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"The Rasnick Family Back to the Hessians"

Appalachian News Express
Monday, November 14, 1994
By June Johnson

If you think the Rasnick name is hard to spell today, think of how it was spelled in 1770. Over in Hesse-Cassel, the progenitor of our local Rasnicks was "Jacob Rarsnich".

Pauline Rasnick, who last week gave us the Jenny Wiley story told me parts of the Rasnick story, and Bobbie Rasnick assisted. Pauline is the widow of John Rasnick, and Bobbie is the widow of his brother Arthur Blake "Shorty" Rasnick.

Edith Thornbury's diligently kept records and scrapbooks on Henry Scalf and Dorcas Hobbs contained the history. With their help, I present the following story.

That proud, young Jacob Rarschnich, was threshing wheat with great strength in the family field, when agents of the Hessian prince halted the process and forced him into the army. "The mother", according to Henry Scalf, "found that her tears were ineffective. She gave her son a Bible as he was marched away. The family used every means they knew to secure his release, but to no avail." It was all that he would ever have to remember his family. "The book was said to become a priceless heirloom to his descendants." What heirlooms would have been his if he had stayed in Hesse-Cassel?

What would you think or do if our American Army came to your home and took away your son? Think of your son's distress. It was the time when heads of several small German states had signed agreements with Great Britain to furnish soldiers to fight Colonists in return for favors. Therefore, they made it legal to seize their youths to "sell" them whenever they chose. You might remember that the Hager story was very similar.

The men were briefly trained, and shipped off to America to fight in the English army. Since the Revolutionary War was not their calling, young soldiers often surrendered to the Colonial Troops as soon as they had any opportunity. Such was the case of Jacob, who, at Sarasota (sic) in 1777, at last was captured by the Colonists with little or no resistance.

"Jacob was sent with his comrades to the hinterland of Virginia, the Shenandoah, where he was held as a prisoner or war," was the way Scalf put it. It was also easy to escape. There Jacob escaped and found other German families. One was John Countz or Counts. Jacob immediately found a sweetheart in John's daughter, Mary "Molly". They were married and remained in Shenandoah County until 1787. According to Dorcas Hobbs, Jacob temporarily took the name of his father-in-law. He was still afraid of repercussions from the military.

After the war, General Washington offered each Hessian an American citizenship, or a return to Europe. At this stage, great and bountiful lands, free for homesteading, seemed to be calling their names. Almost all of the men wanted to ride in a free country. They would become the star-studded background progenitors for millions of today's American offspring.

Jacob signed the document of choice - "Jacob Rasnick".

The Germans often stayed together until the new language was integrated. In 1787 Jacob and Counts journeyed to Russell County, which was harsh, unbroken Indian wilderness. There he used the name "Raresnich" with an extra "e". Why? Maybe his wife or in-laws signed it for him. Was Jacob too busy cutting trees and clearing the forest to go in and sign the legal papers? It was most confusing. Later, documents would return the Rasnick spelling.

When John Counts settled in Glade Hollow near the present Lebanon, Va., Jacob Rasnick built a cabin nearby. Rasnick died there in late 1826 or early 1827. Both he and Molly were buried on the farm, where their graves might be found today.

Nine children were known to be born to the couple. Several of these children went farther West. Some to Lee County, Va. and others to Eastern Kentucky.

Progeny of Jacob Rasnick continued to move over the Cumberlands. Several made permanent homes in Pike County. One was James H., son of Alex and Mary Harris Rasnick. James H. married consecutively Laura Hyatt, Elizabeth Lewis and Angeline Thacker. Pauline said "James H. and Laura lived for a while in the cabin formerly located just below Johnson Memorial Park on South Mayo Trail near Pikeville. I am not sure if John Rasnick, Sr. was born there."

John Rasnick, Sr. married Molly Coleman. Their children were: Willie, Allen, James E., Frank, John R. Rasnick, Jr., Mary Evelyn (Cole), Arthur Blake "Shorty" Rasnick and Ada Coleman.

John, Sr. was a Pike County School Board member in the 1930's. Alva Potter took his place.

Pauline Preston Rasnick met John II when she came up to Marrowbone to visit Mabel and Earl Meeks with Marie Branham, a friend from Paintsville. Marie's brother was Doyle Branham. Doyle's wife was a Meeks related to Earl. Earl was a depot agent. "John came over to visit the Meeks while I was there," she said. "On Sunday night he invited me to go to the show at Pikeville. We went with Gertrude Ratliff and a Coleman to the old Liberty Theatre. I don't remember what was playing. We also went to the ball park at Elkhorn before I went back home to Paintsville."

John had fallen in love. Not long after, he came to Paintsville to see her. Soon she came to meet his parents, and they were married in April of 1937. "We moved to Marrowbone where Nick Nichols had prepared for us a little three room house," Pauline said. "John taught at Vinters, Kentucky for two years, then he went to work for the Power Company. Frances, our daughter was born, then in 1944, our son Walter Blake came along. We had moved to Pikeville and lived 17 years where the Huffman houses were located south of town. John did a lot of things for the Power Company. He read meters, worked in the office, was a salesman and demonstrated food, among other things. After that, he went to work for Maytag. He was in charge of 21 counties. He traveled from Cincinnati to Nashville. I often went with him. It was a nice change for me."

Frances married Bill Harvey Johnson and they had children, John Michael and Joseph Francis Johnson. John Michael is married to Janet Haley (daughter of the later Dr. Haley and Mrs. Haley, formerly of Pikeville.) They have two children, Gabriel Malcolm and Madeline Page Johnson. Joey is married to Bridget Thompson Rasnick. Frances married second, Don Ratliff, and they had children, Donna, deceased, and Jerry Ratliff. Frances is currently married to Charles Clevinger and lives in Johnson City.

Pauline's son Walter Blake had sons Todd (whose mother is May Ann West Rasnick) and Blake Rasnick (whose mother is Sherry Sifers Rasnick Mullins). Todd and wife Terena Bartley have a son, Kyler Dalton Rasnick.

John Jr. died at Christmas in 1985.

Bobbie Goff Rasnick (See Goff story, March 18, 1991), Pauline's sister-in-law, said "Shorty (Arthur Blake) joined the National Guard before Pearl Harbor was attacked. Inducted into service, he was stationed in the South Pacific. After the war, he worked for Goodyear in Akron, Ohio, where his brothers worked. Then he came back and ran a store for Denver Stewart.

"Shorty had been around the world when I met him. I was still in high school. School kids had to catch the bus at Marrowbone, and we often went inside his store to keep warm while waiting for the bus. Later we were married. When Johnny came along and was one year old, we moved to Jenkins. Shorty drove the Greyhound bus for three or four years. He then worked for Betsy Ross Bakery until 1956." For many years Bobbie and Shorty ran the Sherwin Williams Paint Store, located on Main Street in Pikeville. Shorty died in his sleep on Thanksgiving, 1975. Their children are John, Linda Ratliff, David Rasnick and Peggy Justice. Grandchildren are Kate, Joseph and Will, children of Johnny. Linda's children are Isaac and Stephanie Ratliff and David's children are Rachel and Matthew.

The Rasnicks still seem to be busily threshing their harvest. Summit Engineering, Inc. on the Pikeville By-Pass at Chloe Creek is partly the creation of John, and David is part owner/operator. Both are engineers. John Michael Johnson, Frances' son, is also involved with engineering.

This good Pike County stock from Jacob Rasnick of Hesse-Cassel is in many descendants who carry other surnames, such as the late Dr. Campbell, former president of Prestonburg Community College. You'd be surprised at how many others carry the genes through the female sides!