The Unwritten First Chapter: A Pennsylvania Connection?


Twenty years after this book was written, there is still no firm evidence linking our ancestor to the Pennsylvania immigrants. Their names are appealing, but perhaps we should continue to keep an open mind about Ludwig’s early years.

His documented presence in Charleston, S.C. in 1755 (see Chapter 3) is years earlier than was discovered by the first investigators of the Boatner family history. Thousands of settlers had come through the port of Charleston before the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania was completed as far as the South Carolina back country in the 1760s.

If we take a fresh perspective and are not committed to fixing Ludwig’s arrival around the Pennsylvanians’ dates, then we can remain open to other possibilities. But this chapter is still appropriate.

PSF, February 2003

We must, for the present at least, leave unwritten the early history of Ludwig Bottner’s life. Unless our ignorance is remedied by a discovery of his European origins (probably in Bavaria, although some branches of the family have passed down long held versions claiming Holland), we may never uncover more facts about his beginnings than we now have.

But we can make some deductions and suggest some possible activities for the first thirty years of his life. We can deduce his age: since he described himself in 1789 as “upwards of 65,” I take him to be about 66 at that time and have used the year 1723 as his birth year in my calculations.

We can assume that he was not born in this country. In 1786, on a document relating to his services to the Colonial army in South Carolina, a clerk wrote beneath his signature the word “Dutchman,” which there meant German. All family legends agree that he was an immigrant, and the descendants of his son Jacob claimed further that he came “when a boy” to America.

This is certainly possible, for Ludwig’s name does not appear on any passenger lists of ships arriving in Philadelphia, the most popular port of entry, or in Charleston, where the Kings’ Council was importing German-Swiss settlers. (These lists did not usually include the names of passengers under 16.)

So he came to America, probably as a boy, spent his youth we know not where, most likely in a rural area, where he learned the rudiments of farming and the trade of a millwright.

Among family researchers, there has long been an interest in the great migration that took place in the early 18th century from what is now Germany to Pennsylvania. And indeed, it would seem to be a likely hypothesis that Ludwig was among this large number of arrivals, many of whom in later decades moved southward toward the Carolinas.

(This great migration from the Palatinate, a portion of which became part of Bavaria, was caused by unbearable taxes on the people, incessant wars, and critical oppression. Almost one hundred thousand people attempted to escape to the American colonies, and more than 30,000 died of illness and starvation on the crowded ships)

There are a number of names of Germans in Pennsylvania which have seemed to offer a promising link to our own ancestor. One is Ludwig Bothner, who arrived in Philadelphia in 1737 on the ship Samuel. Since names were a grossly misspelled and miscopied in those days, all similar spellings must be considered. There was a Bothner name, however, distinct from the Botner or Bottner name. And even more important, this Bothner listed his age as 32. As our Ludwig was in that year at least l4, he is not likely to have been a son of this man.)

Heidelberg Township appears on this 1770 map of the coloony of Pennsylvania, between Lebanon and Lancaster.

Another family of interest is the Bortners who settled in southeastern Pennsylvania. Some of their given names are similar to the names of our Ludwig’s offspring, especially the descendants of George Bortner of York County. But a professional genealogist has documented this line and proved conclusively that the Bortners and Botners in Pennsylvania were two distinctly separate families.

That there were indeed Botners in Pennsylvania is perhaps the fact of most relevance to our study. To this day, the descendants of this family, a large number of who live in by Kentucky, spell their name Botner.

The Pennsylvania Botners who were closest in age to Ludwig were Elias Botner, born 1737, a saddler, whom married in 1764 and resided in Philadelphia until about 1790, and Joseph Botner, very likely Elias’ brother, who also resided in Philadelphia until after 1790.

Elias Botner moved to Baltimore before the 1790 census was taken. In July, 1792, he advertised in the Philadelphische Correspondenz: “Elias Botner, Baltimore, near Griffith’s bridge, advertises that his German servant, Johann Samuel Stein, ran away. He is a saddler, 30 years old.”

This Elias Botner, a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Baltimore had several children, including a son John who married in 1796. Elias died in Baltimore in 1816 and his family must have dispersed. By 1850, the city directory listed no Botners.

Elias’ brother Joseph and his in Joseph Jr. continued to reside in Philadelphia after Elias departure, working as saddlers. But by 1800, they too had gone. Joseph Sr. may have died.  Joseph Jr. had moved by 1810 to Petersburg, Virginia. At least one son, named Elias, was born there in 1813.

