Johann Michael Ernst Hoerner was the son of a Ludwig Ernst Hoerner of the village of Unter-Owissheim in today's Baden-Wurtemberg, located 2 kilometers east of the town of Bruchsal, just 11 miles east of the Rhine River, and about 20 miles almost due south of Heidelberg.1 Although there is no previous connection known, Michael's village was but 15 miles south of Wiesloch, the home of his future wife, Maria Elisabetha Dieffenbach.2 We know nothing of his mother, but we do know that he had an older sister, Anna Margaretha, and an older brother, Johann Conrad Mattheus.3 These four arrived in New York City by 1 July 1710, where they appeared as No. 299 in Governor Robert Hunter's subsistence list. Within about 2 months of arrival, the father was dead, leaving Margaretha about to be married to a fellow townsman from Unter-Owissheim (Johannes Kayser), Conrad Mattheus, age 15, and Michael, not yet 10.4

After Ludwig's death and the sister's marriage, young Conrad temporarily seemed to have been in charge of the younger Michael; but, on 23 November, the Governor apprenticed Conrad to a local man, leaving Michael to find a new "home." By the end of December, a young person of his age had joined the subsistence list of the young Kayser couple and his mother, probably at West Camp, north of present Saugerties.5 Michael, then just 10, seemed to have remained with his sister's family until at least the end of September 1712.

We found no documents that were at all definite about Michael's whereabouts between 1712, when he was along the Hudson River in New York, and his well-documented residence along Tulpehocken Creek in southeastern Pennsylvania by 1725. The only possibility, in light of later developments, was presented by Ulrich Simmendinger in his Register (1717), where he located the Kayser family and the family of Michael's eventual wife, the Dieffenbachs, in adjoining villages among the seven Schoharie Valley settlements, made by many of the Germans who left the Livingston (East Camp) and West Camp settlements. They moved again after the failure of the naval stores venture up the Hudson, and after Governor Hunter had to halt subsistence to the Palatines after 1712.6 The Kaysers later moved to the Stone Arabia Patent along the Mohawk River. About the same time, 1722/3, the first group of Germans left the Schoharie "dorfs" for the Tulpehocken region. We do know that the Dieffenbachs arrived there by 1725. It is not unthinkable that Michael Ernst, then in his early 20s, was among the first or second group to Pennsylvania.7

Among his German countrymen on the Tulpehocken, Michael usually was recorded in documents simply as Michael Ernst, as he was on 10-11 January 1725/6 and 2-4 January 1726/7 on the tax assessments for landowners in Tulpehocken Township, Chester County. His name on the September 1727 petition by Tulpehocken settlers for a road to be established to Oley, in the next township, was a more full "Michgael" Ernst Herner.8 Another list of settlers, compiled from early land deeds and patents in that township by C. I. Lindemuth, listed Michael Ernst as a patent holder, but a map of the patents drawn by Lindemuth and dated 1723, was of some date after 1728. Nevertheless, Michael's land straddled Tulpehocken Creek and was the second lot west of the Fells Manor line, and just the third lot east of a similarly situated lot belonging to Conrad "Diffebach."9 The last occasion in that community that resulted in his full name on a document was the baptism of Johann Michael Riedt [Reed], Jr., at the well-known Reed's Church shortly after young Riedt's birth on 18 December 1733. At this time, his name as sponsor was entered in the Church Book as "Michael Ernst Kraft-Horner [with an umlaut over the "o"]." The additional name Kraft seems to have no significance here and perhaps was a mistake in the entry.10 Whether Michael, Elizabeth and their family still were in Tulpehocken when her father wrote his will on 22 July 1737 is not known. Michael's descendants have suggested many different years for their departure, but none can be documented. The will is a significant document here, not for the date, but because it confirms that Johann Conrad Dieffenbach's daughter, "Maria Elizabeth," had married Ernst.11 Michael was on the South Branch of the Potomac River as early as 31 December 1742, when he signed an Orange County, Virginia, road petition with other neighbors. This is the earliest record to firmly place him in this new location, and also the earliest record on which he was referred to by the clerical corruption of his surname, "Herness," by whomever wrote most of the names on that petition.12

