The Leebrick Saga

The German Experience

The City | Liebrichs in Butzbach | Seeds of Discontent

As the sun dropped out of sight beyond the city walls of Butzbach, Germany, on January 18, 1702, the strong little voice of Johannes Phillip Liebrich was heard within the city. As his parents looked on, they no doubt hoped that this little boy's life in Germany would be easier than theirs had been. But he faced an uncertain future.

Liebrichs had been in this area of Europe since at least the 1200's, perhaps earlier1. Liebrichs can be found in the Worms area until about 1500, when the family then appears in the Wetzlar and Krofftelbach area. By 1600 the family is found in Butzbach, where it resided until at least 1800.

The first event where the Liebrich name gained any kind of attention was the result of Martin Luther's 95 theses, which appeared in 1517. Martin Luther's action sparked the Reformation, but his actions were motivated as much by reforming the financial and political behavior of the Catholic Church as it was to express theological differences with the church. The Liebrichs quickly allied themselves with the Lutheran movement and found a measure of political power. More details are found in the endnote. The Liebrich coat of arms was awarded during this time in appreciation of their support by the Count of Solms.

The City

By the time the Liebrichs arrived in Butzbach, it had been a "free town" for nearly 300 years. On 10 August 1321 the later Emperor, Ludwig the Bavarian, granted the same liberties enjoyed by the city of Frankfurt/Main to Philipp von Falkenstein's little village of Butzbach; Butzbach was elevated to city status2 . This is significant fact, because as a free town, it was able to set up its own government, build defenses and administration buildings, and enjoy a measure of independence from the state government. The market place, city hall, court house, market house and wedding house, still in existence today, were build in the 50 years following.

During this time, the 25 foot tall city walls were also built, with its three gates to the outside world3 . It has been estimated that around 36,000 ox cart loads of stones were necessary to build this wall. In addition, the old St. Mark's Church, was enlarged and is pretty much unchanged since 1520 or so.

Liebrichs in Butzbach

Butzbach was known during this time for its textile production, and Valentine Loberich (1575-1631) was known as a tuchmacher (cloth maker)4 . In the hierarchy of occupations in that time, cloth maker was not high on the list. However, in 1599, at the age of only 24, Velten was awarded citizenship in Butzbach (was named a Burger). To be named a Burger, one had first to apply to the ruling council of the town and be examined by them. If one was judged to be an asset to the town, and if he was able to pay the application fee, then one could become an official citizen of the town. Being a citizen allowed one certain privileges and also carried responsibilities to help maintain the character of the town.

Valentine's son Springel (1612-1681) improved his skills to become a sockenstricker (sock maker)5 . Like his father, Springel was granted Burger status in the city. Going beyond his father's accomplishments, Springel gained the position Zunftmeister (guild master) in sock making. By this time, guilds occupied a position of substantial power within German towns. The Zunftmeister was able to decide who and how many could practice his skill within that town. He was responsible for training of new apprentice sock makers as well as providing advanced training for journeymen sock makers. In addition to his role in the local town economy, the Zunftmeisters were usually key members of the city council. In that role, they acted on applications for new citizenship, managed the finances of the town and helped to enforce the laws and customs of the town.

The tradition continued with Springel's son Johan Balthasar Liebrich Sr (1648-1721)6 . Johan Balthasar also worked as a sockenstricker and held Burger status. No doubt partially due to the success of two previous generations of Liebrich's in Butzbach, Johan Balthasar was able to win the position of BurgerMeister in Butzbach. This is akin to being mayor of a modern city. In a German city of the day, the chief of the Inner (ruling) Council was the BurgerMeister7 . Serving with him would be the Schultheiss (chief officer of the court), several Assessors (tax collectors), one or two guild masters and the city clerk. So the Liebrichs had become a family to be reckoned in Butzbach.

