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STREEPER EXHIBITION

at the

RHEINISCHES FREILICHTMUSEUM KOMMERN

2 April to 11 April 2001

Maurine Ward is a member of the Original-13, and as an American Streeper descendent, she was invited by the Rheinisches Freilichtmuseum Kommern in Germany to participate in the opening ceremonies of an exhibit on emigration based on the Streeper family. In April of 2001, the President of the German Republic gave the opening speech at the event. Arrangements were made for the Streeper decendents to tour their roots along the Lower Rhine, (Kaldenkirchen and other places), as well as meetings and discussions with genealogists and regional historians. Following are excerpts of a pictorial and journal report given by Maurine Ward of this interesting historical-filled journey.

THE MUSEUM

The Rheinisches Freilichtmuseum in Kommern-Germany is 75 hectares big, set in wooded hills. It is supposed to be one of the largest open-air museums in Europe. It has been open since 1958. Dr. Dieter Pesch has been the museum's executive director since 1981. There are four main villages in the museum, showing different regions of the Rhineland: Bergisches Land, Niederrhein (the low Rhine, where our people came from), Eifel/Cologne area, and Westerwald (from the opposite side of the Rhine). There are about 60 buildings at present which have been reconstructed exactly as they were found. Besides homes and barns, there are village community buildings such as a school and bakery, a dance hall, a chapel, a store, a blacksmith shop. There is also a basket weaving building, but it looks newer, and a home which houses a loom, with a weaver.

The buildings date from the 16th century, but the furnishings show the economic and living conditions of the 19th and early 20th century. The buildings are set in gardens, fields and orchards. There are many animals there, including some rare breed reestablished at the museum, such as a "GlanDonnersberger" cattle or German "Weideschwein" Pigs which can't be found in any zoo. The museum also has a large stockpile of dismantled homes just waiting to be reconstructed as time allows. The buildings are roofed with thatched roofs, tile, or slate roofs. A large home in one of the villages, about 200-300 years old, was owned by a manufacturing family. It uses slate shingles for siding, and it is absolutely beautiful. The grouping of buildings from the lower Rhine, our area, included two windmills used for grinding wheat and grain. One is dated 1782 and the other 1780. There is a wonderful house from Viersen, dated 1702, with a barn dated 1784. Both are timber and mud/straw. The timber framework is build first, then sticks are fit in the open space to hold the mud and straw mixture. There is a house build in 1647 from Nuess; a little narrow barn, 15th century, from Mönchengladbach; and a house, 1476, from Mönchengladbach. Near the entrance building and gift shop are the administration buildings and the new building housing the Emigration exhibit.

The museum has 60 employees, counting construction workers, maintenance people, administration, etc.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND ON EXHIBIT

The new exhibit is entitled "Schöne Neue Welt-Rheinländer erobern Amerika" or, as they translate it, "Brave New World-Rhinelander conquers America." Dr. Pesch had been planning an exhibit on early emigration from the Rhineland to America, when he discovered the journal of Johannes Herbergs. Because of this find, Dr. Pesch built his whole emigration exhibition around Johannes and the Streeper family. Briefly, here is the background, as told me by Dr. Pesch. [The journal and information was originally printed up in the German language, but the translated English version is now available.]


Jan Streeper, brother of my ancestor William, bought 5000 acres of land from William Penn. Jan and William had inherited the weaving and merchandising business from their father. (Jan also later owned a tavern.) Jan decided to stay in Kaldenkirchen with the businesses there, and send William to America. (According to Dr. Pesch, that was Jan's biggest mistake of his life.) Letters between William and Jan show that William reported his progress on clearing Jan's land, Jan sent him clothing and supplies a couple of times. Eventually, Jan gave William 100 acres he had been promised. [According to documents located by Dorothy Streeper, Jan had agreed to become sole owner of the lands and businesses in Kaldenkirchen and to let William have all of Jan's 5000 acres in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the papers were not made out correctly, so William wrote to Jan's son, after Jan had died, to have new papers drawn up so he could sell some of the land. In 1716, Reiner Tyson wrote a letter to Jan's sons, indicating that he thought Jan had transferred the lands to William. I firmly believe that William thought he would have possession of the lands as soon as the new documents arrived. I don't think he willfully set out to take advantage of his brother] William sold off Jan's land, a lot of it in Buck's County, and some prime land which is now part of Northern Liberties, Philadelphia. Jan's grandson-in-law, Johannes Herbergs and Peter Heinrich Streeper, either a grandson or great-grandson of Jan, decided to travel to Pennsylvania and reclaim Jan's land. They went around to all of the relatives and collected money, they packed bags of scissors to sell when they got to America. Then they left. Johannes kept a journal from 1764 to 1766 about this first trip.