Although the derivative spelling of Michael's surname began late in 1742, his full original name appeared on the record of his daughter's baptism the next year, on 9 October 1743. This would be expected from a countryman Pastor who normally performed baptisms and weddings in the Tulpehocken region. Pastor John Casper Stoever recorded the event as the baptism of Dorothea, daughter of "John Michael Ernst Hoerner," on the South Branch. This occasion provided further evidence for Michael's marriage to Elizabeth Dieffenbach, for the couple who came all the way from the Tulpehocken to sponsor young Dorothea were "Johannes Haag and his wife." The wife was none other than Elizabeth's sister, Anna Dorothea Dieffenbach, who had married Johannes George "Haak" in Tulpehocken.13

By 1745, the upper South Branch was under the jurisdiction of the new Augusta County, and with that came a period of six years in which the County Clerk and copyists did not enter the signature marks in the formal record books of that county. There was a series of at least seven estates there during those years before 1751. The names of men ordered to make inventories for and appraise those estates and to bring them back to the court for recording, contained that of "Michael Harness." The only problem for us was that there were no signature marks included to tell us which of the two possible Michael Harnesses were involved in which estates. Michael Ernst and his son, Michael Harness, usually referred to as "Jr.," both were very active helping with their neighbors' estates during those years. The estates were those of John Bogard (1747-1748), John Woolfe/Woolfaller (1748-1749), James Coburn (1748-1749), James Rutledge (1750), John Mitts (1750-1752), Henry Thorn (1751-1753), and John Scot (1751).14

Yet, within the same six-year period, there still were three occasions in which Michael Ernst was a certain participant. The last of these marked his first recorded use of a signature mark, the one he would use until his death. The first of these was on 15 April 1749 at the Coroner's Inquest into the death of young Samuel Decker, held on the South Branch of the Potomac. Two of the jurors were identified as Johann Michael Hoerner and Conrad Hoerner.15 The second occasion was during the following November, when Moravian missionaries from Pennsylvania made one of their visits to Virginia and the valley of the South Branch. As they wrote in one of their diaries, they had come up the South Branch from Cresap's and spent the night with Henry Van Meter; they preached at Matthias Yoakum's, and then "On Sunday November 5th [1749]. . . In the afternoon we continued our journey, and stayed over night with Michael Ernst." The next day they passed "through [the] Gap [Petersburg]" and stayed with George Zeh, and then returned to Yoakum's, then went on to stay-the-night with Michael Stump and then on to Peter Rith's [Reed], who was the father of a member of their congregation in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.16 The third occasion, when it seems that Michael Ernst first tried a signature mark, was on 13 August 1751 when he marked that bond of Administrator Matthias Yoakum as one of his sureties.17

Once the new Hampshire County court was up and running by early 1754, Michael began consistently to use his new signature mark. His "M E" was at first somewhat laboriously drawn by his untutored hand, but later was done with more authority. He did have a tendency, however, to shorten the second diagonal stroke in his "M" to suggest an "N." We noticed later that it was so short on his will, and the left diagonal stroke started somewhat lower than usual on the left vertical leg, that several descendants have considered it an "H," which of course still left an "E" to be explained. Record-keepers and others, on the other hand, seemed to assume almost always during and after the 1750s that Michael was a Harness. Their reasoning certainly would seem simple enough: his sons answered to Harness, why wouldn't he? Yet, for the rest of his life, he persisted in using his "M E" mark in the space others left between the Michael and the Harness. After all, he knew he was Ernst; and even if he never fully understood the use of the English surname Harness, he knew who he was: Michael Ernst!

The long-running estate of Leonard Reed, from 1755 until 1769, shows the variety of ways in which Michael was being recorded by clerks and copyists. When the Hampshire County Court in December 1751 ordered him to be one of the appraisers, they addressed him as Michael Harness; but, administrators of the estate gave him a certificate for one of Reed's debts addressed to "Mickaell Earness" on 20 November 1762, and then on 10 March 1769, a new administrator paid him as "Michal Earnist" for the debt, which Michael accepted with a receipt "signed" by "Michal M E Earnist."18 On 8 February 1757, Michael's frequent "Michael M E Harness" was with that of "George Z See's" when they brought in another estate inventory. Also in December that year, when he purchased items at an estate sale, they identified Michael as "Michael Earsest, Sr."19

Michael Ernst was the appointed administrator of two estates, both in 1759, that are significant for the inclusion of the then very different signature marks used by father and son. The estates have significance also because they were the estates of two of Michael's sons, Adam and Jacob (1). The importance of what these documents tell us about each son is considered in their subsequent studies; the rest will be dealt with here. While the father was spared the administration of Conrad's estate in 1757 by Michael, Jr.[see his study], he did not avoid these. We do not know when Adam and Jacob (1) died, only that it could have been anytime in the six months or so before the two Administrator's bonds were approved by the Hampshire Court on 14 February 1759.20 Michael's signature mark on both were what had become his usual "M E ," but both were written with an uncertain hand, perhaps reflecting the emotion of that occasion. Michael, Jr., and family friend Henry Lancisco provided surety on both bonds. On each, Michael, Jr., used a large cross casually made in his signature mark, a characteristic of his public signatures in that county. The clerk's addition of "Jr." was a further means of distinguishing between father and son.21

