religious persecution.  

Germantown took its name from Protestant German craftsmen who were recruited to live in Pennsylvania, and into Germantown in 1697 came Red Ballengee's ancestor, Evi Bellange, a Frenchman and a weaver by occupation.  "Evi" was an Anglicized version of the French name, Yves, and was often written in early records as "Eve".  I'm not precisely certain of Evi's origins, but he was a French Protestant, a Huguenot, who joined with the Quakers either during a sojourn in England or when he came to Virginia.  The first record of his residence in America was in Henrico County, Virginia, where he and his wife, Mary, purchased land, and he took on an apprentice in the weaving trade.

In early Virginia Quakers were persecuted because of their faith, and in some cases in the colonies, Quakers were hanged because they would not profess the Anglican faith.  But Evi was indeed a Quaker; his name is found in lists of witnesses to marriage ceremonies in Virginia.

Mary Bellange must have died in Virginia, because her name is not found in later records.  No records have been found to indicate that Evi and Mary had children, but Evi continued to live in swampy, muggy, bug-infested Henrico County.  Have you ever been to Richmond in the summer time?  

The Quakers of Phildelphia visited those in Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas, portraying the idyllic life in Pennsylvania where tolerance of differing religious views was not only accepted, but encouraged.  I imagine that, to Evi, living in a temperate climate where farmland was fertile, life was peaceful, and business opportunities abounded sounded good.  If he and Mary had children, perhaps they had grown up by that time (he'd lived in Virginia 17 years).  He was at least 37 years old or so about then, maybe a little older.  

Whatever the reasons, Evi was thinking of moving on, so near the end of the 17th century, he took up the offer from the Philadelphia Quakers and found himself on the road to Pennsylvania.  I imagine that he lived with other Quakers until he was established in Germantown, but I don't know the details of how he got started with his business and his new life; I expect that he did well selling the fabrics of muted colors to his fellow Quakers.  I do know that before long a young Quaker woman caught his eye and his heart.

Men and women do not even enter a Quaker meetinghouse in the same door; they have separate entrances, so I think that Evi's courtship of Christian De LaPlaine, of the New York De LaPlaines, was quite staid.  Evi had to present a certificate from the Quakers in Virginia, and he was questioned as to the completeness of his religious thinking.  Only after that were he and Christian allowed to pursue an engagement.  They presented their intentions to marry three times at the Quaker meeting, and in September 1697 they were married, not by a priest or a preacher, but by standing together at the meeting and declaring their marriage vows before God.  

Before the marriage in May 1697 Evi bought 50 acres from John Luken, one of the original settlers in Germantown, possibly thinking that he needed a place where he could settle down.  The property consisted of 20 acres in the inhabited part of Germantown and over 29 acres in the side land.  In modern Germantown this lot is near the corner of East Penn Street and Germantown Avenue and is the location of a newspaper, The Germantown Chronicle.  The Clarkson-Watson house stands there now, but that has nothing to do with Evi Bellange. 

The original buildings in Germantown were log houses, but those came to be replaced by houses built of native stone.  It had been 14 years since the beginning of Germantown, so I'm sure there were improvements of some kind on the property when Evi bought it. 

So this is how Evi and Christian began their life together in old Germantown, a great distance from the mountains of West Virginia where the threads of their story were picked up a hundred years later.  

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