Seeds of Discontent

Not surprisingly, Johan Balthasar Liebrich's Sr. children were heavily involved in sockmaking in Butzbach. His son Johan Balthasar Jr (1674-1746) continued the Liebrich tradition, as did nearly all his son-in-laws. In fact, only his son Johan Andreas Liebrich did not follow in the family tradition. Andreas became the Lutheran pastor in Kircheimboladen and was first of many pastors in that line of the family.

This defection (so to speak) of Andreas is important because of what it says about the changing views of guild life at this point in time. Up till now, guilds had been influential in community life by way of economic regulation, political organization and representation and guardianship of social or domestic standards8 . Up to the end of the Thirty Years War, Butzbach's production of linen and cloth and its dyeing industry were quite considerable9 . For a short time, the mercers of Butzbach had their own warehouse in Frankfurt. However, during and after the war, the textile industry suffered a decline and by the eighteenth century, only two stocking-weavers remained in Butzbach10 . Therefore, as time went on, there arose several reasons why a young man might want to pursue a career other than the guilds11 : 1) the blocking of economic opportunity by guild monopolies or by state economic regulations 2) decline of the family trade, so that the boy could not look forward to slipping comfortably into his father's place, 3) the wish to avoid military conscription, 4) the growing prestige of the civil service, to which university education was the key or 5) the extensive scholarship opportunities that attracted boys with nowhere else to turn nor place to fill. Becoming a pastor did require university education, so perhaps it was one of these reasons that Johan Andreas Liebrich left the textile industry and pursued the ministry.

Johan Balthasar Jr married Anna Apollonia Zehner in 1699, and they began their family soon after12 . Johann Andreas was born in 1700, Johannes Phillip was born in 1702, then Johann Friedrich was born in 1708. Then things turned sad for Balthasar and Anna. Little Andreas died in 1709 at the age of 9 years old. Their grief was soon replaced by happiness as a fourth son was born, Nicolaus Hartmann in 1710. Nicolous was followed by their first daughter Anna Apollonia born in 1713. Poor Anna barely lived to her first birthday, dying in 1714. Little Friedrich died the next year at the age of 7, but in November Jacob Friedrich was born. In 1717, Nicolaus Hartmann died, also at the age of 7, followed by the birth of their last son Nicolaus in March of 1718. So, as 1720 dawned, only Johannes Phillip, now 18, Jacob Friedrich, aged 5 and Nicolaus age 2 were still part of the family.


1 Anonymus. “Über den Namen Lieberich in der Pfalz.” Arbeitsgemeinschaft Kurpfälzische Sippenforschung, August 1927: 16-17(1927). Also Lieberich, H. “Familien Lieberich in der Pfalz.” Pfälzisch-Rheinische Familienkunde 27:101-107(1978), 28:181-187(1979), and 28:239 (1979).
2 "Soldier City for Centuries IV" by Celeste Neumann. Online at, Viewed 29 Jan 2012
3 "Soldier City for Centuries V" by Celeste Neumann. Online at, Viewed 29 Jan 2012
4 "Familie Velten (Valentin) Loberich" by Winfred Liebrich. Online at, viewed 7 Jan 2012
5 "Familie Springel Loberich" by Winfred Liebrich. Online at, viewed 7 Jan 2012
6 "Familie Johann Balthasar Liebrich" by Winfred Liebrich. Online at, viewed 7 Jan 2012
7 "German Home Towns: Community, State and General Estate, 1648-1871" by Mack Walker Pg 46-47 (Cornell University Press, 1971)
8 "German Home Towns: Community, State and General Estate, 1648-1871" by Mack Walker Pg 76 (Cornell University Press, 1971)
9 "Small Towns in Early Modern Europe" by Peter Clark, pg 197
10 E. Otto, 'Zur Geschichte des Gewerbes in Butzbach wahrend des Mittelalters und der Reformationszeit', Archive fur Hessische Geschichte, New Series, vol. 1 (1894) pp401-49
11 "German Home Towns: Community, State and General Estate, 1648-1871" by Mack Walker, Pg 130 (Cornell University Press, 1971)
12 "Familie Johann (jun) Balthasar Liebrich" by Winfred Liebrich. Online at, Viewed 7 Jan 2012.
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