They arrived in Philadelphia very unprepared to take on the lawyers who represented to new well-known, influential, and rich owners of Jan's land. One attorney helped them prepare their case, but refused to represent them out of fear of losing all of his other business. Eventually, the two men returned to Kaldenkirchen to gather more documents and money. Johannes made three more trips to Philadelphia, all in vain. By the time he left on his last trip, his wife had died, so he remained in Philadelphia. He died there, almost penniless in 1789, still believing that William Streeper had cheated him out of his inheritance.

EMIGRATION EXHIBIT

The exhibition starts with a life-like mannequin of Johannes, with journal and pen in hand. In front of him, encased in glass is the actual journal. Dr. Pesch was outbid by a friend and owner of another museum, in attempt to get the journal. But when his friend discovered what was included in the journal, he loaned it, indefinitely to the Kommern museum. Throughout the building, Johannes is found again: in his home with his wife and daughter, packing for the trip; he and Peter Heinrich packing a buggy; walking; sitting in a British tavern with two very "happy" ruddy-faced over-indulgers (complete with beer mugs, bread, and boiled meat on the table); in lawyers' offices and homes in Philadelphia; fighting a landowner on a parcel of land in Pennsylvania while trying to build a home and win the land by squatter's rights.


Other parts of the exhibit show the persecution of the Mennonites, including them being tortured in a prison, and being hung to death. This part is quite melodramatic, and a bit over-done, according to Kornelia, the assistant secretary. But facts show that these things were being done to the Mennonites. There are scenes showing William Penn and others bargaining with the Native Americans and of Penn talking about the land to our Krefeld/Kaldenkirchen immigrants. The scene depicting Johannes and Peter crossing the ocean was cleverly done. The narrow, cramped berths were built in a dark, dismal place, with a little light coming from grates in the ceiling. The floor was slanted, and nearby was a greasy fat cook and a dirty fat pig. The sound of a roaring ocean was piped in, and I actually felt myself getting seasick while standing there. All the rest of the floors were made to look like dried dirt, complete with wagon tracks, horse hooves, and shoe prints. It was very hard to walk on and honestly looked real. All the walls held matted documents, maps, diagrams, photos, etc., many of which are in the printed book. Glassed cases held old bibles.

Some of you will be interested to know that the original Op-den-Graff windows were also displayed on the wall. There was a light behind the windows, and they were absolutely beautiful. Everyone I talked to strongly disavows that the windows have anything to do with bastard royalty or that they mean "of the count."

One interesting room in the exhibit houses an old printing press, borrowed from the Gutenburg exhibit in Mainz, which is being renovated. Docents in period dress show how the printing press works and how books were bound. This exhibit represents the first bible in a foreign language printed on American soil by Christopher Sauer.

THE GRAND OPENING

On 4 April, the morning of the opening, Kornelia Panek, assistant director picked us up at the hotel for a private preview of the exhibition. Our group included Steve and Joy and myself, Diana Pardue, head of the Ellis Island museum in New York, and James Duffin, archivist at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. After the tour, we went to a room called the "Internet Café" for news conference. There were tons of news reporters there, Dr. Pesch and his administration, our group, and others who had helped with the exhibit, including David Orpin and his wife, who were the translaters, and Dr. Gunter Junkers, who runs a large genealogy firm in Germany and helped with the genealogy research. Margaret Schopen, a wonderful 80-year-old descendant of Jan Streeper was there, as well as Horst Herbergs, a descendant of Johannes Herbergs.

After the conference we were all photographed and interviewed collectively and individually, then Kornelia took us to the museum lunchroom. At 4:00 the opening ceremony began in a large building on the musuem property. Seven hundred people were there, including several dignitaries who spoke. The master of ceremonies was a man dressed up as Uncle Sam. He spoke English very well and was fun to be around. He wasn't part of the museum staff; he owned a public relations firm in the area. A local band had been commissioned to write a song about the emigration. The four members of the band were there to play for us, then we were all given a CD with that song, and others. After the ceremony, all seven hundred people crowded in the exhibition and in the Internet Café for refreshments and visiting.

OTHER EVENTS

On Thursday, Kornelia took Diana, James, and me for a tour of the museum villages. Then she drove us to Cologne for sightseeing the rest of the day. Friday morning, Dr. Pesch picked us up at the hotel and we headed to the lower Rhine. We started in Mönchengladbach with a visit to the head of the city archives and his staff. I was amazed to hear these people talking about all of our original 13 families as if they were personal friends. They gave me an early photo of Mönchengladbach (after the war), and copied a chart from their files on the Tyson/Doors family and it's intermarriage with the Streepers, Arets, Luckens families. They all laughed when we told them about the continuing confusion here in the states about the Krefeld wives being Streeper women instead of Doors women. I learned that all the land and court records of the area are in Mönchengladbach (a city), not in Krefeld or Kaldenkirchen (villages).

