Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Saga of Johannes Reiter, Part I

Here is in part what this booklet had about the Reiter family:

 This was recorded by Amos O. Reiter D.D. in 1946 who heard these stories from his father and his father's double cousin Elizabeth Koch Schweigert who was born in Germany and grew up there.  This is significant for our family because it proves that family was still living there in the early 1800's when our Louis Reiter was born in 1827.

According to this tradition, the Reiter family was of Swiss origin.  A prince of Hesse Cassel, alarmed by the rapid disappearance of timber from his principality, and fearing there would soon be neither lumber for building nor wood for fuel, planned an extensive system of conservation.  He seized all the remaining forest lands, and issued decrees controlling the cutting and distribution of all forest products.  Not trusting his own people to make a fair and impartial distribution, he followed the example of nearly all the kings and potentates of that era, by importing Swiss foresters for that work.  To them, he gave quite liberal terms.  They were to be allowed to use their own German-Swiss dialect, have their own schools, their own 'Reformite' Church, their own Heidelberg Catechism, and maintain their own social customs.  Moreover, they were to be free from all, except local taxation and from all involuntary military service, even in time of war.  It was the breaking of practically all of these promises that impelled Johannes Reiter in 1832 to leave his native place and, with his six sons, come to a land of freedom where none was ever compelled to render military service against his will.


Among the timber tracts expropriated by the Prince was one lying South and Southwest of the City of Cassel in the basin of the Fulda River.  It contained upward of one hundred square miles and was heavily wooded.  This tract was placed in the care of a group of Swiss foresters headed by a man named Martin, and soon the tract became known as Martinshaagen or, as we might say Martin's Park.  A village was built about twelve miles from Cassel in the edge of the forest where the foresters lived with their families and by keeping strictly to themselves, maintained in Hesse keeping strictly to themselves, maintained in Hesse a little Switzerland of their own.  This village also bore the name of Martinshaagen, the ancestral home of all the Reiters.

Because this Martin, in attending to his work as supervisor of the entire tract of timber, rode horseback, he soon came to be known as Martin der Haagereiter, or simply as Der Reiter.  Of course, his children became Des Reiteres and in this way the family name of Reiter, instead of Martin, became established.

"I know not how the case may be
I tell it as 'twas told to me."

I can't verify any of this story other than the location of Martinshagen and our family tradition that the Reiters of our family were Swiss, not German.  Click here for Wikipedia on Martinhagen---translate it if you don't speak German.  It tells what the earlier names of the village were, but doesn't tell why it has this name or when it happened other than after 1585.

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