Michael Ernst seems to have withdrawn from public activity after the deaths of these sons. Not until he marked his will in 1779 did we find his signature mark on any public document. But, it was "Michael M E Ernest" that he used on the original copy of his will, which was eventually presented to the Hampshire County Court by his son, John, on 8 March 1785, and admitted to record.22 What captures our attention in the original will document is that, in the body of the will, Michael's surname was spelled, by whomever wrote the will, as "Ernest." Traditionally, this was the nearest non-German clerks, and Germans with a limited knowledge of English, could get a rendering of "Ernst" into English.

A confusing aspect of his will was that in it he identified each living son as "Harness." We can only conclude that Michael, and certainly the actual writer of the will, accepted the "fact" that Harness had come to be thought of as the family surname. The important legal status of a will did not encourage confusion. However, Michael and the actual writer seemed to go to great lengths to point out that he, the father, was not a Harness, but was as always, "M E," Michael Ernst. One wonders how all his descendants could have missed such an important aspect of his identity.

Why Harness? The nearest name to Ernst in English probably was Ernest or Earnest, and these used as surnames appeared frequently on public documents with Michael's given name in the 30 years before his death. Englishmen are well-known then and now often to drop an initial "H" from their spoken words, but to include it when writing. A final "t" often would not be said very distinctly; and the English ear would not be expecting it combined in the harsh German "st" sound. The written result of all this in the 1750s and 1760s moved easily away from Ernst to Earnest, to Earness, to Herness, to Harness. This transition affected the sons as well, and came perhaps more quickly and completely for them. The older boys seem not to have been able to write English, and quite probably never became literate in German. Without these skills, even their own perhaps faulty pronunciation of Ernst could have encouraged the surname change; and may have made their acceptance of Harness more immediate.

To summarize then, Johann Michael Ernst Hoerner was born the son of Ludwig Ernst Hoerner and an unknown mother in the small village of Unter-Owissheim in what is now Baden-Wurtemberg, Germany. He was brought by his father to the British North American Colonies with his older sister and brother in 1710, along with a few thousand Palatines from England. His father died within three months of their arrival; his sister then married; and the New York Governor apprenticed his brother. All that and the grueling voyage from England came during the year before he turned 10! After a few years of "growing up," probably among the Palatine villages on the Schoharie, he went with some of those families to a new settlement on Tulpehocken Creek in southeastern Pennsylvania in the early 1720s. He married, also in the early 1720s, Maria Elisabetha Dieffenbach, the daughter of another German immigrant and Tulpehocken landowner. By the time they moved from there to the South Branch of the Potomac River in the Northern Neck of Virginia, probably six of their thirteen children had been born. The earliest confirmed date for his being on the South Branch is 31 December 1742, but they all could have been there a year or so earlier.23 Research in the extant documents of the several counties who administered the valley shows that he publicly was very active, especially assisting with the estates of his deceased neighbors; and very likely in many other ways as well; that he kept his identity as Michael Ernst his entire life by using his signature mark, "M E," and that his sons all were known by the surname Harness before his death.

Our research also turned up documentary verification of the deaths of four of his sons, and evidence that he administered two of their estates. His will deliberately left his entire estate, except Elizabeth's dower rights, to his youngest son, Jacob (2), which is discussed in the short study of that son. The will suffered several unwarranted changes and alterations at the hands of the record-keepers of Hampshire County, Virginia. This necessitated the use of the original copy, still available in the county's estate papers, for purposes of accuracy. Finally, the study has dispelled any notion that Michael was born a Harness; and offers an explanation of how Harness became the surname of the family.

Johann Michael Ernst Hoerner was involved, one might say, in a long war of attrition with Virginia record-keepers over his surname. Hampshire County Court Clerk, Andrew Wodrow, during the proving of the will, changed the identification of it by lining out the "Ernst" written in the proof notification and inserted "Harness." This was done despite the clearly stated name of "Michael Ernest" in the body of the will, and the signature mark of "Michael M E Ernest" below. Michael Ernst had lost!

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