Several areas where our ancestors lived, such as Rheyd, Dalen, and Wickrath, are now part of Mönchengladbach. For several years, the Mennonite weavers lived here and were given protection, but then moved to Krefeld, one of the few places that allowed them to live free of persecution. There are sources from the late 1600s saying that the Mennonites were leaving, and that they took the trade of linen industry to Krefeld. There is still competition today between Krefeld and Mönchengladbach, where there is a saying, "there are good people, bad people, and people from Krefeld."

We visited the 500-year-old Catholic church and the Abbey church. Looking down from the wall of the Abbey church we saw a little lake. The Bleiker family lived in that area. Next, we went to Krefeld for a press conference with the Mayor. He informed us that the Mennonite linen weavers left Krefeld, but the silk weavers stayed. Silk weaving is still a vital industry there. He presented Dr. Pesch and James with silk ties and gave Diana and me silk scarves. He described again how Krefeld, under the house of Orange of the Netherlands, was a protector of the Mennonites before they came to America. Records show that a German Reformed church was found in 1632 in Krefeld, but was originally held in homes. The first German Reformed church building was started in 1693 when the town expanded. By 1716, 20% of the people of Krefeld were Mennonites. Since that time, the number has declined. Currently there are about 50 Mennonites spread all of lower Rhineland. These people are more liberal than in other parts of the world. They are weavers of silk and linen, are merchants that travel all over the world, are very educated. From 1770 to the present they have trained ministers. We went from Krefeld to Kaldenkirchen and visited the German Reformed church there, built in 1672. The pulpit and alter table are original, the windows and ceilings have been changed. I tried to picture my William Streeper attending church in that very building. On the wall of the church is the gravemarker of one of Jan's son's, Leonard.

Dr. Pesch took us to the German Reformed Cemetery, which was the original land and home (before the cemetery) of our Streeper family. It was known as "Auf den Striep", meaning "of the street," he said. Several Streeper descendants are buried there, but none with the Streeper surname. Then we visited the Catholic Church. A parish had been established in Kaldenkirchen in the 10th century. Even though our particular ancestors were not Catholic, they show up in records found in the Catholic church, which acted as a bank and loaned money to the people. We sat around a long wooden table in a room lined with shelves and shelves of books filled with records. The books were all well-kept and some had been renovated. Then, Dr. Pesch said, "I promised to show you that your William was not a bigamist, and now I will prove it to you." He pulled a book of the shelf and showed me a record where Sibille [Tuffers], widow of Wilhelm who died in 1663, was signing something about the debt her husband owed the church. This William was a 1st cousin of our William, coming down through our William's uncle Jan. [Dr Pesch also disproved that Jan Streeper, the purchaser of the 5000 acres in Pennsylvania every came to America, even though his name in on the application for the 2nd naturalization. Records at various times put Jan in Kaldenkirchen too often for him to ever have left for America. Also, his name on the naturalization list is written in the handwriting of Pastorius, not Jan. Perhaps, because he said he would come over, it was decided to start the naturalization process for him before he came.] Dr. Pesch took us around the town, showing us the bank and homes owned by sons-in-law of Jan, who gave money to Johannes for his trip. Then he said, "Your Streepers were huge drinkers. They purchased a gallon of rum every 3 days, and there were only three people in the family to drink it."

Sunday, Diana and I went out again with Dr. Pesch and his wife, Gabrielle, and headed down the Rhine. He had a radio interview about the exhibit down at Mainz. So, he took the scenic backroads. We went through the wine country of Ahr, and went through a museum in a wine cellar of the major wine company. We saw a museum in a large German fortification in Koblenz and ate at a wonderful restaurant there. We saw castles and more castles on each side of the Rhine and wandered around Mainz. The Gutenberg museum was closed, but we saw the statue of Gutenberg.

The next day I wandered through the old historic town of Kommern, which was like being in a museum. Then I walked all around the four villages at the out-door museum again. It was so peaceful with birds singing. The trees were just starting to bud out. I'm sure that in a few weeks when the trees are fully in bloom and the gardens growing and all of the flowers out, it will be absolutely beautiful. I tried to put myself into that era and thought of my Streeper, Kunders, Lucken, and Tyson families living in the homes and working around the fields and barns and mills. I really did not want to leave.

THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION
The journal, along with the family trees, documents, history, etc. has also been printed in English. There are a couple of discrepancies in the lines of descent of the American Streeper family. They show William Streeper's wife as Maria Willemsen Lucken in one place and Marry Lucken in another. Most of the names have been anglicized. Also, because I had to send in my data base many months ago, it is not as up-to-date as the one Joan Higgins and I have been working on now. The book still shows Peter Streeper with two wives, Anstina Rapp and Christiana Coxe. We now know that Anstina, Christiana, and Ernestina Rapp are the same person.

Maurine Ward
13 A
pril 2001