This Elias eventually moved to Kentucky and founded a large family of Botners. He and his son, Elias Jr., are listed in the 1880 census of Owsley County, Kentucky. There also moved to Kentucky from Virginia about 1830 a Jimmy Botner (born 1786), among whose children were sons John, Isaac, Benjamin, George, William, Arch, Jacob, and Ranson.

Back in Pennsylvania, a few Botners remained. A Joseph Botner was a militiaman in the War of 1812. And in the 1810 Census, there was a Jacob Botner, a youngish man with five children under 16. These Botners are probably descendants of the original Joseph or Elias.

By 1880, no Botners remained in Pennsylvania. But we are left with the tantalizing question: Just who were Elias and Jacob Botner, and are they related to our Ludwig?

To the first part of that question we have a probable answer:

In 1746, in the village of a Heidleberg in Lancaster County, Lodovick Bodner (spelled also Ludwig Botner) died intestate.

The administrators of his estate were instructed to submit an inventory of all “goods chattels & credits” and “…the Court of the said county shall deliver & pay to such person or persons as the Orphans Court … shall appoint.”  (The document from the Orphans Court is, unfortunately, missing; it would undoubtedly have given us the names of Ludwig Botner’s minor children.)

This Ludwig Botner apparently had died suddenly in the midst of preparing for a major move.  He had sold his “plantation” (which in the 18th century areas usually meant home farm, without connoting luxury) to Phillip Steer.  He had also already sold most of his personal effects at public auction for ₤82; his administra-tors auctioned off the rest for ₤18.  Just where he was planning to go, and still be in a position to receive payments from the buyer of his land, we must leave to conjecture.

Elias and Joseph Botner were of an age to be this Ludwig Botner’s orphaned sons.  Elias would have been nine years old at the time of Ludwig’s death and we can safely speculate that Joseph was also a minor.

But where does our Ludwig Bottner fit in?  Being 23 years old at the time of the Pennsylvania man’s death, Ludwig was certainly of an appropriate age to be that man’s son. And he was also old enough to have departed from the area and hence was given no responsibility by the court for the two young orphans.

Could our Ludwig have been the older brother of Elias and Joseph Botner?  In 1900, more than 150 years later, one of Ludwig’s great grandsons wrote this version of our ancestor’s early life:

Lewis Boatner came from Germany when a boy and settled on Broadriver, South Carolina.  He served in the Revolutionary War as a teamster.  …Two brothers came over with Lewis and settled in or near Philadelphia, neither of whom had families so far as we know.

This version of Ludwig’s American beginning was handed down by the family of one of Ludwig’s younger sons, Jacob Boatner, who became a millwright himself.  Jacob was also the first of Ludwig’s sons to leave South Carolina; he was part of the great migration to the Mississippi Territory in 1810.  And so it must have been he who handed down this biography of his father to his own son, who was born in Mississippi.

As is the case often with very old family stories, the distortions which creep into oral versions over many decades are very difficult to sort out.  Jacob certainly was accurate in describing that part of his father’s life which he was witness to, i.e., his war experience, his trade of millwright, and his life on the Broad River, where Jacob himself grew up.  Perhaps his memory failed him, however, when he tried to recall what his father, Ludwig, had told him about his arrival in America and his own boyhood experiences.

But the reference to the two brothers in Philadelphia commands our attention.  It is hard to see how this part of Jacob’s story could have come from anyone but Ludwig.We must carefully qualify what we can deduce from this information.  If Ludwig came to America in the company of these two brothers, then it must have been after Elias’s birth year of 1737.  But we can accept as plausible the version that he evidently parted from their company early and never regained contact with them, for Ludwig’s descendants clearly knew nothing more about any such kinsmen.

For the rest of the story, we have more questions than answers.  It seems unlikely that our Ludwig came alone to the South Carolina back country as a boy, for the settlement of that area was only just beginning then.  And in any case, the farm on Broad River was probably Ludwig’s third home, though perhaps it was the only one in Jacob’s memory.

Even if the century old version of Jacob’s grandson is strong evidence that Ludwig, Elias, and Joseph Botner were brothers, we still have no proof that they were the sons of Ludwig Botner of Heidleberg Township.

Even if circumstantial evidence suggests that they were his sons, we still do not know where this man came from.

And so, when the first chapter of our Ludwig Botner’s life is properly written, it will contain the place of Ludwig’s origins.  But it must also reveal the place of his early years in America.  Perhaps, just as in his later life, Ludwig did not follow customary patterns of migration and employment.  But with luck and enterprise, we may find him yet.

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